Nothing really prepared me for North Wales but after my trip I’ll admit to being blown away and rather smitten.
Back in March at the Welsh Pop Up Market I was asked by Jim Jones Chief Exec of North Wales Tourism and supporter of Wales Week / Berkshire if I would be a guest speaker at the NWT Conference and I said yes immediately and mentally planned my route.
Would I go the familiar route of M4 westbound to South Wales then West and then venture into the North or up via the Midlands and Shropshire popping in to see family on the way and then arrive as if by magic? Or train? What about flying? Where would I stay? Who could I see when I was there? Where would I go? What should I wear? What will I say?
In the end I spent a night in Shrewsbury with a school friend and then the next day started my North Wales Tour "Nellie Goes North" with a visit to Pontcysllte Aqueduct, a mooch in Llangollen, a cuppa in Llandyrynog and then onto Llandudno with a drive up to Great Orme after supper (no sightings of goats), a good night's sleep and a visit to Conwy and a sighting of the goats before breakfast.
I had a cuppa in Rhos on Sea with Niki Cotton, enjoyed a drive along the coast to Rhyl for the North Wales Annual Trade Forum and Conference at 1891 Restaurant Rhyl where I met lots of different tourism people, some of whom had been living in my phone so it was nice to meet them in real life. After a stroll on the beach I headed to Llanfairfechan for a cuppa and with Gareth and Rhian, then onto Bangor for supper with Balint who organises Wales Week / Hungary, before falling into bed in Deiniolen for another good night's sleep.
Having always wanted to visit Portmeirion since watching my great uncle in an episode of The Prisoner and falling in love with the china I went and was not at all disappointed. After a sunny and magical day I drove to Anglesey to stay with another school friend and her husband on their farm in Llanerch y Medd. We went out for a delicious meal at Catch 22 Brasserie and the next day over to Newborough Beach, Llanddwyn Island, Rhuddgaer Stepping Stones and Parys Mountain which is 22,000 steps let me tell you and the obligatory visit to Llanfairpwll and dreadful pronunciation of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
The plan was to leave Anglesey on Sunday morning and head to Llangollen taking in the incredible views and stopping at places on the way. I spent a couple of hours in Beaumaris before popping to Adventure Parc Snowdonia, Betws-y-Coed, Llanrwst and Tu Hwnt i’r Afon. I was too late to visit Rhug but that will have to wait until next time.
The next morning I took a very circuitous route (I have no sense of direction) to the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod and then popped to Plas Newydd before meeting a Welsh friend for lunch in Shrewsbury and then dull hours of motorway before getting home.
I certainly crammed a lot in and would have loved to have done some activities but my dodgy shoulder put paid to that, but I had a truly wonderful time. Having only been to Anglesey and Caernarfon Castle before on a trip that was a very brief skim of North Wales, this tour has been manic and busy, whilst and I may have been to lots of different places I have only scratched the surface. There is so much to see and do, with a long list of places I want to go to for the first time or to see again.
It was sunglasses weather all the way with a mix of sun, wind and a little rain. My day in Portmerion was beautifully sunny, Anglesey was windy though John said it was "just a little breezy" and it only rained when I was at the event in Rhyl. See It doesn't always rain in Wales, if all you've heard is it always rains in Wales then go for yourselves, besides it rains in a lot of other places and that's not mentioned.
Croeso! The welcomes were wonderful. Every where I went everyone was really friendly and welcoming. At no point did anyone start talking in Welsh when I walked in but just incase I was ready with my "Dydw I ddim yn siarad Cymraeg eto ond dwi'n dysgu Cymraeg" and was greeted with "da iawn" and a load of questions, of course I was happy to chat and learn more about where I was, who was who and where I fitted in!
I visited lots of delis and foodie places as well as cafes, pubs and restaurants and brought back plenty of booze and foodie treats, I love meeting producers who I follow on social media and never one to miss an opportunity I gathered lots of business cards and I'll be bringing the producers to England for Wales Week / Berkshire.
Granted North Wales is far away (well from Berkshire it is) but if you're going to go and stay then take your time and explore. Waze says it takes 4 hours and 53 minutes, Google maps says 4 hours and 48 minutes from Wokingham (and Cardiff) but there's no way I would do it all in one go, others might but not me! Next time I go I will go cross country stopping on the way for a night so I get a full day and then back via West Wales. I know it might not be your thing but I much prefer to do it that way and besides if I had a full on itinerary I would not be able to be spontaneous (some may say impetuous).
When I got back I had post trip blues. You see and as I have said before Wales has got it all going on. Wales isn't all the dated and stereotypical things you've read and heard about. Yes there are lots of sheep, yes everyone has an interest in rugby, yes it rains but Wales is more than that. A lot more, a lot lot more! Wales has the best flag, the best anthem, fascinating history and culture, wonderful views, amazing beaches, you're guaranteed the best yarns and banter, the Welsh have a great sense of humour, there's loads of bridges and interesting architecture, there's connections everywhere and every day is a school day.
Wales is full of surprises and connections. When I was in Conwy I read an article about Lewis Carroll's brother and mussels, I found this interesting as there is a painting of my 3rd great uncle Osborne Gordon by Lewis Carroll in the National Portrait Gallery. The same 3rd great uncle was a friend of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones (whose wife was the aunt of Rudyard Kipling) and William Gladstone of Hawarden.
You see you don't need to be Welsh or live in Wales to be passionate about Wales. It took me a long time to fall in love with Wales after meeting Big W, we would go to see his parents and friends in Merthyr and see friends or watch rugby in Cardiff with a few trips to the Mumbles and New Quay but it wasn't for many years that I felt a sense of place, a sense of belonging and a sense of being. Now you can't shut me up.
I don't feel like a tourist in Wales and as much as I do the tourist things I also like to delve deeper and find something different to talk about. I would be hard pressed to choose my favourite place in Wales and as Paul Weller says "you do something to me, something deep inside". I can't really explain it but I can tell you that North Wales is fantastic and if you get the chance to go then go.
One last thing I need to add is that at no point did feel alone or lonely. I was told by a friend that I was brave going on my own as there was no way she'd be able to walk into a restaurant on her own. Being a solo traveller means you can go at your own pace, you can dive off at a moment's notice, no one notices when you get lost, you can go to bed as late or early as you want and you can listen to whatever you want in the car. The downside is you have to find a safe place to stop when you see a view you want to take a photo of.
The Welsh are so proud of their country and so they should be. I truly felt I was taken to their hearts with my love and passion for Wales, when I got started on my family tree they agreed I'm honorary Welsh, I'm not Welsh but I'm not not Welsh!
I'll be adding blogs of where I've been so do check back. Let's keep in touch - sign up to my mailing list so you get the blogs delivered to your phone, have a look my Insta or if you would like me to review or promote then get in touch!
As I said I have only scratched the surface but I will most definitely be back - soon! If I can help with any suggestions do ask, obviously the people with all the knowledge are Go North Wales and I am so incredibly grateful to them for the introduction to North Wales, the warm welcome and them adopting me as their North Wales Tourism Ambassador.