TRAVEL / A family guide to summer Britain: 4. Wales

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The Independent Culture
THE PICK of this summer's family attractions in Wales are being staged against the theatrical backdrop of the country's many castles and fortresses. At Carew there's a special children's week where they can try their hand at brass rubbing, weaving and heraldry; Cardiff Castle also has two days set aside for youngsters, with a variety of music, arts and crafts. Powis Castle is the setting for fireworks and classical music, and the Wales Actors Company is touring several other castles throughout the summer with performances of Much Ado About Nothing. Meanwhile, for the more red-blooded, medieval warfare will be re-enacted at Caerphilly Castle.

There are plenty of less warlike sports on offer, such as the horse racing at Chepstow and Bangor-on- Dee. Or you can witness two somewhat offbeat world championships:

bog-snorkelling at Llanwrtyd Wells and tandem road-racing at Lake Vyrnwy. The UK National Windsurfing Championship is being held at Dale, and there is Grand Prix powerboat racing in Cardiff Bay.

When it rains, you can always explore Wales's industrial heritage, including a number of slate, lead, silver, gold and coal mines deep in the mountains and hills. And there's plenty to do in the evenings, with musical festivals ranging from brass bands at Chepstow to chamber concerts in the Gower churches, and trad and modern jazz at Brecon.

As for finding somewhere to stay, we've a selection of the best hotels, bed and breakfasts and self-catering cottages in the country, including a cider mill in Monmouth, a lighthouse near Newport and a blockhouse in Pembrokeshire.

NORTH WALES GWYNEDD AND CLWYD

DAYS OUT

Anglesey Sea Zoo: One of the best examples of its kind, the zoo, at Brynsiencyn on Anglesey, has a wide range of tanks displaying the marine life of the local area. Clever theming - the wreck room, tide and wave tanks, and a 'touch' pool - adds to the interest.

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey: Dating from 1295 but never finished, this is Britain's finest example of the concentric design. Also on Anglesey is the village with the longest name, which was almost certainly cobbled together in Victorian times as a canny attempt to attract tourists.

Blaenau Ffestiniog Slate Mines: Gloddfa Ganol has the largest workings, but Llechwedd, with its deep mine and underground tramway, is the more interesting.

Bodelwyddan Castle, Clwyd: A lavish example of a Victorian country house with a superb collection of 19th-century portraiture. Not quite a wash-out as far as the children are concerned, since there's a 'hands-on' exhibition of Victorian puzzles, parlour games and optical illusions.

Caernarfon Castle: Charles was invested as Prince of Wales 25 years ago at this magnificent shell of the conquering Edward I's largest castle - some still see it as a symbol of English oppression. Allow a good two or three hours to explore the museums and exhibitions.

Chirk Castle: Sadly, Chirk near Llangollen, Clwyd, has lost much of the romance of its role as a border fortress - the interior and grounds were elaborately refurbished in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Conwy Castle, Gwynedd: The impressive castellated towers, dating from 1283, overlook Snowdonia to one side, the Conwy estuary to the other. Also in the town is Britain's smallest house (according to the Guinness Book of Records) at just 10ft by 6ft, and the whole place has been much improved since the new tunnel cleared the notorious traffic jams.

Denbigh Town Walls, Clwyd: Remarkable for the almost-complete circle of medieval town walls - you can also visit the castle, which dates from the same period.

Erddig: The National Trust has preserved this once-abandoned stately home near Wrexham as a time capsule of 19th-century upstairs, downstairs life: highly recommended.

Ffestiniog Railway: The narrow-gauge steam railway used to serve the slate mines. Now run for tourists, it is by far the best and most scenic of the North Wales lines. The Tal-y-llyn Railway at Tywyn has a similar narrow-gauge track and is also worth a ride.

Graig Fawr: This limestone hill near Rhyl in Clwyd is rich in fossils and rare wild flowers and butterflies.

Horse-drawn Boats and Canal Exhibition Centre: This quaint exhibition in Llangollen explains the history of the canals, but the

reason to visit is the trip in a horse-drawn boat along the Vale of Llangollen, and the narrowboat ride over the fine Pontcysyllte aqueduct.

