Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Five Valleys (Part 1, Llandudno to Caernarfon.)

This trip is one I have wanted to do for years, even before it became possible again with the re-opening of the Welsh Highland Railway. Sometimes dreams come true!

In theory you can travel from Llandudno to Bangor by train, with a change of train at Llandudno Junction and a further change to a bus at Bangor. However, the train timetable was not obliging, so the tour began with an early start in Llandudno to catch the X5 bus. (You can also get the 5, it just goes a slightly different way.)

Modern buses are not usually my cup of tea, but this one had a friendly driver, the seats were comfortable, and the single fare was a trifling £3-70. You couldn't ask for more. A screen which constantly updated showed the name of the next stop, and an electronic voice told you, in both Welsh and English. No excuse for getting lost!

This has to be one of the best travel bargains in the UK. Even though the bus carries 'Bangor' o the front it actually works straight through to Caernarfon and you can have a through ticket. It was as good as a coach tour, and less crowded.

The journey takes you through Conwy, with an excellent view of the castle and estuary, and then along the coast, with occasional diversions to take in small villages. One of these is Abergwyngregyn, famous in Welsh history as the residence of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (and his forebears) and familiar from the works of Sharon K. Penman. The bus only pays a brief call to the edge of the village, and then it's back onto the A5, a spectacular road with views of Anglesey (Ynys Mon) and Puffin Island (Ynys Seriol). This little island has at least four names as it used also be called Priestholm or Ynys Lannog. There used to be a monastery on it, a long time ago. The monks certainly had solitude, but now it's a bird sanctuary.

The timetable indicated that the service was in effect a school bus from Bangor on. Being used to the rather unfortunate behaviour of some students in Greater Manchester, I wondered quite what to expect. In the event quite a few young people did board at Bangor, but I am pleased to say they were an absolute credit to themselves and their schools. They seemed to be a lot more mature than I was at their age!

Eventually we arrived in Caernarfon, by which time I was the only passenger. These days the buses don't enter Castle Square - which used to be their venue back in the day - but drop you off just around the corner from it. A fairly heavy drizzle had started by this time so I retired for breakfast to a rather lovely cafe in the shadow of the castle walls. The breakfast was excellent, and there was even a newspaper to read. I heard my first Welsh language conversation of the day, and departed with a Diolch yn fawr.

Caernarfon is now a very Welsh town. It didn't use to be of course, as the huge castle was built by Edward I to overawe the Welsh, and the town built in its shade was stocked with English settlers. Of course the Welsh were not overawed for long. During the Glyndwr rising, for example, no man dared venture to Chester to ask for assistance - the garrison had to send a woman.

The castle is still an impressive building, and must have been even more so in the 13th Century, when the largest building most people saw was their parish church. I prefer it from a distance though. Close up, it feels oppressive. That was the idea, of course.

So, with the rain eased somewhat, I was off down the slope to the lower part of the town and the WHR railway station. (I refuse to say train station.) More next time.

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