The pretty market town of Bala in Southern Snowdonia has a fascinating history and is home to the largest natural lake in Wales. Here are ten things you may not know about Bala.
Bala is a market town whose history stretches back to at least the period of the Roman occupation of Wales. Founded by Royal Charter in 1310 by Roger de Mortimer of Chirk Castle, Bala is one of the major towns of Southern Snowdonia and absolutely oozes character.
Bala, in Welsh, means the outflow of a lake, so it won’t come as much of a surprise that the first four of our ten interesting facts about Bala relate in some way to Llyn Tegid (or Bala Lake, to use its English name).
1. The Welsh Lake District
The Penllyn area, of which Bala is a part, is known as the Welsh Lake District due to its mountainous landscape, which is dotted with natural lakes. The largest natural lake in Wales is Llyn Tegid, or Bala Lake, one of Snowdonia’s most popular spots for watersports.
It’s not only Scottish lochs that harbour monsters… there’s one in Llyn Tegid, too. Affectionately known as Teggie, the monster in Llyn Tegid is the Welsh equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster and is said to resemble a crocodile or plesiosaur. Teggie sightings have been reported since the 1920s, and crop up again every few years.
3. Drowned city
There are several drowned city legends in this part of Wales, and one of the most famous of these is the story of the city that lies beneath Llyn Tegid. The story goes that the city was ruled by a nasty, selfish prince, who ruled over equally nasty, selfish subjects. The only survivor of the mass drowning was a gentle harpist, who was saved by the song of a bird who warned him just in time to make his escape.
4. Primitive fish
Llyn Tegid is home to the gwyniad, a fish that is found nowhere else in the world. The gwyniad is a member of the whitefish family, and became trapped in the lake 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. Often described as a ‘land-locked herring’, the gwyniad is under threat in Llyn Tegid due to another species of fish, the ruffe, eating gwyniad eggs and fry; there are now conservation efforts underway to help improve gwyniad numbers.
5. The language of Heaven
Like many parts of Snowdonia, Bala is a stronghold of the Welsh language and is a great place to stay if you’re looking to improve your Welsh language skills. You’ll hear Welsh spoken all around you when you visit Bala, so why not take the plunge and learn a few words yourself? A little ‘diolch yn fawr’ goes a very long way!
6. Welcoming walkers
Bala is a ‘Walkers are Welcome’ town. The Walkers are Welcome scheme promotes places around Britain that have something special to offer walkers. In Bala’s case there’s plenty to offer; the mountains, the lakeside, and even the town itself are all fantastic places to stretch your legs, so dust off your walking boots and get strolling!
It was in Bala that the plans for founding a Welsh colony in Patagonia, at the southern tip of Argentina, were first discussed. Michael D Jones was responsible for that. He was principal at the Bala Theological College for Congregational Ministers, and in the mid-19th century, disillusioned with the state of religion and society in Wales, Jones organised the repatriation of over 150 Welsh people to the Chubut Valley. The Patagonian community is still going strong today, with Welsh being spoken alongside Spanish throughout the community.
8. The Bible Society
Rev Thomas Charles (1755-1814) is one of Bala’s most famous historic figures. A renowned theological writer, Charles was instrumental in the foundation of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Charles was inspired to do this by a poor young girl, Mari Jones, who walked over 25 miles to buy a bible from him in Bala. There is a walking route, the Mary Jones Walk, which covers the route young Mari would have taken.
9. Gloves and stockings
In the 18th century, Bala was at the centre of the knitting industry and one of the leading centres for production of gloves, stockings, flannel and hosiery. There was a special ‘knitters market’ in the town, and at the peak of this industry almost everyone in Bala knitted to earn their living.
10. The Urdd
Another famous Bala resident was Ifan ab Owen Edwards, who in the early part of the 20th century was responsible for preserving the Welsh language and culture by founding Urdd Gobaith Cymru – the Welsh League of Youth – which, through outdoor activities and eisteddfods, encourages young Welsh speakers to keep the language alive. The Urdd outdoor education and activities centre – Glan-llyn – is at Llyn Tegid, and everyone is welcome to join in the fun.