The A to Z of North Wales – part two

As a holiday destination, North Wales has a little bit of everything. In this second of two blog articles, we set out to whet your appetite for some of the region’s best attractions using the letters of the alphabet.

Click here for Part 1. Otherwise, keep reading for N to Z!

N is for Nant Ffrancon

Sir Anthony Hopkins once declared Nant Ffrancon as one of his favourite places, and who are we to argue? It’s a stunning valley stretching from the slate village of Bethesda to Ogwen Cottage at the foot of Cwm Idwal. It was one of three amazing mountain passes we described in this blog.

O is for Ogwen – Cycle route

Among the many fabulous cycling routes around North Wales, Lon Las Ogwen is one of the finest. One thing that makes this route stand-out is the fact it is off-road for most of the way. The other thing is the scenery – start from Port Penrhyn near Bangor, head inland and cycle deep into Snowdonia.

P is for Portmeirion

It’s one of the most popular destinations in Wales, but with good reason. Portmeirion is magical in every way. The coastal location, the local micro-climate (think palm trees), the Italianate-style “village” designed by Williams Clough-Ellis, all adds up to a wonderful place to visit, especially for groups.

Q is for Quarries

From a distance, Snowdonia’s slate quarries might look like scars on the landscape. Up close, they are jaw-dropping feats of human endeavour, from a time when North Wales roofed the world. Some of the quarries and mines can be safely explored, too, as we described here.

R is for Railways

One of the most enjoyable ways to see North Wales is by train. Fortunately, several routes twist and wind through the valleys, some from coast to coast, creating unique journeys. Most are narrow-gauge routes, a delight for families and enthusiasts alike, as this article explained.

S is for Snowdon

At 1,085 metres high, Snowdon is the tallest mountain in England and Wales. It’s also one of the most popular to walk up. Our hotel is right at the start of one of the most well-used trails to the summit, but as we explored here, there are many, quieter ways to explore this wonderful mountain.

T is for Trekking

Trekking is the number one pastime in North Wales. Yet Snowdonia’s peaks offer rock-strewn landscapes, knife-edge ridges and precipitous cliffs too, all of which combine to make scrambling and bouldering popular outdoor activities. This blog explained the differences between the three.

U is for Underground

What do you do when it’s raining in North Wales? Go underground! Many of our mines have been preserved with sections opened to the public, including the prehistoric Copper Mines on the Great Orme and the slate mines near Blaenau Ffestiniog. We listed slate caverns and Llanberis’s own hydro-electric power station in our Seven Wonders of Wales blog.

V is for Views

Here in Snowdonia, we’ve got views, views, views! With Snowdon right on our doorstep, it can be harder than you think to get a really good look at our highest mountain. These three walks give you different perspectives on the peak that gives our national park its name.

W is for Weddings

Get married or just hold your reception with us. Our hotel boasts an unrivalled location amidst mountains and lakes, with 30 acres of mature Victorian gardens and woodland and a real Welsh castle right next door. It’s the perfect setting for beautiful photographs and an unforgettable occasion. Learn more here.

X is for X-Country Running!

OK, we struggled with X! But we did think of cross-country (ie, x-country) running, which is a big deal in North Wales. Events don’t come much bigger than the Snowdonia Trail Marathon, put back to October 18 this year (usual month July) because of the virus outbreak. It’s a great event for entrants and spectators alike.

Y is for Y Garn

We have a bit of a soft spot for Y Garn, a 3,000ft mountain in the Glyderau range (across the valley from the hotel). Unlike its neighbours, Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach, Y Garn sees fewer visitors, but the views from the summit are awesome. Walk from the hotel or tackle the peak via the fearsome Devil’s Kitchen from Ogwen Cottage. This blog described Y Garn with all Snowdonia’s 3,000ft summits.

Z is for Zipwires

North Wales has become famous for the fastest, longest, most out-and-out crazy zipwires in the world! Making unique use of vast slate quarries (underground too!), zipwire attractions are among the many world-class experiences you can enjoy in Snowdonia, as our article explained.

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Meet the heroes and heroines of Welsh literature

If you are interested in Welsh history and mythology, then it’s possible you’ve found yourself directed to a collection of old Welsh stories known as The Mabinogion. But what is it, exactly and why do Welsh people treasure it so much?

What is it?

The Mabinogion is a collection of eleven tales from early Welsh literature that draw upon the mystical word of the Celtic people. The stories represent a golden age of narrative prose that flourished in Wales over the course of the Middle Ages and blend myth, folklore, tradition and history.

The central themes typically include fall and redemption, loyalty, marriage, love, fidelity and the wronged wife – all ingredients of a rollicking good story!

