Vikings, Romans, Prime Ministers & promenades

You might not automatically associate North Wales with the Vikings, but the names of many of the places you’ll encounter during a journey through the region come from Norse visitors, not all of whom were altogether friendly.

Viking roots, historic developments of North Wales

The Great Orme Tramway, at the bottom of the hill is Llandudno

Great Orme, Tramway, No.6, Llandudno & Colwyn Bay by Alan

Anglesey, for example, is thought to take its title from a mystery Viking (the “sey” ending means “island”), and the Great Orme  – where you really should grab the chance to scale the cliff summit on the cable-carried gauge tramway – means worm or serpent, a comparison perceived by its invaders during less idyllic times.

The middle ages

Plas Newydd Country House and Gardens. Home of the Marquess of Anglesey, with spectacular views of Snowdonia.

Plas Newydd Country House and Gardens, Anglesey by Paul Sloane

We’re talking about the 10th century here, but druidic references to the region stretch back to Roman times, and Plas Newydd, which offers wonderful views of the surrounding Menai Strait, has yielded numerous megalithic discoveries. Go for a wander anywhere in spectacular Snowdonia and you’ll see why it was considered the most powerful Welsh kingdom during the Middle Ages, when its mountainous terrain proved perfect for creating stubborn defences. 

North Wales’ industrial history

Industrial history surrounds you, and a visit to the National Slate Museum, in Llanberis, brings it all together in a setting scarcely removed from its heyday, complete with the giant waterwheel and 19th century workshops where bygone Welshmen once toiled.

The only Welsh Prime Minister

Conwy Castle. View from top of tower east barbican overlooking Conwy and the castle.

Conwy Castle, Llandudno and Colwyn Bay by Hefin Owen

One tiny village has a hidden political history. Llanystumdwy has a population of less than 2,000 but it happened to be the place where David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister who led Britain to victory in the First World War, grew up and learned many of his fiercely liberal principles. His grave is set in a wooded valley.

Visit the castles of Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech – all World Heritage Sites – for a glimpse of the visions of impenetrability Edward I once had for the landscape.

Victorian promenades

Train along the Llanberis Lake Railway.

Llanberis Lake Railway, Snowdonia Mountains and Coast by chippy1920

From soil to sand, saunter along the shore at Rhyl and Prestatyn to follow in the footsteps of Victorian fun-lovers. Prestatyn is North Wales’ oldest established resort, and both areas became extremely fashionable during the mid-19th century, although you can find their most gripping stories several hundred years before then.

Prestatyn Castle was famously built by Henry II in 1157, turning it into a vital strategic landmark during Norman times. It lasted, alas, a mere ten years before being razed by the Welsh, but you can still see its remnants within the town the king once used as a garrison.

The railway lines which once passed along here carried minerals from the quarries – try the Llanberis Lake Railway if a trip on the tracks takes your fancy – and Ty Siamas, in Dolgellau, is also worth a visit to imagine the sounds of ancient Wales. This is where to discover the story of Welsh folk music, set in a market building built in the 19th century. It’s been a grain store, dance hall and political meeting centre, apparently founded by the first musician to come up with a triple harp in Wales. Raise a toast to him in the town where the country’s inaugural folk festival took place.

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