Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Betws-y-Coed, North Wales

Following on from the previous post, this was the first place that the coach driver took my Mother and her friend to on their mini coach tour of North Wales from Llandudno. To put this post into perspective, the occupants of the coach were allowed a small amount of time here to see a few shops and enjoy the delights of a tea shop visit while my task was a little more rushed as my retrospective camera data showed that I took 40 photographs between 10:56 and 12:26. Unfortunately not enough time to photograph 3 key viewpoints on the perimeter of the village.

Ex Lead mining Betws-y-Coed is the principal village within the Snowdonia National park and is located in the Conwy valley of North Wales at the junction of the valley and River Llugwy. It takes it's name from rather misleadingly from the classic village image above of "Chapel or Prayer House in the wood", however this refers to a 6th century monastery, later replaced by a small 14th century church called St Michael's. Due to political struggles of the time, the great bridge builder Thomas Telford helped not only improve the links to Holyhead and beyond to Ireland at the head of the Conwy valley, but also on this more direct route by building the cast iron Waterloo Bridge over The River Conwy to the south of the village in 1815. Despite improving this link he had no idea that Betws-y-Coed would eventually become a destination in itself 30 years later when the first Victorian explorers, landscape artists and anglers who came to enjoy the beauty of the scenery and the contents of the river !!

Ancient Coaching Inn on the A5 road ( London - Holyhead - Ireland) ... Where's all the cars now ? ;-)
The most famous of these artists was David Cox (1783 - 1859) who no doubt stayed in the Royal Oak Hotel as he made several visits to this area of North Wales who not only painted the famous Swallow (water) Falls but also an early Royal Oak signboard still on display in the Hotel.

The Stable block that used to service horses on tour from London to Holyhead and beyond now caters for visiting tourists as an adjacent and separate hotel.

As this was such a big operation, there were additional stable facilities across the road and down a short tree lined drive. This block has been redeveloped as a visitor centre incorporating a tourist information centre, a display room and a craft / art shop unit.

Fusion or clash of Outdoor and tourist shops
Due to the subsequent popularity of the village, St Michael's church became too small and a new larger and accessible St Mary's parish church was built in 1873. The old church became inactive and eventually fell into a state of disrepair which was eventually restored as one of the most historic in Wales by a Trust in recent years. The village began to develop into a tourist destination which has remained until this day.

According to the coach driver, Swallow Falls have started charging for the privilege of the visit and consequently, the coach tours no longer stop there but instead a detour is made over the ancient miners bridge in the village to observe it's little sister Pont-y-Pair Falls.

These Falls on the edge of the village are close enough to the provide the visitor with a small substitute for those on a budget of time and for the main event further upstream !!

Accommodation with a view ... looking the other way downstream from Pont-y-Pair in the direction of the village.

There has always been controversy with the pronunciation of the name due to the incorrect lazy English way of Betsee Co-ed, there is always some doubt on whether it should be Bettus ee coed or Betoose ee coed. My idea rested on one of these for years until I was told that I was incorrect. My trip to Llandudno last October last year involved meeting a Welsh person from Anglesey and one from South Wales and after much discussion, it was agreed that the pronunciation depended on whether one was from South Wales, North Wales or ... Anglo Saxon !!!

The railway played a great part in the development of Betws-y-Coed with it's arrival in 1868. Like many of the rural Welsh railway lines, it's initial use was to transport slate from the mountains down to the sea. For cost saving exercises, many of these railways were built to narrow gauge standards but the terminus further down the line at Blaenau Ffestiniog that resembles something of an alien and lunar landscape to the first time visitor was unsuitable for this purpose. Such was the extent of the slate operation here that narrow gauge plans were abandoned in favour of a conventional size railway. The torturous route of excavation from Betws-y-Coed to Blaenau Ffestiniog meant that the railway line took another 11 years to complete.

My first arrival through this arch back in 1986 ! ... or 5 minutes of my 90 waiting for a people free zone !

The station at Betws-y-Coed in 1868 provided a link for tourism by connecting with local buses to onward scenic journey via The Swallow Falls to the picturesque Snowdonian destination of Capel Curig.

Tea anyone ? ! ... over the bridge to the Railway Museum and cafe
Back in the day, the railway station was a busy thoroughfare with many platforms but as they were gradually removed the empty space was later occupied by The Conwy Valley Railway Museum in the early 1970's to retain some of the heritage albeit in some unauthentic forms including a selection of vintage cars.

Large railway, small railway
Imagine if plans were successful to run a narrow gauge railway back in 1868 ... it would take all day to get to the North Wales coast !!

Tourism over expansion ... closure of the original doorway.
During the 20th century, tourism took off in a big way with Anna Davies who has been trading and expanding her operation since 1956.

Coach tour goodies !!

The area around the railway station has developed as a bizarre mixture of tourism, shopping and sculpture.

Sharing the love in Wales !!

Weird Fish, weird sculpture !
If tourist shopping is not quite your your thing, imagine my surprise when I saw this big and impressive fellow !! After much research, the existence of this cast iron statue made by Garden Art of Dolgarrog remains much of a mystery to me other than being an object of humour, discussion and distraction from the shops ... and another 5 minutes waiting for a people free scene !!

The Cockerel and it's size may be difficult to comprehend but maybe more surprising is this nearby sculpture. Although it struck me that apart from The Conwy Railway Museum and the village green, there are not a lot of things for entertaining children. Kazie the Gorilla may redress this balance as it seeks to raise money for several animal organisations such as Ape Action Africa and The Orangutan Foundation. These projects are supported heavily by the adjacent Alpine coffee shop who are passionate about animals .... even to the extent of their "sausages for dogs" loyalty card !!!

