BOX-OUT: 10 Stories That You Can Discover In Wales
Ghosts: Relive a gothic love story in Llangollen
Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, also known as the Ladies of Llangollen, became known as ‘the most celebrated virgins in Europe’ — national celebrities who were visited by Wordsworth, Shelley and Byron at their home, Plas Newydd. Writer Dr Mary Gordon wrote about her ghostly conversation with the women there, in The Flight of the Wild Goose. It’s now a museum, retaining the Gothic features they introduced. The women are said to return to their beloved mansion, set on peaceful gardens surrounded by trees, every Christmas Eve.
Childhood: Take the Alice in Wonderland tour in Llandudno
The real-life Alice Liddell lived in Llandudno in the 1860s and visitors can enjoy a tour of the Victorian seaside resort, taking in the sites inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic book. Follow 55 bronze cast rabbit footprints around a trail, stop at curio shops and art galleries onto the famous promenade, take a picnic in Happy Valley, explore Haulfre Gardens, and download an app that brings the sensory world of Alice to life and points you to all the best places to get lost and daydream.
Folklore & Traditions: Shed a tear for the ‘Welsh Juliet’ at Wales’ UNESCO biosphere
The wildlife-rich Dyfi Biosphere reserve in Mid Wales is also the setting for the Welsh love tragedy of Lleucu Llwyd, one of Wales’s most tragic love heroines, often referred to as the ‘Welsh Juliet’. Lleucu, who lived on Dolgelynen Farm near the Dyfi river, fell in love with a young poet, Llywelyn Goch, but her disapproving father told Lleucu her love had betrayed her and married another woman, and she died of a broken heart. The records of St Peter Ad Vincula church in Pennal record that she was buried under the altar in 1390. Songs and tales of the lovers are still common throughout Wales today, including Llywelyn Goch’s tragic Elegy for Lleucu Llwyd.
Rebels: Follow the world’s most successful pirate in Pembrokeshire
Family favourite T Llew Jones inspired a generation of children and adults with his novels — full of adventure, excitement, dangerous villains and fearless heroes. One rebellious hero was Bartholomew Roberts, better known as Barti Ddu (Black Barti) born in Casnewydd Bach, or Little Newcastle. “The most successful pirate the world ever knew”, he was a man who collected more gold and took more ships than any other pirate in history, including his counterparts Blackbeard and Captain Kidd.
Watery Worlds: Share a dip with a monster in Betws y Coed
Pretty lake, Llyn yr Afanc, was once terrorised by a water monster, sometimes referred to as the Welsh Loch Ness Monster. The Afanc is said to have taken the form of a crocodile, giant beaver or dwarf and was said to attack then eat anyone who entered its waters. Welsh mythology claims that the wild thrashings of the Afanc flooded and drowned all the people of Britain except for two: Dwyfan and Dwyfach. Head to Betws-y-Coed Information Centre to find out more.
Living Language: Visit Buckland Hall (the childhood home of Frodo Baggins)
JRR Tolkien felt the study of Welsh was crucial to his understanding of the history of the British Isles. He reputedly stayed near here one summer while writing The Lord of the Rings and borrowed generously from the area. His friend, Fred from Tredegar, appears as Fredegar, and Crickhowell turns up as Crick Hollow. Merthyr is Mordor, perhaps. Buckland, which as the book describes, does “lie on the east of the river”, became the residence of the Brandybuck Hobbits. Tolkien taught medieval Welsh while working at Leeds University and the Elvish language, Sindarin, is thought to have been inspired by the language.
Sacred and Spiritual Landscapes: Seek out St Dogmaels Abbey and Coach House
This Abbey takes its name from Dogmael, a sixth century Christian Saint, said to be the cousin of St David, Wales' very own patron saint. This was a spiritual and cultural powerhouse on the banks of the River Teifi, once famed for its impressive library. One of St Dogmaels’ literary gems, the 13th-century Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica, survives to this day in St John’s College, Cambridge. The church of St Thomas the Apostle next to the abbey features the Sagranus Stone bearing an inscription in the Ogham Script. Take a stroll along the nearby Poppet Sands for stunning views.
Boots and Bread: Breathe in Cordell country at Llanfoist Wharf
Blaenavon’s landscape is a living, breathing reminder of when Welsh coal and iron powered the world’s industries. It is from here that Alexander Cordell took his inspiration for his best-selling novel Rape of the Fair Country, the first in his series of novels portraying the turbulent history of early industrial Wales and working class struggles. Blaenavon has enjoyed a real resurrection, and investment in its archaeology culminated in its recognition as a World Heritage Site in 2000. Cordell is buried at The Church of St. Faith, Llanfoist. Follow the footpath up to the Grade II Listed Llanfoist Wharf Boathouse which can be hired as holiday accommodation. You can walk or hire a barge along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.
King Arthur: Take an underground guided tour of Dolaucothi Gold Mines
If the scenes of Smaug the dragon with his enormous hoard of gold in The Hobbit made you curious about how Welsh gold was mined, you’ll be gripped by the underground guided tour of Dolaucothi. Gold was extracted here from Roman times until 1938, the year after the book was published. After your visit, treat yourself to a pint of Double Dragon, a Carmarthenshire brew, in the nearby Dolaucothi Arms.
Battles: Be enchanted by Rhiannon in Newport, Pembs
It was here on the cliffs above the mouth of the River Nyfer that the hounds of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed in The Mabinogion, killed a stag which was being pursued by Arawn the King of the Otherworld. After his death, his wife, the legendary queen Rhiannon, appears on a gleaming white horse holding three magical birds whose song can “wake the dead and lull the living to sleep”. She was celebrated in the Fleetwood Mac song that bears her name, and remains a popular folk figure in this part of Pembrokeshire. The Visitor Centre, run by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, offers exhibitions on local culture, heritage, walks and attractions.