Spring in North Wales: a garden party with a difference

Bodnant Garden's Laburnum Tunnel

Bodnant Garden’s Laburnum Tunnel

We’re enjoying a wonderful and prolonged spell of pleasant weather right now in North Wales; some of us have even heard the utterance ‘spring has sprung’ out on the street and, you know what? We think they could be right!

With Easter just around the corner and the weather finally looking up there’s just one thing we want to do – get out of the office and into the great outdoors! We’re really lucky, living here, to have so much choice when it comes to spending time outside. Of course, there are the beaches, woodlands and mountains that make North Wales famous but, did you know, we’re home to some of the most beautiful formal gardens in the UK too?

Festival time!

If you’ve never visited North Wales for its gardens then 2016 is definitely the year to do it. This year the region hosts the very first Festival of Gardens, taking place from Saturday 28 May to Sunday 5 June. The event is a celebration of all things horticultural and aims to enlighten and educate visitors with a packed programme of events at no less than 27 beautiful gardens, stretching from Wrexham to the Llyn Peninsula. There’s never been an event like this in North Wales and we’re really excited to visit some old favourites as well as some, as yet, undiscovered gems ourselves.

Each day of the festival sees a full schedule of activities taking place at several gardens in the region. There are almost thirty gardens taking part including some of North Wales’s most treasured gardens, such as Portmeirion and Bodnant, and some less well known, including the Centre for Alternative Technology, Pantperthog, and the Nanhoron Estate, Pwllheli.

Just a few of the events taking place:

  • Walks with the Head Gardener;
  • Music recitals;
  • Gardening and photography workshops;
  • Theatrical performances;
  • Historical re-enactments;
  • Walks with plants;
  • Children’s trails;
  • Lectures and exhibitions.

Whether you’re a keen gardener or just love a stroll in beautiful surroundings, the Festival of Gardens North Wales has something to appeal to all tastes.

If you’re visiting the region before the festival, you’re still in for a treat! Although most gardens are open all year round spring is one of the best times to see them in full, flowering splendour. To get you started on your garden journey of discovery, here are three of our all-time favourites.

Bodnant Garden – Tal-Y-Cafn, Conwy

The jewel of Welsh gardens is undoubtedly Bodnant Garden. Quietly presiding over the majestic River Conwy and spanning more than eighty acres, this National Trust site is lovingly referred to as one of the most exquisite gardens across all of Britain.

Springtime is always a hive of activity at Bodnant and this year’s no different. As well as old favourites, including snowdrops in the Old Park Meadow and the world-famous camellias, flower beds that were installed last year are just beginning to come to life. The Vanessa Bed has been redesigned by Bodnant’s student gardeners with an exciting new display and, near the Terrace, the Poppy Bed is currently awash with gorgeous Himalayan primulas.

Plas Cadnant – Menai Bridge, Anglesey

The Hidden Gardens at Plas Cadnant aren’t as secret as they used to be. Recently, the garden hit the headlines after suffering terrible damage in a winter storm but, thanks to the hard work of a dedicated team, it’s due to reopen in time for Easter.

Restoration on the gardens at Plas Cadnant has been ongoing for almost 20 years so it’s understandable how heartbreaking damage wrought by Storm Eva was to owner, Anthony Tavernor. The walled garden and valley garden were wrecked by a ‘tidal wave’ of flood water rushing down from the Snowdonia Mountain Range on Boxing Day 2015. Rare plants, beds, walls and garden ornaments were destroyed or washed away in the flood, threatening to ruin all the team had laboured to achieve over the years. Thanks to an outpouring of local and national support, rebuilding and replanting soon got underway and the gardens are once again preparing to welcome visitors.

Plas Cadnant has recently reopened. The team still have a lot to do but there’s plenty to see in the meantime. We hope you can go along and show your support for this very special North Wales garden too!

Portmeirion, Pwllheli

Used as a location for the 1967 TV series ‘The Prisoner’, Portmeirion is a great place to visit for its cult status alone! Built by architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, between 1925 and 1975 in the continental style, the village and gardens are an absolute delight and total surprise to many visitors not expecting a little piece of the Italian Riviera on the Welsh coast!

North Wales’s westerly position means our gardens benefit from the warm, moist weather brought by the Gulf Stream, making the area particularly well-suited to cultivating Mediterranean and tropical trees and plants. This is most evident at Portmeirion, which is home to a fine collection of magnolias, azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias as well as an array of sub-tropical trees, including ginkgo biloba, monkey puzzles and cabbage palms.

