Welcome to Cymru
Date Posted: 28/07/2011
Melissa Cadby crossed the border into north Wales and received a warm Celtic welcome from the locals. Proud of its royal roots, and now called home by Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, Group Leisure explores what the region can offer groups.
A popular childhood holiday destination, particularly for those growing up in north-west England, I myself have fond memories of spending the summer holidays visiting the seaside resorts that line the northern coast of Wales. My siblings and I enjoyed catching crabs from the shore, riding the steam trains, and eating fish and chip suppers on the beach; though I try my best to forget the ill-fated day that my dad insisted we don our cagoules and attempt to scale Mount Snowdon.
My recent visit to north Wales was my first for many years, and though the region has seen many developments over the decades, it still very much stays true to its proud Celtic roots. Whilst the camping and caravan holiday parks still remain popular with families, groups can now choose from a whole host of accommodation options whilst visiting the area, including spa hotels, castles and B&Bs.
What’s more, with its royal ancestry now being brought into the 21stcentury with the residence of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge on the Isle of Anglesey, North Wales Tourism have added another reason to the list as to why the region is such a draw for coach and cruising groups, docking at Holyhead and even Liverpool.
You could start your itinerary as I did in the historic walled market town of Conwy. Dominated by medieval Conwy Castle (pictured) and with a dramatic Snowdonia backdrop, its inception dates back to the 1200s under the instruction of Edward I of England, in order to house English settlers and keep out the native Welsh. Blue Badge Guide Rhian Jones, otherwise known as Blodwen the Maid, is available to book for tours of the castle and town centre, and is a sound investment for her vast local knowledge and amusing anecdotes. Parties of 15 or more receive a ten per cent discount on entry to Conwy Castle.
Elsewhere in the community, groups can see the smallest house in Britain, cruise the estuary, sample the delicious local mussels, and take a spooky tour of the Elizabethan manor house Plas Mawr. The latter will suit all ages, and is as entertaining as it educational, as resident maid Blodwen explores the hidden crevices and throws light on the mysteries associated with the grand mansion. During the one-hour visit I learnt the interesting origins of well-known sayings sleep tight, over the threshold, and the upper crust. Groups of 15 to 30 members can book on any Thursday evening from April to October, though private bookings can also be made for other nights. My advice to GTOs is to take a camera, and keep an eye out for mysterious shadows lurking behind the windows.
The Castle Hotel Conwy is a great central base for spending time in the town, and its Dawsons Restaurant makes for a lovely dinner treat, but many more accommodation choices are available just a short coach drive away. An option to cover north-western Wales, including Anglesey, is Plas Dinas (pictured) in Caernarfon. Small groups could solely occupy its nine bedrooms and outside cottages, at the Victorian address which was once home of Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret. Adding to this royal connection, Prince William paid a visit to the country house earlier this year for a meeting, and dined in the Gun Room.
Plas Dinas is a great starting point from which to tour north Wales’s connections to the monarchy. Led by local guide Carole Startin and coach operator Busy Bus, your group could continue your royal itinerary at the World Heritage Site of Caernarfon Castle, and learn the story behind the location of Prince Charles’s 1969 investiture as the Prince of Wales. Though Doctor Who’s TARDIS had set up camp on the balcony during my visit, as the famous police telephone box toured the country, ordinarily groups can stand on the same spot where Prince Charles waved to his cheering crowds. The castle also houses the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, which may be of interest to some group members, and parties of 13 plus receive discounted entry.
Crossing the Menai Bridge into Angelsey, Beaumaris Castle (pictured), like Conwy Castle, has links dating back to Edward I. Though unfinished, it is regarded as one of the most technically perfect castles in Britain, with its water moat and 'walls within walls' design. If booked on its own, a discount applies to groups 15 or more. The nearby St Gredifael’s Church has connections with the Welsh Princes and the Tudor Dynasty, and Prince Charles has previously paid a visit, before stopping off at the neighbouring Neuadd Lwyd hotel for afternoon tea.
A trip to Anglesey wouldn’t be complete without taking the time to visit the spotter’s car park at RAF Valley. Prince William, or Billy the Fish as he’s nicknamed by his comrades, is based at the site for his job as a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot, and lucky groups might even catch a glimpse of his helicopter flying overhead. A member of Valley Aviation Society can be found there most days, but larger parties should call ahead to confirm their plans to visit. Renowned for riding his Ducati motorbike around the island, for a fleeting moment I thought I’d spotted the prince whizz past the base, but wearing a helmet, I’ll never know for sure how close I got to royalty.
Tea stops between attractions can include Celtica; a gift shop and tea room with group and coach drive incentives, and the village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch; otherwise known as Llanfair PG. Translated as Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave, the train station makes for a fun photo opportunity and an interesting lesson in pronunciation.
Carole Startin and Busy Bus’s one-day royal tour package is suitable for groups of 15 or more, and the itinerary can include visits to Caernarfon Castle, Beaumaris Castle, St Gredifael’s Church, Llanfair PG and RAF Valley, with coach travel and a private tour guide included.
Though the royal element encourages tourists to take a fresh look at north Wales as a short break destination, other attractions in the area can easily extend a visit into a longer holiday. Group organisers may want to consider a trip to the heights of Mount Snowdon, some time at the Italianate-inspired village of Portmeirion, a ride on one of the steam railways, an underground exploration at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, and an animal adventure at the Welsh Mountain Zoo.
Take a look at this short video to get a flavour of Wales.