"Do I need to look at this marquee all day ... Can I not escape into the nearby "Coed" (woods) !!
It was time for the coach to leave and continue the tour for the day. ... Yes you've guessed it , it was up the Llugwy valley past the Swallow Falls and Capil Curig and down the mountain pass through Llanberis with the next destination looking like Anglesey.

The tour continued over Robert Stephenson's Britannia bridge with views of material from my previous posts Menai-bridge 2011/06 (Thomas Telford) and the torture of a Woollen mill that pretends to be Welsh but has it's roots in a more Northern part of the UK at llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll 2011/06 ...

Watch the cones ... Coach friendly destination ?? !


  1. You would laugh if you could hear me sitting at the computer trying to pronounce those place names! But since there's room for differing opinions on the pronunciation, maybe there's room for an American pronunciation too. lol

    You have to pay to see a waterfall?? Then again, I guess we had to pay to see Hardraw Force, so maybe that's not uncommon over there?

    I love the old gray buildings. It always surprises me that buildings there don't die from natural causes, they're just re-purposed, like the stables were. How nice!

    Telford was a busy man, wasn't he! What a very interesting post. Would love to visit that neck of the woods someday. Your last shot is such a beautiful and inviting scene!

  2. Another post full of enjoyment and good images.... I have been meaning to ask you what photographic equipment do you use for your images?


  3. I know those places well :)and I enjoyed reading you post. This is the first time in over 33 years we won't be going to Anglesey, so your photos brought back memorys, but we are looking forward to going somewhere different the Yorkshire Moors, as I want to see York, Howard Whitby and we have a list of other places.
    Will be back for your next post

    George says he's looking forward to going on the steam train :)

  4. Always can see some nice and beautiful places in your website!

    This is so different than my crowded little city...

  5. I just love taking tours with you!!
    This one is so very magical and beautiful!!
    I, for one, would pay to see a waterfall!
    And I would definately be purchasing one of those love spoons for my collection!!
    Beautiful pictures as usual, J!
    Thank you for sharing!
    Debbie's Travels

  6. Thank you for the great history accompanying your photos. It is a place I have visited often but some of those places and things I haven't seen. It reminds me I am long overdue another visit.

  7. I love it there, and thanks for the great photos. I will have to come back next week when I have more time to read thoroughly the post. I see you previous was in Llandudno, love it there too, as that is where I met my husband.

  8. At last, Jay!
    Coming a trip together with plenty of information's and great photography. Without your post I have to stay in Greece :))..
    Hugs my dear friend!!!!!!!

  9. um...I meant 'your next-to-last shot.' :-)

  10. I've come over to reply to your comment. Had to laugh when I checked your Robin Hoods Bay Post. As I do remember seeing it when you posted it, how strange that when we were there on Wednesday I had taken five photos the same!!!well to within an inch of each other :)do you think I remembered the photos you had taken!
    Number 1,3,5,6 this one did have a for sale sign that I tried to miss so not quite the same angle, and the last Coast to Coast photo on the pub :) while I was off taking photos Howard got talking to a couple that had just finshed the walk and live only 15 miles away form us!! its a small world
    I wish I got more time just me and the camera over the week, just means we will have to go back sometime, beautiful place.
    Thanks for your comment, going to put my feet up before sorting the photos!

  11. A nice place, serving as good inspiration for a photographer.

  12. Cranberry Morning... Thanks, I'm sure that there are lots more ways to say Betws-y-coed, I'd be interested in another way :-)
    It's true that you have to pay to visit Hardraw Force but for some reason that seems more acceptable as a specific journey has to be made there, it feels like a proper entrance fee and it has a focus at the end. High Force has an entrance fee as well but there is a sense there that you money is spent maintaining the path ... as will be the case with the others.
    Recycling buildings are quite common with every town and city having an eye on the tourist industry. This particularly building with its multifunctional use seems to be saying "start your visit here".
    At a first glance, it seems that Telford only worked in certain areas, but the more you dig, the more surprises you come across. Although he mainly did his work around the north to mid Wales borders radiating westwards for Irish transport links, he assisted later in life with St Katherine's Dock beside Tower Bridge.
    I did wonder about your last comment. The Woollen Mill at Llanfair PG seems to exist to provide a break in the journey for a few reasons :-) including a biscuit buying opportunity, thats where the inviting scene ends !

    Trevor... Thanks, Nikon D5000 camera.

    George The Lad... Thanks, I thought that you would know this place better than me. I'm standing on your toes as I'm bordering on your patch.

    Rafael Lam... Thanks, its always nice to escape to the country as I live in the city as well.

    Debbie... Thanks, the Love Spoons are an interesting and unique historical concept that haven't always thought to have been decorative enough to put up on the wall. The waterfall entrance is on a busy road and the temptation is always to drive further on in favour of the beautiful Snowdonia countryside. On this occasion, I didn't have a choice as the coach driver opted not to stop there. On the previous occasion I passed it, I needed to make a an early start to get a space in a small car park for a day in the Snowdonia Hills... 1996 !

    Cherry Pie... Thanks, it's not a place that I have the opportunity to visit very often and can count on one hand my visits here. The last time was for a pre walk mountain weather forecast back in 1996 to the Cotswold Camping shop !

    Midwest to Midlands... Thanks, pleased that you enjoyed it as it has so many special memories for you.

    Monika... Thanks, I'm pleased you enjoyed the tour here, I always like doing a post with variety.

    Travelling Hawk... Thanks, I'm pleased to hear that you thought it was photographically inspiring.


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