Just in case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been… well my daughter and I went off for a week based in Pwllheli in Snowdonia at the base of the Llyn Peninsula, (which is the sticky out bit below the Isle of Anglesey), and most importantly – in front of the mountains and thus not in the rain shadow! This meant that although our day in and around Llanberis (where we caught the train up Snowdon) was damp, and our last day was drizzly all day, the rest of the week was dry and even sunny in parts!
We were quite busy, visiting: three castles (Beaumaris, Caernarvon, and Harlech which was up a totally scary 20% hill – I was so relieved to reach the top – and then discover the less steep road – blessed satnav!!!); we went up Snowdon on the steam train and as we arrived at the summit in fog, the sun finally came out; we went to the village with the longest placename in Europe - Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch; and various places with animals – cuddly, and aquatic … but the highlights for me were:
First, our visit to Portmerion.
Portmerion is famously celebrated for being the location for the cult series The Prisoner made in 1969, which was the brainchild of its star Patrick McGoohan (left). Of course you can buy souvenirs in the shops there.
The Italianate village was the life’s work of William Clough Ellis who built it between 1925 and 1975, influenced by a love of the Mediterranean and Portofino in particular. It’s bright and colourful with wonderful vistas and picturesque surprises around every corner. Many of the buildings are now gift shops, galleries and cafes, and there is a posh hotel at the bottom of the hill. You can, however, rent the cottages if your pockets are deep – from £1100 pw for a sleeps 3 in high season.
Another highlight was going out in a rib speedboat in the Menai Straits separating Anglesey from the mainland, and hanging on for dear life while Christian, our captain, executed high-speed donut and figure of eight turns alongside the stunning Menai Bridge.
The last geeky highlight for me was an underground tour inside Electric Mountain - the Dinorweg Hydroelectric power station at Llanberis.
This is a feat of civil engineering on such a grand scale. There are miles of roadway inside the mountain and the multi-storey turbine hall itself could hold St Paul’s Cathedral. The power station can provide on demand hydroelectric power to the grid within seconds of everyone switching their kettles on. The water in the lake at the top of the mountain powers the innovative turbines and piles out into the reservoir at the bottom. At night, they reverse the turbines and it’s pumped back up to the top, ready for the next time its needed. It actually costs more to pump the water back than to generate the power, but the speed of opening the valves to start generating is vital to the grid when demand peaks, so it’s worth it. Fascinating!
I didn’t have a very successful week of reading though, managing just a couple of hundred pages. All that fresh air, combined with the early and late trains arriving at the train station which was too close to the house we rented, not knowing they’d be there when we booked, meant I was too tired to read much.
I did naturally search for bookshops in Pwllheli … The first view that meets you outside Pwllheli station is a big boarded up store – but next to it with a black hoarding was a bookshop, Books, Maps, etc – which was closed – all week. Then on the High Street was The Book Zone which was closed down. Finally we found a third – The Book Seller (bottom) with its yellow window covering. It was shut! But did open eventually – so I bought a book. I found a fourth open Welsh Language bookshop too later.
Pwllheli was very much a fish & chips sort of town, although we finally discovered a decent Italian restaurant. An amusement arcade with 2p penny falls is always a bonus too, and we did quite well, making £2.50 in tuppences last all week. We had a good week, apart from the trains, and still have all the touristy bits of Northern Snowdonia to visit another time.
Now I have the rest of the summer to get on track with some serious reading. What are your plans?