2003 – Wales
AT A GLANCE
Welcome to Wales, a land of dragons, mountains, stunning coastlines and green pastures
This tour has it all. The scenic splendour of Snowdonia, one of Britain's first National Parks and the highest mountains in England & Wales, the finest collection of medieval castles in Europe, the Pembroke Coast National Park, an area renowned for its spectacular coastal scenery and Britain's only coastal National Park, and an excellent selection of wonderful gardens.
The tour combines the rugged, mountainous area of Snowdonia, in North Wales, with the more gentle, pastural landscapes and stunning coastlines of Pembrokeshire, the tip of South West Wales. And it's not all scenery and gardens, we visit the ever-impressive Caernarfon Castle, birthplace of Edward II, and Plas Mawr, the finest surviving Elizabethan town house in Britain, in the North, and Melin Tregwynt, a traditional Welsh woollen mill, and St Davids Cathedral, in the South West.
We take you out to sea too, for a wildlife safari around the islands off the Pembrokeshire coast.
As always, we visit a wide-range of gardens, a dozen or so of the best gardens in Wales, including Bodnant Garden, one of Britain's most famous and popular gardens; Plas Cadnant, on Anglesey, another of our customers' favourite gardens; the National Botanic Garden of Wales, with its single-span glasshouse, the largest in the world; and the wonderful Aberglasney, with its extraordinary Cloister Garden.
And as always too, we will visit one or two smaller, less-frequented gardens, in off-the-beaten-track places!
Castles of Wales
Although we only plan to visit Caernarfon Castle, where Edward II was born and where, some 685 hundred years later, the current heir to the throne, HRH The Prince of Wales, was invested in 1969 (watch YouTube clip here), the medieval castles of Wales, and North Wales in particular, cannot be ignored. Built by English Kings to suppress the Welsh – some 400 of them – they are amongst the finest examples of medieval castle-building in Europe.
Welsh Language & Culture
The Welsh language, Britain's oldest language, is spoken by about 20% of the population, more in the North than in the South, and more amongst younger people than older. The Welsh are Celts and have a distinct culture and history, and the Visit Wales tourist website has a decent overview of their history here.
Sleeping & Eating
We will stay in three hotels on this tour, starting with a one-night stay at Goldstone Hall, a favourite hotel of ours, with a superb garden, in North Shropshire, where we break our journey between Heathrow and North Wales.
For our first three nights in Wales we are returning to Ty'n Rhos Country House, a family-owned and run establishment, where we have enjoyed Hilary Murphy's wonderful hospitality on several occasions, most recently on our last Gardens & Castles of North Wales tour, in 2017, and for our second three nights in Wales, we are returning to The Grove, a sumptuous hotel, set in beautiful grounds, with an excellent kitchen.
All three of our hotels feature in the highly-regarded Good Hotel Guide.
We will dine out on three evenings, twice quite simply, firstly at The Dining Room, Abersoch, a gem of a local bistro, in the popular seaside town of Abersoch, and secondly at The Shed, Porthgain, where they serve the best Fish & Chips I have eaten, and I've eaten a few! Our final dinner is at Coast, a sister operation to our hotel, The Grove, and is one of the best fish and seafood restaurants in the country.
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7 – 14 May 2020 | 8 days
DAY 1 – THU 7 MAY
Tim will collect you from either Stansted Airport or from the Sheraton Heathrow Hotel, just north of Terminal 5 Heathrow Airport, and, once we are all together, we will drive west for a late-morning visit to Waterperry Gardens, the former home to the renowned School of Horticulture for Ladies, founded in 1932 by Miss Beatrix Havergal, a formidable woman, succeeding in what was, then, the very male-dominated world of horticulture.
After lunch, at Waterperry's excellent tea room, we continue on to Goldstone Hall, our North Shropshire hotel, where we plan to be by late-afternoon, in good time for tea and to enjoy a guided tour of Goldstone Hall's gardens, with either John, the owner, or Nick, the Head Gardener, before drinks and dinner at the hotel.
Today's driving is about 160 miles/255 km from Heathrow
DAY 2 – FRI 8 MAY
We leave Shropshire, crossing Cheshire, into North Wales for morning coffee and a walk around the beautiful gardens at Bodysgallen Hall, before a short drive south, along the River Conwy, to the world-renowned Bodnant Garden, one of Britain's finest gardens.
Established in 1874 by Henry Pochin, and developed by five generations of one family, Bodnant has been in the care of the National Trust since 1949. The 32 ha/80 acre garden is a garden of two halves, with manicured lawns and formal Italianate Terraces falling away into shrub-filled glades, water gardens and wild areas, and, of course, its famous Laburnum Arch, the longest in the UK. We have most of the day at Bodnant before driving into nearby Conwy for a late-afternoon visit to Plas Mawr, a fascinating and rare surviving example of an Elizabethan town house.
From Conwy it's about a 30-minute drive to Ty'n Rhos, our home for the next three nights, where we plan to be in plenty of time to check-in, relax and enjoy drinks and dinner, at the hotel.
Today's driving is about 110 miles/175 km
DAY 3 – SAT 9 MAY
We start the day at nearby Crûg Farm Plants, an extraordinary nursery and garden with an unrivalled selection of plants. Originally beef farmers, Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones started their nursery in 1991, since when Crûg has become a Mecca for extraordinary plants, many found on their adventurous plant-hunting expeditions.
From Crûg we drive through the dramatic Snowdonia mountains, stopping in the lovely village of Beddgelert for a brief visit to Gelert's grave, before lunch and the early afternoon at Plas Brondanw, the home and garden of gentleman architect, Clough Williams-Ellis, creator of Portmeirion. Built by his ancestor, John ap Hywel in around 1550, Plas Brondanw was given to the 25-year-old Clough by his father in 1908 and, although less well known than his masterpiece at Portmeirion, many think it the more important creation.
