March 1st is St David’s Day, when Welsh people all around the world commemorate Wales’ patron saint. If you’re interested in Welsh history and culture, here are ten places to visit in Snowdonia with strong links to our Welsh heritage.
St David, or Dewi Sant in Welsh, was a sixth-century church official who later became the patron saint of Wales. He was a renowned teacher and preacher, who founded monastic settlements and churches around Wales.
St David lived a simple life, and his monastic rule prescribed that monks should drink only water, eat only bread with herbs and salt, and plough the land without the help of animals. Personal possessions were not allowed.
Nobody knows for sure when St David was born (his mother, St Non, is said to have given birth to him on a cliff top during a raging storm); but he died on 1st March, either in 588 or 589 – aged, according to tradition, over a hundred years old.
While St David’s day isn’t (yet!) a bank holiday, it is nevertheless celebrated throughout Wales, and in Welsh communities worldwide, on 1st March every year, when it is traditional to wear a leek pinned to the lapel.
If you’re visiting Snowdonia and would like to know more about the Welsh language, history and culture, here are ten really Welsh things to do that you might enjoy. Please note that some attractions are closed, or operate restricted opening hours, during the winter season.
1. Castles of the Welsh Princes
The most famous castles in Snowdonia are, arguably, Caernarfon, Harlech and Conwy. But these were English castles, built by Edward I to subdue the Welsh. The castles best-loved by the people of Snowdonia are those built by the Welsh Prince, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great) in the 13th century, as strongholds against English invaders. If you want to visit a really Welsh castle in Snowdonia, try Dolbadarn Castle, Llanberis; Criccieth Castle; Dolwyddelan Castle near Betws y Coed; or Castell y Bere in Southern Snowdonia.
2. Nant Gwrtheyrn
This former quarrymen’s village on the Llyn Peninsula was a ghost town until the 1980s, when it was renovated and revived as the Welsh Language and Heritage Centre. Nant Gwrtheyrn – or ‘the Nant’, as it’s affectionately known – provides day and residential courses for learners of the Welsh language, and is a tourist attraction in its own right. Welsh is widely spoken throughout Snowdonia – it’s the first language of a high percentage of the local population – so if you’d like to learn a bit about the language and culture of Snowdonia, there’s no better place to do so than at the Nant.
3. Ty Siamas
Music and poetry have huge cultural significance to the Welsh, whose bardic traditions stretch back over many centuries. At Ty Siamas – the National Centre for Welsh Folk Music – in Dolgellau, you can learn about Welsh musical history and try out a variety of traditional Welsh musical instruments.
4. Owain Glyndwr’s Parliament
Owain Glyndwr was a Welsh landowner who, in 1400, led the first of many rebellions against the oppressive English monarchic rule of Wales. Glyndwr remains to this day one of the most important figures in Welsh history, tradition and legend who, like King Arthur, it is said will rise at Wales’ hour of greatest need.
The Parliament House in Machynlleth is a 16th century townhouse which occupies the site of Glyndwr’s parliament of 1404. The Parliament House contains a number of fascinating exhibits about Glyndwr’s life and military campaigns and is well worth a visit.
It’s important to remember that Owain Glyndwr wasn’t an “English-hater”; he was a skilled military strategist and political leader, beloved by the Welsh people even to this day, who simply wanted Wales, and her people, to enjoy freedom from oppressive outside rule and for Wales to be an independent country with its own church, government and universities.
5. Cefn Caer
Cefn Caer is a medieval hall house in Pennal, near Machynlleth, and the occasional residence of Owain Glyndwr. It was from Cefn Caer that Glyndwr famously wrote to the King of France, asking for help in resisting English rule. The house is stunning, with many original features still intact. You can visit the house all year round, but only by appointment; visit cefncaer.com for details.
A timeless Welsh natural monument, Snowdon – “Yr Wyddfa”, or “the Tomb”, in Welsh – is the highest mountain in Wales and England, with its summit at 1085 metres. Snowdon’s summit – and the Hafod Eryri visitor centre, where visitors can refresh themselves after their ascent – is accessible by several paths of varying difficulty; but if you don’t feel up to the walk, you can always ride the Snowdon Mountain Railway and enjoy the amazing views without all the hard work.
7. Blas ar Fwyd
No St David’s Day would be complete without good Welsh food and drink. The local produce in Snowdonia is exceptionally tasty, and one of the most popular places to buy Welsh produce of all kinds is Blas ar Fwyd, Llanrwst. Blas ar Fwyd is the largest delicatessen in England and Wales, outside London at least, and sells all sorts of Welsh delicacies and local produce from the Snowdonia region. And if you don’t feel like cooking these delicious treats yourself, don’t worry – there’s also an excellent on-site restaurant and brasserie, Amser Da, specialising in freshly prepared local food.
8. Ty Mawr Wybrnant
The translation of the Bible into Welsh was of huge importance to the preservation of the Welsh language, and is even said to have ‘saved’ the Welsh language because using a Welsh Bible gave people a reason to learn to read and write in Welsh.
Ty Mawr Wybrnant, near Betws y Coed, was the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan, who translated the Bible into Welsh in 1588. Now managed by the National Trust, the house contains a collection of Bibles in over a hundred languages, and hosts other activities including a woodland animals trail.
9. Inigo Jones Slate Works
Just outside Caernarfon is Inigo Jones Slate Works, which was founded 150 years ago to produce writing slates for schools. Slate has huge significance in Snowdonia’s industrial heritage; it was at one time said that Snowdonia’s slate housed the roofs of the world, and certainly it was one of the main exports from Snowdonia for centuries.
These days, as well as retaining its traditional importance in the construction industry, slate is a popular material in the crafting of all sorts of decorative goods, and Inigo Jones Slate Works is one of the best places in Snowdonia to see slate crafting in action. You can take a self-guided tour of the workshops, try your hand at calligraphy and slate engraving, and stock up on Welsh slate gifts to take home with you.
10. King Arthur’s Labyrinth
He may have been King of the Britons, but Arthur had very strong ties to Wales; even his name – Pendragon – is Anglo-Welsh. There are many legends connecting Arthur – and his mystical mentor, Merlin – to the Snowdonia region, and you’ll hear many of these tales at King Arthur’s Labyrinth in Corris. Ride the underground boat through ancient caverns, while hearing about Arthur’s life and deeds – then fill your basket with really Welsh crafts at Corris Craft Centre, back above ground.