Penrhyn Castle: The location is hard to beat - between the peaks of Snowdonia and the

Menai Strait near Bangor - and the interior has more variety than most. Attractions inside the neo-Norman castle include a doll museum and a Victorian kitchen garden.

Portmeirion: Worth a visit, if only for its curiosity value: Sir Clough Williams-Ellis's Italianate village by the River Dwyryd was the setting for the Sixties television series, The Prisoner.

Riding: Abergwynant Farm Trekking Centre in Dolgellau, Gwynedd, caters for beginners upwards (0341 422377).

Seaside resorts: Llandudno still has something of its Victorian charm, and is more fun than Colwyn Bay, but neither can compete with the cachet of Tenby down south.

Snowdonia National Park: The largest and most popular of Wales's National Parks includes the great Snowdon range and much of the wild north-west coast, where Harlech Castle dominates the dunes. Sadly, you are unlikely to experience the grandeur of Snowdon itself in romantic isolation - the rack-and-pinion railway from Llanberis ferries hordes of trippers 3,000ft to the top. A more challenging alternative is the stiff climb up Tryfan (park in one of the lay-bys on the A5) and a good family outing is the waymarked walk around the waterfalls from Abergwyngregyn. The most beautiful drive is to follow the A4085 north- west from Beddgelert.

Ty'n-y-coed: A smallholding and farmhouse near Betws-y-coed, Gwynedd, run by the National Trust to provide a record of the traditional Welsh way of life.

Welsh Mountain Zoo: This progressive zoo on a hillside overlooking Colwyn Bay is home to local wildlife as well as the traditional imports.

Gardens: Bodnant Gardens near Colwyn Bay, Clwyd; Plas yn Rhiw, near Pwllheli, Gwynedd.

EVENTS

19 July-13 August. Buddy, the Musical on tour at the New North Wales Theatre, Llandudno.

24-30 July. Tywyn Festival.

25-31 July. Conwy Festival.

28 July. Llandudno Fun Day.

29 July. Bangor-on-Dee Races.

31 July. Loggerheads Country Fair, near Mold.

7-14 August. Conwy River Regatta, Conwy Harbour.

7-18 August. Victorian Week, Tal-y-llyn Railway, Tywyn.

7 August. Veteran and Vintage Machinery Rally, Bersham Ironworks, near Wrexham.

9-10 August. Anglesey County Show, near Gwalchmai.

13-14 August. Caergwrle Historic Festival, near Wrexham.

13 August. Eglwysfach Agricultural Show, Colwyn Bay.

13 August. Bangor-on-Dee races.

29 August. Fun Day, Llandudno, Gwynedd: From pram races to skydiving.

PLACES TO STAY

West Arms Hotel, Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, near Llangollen, Clwyd (069176 665).

Porth Tocyn Hotel, Bwlchtocyn Abersoch, Gwynedd (0758 713303).

Plas Uchaf. Llangar, near Corwen, Clwyd. Landmark Trust Property sleeping 5 - to book, see Further Information on page 62.

The Bath Tower, Caernarfon. Landmark Trust Property, sleeps five - to book, see Further Information on page 62.

Sygun Fawr, Beddgelert, Gwynedd (076686 258).

MID AND SOUTH-WEST WALES

POWYS AND DYFED

DAYS OUT

Brecon Beacons National Park: Strangely, despite easy access by motorway, the Beacons feel the remotest and least spoilt of Wales's three national parks. Pen-y-Fan at 2,900ft is the highest mountain, and seems a gentle climb until you reach the last section, which requires an energetic scramble. A steadier walk, through the stunning landscape of the Marches, is along the part of Offa's Dyke which follows a ridge of the Black Mountains. Or try the gentler wooded slopes of the Forest Fawr and the Usk valley. On the western edge of the park, the ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle cling to the edge of a 300ft cliff.

Cardigan Island Coastal Farm Park: The largest island off the Dyfed coast is a nature reserve with a colony of grey seals and many seabirds. It's also one of the few places in the British Isles where you stand a reasonable chance of seeing dolphins in the wild.

Carew Castle and Tidal Mill: The castle was originally Norman, but was also used in Tudor and Elizabethan times - for the best views, try to visit when the tide is in. The mill dates back to 1558.