Our final journey is along the beautiful Llyn Peninsula for a late-afternoon visit to Plas yn Rhiw, a delightful 16th-century house with a charming garden and spectacular views across Cardigan Bay, and from here we end the day with dinner at the Dining Room, in the popular and fashionable sailing resort of Abersoch.
Today's driving is about 100 miles/160 km
DAY 4 – SUN 10 MAY
We start today in Caernarfon, the County Town of Gwynedd, to visit Caernarfon Castle, one of a ring of 13th-century fortresses built by Edward I to suppress the Welsh. Tradition has it that Edward II was born at Caernarfon in 1284, and that Edward I invested him Prince of Wales, an unbroken tradition, continued by The Queen, when she invested Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969.
Leaving Caernarfon in the late morning, we cross the Menai Strait – the body of fast-flowing water, separating the mainland from Anglesey (literally, isle of the Angles) – to visit Plas Cadnant, a transformational restoration of a historic garden, begun by the present owners in 1996, and one of North Wales best kept secrets. The new garden is being created on a historic site, and is becoming a plantsman's paradise, one which is now considered amongst the best twenty gardens of Wales.
Our final visit of the day is to an as-yet-unknown garden, one open for charity under the National Garden Scheme's Gardens Open for Charity, when, on a Spring Sunday afternoon, I hope we will be spoilt for choice. Wherever we find ourselves, we return to Ty'n Rhos for dinner.
Today's driving is about 50 miles/80 km
DAY 5 – MON 11 MAY
We bid farewell to Ty'n Rhos and set off south, through mid-Wales, to Llanerchaeron, an estate which was home to ten generations of the same family, with each generation adding something to the estate. Purchased in 1634 by Llewellyn Parry, who could claim lineage from the Welsh Princes, his descendent remodelled the estate, employing an as yet unknown John Nash to carry out the works in the 1790s, creating the elegant Villa we see today. John Powell Ponsonby Lewes, the last male heir to the estate, inherited Llanerchaeron in 1940 and, in 1989, at the age of 89, left it to The National Trust.
After lunch, at Llanerchaeron, we visit nearby Cae Hir, a private garden created by Dutchman, Wil Akkermans, and his British wife, Gillian, since 1983. A plantsman's garden now largely run by their son, Stuart, and younger daughter, Julie – who, incidentally, bakes exceedingly good cakes!
From Cae Hir, it is an hour or so to The Grove, our sumptuous home for the next few days and, again, we will arrive at The Grove in good time to settle in and relax before dinner at the hotel.
Today's driving is about 150 miles/240 km
DAY 6 – TUE 12 MAY
We spend the day at the tip of Pembrokeshire, in and around St Davids. Named for St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, St David's is Britain's smallest city and we will have time to explore this glorious community and St Davids Cathedral, its 12th-century church, before a boat trip exploring the wildlife and features of Ramsey Island, and heading out to the Bishops & Clerks and Skomer Island too.
Later in the day we will take a scenic drive around the Preseli Hills – famous for being the source of the bluestones at Stonehenge – for tea and to visit Melin Tregwynt, a traditional Welsh mill, making and selling the most wonderful woollen products. Our final destination is just a little further along the coast, at Porthgain, where we'll go for a walk to investigate its industrial heritage and work up an appitite for Fish & Chips at The Shed, on Porthgain's harbour.
Today's driving is about 80 miles/130 km
DAY 7 – WED 13 MAY
We start the day at Aberglasney House & Gardens. One of the finest gardens in Wales, it dates to mention of ‘nine green gardens’ in a medieval poem and, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Anthony Rudd, Bishop of St David’s in 1594, rebuilt Aberglasney and created the now famous Cloister Garden. It is unbelievable that Aberglasney was on the brink of collapse, when it was rescued from oblivion in 1995.
After lunch it is but a short drive to the National Botanic Garden of Wales, the first national botanic garden to be created this millennium. Set in Middleton Park, a 17th-century estate, the gardens have an amazing collection of over 8000 different plant varieties, spread across 560 acres/227 ha of beautiful countryside. The Lord Foster designed glasshouse is the world's largest single-spanned glasshouse, and has the best display of mediterranean climate zone plants in the Northern hemisphere.
We'll have most of the afternoon at the National Botanic Gardens before a late-afternoon visit to Colby Woodland Garden, for an hour or so exploring this delightful woodland garden and its magnificent rhododendrons, and some interesting industrial archaeology too, and from Colby, it is just a few minutes to the beach at Saundersfoot, for our end-of-tour dinner at Coast, The Grove's sister restaurant.
Today's driving is about 100 miles/160 km
DAY 8 – THU 14 MAY
We leave The Grove and drive east, for a coffee and a brief visit to Penllergare Valley Woods, an exciting regeneration project of a lost valley landscape and, for lunch and a slightly longer visit, to Tredegar House. Acquired only recently by the National Trust, Tredegar is one of the most significant Restoration houses in Britain. Home to the immensely influential Morgan family, later Lords Tredegar, the original stone house dates to the late 15th century. Inside, the rooms feature fine oak panelling with exceptional carving and ornate plasterwork, moulding and gilding throughout.
The Sheraton Heathrow Hotel is about two hours away, and another hour, or so, again, to Stansted Airport, where the tour ends and where we will be in good time for your evening flight home. For those of you staying on, in Britain, and not wanting to return to either Heathrow Airport or Stansted Airport, we will assist you in getting to your next destination.
Today's driving is about 225 miles/290 km
We endeavour to be as faithful as possible to our published itineraries, but changes do occur occasionally, either necessarily or unavoidably.