As the character Vincent Vega once said, “It’s the little things” and that is certainly true of some of the tours we do. I have just completed a London, Paris and Rome tour where every day is another barrage of huge, world-famous sites, constant movement and hustle. Excitement levels are high and you are often surrounded by large crowds all doing the same thing, so you know you must be in the right place.
However, I am very keen on the tours we have which offer more of the countryside.
Touring Ireland and North Wales is a great pleasure for me. Many people might have an urge to go to Ireland, but they will look at Wales and ask, “Why, what is there to see and where is the ‘h’?”
Our trips into North Wales follow a regular path allowing groups to visit one of the castles there as well as making a stop at the village with one of the longest names in the world, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (just in case you’re not sure it is pronounced Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogo) and if that wasn’t quite enough you can add the suffix “uchaf” to it for the higher part of the village.
Elsewhere you will stop at one of the stone ring of castles built during the reign of Edward I (he was the king in Braveheart). Both Conwy and Beaumaris castle are beautifully situated next to the water in small villages and Caernarfon castle is one of the most imposing to be found anywhere in Britain. Following his victory over the Welsh forces Edward I built or re-developed eight castles in north Wales as he sought to redefine the land as an English settlement, having new towns built and filling it with English people. These castles were a master class in construction and became the model for much of the building across Europe that followed. Edward used ideas learned from crusades in the East so arrow slits were used for the first time and the concentric design was introduced with two walls, the outer wall would be lower than the inner wall so it could be defended from within.
North Wales also has the expansive Snowdonia National Park and the second largest peak in Britain, Mount Snowdon (3560 feet). Terrific countryside, fields of green dotted with sheep and a general sense of calm. As you stop in places you could even try speaking a little Welsh, or just listen to the locals and enjoy this most difficult of languages. The‘ll’ followed by a ‘w’ with a ‘p’ thrown in along the way is fairly standard – so I would advise against playing Scrabble with the locals, it could end in tears. Attempts to use Welsh can also lead to amusing consequence.
As I take groups into Wales I often ask, “what do we know about Wales?” A few actors and singers get mentioned and occasionally someone will have heard of Martin Amis or Bertrand Russell. One Welshman has, arguably, one of the most famous names in the world. As we all know, in 1806 the Great Trigonometrical Survey of the sub-continent began as large parts of India were surveyed and mapped. In the 1850s, one of the highest peaks, known as Peak XV, was proving hard to name due to the large number of Tibetan and Nepalese names. So, the Surveyor general decided to name it after his predecessor in the job, a Welshman called George Everest.
There is so much more to the country, I recommend it highly, those quiet days on tour can sometimes provide the most interesting discoveries.
(Editor’s note: Paul Mattesini’s posts appear Tuesdays on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our resident expert tour director, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)