Dan yr Ogof Caves: The award-winning show caves at Abercraf, Powys, with their weird limestone formations, include one of the largest underground chambers, a dinosaur park and an Iron Age village.

Dolaucothi Gold Mines: Gold was mined in the hills above the Cothi valley near Lampeter, Dyfed, from Roman times until 1938 - there's an exhibition centre explaining the history and techniques, and you can explore underground with a lamp and helmet.

Dylan Thomas's Boat-house: Devotees of the orator-poet won't want to miss the house, on the shores of the Taf estuary in Dyfed, where he wrote Under Milk Wood. The museum celebrates his life and works.

Graham Sutherland Gallery: The gallery, in Picton Castle, Dyfed, has one of the largest collections of paintings by Sutherland, who was inspired by the Welsh landscape.

Henrhyd Falls: The River Llech tumbles a spectacular 90ft down a deep wooded ravine on the Powys-Glamorgan border.

Llywernog Silver-Lead Mine: One of the more interesting of the Welsh mines is set high in the Cambrian mountains at Ponterwyd. You can explore the workings, which date back to the 18th century, and try panning for silver.

Machynlleth Centre of Alternative Technology: Hippie commune turned yuppie enterprise, the centre, set on a Powys hilltop, is a superb model of sustainable living, with organic gardens, solar-heated houses and a remarkable water-powered mountain railway.

Museum of the Welsh Woollen Industry:

Exhibits at the former woollen mills in Drefach, Dyfed, explain the history of the industry and include working 19th-century textile machinery: one for a rainy day.

Oakwood Park: The nearest thing to a good- quality theme park in Wales; there are go- karts, assault courses and a new water ride for the kids in Narberth, Dyfed.

Pembroke Castle: The great Norman keep is over 70ft high and has walls nearly 20ft thick - it's the best place from which to view Pembroke, a pleasant, one-street town on a ridge.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park: The park includes what is arguably Britain's most stunning coastline as well as the boulder-strewn, heather-clad Presely Hills - where the stones of Stonehenge were cut. Few roads cut close to the coast, but the 186-mile coast footpath beginning at Carmarthen Bay and ending on the outskirts of Cardigan takes in the entire panorama. The most spectacular sections are in the north - especially St David's Head, Strumble Head and Dinas Head; for less vertiginous, easier walking try Stackpole Head, Tenby and Wooltack Point in the south.

Powis Castle: Built by Welsh princes in 1200 on the border near Welshpool, this is one of the finest castles in Wales, with an outstanding collection of paintings and furniture.

Riding: The Cantref Trekking and Riding Centre is in excellent riding country among the Brecon Beacons (0874 86223).

St David's Cathedral: A strange sight in its way, the Norman church is built of purple stone, and slopes and tilts alarmingly, but the roof of the nave in carved Irish oak is superb.

Seaside resorts: Tenby, with its medieval back- streets, cliff-top esplanade and sandy beaches, is preferable to nearby Saundersfoot.

Talley Abbey, Dyfed: Wrecked during Owen Glendower's rebellion in 1400, the ruins of the 12th-century abbey are among the most atmospheric in Wales.

Welshpool and Llanfair Railway: A 16-mile narrow-gauge steam trip through wonderful mid-Wales scenery. There are stations along the A458 Shrewsbury-Dolgellau Road.

Gardens: Colby Woodland Garden, Colby Bothy, Amroth, Dyfed; Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo, Dyfed.

EVENTS

18 and 21 July. Much Ado About Nothing: Open- air performance at Kidwelly Castle (0443 451084). Also playing at Harlech Castle (25 July), Conwy Castle (26-27 July), Caernarfon Castle (28 July), Denbigh Castle (29 July), Castle Coch (1-5 August), Tretower Castle (8-9 August), Caerphilly Castle (10 August), Tintern Abbey (12 August) Raglan Castle (13 August), Abergavenny Castle (15-16 August).

18-21 July. Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, Llanelwedd, Builth Wells, Powys.

22-30 July. Fishguard Music Festival: Orchestral and chamber concerts, plus musical workshops and fireworks (0348 873612).