The setting is a strange, magical landscape which corresponds geographically to the western coast of Wales. Although the landscape is familiar, its inhabitants are perhaps less so; it is full of white horses that appear out of thin air, monsters, giants, mysterious magical women and superhero-like men.

Like many old stories, none are original compositions. They instead draw on existing material reworked to reflect contemporary concerns. As a result, The Mabinogion should be seen as both an interpretation of a mythological past and a commentary on the medieval present.

Where did it come from?

Exactly how the stories found their way into the written form is unclear but they are drawn from both Celtic mythology and the famous tales of King Arthur and his knights.

Preserved in written form in the White Book of Rhydderch (1300-1325) and the Red Book of Hergest (1375-1425), portions were written as early as the 1050s, but other sections predate this by decades, if not centuries. It’s accepted that the stories were passed down through the generations by word of mouth – bedtime stories if you will.

The stories travelled with the early Welsh bards who wandered Britain. They swapped their tales for board and lodging and were highly prized by the highest and lowest members of society for their fine storytelling skills.

In this pre-modern society, the Oral Tradition – the method of passing stories on before they were ever written down – was the medium of collective memory, and we cannot overstate its importance. The Oral Tradition includes genealogies, origin legends, proverbs and anecdotes. Early Welsh literature contains examples of all of these, and so today, we promote its significance in our culture wherever we can.

The Mabinogion was translated and edited under the direction of Lady Charlotte Guest and published in 1840. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the Welsh language and culture and was instrumental in the revival of the Eisteddfod arts festival.

The Mabinogion as a title is relatively modern, named mistakenly by Lady Charlotte Guest herself! She assumed that the word ‘mabinogion’ was the plural form of ‘mabinogi’, but it appears only once in the manuscripts she translated (and is commonly dismissed as a transcription error).

These stories sound really exciting – tell us more!

The tales, which are outwardly concerned with the lives of various Welsh royal families – figures who represent the gods of an older, pre-Christian mythological order – are themselves much older in origin.

The tales from The Mabinogion fall into three categories. The first four tales belonged to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. The next four (or five, if including Taliesin) were the Independent Tales, two of which feature King Arthur. The last three tales fall into a category known as the Welsh Romances. Let’s take a closer look…

  • Four Branches of the Mabinogi

A single hero called Pryderi links all four branches. The first tale recounts his early life and ascent to the throne. In the second he barely warrants a mention, but in the third the focus returns to Pryderi when he’s imprisoned by an enchanter and later released. In the fourth, Pryderi falls in battle. Despite his recurring presence, he only plays a small role in each tale.

  1. 1. Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed describes Pwyll’s wooing of a fairy princess, Rhiannon, and Rhiannon’s loss and recovery of their child Pryderi, whom she is falsely accused of murdering after he is supernaturally abducted on the night of his birth.

2. Branwen, Daughter of Llŷr is about the marriage of Branwen to Matholwch, and treacherous acts which result in a devastating war between Ireland and Britain from which only Branwen, the wounded Brân, and seven other men escape alive back to Wales.

3. Manawydan, Son of Llŷr comprises the further adventures of two of the escapees, Manawydan and Pryderi, who with his wife, Cigfa, and mother, Rhiannon, combat an enchantment placed over Pryderi’s realm.

4. Math, Son of Mathonwy focusses on Math, a prince of northern Wales, his nephew Gwydion, and Gwydion’s nephew Lleu. Among many other events, Gwydion’s magic and duplicity lead to the death of Pryderi.

  • Independent Tales

The Dream of Maxen involves an emperor marrying a maiden he saw in his dream, while Lludd & Llevelys is about Britain suffering three strange plagues. Two other tales involved King Arthur and his companions and were called Culhwch & Olwen and the Dream of Rhonabwy.

  • Welsh Romances

The Welsh romances are similar to the popular French Arthurian romances written by Chrétien de Troyes in the twelfth century. Owain (or The Lady of the Fountain) corresponds to Chrétien’s Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. Geraint & Enid correspond to Chrétien’s Erec & Enide, and Peredur, Son of Efrawg corresponds to Chrétien’s Perceval, from the Story of the Grail.

Why are these stories so important?

Improving levels of literacy during the period The Mabinogion was popular led to the stories being put in print. Not only were these ancient tales were preserved for all time but they also provided a snapshot of life in the Middle Ages. As such, The Mabinogion gives readers a unique glimpse into both our cultural heritage and our medieval past – it’s a literary time-capsule.

The Mabinogion has been widely influential, giving rise to timeless literary figures such as Arthur and Merlin, and providing the basis of much European and world literature – the fantasy fiction genre, so popular today, was practically unknown before its publication.