The Guides Guide to Wales

Wales offers visitors a wonderful landscape. From the snow-capped peaks of Snowdonia, to the mighty fortress castles of Caernarfon and Caerphilly. Here is a guide to the top ten places to visit, from ten of Wales’ best guides. Croeso i cymru!

1.CARDIFF CASTLE

Cardiff’s great fortress dominates the city centre. Once a medieval stronghold, what stands today is a Victorian neo-mediaeval extravaganza, says Blue Badge Guide Fiona Peel. It is easy to imagine the 3rd Marquess of Bute and his designer architect William Burges discussing the idiosyncratic design. Bute spoke 19 languages and was passionate about symbolism and neo-mediaevalism. Every inch of the decoration reflects something of his interests. Thank heavens he was the richest man around and could afford the gold leaf that abounds in the Arab Room. For a tour of the Castle contact: fiona@takemetowales.com

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2.THE ROYAL MINT

‘Follow the money!’ says Wales Blue Badge Guide Robert Llewellyn. The trail will take you to the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales. The behind-the scenes tour explores the sheer complexity of minting coins: from designing, metal working and striking up to 750 coins a minute. Follow the history of British coin making, find out how Isaac Newton spied on counterfeiters, and strike your own coin. Get minted with a tour: robsuellew@btinternet.com

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3.THE WALES COASTAL PATH

Walk along one of Britain’s finest coastal paths. Roberta Roberts loves showing visitors its many wonderful viewing points and villages. Her favourite places include the inlets of Stackpole in Pembrokeshire and the stunning Barafundle, that Passport Magazine called a ‘visual overdose of beauty’.

Further on is the amazing St Govan’s Chapel clinging to the rocks – the coastline’s ‘secret‘ as its military use means that it can only be accessed on certain days. To tour the coast contact Roberta at: rroberts088@btinternet.com

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4.ST DAVID’S CATHEDRAL AND CITY

It may be the smallest city in the UK, but in mediaeval times one pilgrimage to St David’s was equivalent of two to Rome. It is worth a pilgrimage, says local guide Dai Davies. There is something very special about this city, hidden away on the edge of West Wales. The cathedral is almost invisible until you are very close, which was a good thing when the Vikings were on the rampage! In the 6th century St David was looking for a place of quiet contemplation and you can still find it here today. There are now good restaurants and even a brilliant bug farm where you can have grub-based lunches. Walk out to wish at the well of St David’s mother, St Non the patron saint of infirmities; she healed my finger – or maybe it was the wonderful coastal path and air that killed the germs. Visit with Dai Davies: dtdavies21@hotmail.com

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5. PORTMEIRION

Wales has produced some amazing people, but none quite like the creator of Portmeirion Village, says Guide Alison Hypher. Clough Williams Ellis was an architect who made it his legacy to create a little Italianate town hugging the Welsh coastline. The evening light in this village is truly magical; you can stay in the big hotel at the bottom of the hill or in one of houses in the village, each with its own character. He left a painter’s palette of colours on the houses and details of design to delight the eye. It is no wonder that the iconic 60s TV show The Prisoner has immortalised this little kingdom. Take time to visit his own garden just a few miles away at Plas Brondanw, with its vistas into Snowdonia. Join Alison for a tour of Wales’ ‘little Italy’:alisonhypher@yahoo.com

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6.SNOWDONIA

To come to Wales and not visit Snowdonia would be like going to Stratford and not seeing a Shakespearian play, says guide Noel Clawson. There is so much to see. I always take visitors to Bettwys-y-Coed, which is the perfect place to stroll, hike or climb. If I have young daredevils with me I go to Llechwydd slate mines as they can zip-wire along the longest, fastest line and then hear stories of the hardships endured by the slate quarry workers. For the less energetic, we take the easy way to the top of Mount Snowdon by train; it is fun and not as smug as announcing you walked all the way up. Visit Snowdonia with Noel: clawsonn@hotmail.com

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7. ANGLESEY

We call it ‘the mother of Wales’: Mon Mam Cymru. The Romans knew it as their breadbasket. It’s also home to wonderful prehistoric sites, such as the burial chamber Bryn Celli Ddu. The geological formations on Anglesey are the earliest known in the UK. Modern Anglesey has something for everyone, a Sea Zoo, a wonderful mural by Rex Whistler at Plas Newyd – home of the Marquis of Anglesey – a hidden garden at Plas Cadnant. To reach this farthest corner of Wales, Telford and Stephenson both built amazing bridges over the Menai Straits. You should also make time to enjoy fantastic bird watching at South Stack or people watching around the concentric walls of Edward I’s Beaumaris Castle. Let Guide Lynne Bellis show you this magical island: lynnebellis@btinternet.com

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8.CONWY TOWN AND CASTLE

Conwy never disappoints, says Wales Guide Carole Startin. From the imposing World Heritage Site medieval castle and intact town walls, to Britain’s smallest house on the ancient quay – where there lived a 6’ 2” fisherman (presumably with a stoop). Tucked in the town wall is Llywelyn’s Hall, where it is thought that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, mediaeval Prince of Wales, once lived. The bustling High Street has nurtured and maintained Plas Mawr – the UK’s best preserved Tudor Town House – plus an Art Deco pub that has preserved many of its 1920s features and serves local beers. You can see why it’s wonderful or ‘bendigedig‘, as we say in Wales. Join one of Carole’s tours: funtourswales@hotmail.com

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9. BODNANT GARDENS

It is difficult to pick out a favourite garden as you could easily do a five day tour of Welsh gardens, says local Guide Anne Harris. Bodnant is a magnificent Victorian explosion of colour and planting. It was the first garden to create an amazing laburnum arch that bursts into lurid yellow in early summer. Love it or hate it, it is amazing. It is the studied carelessness of the garden that engages the heart and eye. It all looks so natural but is the work of generations, enriched by the addiction our ancestors had for plant collecting when they were exporting their goods of coal, slate and iron around the world. Let Anne show you this garden: anne.harris@mac.com

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10.  PONTCYSYLLTE AQUEDUCT

In 1805, at the opening ceremony of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, over 8,000 people congregated under the structure known as the ‘stream in the sky,’ while the ‘great and the good’ crossed the aqueduct by horse-drawn barges to the sound of celebratory brass bands. Nowadays the aqueduct – part of an eleven mile World Heritage Site – is the highest navigable canal in the world, standing at 127 feet (37m) and 1007 feet (307m) in length. The aqueduct can be crossed on foot or by barge with only a rail or the edge of the water basin to prevent a deep dive to the river below. Combine a visit with walking part of this beautiful shaded and tranquil canal towpath that was once a thoroughfare for commercial trade. Brave the aqueduct with Sarah Jones: sarahdel@hotmail.co.uk

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