23-24 July. The Gold Panning Championships, Dolaucothi gold mines, Pumsaint, Llanwrda: Open to all, including children.

25-29 July. Activities for young people: Brass- rubbing, weaving, heraldry in Carew Castle (0646 651782).

29-31 July. UK National Windsurfing Championships, Dale, Haverfordwest.

31 July-7 August. Llanwrtyd Wells Festival, Powys: Activities include a carnival day, disco and fun run.

31 July. Vintage Vehicle Rally, Llanrhystud, near Aberystwyth.

31 July. World Championship Tandem Road Race, Lake Vyrnwy.

2 August. Festival Arts, Bishops Palace, St David's, Pembrokeshire: A 'patchwork' of poetry, music and prose on the theme of 'lies'.

3-31 August. Estuary birdwatching, Ynyshir RSPB Reserve, near Machynlleth, Dyfed: Guided walks to watch falcons, waders and wildfowl every Wed at 10am (0654 781265).

11-14 August. Mountain Bike Festival, The Square, Llanwrtyd Wells.

11-12 August. United Counties Show, Carmarthen, Dyfed.

12-14 August. Brecon Jazz Festival: Benny Carter, Ray Brown, Ralph Sutton, George Shearing and Slide Hampton's Jazz Masters are among the performers (0874 625557).

14 August. Royal Fireworks Music, Powis Castle (Welshpool): Outdoor concert featuring live fireworks.

18-26 August. Equilibre - a performance of poetry, music and dance: Carreg Dressage, Abercegir, Machynlleth, Powys (0650 511222).

18-20 August. Welsh National Sheepdog Trials, Berllan Dywyll Farm, Golden Grove, Llandeilo, Dyfed.

20-28 August. Llandrindod Wells Victorian Festival, Powys.

21-28 August. Gwyl Machynlleth Festival: Music, mime and poetry plus children's events.

27 August-24 September. Wales Open Art Show, Aberystwyth.

27 August-3 September. Presteigne Music Festival, Powys.

27 August-4 September. Mid Wales Festival of Opera, Newtown, Powys: La Boheme and Tales of Hoffman (0686 625007).

27-29 August. Mounted Games Championship, Llanelwedd, Builth Wells, Powys: Equestrian competition.

29 August. World Bog-Snorkelling Championship and Mountain Bike Bog-Leaping Point to Point, Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys.

PLACES TO STAY

Cnapan, East Street, Newport, Pembrokeshire (0239 820575).

Druidstone Hotel, Broad Haven, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire (0437 781221).

Falcondale Hotel, Lampeter, Dyfed (0570 422910).

The Garden House, Powis Castle, Welshpool, Powys. National Trust property sleeping 6 - to book, see Further Information (below).

Maesyron Chapel, Glasbury-on-Wye, Powys. Landmark Trust Property sleeping 4 - to book, see Further Information (below).

Ty Mawr Country Hotel, Brechfa, near Carmarthen, Dyfed (0267 202332).

The West Block House, Dale, Pembrokeshire. Landmark Trust property sleeping 8 - to book, see Further Information (below).

SOUTH WALES

GWENT AND THE GLAMORGANS

DAYS OUT

Aberdulais Falls: The falls, near Neath, West Glamorgan, have been used to generate power for more than 300 years.

Big Pit Mining Museum: The best of the Welsh mining museums takes you 300ft underground to get a feel for the working life of the miners at Blaenavon, Gwent.

Caerphilly Castle: Home to the Welsh leaning tower - the ruined edifice tilts alarmingly. Worth a visit for its vast size and impressive water defences.

Cardiff: There are some sights worthy of a day trip, including the Norman castle, the National Museum of Wales, the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum in the docklands, and Techniquest - a hands-on science centre.

Castle Coch: A Victorian fantasy at Tongwynlais, South Glamorgan, built by the Marquis of Bute.

Caerleon Roman Remains: The remains, near Newport, include one of Britain's best preserved amphitheatres and baths.

Cosmeston Medieval Village: The village, at Penarth, South Glamorgan, has been re-created on the site of 14th-century remains.

Gower Peninsula: Much of Britain's first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with its sandy beaches, stunning coastline and myriad wildlife, is still remote and wild.

