Category Archives: Wales

Crossing the Devil’s Bridge at Rheidol Gorge

Devil's Bridge sign
Welcome to the legend of the Devil’s Bridge

Allow me to paraphrase the tale of the Devil’s Bridge:

Once upon a time, there was a woman who lived near Rheidol Gorge. She woke up one morning to discover that her only cow had managed to cross to the other side of the gorge and was stuck there, and she had no way of getting her back. As she sat, worried about her dilemma, the devil appeared.
“I can help you get your cow back,” he said. “I can build you a bridge so you can bring your cow home.”
Curious, the woman asked his price.
“The first living thing that crosses it.”
She agreed to the terms, but spent the night wondering what she was willing to lose – her cow as it came back over the bridge or her life as she went over to coax her cow home?
The next day, as promised, was a bridge spanning the gorge. The woman walked towards it, her faithful dog tailing her. Then, just before she stepped on to the bridge, her dog ran in front of her, and crossed the bridge. The devil was so angry that he had been tricked that he disappeared in a puff of smoke. The woman got her cow back and lived happily ever after.

And the Devil’s Bridge still stands today.

Over the years, rather than destroying the Devil’s Bridge (and perhaps incurring his fiery wrath?!), the locals have simply built over it. And when that bridge would no longer do, they built on top of it again. So now when you come to Rheidol Gorge, what you see is a history of bridges: three of them laid over one another!

The three bridges, including the Devil's Bridge
The three bridges. Built on top of each other, the highest was built in 1901, the middle bridge was built in 1708, and the “Devil’s” bridge is from the eleventh century

Besides seeing the bridges, there are two walking trails you can take through the forested gorge (there is a fee for each, payable at the entrance). The shorter walk takes you to see the Devil’s Punchbowl and a view of the Three Bridges.

The Nature Walk is longer, and takes you through the gorge, past spectacular views of the Mynach Falls and out across the Rheidol Valley, down the extremely steep Jacob’s ladder (I was glad I wasn’t climbing up it – down was scary enough!) and then back up the other side of the gorge past the Robber’s Cave and back up to the road.

Rheidol Valley
Looking out over the picturesque Rheidol Valley
The Mynach Falls
The Mynach Falls
Jacob's Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder – a steep staircase to take you down to the bottom of Rheidol Gorge

As someone who grew up with family walks to waterfalls, I liked the peaceful walk through Rheidol Gorge, and the glimpses of Mynach Falls through the trees as we circled our way around it, though the walk back up the other side of the gorge showed me how unfit I was, and left me catching my breath when we got back to the highest bridge!

Perhaps the woman was justified in bargaining with the devil for her bridge after all!

What you need to know:

A Peek at Caenarfon Castle

The sun had already disappeared below the horizon as we drove in to Caenarfon for an overnight stay. While arriving late and leaving early meant I had little time for exploring, I walked alongside the town walls and sought out Caenarfon Castle.

Caenarfon Castle
Caenarfon Castle
The walls of Caenarfon Castle
The walls of Caenarfon Castle
The Eagle Tower at Caenarfon Castle
The Eagle Tower at Caenarfon Castle

Caenarfon Castle was built in the reign of the English king Edward I for his eldest son Edward of Caernarfon, the first Prince of Wales, to gain a strategic English foothold in Wales. It has since been used for the investiture of Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales.

The town walls of Caenarfon
The town walls of Caenarfon

Caenarfon Castle and the fortified town of Caenarfon have been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd (along with the castles of Beaumaris, Conwy and its fortified town and Harlech) since 1986 for their display of 13th and 14th century military architecture.

Looking out across the River Seiont from Caenarfon Castle
Looking out across the River Seiont from Caenarfon Castle

The walk back to the accommodation was peaceful, with a beautiful view over the River Seiont. While disappointed that we hadn’t timed our visit so we could go inside one of the most impressive castles in Wales, I consoled myself with the thought: you can always come back.

What you need to know:

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerych-wyrndrobwllllan-tysiliogogogoch – Try Saying That Three Times In A Row!

The Visitor's Centre
The Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch visitor’s centre

What do you do when you’re a sleepy Welsh town looking to increase your tourism numbers? Simple! Just add a few more words to your town’s name so you can become the town with the longest name in Europe.

