In the 1860s the writer George Borrow enthused about the area around Snowdon: “Perhaps in all the world there is no region more picturesquely beautiful. ” Of the three National Parks in Wales, Snowdonia is the most dramatic and also the largest, extending over some 840 square miles and it is certainly the most dramatic. It stretches southwards from Snowdon as far as Aberdovey and Machynlleth, eastwards to Bala, and northwards to Conwy. In the west, the park borders the Llyn Peninsula and the Cambrian coast.
The Llyn (Lleyn) Peninsula forms the southern arm of the great curve of Caernarfon Bay. This is one of the most secluded and most beautiful parts of Wales, and over 100 miles of its shoreline are designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. During the Middle Ages, Bardsey Island, lying off the western tip of the peninsula, was a place of pilgrimage, and parts of the ancient route to Aberdaron, from where the pilgrims sailed to the island, can still be followed. Reminders of the area’s early Christian past can be found throughout Llyn, along with more ancient monuments, such as hill forts, churches and standing stones. This region, like the northern coast and the Isle of Anglesey, has been a favourite holiday destination since the coming of the railways in the mid 19th century.
The attractive Victorian resorts along the southern shore of the peninsula are sheltered and provide plenty of scope for sailing, swimming and fishing. Though born in Manchester, the place where David Lloyd George lived until he was 16 years old – Llanystumdwy – is a popular place to visit. However, the whole region is filled with splendid attractions to see and exciting things to do. Perhaps the most popular of all is the fantasy village of Portmeirion, built from the 1920s to the 1970s by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, made famous by the TV series The Prisoner in 1966 and 1967. Another major attraction is the great bulk of Harlech Castle, which occupies a spectacular site perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking Cardigan Bay.
From the earliest times, this region was mined for its minerals. Gold was mined here long before the Romans arrived and, as recently as the 19th century, there were mini-gold rushes in a belt that stretched from Bontddu along the line of the River Mawddach. Copper, lead and slate were also mined up until the start of the 20th century, and the scars left by those industries can still be seen today. Several of the mines have found new roles as visitor attractions, along with the little railways that once carried the minerals from the mines and quarries to the coast.
Pwllheli is the chief town of the Lleyn Peninsula and is often referred to as the “jewel” in the Welsh scenic crown. Like Nefyn, it was granted a charter in 1355. This was given by the Black Prince to Nigel de Loryng, the local lord of the manor who had helped the Prince win the Battle of Poitiers. A popular holiday resort with all the usual amusements, this is also still a market town with a market held each Wednesday. Its once busy port, where wine was imported from the Continent, is now home to pleasure craft, with a 420-berth marina and an annual sailing regatta. During the season, boat trips are available to Bardsey Island.
As well as being an ancient town, Pwllheli has played its part in the more recent history of Wales. During the National Eisteddfod in 1925, three members of the Army of Welsh Home Rulers met with three members of the Welsh Movement at the town’s Temperance Hotel and joined forces to form the political party, Plaid Cymru. The hotel, on the market square, is now a pet shop but a plaque commemorates the meeting.