Right now, Portmeirion’s fabulous collection of rhododendrons and magnolias are getting ready to bloom. You can enjoy the spectacle whatever the weather, with many planted around the town’s piazza, viewed from the comfort of the resort’s Caffi Glas!

Six amazing things to do in Llanberis

geograph-774650-by-John-Firth21After a long, dark and very wet winter we’re really looking forward to the brighter, warmer days ahead. In the last couple of weeks we’ve been delighted by the swathe of spring flowers carpeting the shores of Llyn Padarn and the sound of spring lambs calling to one another across the hillsides. Yes, spring has well and truly sprung here in Snowdonia and that means very soon all the fantastic attractions that make North Wales an amazing place to visit will be open for business (if they aren’t already).

We think Llanberis is one of the best places anywhere in North Wales to take a short break – there’s so much to do within a stone’s throw of the hotel you don’t need to go far to enjoy yourself! If you’re taking a break here this spring or summer, why not take a look at the variety of attractions on offer right here?

1. Snowdon Mountain Railway

No visit to Llanberis is complete without a trip on the ever-popular Snowdon Mountain Railway. This historic railway has been carrying tourists to the summit for over a century, completing the 5 mile journey to the top of Mount Snowdon – Wales’s highest mountain – 1085 metres above sea level.

The rail service, and the visitor centre at the summit, open for business each year in March, ready for Easter weekend, but it’s worth double-checking the exact dates before arrival if you coming soon – the unpredictable Welsh weather doesn’t care for dates and we’ve had some serious snowfall at altitude this year!

As the train pulls you gently up the mountain, give a thought to what lies beneath, including (reputedly) the vanquished ogre Rhita, and the knights of King Arthur, who defeated the grumpy ogre in battle.

2. Dolbadarn Castle

Possibly the most picturesque castle in Wales, Dolbadarn Castle is within short walking distance of the Royal Victoria, and its sturdy round tower remains as strong as ever thanks to its thick walls.

Dolbadarn is in a true picture-postcard location and is loved by photographers who usually snap it from its landward side – showing it as a silent sentinel watching over the glacial lake of Llyn Padarn.

The lake itself is one of the largest natural bodies of water in Wales, and with its mountainous backdrop the scenery is as stunning as you can expect to find anywhere.

3. Tour the lake

Llyn Padarn’s shores are perfect for a gentle walk, and you can complete a lap of the lake in around three hours at normal pace. We think it will probably take longer, however, as there are so many delightful spots to pause and enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley and the mountains beyond. Take your time, it’s not often you witness scenery as stunning as ours!

Alternatively, jump aboard the Llanberis Lake Railway, a narrow-gauge steam train route that covers five miles of the shore, taking in views of Electric Mountain, Snowdon and Dolbadarn Castle. The railway is a firm favourite with our younger visitors, and it hosts several family-friendly events every year, including an Easter Egg Hunt and a special Father’s Day trip (book to avoid disappointment).

4. Waterfall walk

Head down from the castle to the Snowdon Mountain Railway station for the start of a walk to Llanberis Falls, which can be seen from the railway viaduct too.

The two-stage falls of Ceunant Mawr are over a hundred feet high in total, and the walk of about a mile and a half is quite gentle, with a clearly signposted footpath.

Enjoy the spectacle of the falls from the designated observation point, before making the return journey back down the hill to Llanberis.

5. National Slate Museum

Open all year round with free entry, the National Slate Museum is housed in the buildings of the Dinorwig Quarry, which closed in 1969, and tells the history of Welsh slate mining.

Step through its doors and you are instantly transported back through time – the interiors of the buildings are laid out as though the workers have just left for the day.

Outside, the landscape is as spectacular as anywhere else in the region, with the quarry and its buildings nestled in the shadow of Elidir Mountain.

6. Electric Mountain

A rather more modern experience is Electric Mountain, the visitor centre at First Hydro’s Llanberis-based ‘pumped storage’ power station, Dinorwig.

Dinorwig Power Station is the largest of its kind in Europe, with 16 km of underground tunnels and 12 million tonnes of material excavated. It has one of the world’s fastest start-up times from standby, reaching output of 1,728 MW within just 90 seconds.

Entry to the visitor centre is free and you can pass a pleasant and informative couple of hours in here alone. But, for an unforgettable experience, book a tour and head into the mountain to witness first-hand the power station at work. It’s fascinating, educational and unique – not one to be missed!

IMAGE: (© Copyright John Firth and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)