Snowdonia & Lleyn Peninsula - Castles & Gardens
Caernarfon was first fortified by the Romans and during Norman rule a motte and bailey castle was constructed. Edward I began to replace this with the current stone structure in 1283 and the castle is one of the most impressive in Wales with a couple of unique features that make it stand out from others of the period. The stonework in the walls creates bands of colour and the main towers are polygonal - a deliberate use of imagery from the Roman period employed by Edward to help assert his authority on the region. However, despite vast amounts of money being spent, many of the ambitious plans for interior buildings were never completed. Until the start of the Tudor reign in 1485 when hostilities eased, Caernarfon Castle changed hands several times but then fell into disrepair once it was no longer of strategic importance. The defences were good enough for the Royalists to hold out during the civil war but then the castle was neglected until state funded repairs began in the 1870's. In 1911 Caernarfon was used for the first time for the investiture of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and again in 1969 with that of Charles, Prince of Wales. It is now cared for by Cadw and in 1986 was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites as part of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd.
Along with the castles at Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Harlech, Conwy completes the designated World Heritage Site and is today also managed by Cadw. Constructed in 1283-89 during Edward I's second North Wales campaign, it was designed by the principal military engineer of the day, James of St George, and it was the most costly Welsh castle to build during this period. In 1295 Edward was besieged at Conwy during the rebellion of Madog ap Llywelyn. Welsh forces captured the castle, which was later ransomed back to Henry IV. During the War of the Roses, Conwy was taken by the Earl of Pembroke in 1461 under orders of Edward IV. Unused then until the outbreak of the English Civil War, it was captured by Parliamentary forces in 1646. Slighted and left empty the castle was later granted to the 3rd Viscount Conway by Charles II.
One of the most beautiful gardens in the UK, Bodnant is not to be missed! Situated about 5 miles south of Conwy, it looks across the Conwy Valley to Snowdonia National Park. Five terraces, many rose gardens, a wide range of interesting plants from all over the world, woodland and stream walks, and the renowned laburnum arch. Bodnant is also famous for its breeding programme, especially varieties of rhododendrons and azaleas now grown world-wide.
This 70 acre Grade I listed garden, 5 miles SW Caernarfon, is home to a wide range of exotic trees and plants, including a 100 ft monkey puzzle tree. There are bamboo and rhododendron collections, follies dated back to the C18th and more contemporary sculptures within the grounds.
Originally a medieval fortified manor, this huge neo-Norman castle was built in the C19th and has about 50 acres of beautiful gardens and grounds. Snowdrops and other spring flowers, more formal gardens including a fuchsia arch, woodland walks, walled garden and bog garden. A stunning location between the Menai Strait and Snowdonia, one mile east of Bangor.
Treborth Botanic Garden
Planned as part of a Victorian pleasure park, this site was bought by Bangor University in the 1960s in order to develop a plant collection for the Botany Department. It now shows a wide range of wild and cultivated plants from all over the world, as well as a collection from coastal and mountain regions of Wales, and part of the woodland is an SSSI.
The gardens at Portmeirion are in a glorious setting on the Dwyryd estuary 2 miles south of Penrhyndeudraeth, blessed by a very mild climate which allows many exotic and tender plants to thrive. Begun in the early Victorian period and acquired, of course, by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in the C20th, with major renovations in the last 20 years. All year woodland gardens, sub-tropical plants and palms, as well as more formal borders.
A small Edwardian garden created by Clough Williams-Ellis, in Snowdonia National Park a mile or so north of Penrhyndeudraeth and with magnificent mountain views. Its design is strongly architectural, inspired by Italian renaissance gardens, with fine topiary and planting.
This is a pretty one acre garden between Abersoch and Aberdaron on the Lleyn Peninsula, enjoying superb views of Porth Neigwl/Hell's Mouth Bay. There are ornamental gardens with interesting trees and shrubs and fabulous displays of snowdrops and bluebells in the springtime woods.
Harlech Castle was built by Edward I during his conquest of Wales, one of 14 castles built in the closing decades of the C13th. Designed by the great military engineer, James of St George, it was begun in 1283 and took 7 years to complete, its complex design and clifftop location making it one of the most difficult castles to build. The sea used to come to the foot of the cliffs and, with Edward enjoying total supremacy on water, a fortified stairway was built to run almost 200 feet down to the foot of the cliffs. This stairway was used to supply the castle and helped stave off an attack when it was besieged by Madoc ap Llywelyn in the winter of 1294-5. Subject to several assaults, Harlech castle served as the defacto capital of an independent Wales from 1404-09 when it was held by Owain Glyndwr. In the Wars of the Roses in the first part of Edward IV's reign (1461-70) it was held as a Lancastrian stronghold and became the last major stronghold under Lancastrian control, surrendering in 1468 having withstood a seven-year siege through its being provisioned from the sea - this is the longest known siege in the history of the British Isles and it inspired the famous Men of Harlech song. During the English Civil War, Harlech was the last fortress to hold out against Parliamentary forces with the surrender in March 1647 being over a year after Charles had himself been captured. Today Harlech is part of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd World Heritage site, reflecting its importance and remarkable state of preservation, and is maintained by Cadw.
Castell-y-Bere was built by Llewelyn the Great around 1221 on a rocky hillock near Cadair Idris, a triangular castle rising above the Dysynni Valley. The castle had two D-shaped towers, a distinct feature of native Welsh castles and typical of Llewelyn. One of the towers would have contained a chapel. The atmosphere of the ruins is terrific and the scenery alone makes it well worth a visit.
Centre for Alternative Technology
Not your average garden but of great interest if you're seeking inspiration for your own eco-friendly measures. There are 7 acres on display with extensive and contrasting gardens to look around, ranging from The Urban Garden to a Woodland Walk, with polytunnels and the Mole Hole in between! Open all year round, CAT is situated 2.5 miles north of Machynlleth (and on a national cycle route).