Penscynor Wildlife Park: Visitors can feed and touch some of the animals at this park in Cilfrew, West Glamorgan.

Skenfrith Castle: In Gwent, built by the Normans to command the strategic route across the border between England and Wales; the keep, curtain wall and the towers survive.

Swansea Maritime and Industrial Museum: This is Swansea's best attempt to attract the tourists - located in the docks, there are several different types of work boats to explore as well a working woollen mill.

Tintern Abbey: 'A presence that disturbs me with the joy / Of elevated thoughts', declaimed Wordsworth modestly - the ruins, on the banks of the Wye, are still inspirational.

Tredegar House, Newport: One of the best examples of a 17th-century house in Britain - with an insight into the domestic and social life of the Tredegar family.

Welsh Folk Museum: This classy collection, at St Fagans, South Glamorgan, includes traditional buildings and craft demonstrations.

Ynysfach Engine House Heritage Centre: The award-winning centre, at Merthyr Tydfil, is based around a restored ironworks.

Gardens: Caldicot Castle and Countryside Park, Gwent; Dyffryn Gardens, Cardiff; Margam Park, West Glamorgan.

EVENTS

Until 24 July. Chepstow Festival: From son et lumiere to brass bands, nature talks to hymn singing (0291 627451).

Until 31 July. Daily activities for children, Margam Park, Port Talbot.

18-31 July. The Gower Music Festival: Classical concerts at various churches (0792 207924).

19-23 July. Henry IV, part I: Shakespeare at Chepstow Castle (0291 627451).

21 July-20 August. Open Air Theatre Festival, Dyffryn House and Gardens, Cardiff: Sondheim, Shakespeare and plays for children (0222 593259).

22-24 July. RAF Town Show, Porthcawl.

23-24 July. British Formula One Power Boat Grand Prix, Atlantic Wharf, Cardiff Bay.

23 July-6 August. The Monmouth Festival: Music, drama and dance (0600 714357).

25 July-3 September. Splash Scheme: Subsidised sports and arts activities for the school holidays, at various leisure centres in Cardiff (0222 382296).

29 July-14 August. Cardiff Summer Festival: Jazz, street theatre, children's entertainment.

30 July-6 August. Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, Pentreclwydfa, Glynneath, Resolven, Neath: From concerts to ceremonial pageantry (0222 763777).

30 July-16 August. Abergavenny Arts Festival (0873 853909).

5-6 August. Cardiff Children's Festival: Music, dance, arts and crafts for young children in the grounds of Cardiff Castle.

14 August. Taff Trail Vintage Cycle Rally, Cyfartha Castle, Merthyr Tydfil.

18 August-2 October. British Canals 200 Travelling Exhibition, Big Pit, Blaenavon, Gwent.

29 August. Caerleon Carnival, Gwent.

29 August. Chepstow Races.

30 August. Medieval Warfare, Caerphilly Castle, Mid Glamorgan.

PLACES TO STAY

Clytha Castle, near Abergavenny, Gwent. Landmark Trust Property sleeping 6 - to book, see Further Information (below).

Parva Farmhouse, Tintern, Chepstow, Gwent (0291 689411).

Riverside Hotel, Cinderhill Street, Monmouth, Gwent (0600 715577).

West Usk Lighthouse, Lighthouse Road, St Brides Wentlloog, Newport (0633 810126).

The Cider Mill, Lower Pen-y-clawdd Farm, Dingestow, nr Monmouth (0600 83223).

Egerton Grey, Porthkerry, near Cardiff, South Glamorgan (0446 711666).

FURTHER INFORMATION

The Wales Tourist Board (0222 499909).

Brecon Beacons National Park (0874 624437).

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (0437 764591 ext 3135).

Snowdonia National Park (0766 770274).

Landmark Trust 0628 825925.

The National Trust self-catering cottages: 0225 791199 (membership 081-464 1111).

Reading: 'Blue Guide to Wales' ( pounds 12.99);

'Insight Guide to Wales' ( pounds 12.99); 'Moorland Visitor's Guide to North Wales and Snowdonia' ( pounds 9.99).

(Photographs and map omitted)

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