Llanfair PG sign outside the visitor's centre
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – a name so long it is difficult to get it all in one shot!

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (don’t ask me to pronounce it!) translates to The Church of Mary in the Hollow of the White Hazel near the Fierce Whirlpool and the Church of Tysilio by the Red Cave. While the original aim of the 1860s re-christening was to have the train station with the longest name in Britain, “Llanfair PG” also manages to be the third longest place name in the world.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch train station
The train station with the longest name in Britain

The marketing ploy is still bringing tourists to the town today – busloads of visitors pose for photos in front of the train station and the visitor’s information centre, where you can buy souvenirs, send postcards with the Llanfair PG postmark, or get a stamp to commemorate your visit!

The obligatory photo in front of the visitor's centre
The obligatory photo in front of the visitor’s centre

You might not get to see a church, a whirlpool, a hazel tree, or a red cave on your visit to the Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch train station, but as you stand in front of buildings with 58 character names on them, just think of how a simple idea and some community determination has turned Llanfair PG into an unlikely tourist destination (or make your own attempt to claim the longest place name crown by brainstorming a new name for your town!).

Betws-y-Coed: Beautiful Buildings and Ugly Houses

The Betws-y-Coed train station
Welcome to Betws-y-Coed

While driving through Snowdonia National Park, we stopped for a morning tea of coffee and Welsh cakes in the town of Betws-y-Coed. Although it feels small, it is one of the main towns in Snowdonia. Walking down the main road in order to stretch our legs, we passed many of the pretty stone and slate houses that make Betws-y-Coed a picture-perfect town.

Gwydyr Hotel
The buildings in Betws-y-Coed are all made out of stone and slate, even the hotels
St Mary's Church
St Mary’s Church holds regular Welsh Male Choir performances
Being inside Snowdonia National Park, Betws-y-Coed is surrounded by forests
Row houses
I fell in love with these row houses – so pretty!

We dropped in to the local bakery Cwmni Cacen Gri (The Welshcake Company) for coffee and one of their renowned traditional Welsh cakes, before heading on to Tŷ Hyll – the Ugly House.

The Ugly House is situated just outside of Betws-y-Coed. Home to the Pot Mêl Tearooms, it is a cosy cottage with a mysterious origin.

The Ugly House
Tŷ Hyll (the Ugly House), home to the Pot Mêl Tearooms

The Ugly House
To win ownership of the land, you needed to build a house with four walls, a roof and a smoking chimney

Legend has it that if you managed to build a house on common land between sunset and sunrise that consisted of four walls, a roof and a smoking chimney, then you could claim ownership of the land it stood on.

The Ugly House
Can you imagine how they could have built the Ugly House in one night using those stones?!

The Ugly House is rumoured to be one of these houses, though how such a quaint cottage could have been christened ‘Ugly’ is debatable – rumours abound as to whether it was named after the ‘ugly’ type of people, such as thieves and outlaws, who may have lived there, a mispronounciation of the Llugwy River which flows nearby, or simply after the rough-hewn boulders that form the walls. One thing is for certain – by the look of those huge stones it’s hard to imagine how many people it took to construct the place within a night!

What you need to know:

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct: A walk alongside the stream in the sky

Pontcysyllte. It’s fun to say: PONT-KEE-SILL-TEE.

It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the first time I heard the name of Thomas Telford.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the highest and longest aqueduct in Britain

Thomas Telford is a bit of a hero in the British civil engineering scene, and the further I travelled throughout Britain, the more it felt like he was responsible for most of the roads, canals and bridges that I saw.

Looking down: the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee
Looking down: the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is one of Telford’s many creations. Standing thirty-eight metres above the River Dee and spanning a width of 300 metres, the aqueduct is the highest and longest aqueduct in Great Britain and has rather appropriately been dubbed the ‘stream in the sky’.

Just look at the views from the top of the aqueduct!

The view from the top of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
The view from the top of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

You can even walk across the aqueduct yourself – there is a footpath that runs alongside the canal that feels very safe (I was more worried about dropping my camera in to the canal than anything else!), and if you’ve got good timing, you might even see one of the canal boats pass by as they venture across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

Canal boats on the Llangollen Canal
Get to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct at the right time, and you can watch the canal boats cross it