“Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” or so the saying goes. It certainly feels very appropriate as I attempt to write a piece about “The Most Beautiful Place on Earth” to me. I’ve been to some wonderful countries and have had many unforgettable experiences in some beautiful locations however I’d never truly considered this question until now because they were all wonderful for different reasons.
On reflection there does appear to be one place that always gets my spine tingling and that I get passionate about whenever I talk about it. . Wherever in the world I have been I always hear it calling me back. It may not be as glamorous a choice as Þingvellir in Iceland or Milford Sound in New Zealand but to me Snowdonia in North Wales is the most beautiful place on earth.
The Snowdonia area takes its name from its centrepiece Mount Snowdon (“Snow Hill” in Old English) the second largest mountain in the United Kingdom. An extinct volcano Snowdon was formed by volcanic activity over 450 million years ago. The Welsh call the mountain “Yr Wyddfa” (translated as “The Tumulus”) and believe the mountain is the burial mound of the giant Rhitta Gawr who was defeated by King Arthur and whose grave is marked by a cairn.
As you enter the region, where ever you are, you’ll be able to see the range of mountains with the distinctive point of Snowdon (sometimes capped in snow) dominating the already picturesque landscape. As you travel along the twisty mountain roads on clear sky days the views are stunning and as your ears pop due to the altitude it is impossible not to feel small.
If you decide to venture up one of the many foot paths to the summit of Mount Snowdon (or decide to catch the historic steam train) you will be greeted with fine panoramic views of mostly unspoilt beauty. In the distance you can clearly see all the way to the picturesque harbour town Porthmadog, Portmeirion and beyond that, if you’re lucky Ireland.
But travelling through Snowdonia in less favourable conditions can be equally exhilarating for the senses. The grey clouds make a contrast to the greens of the hills and blues of the lakes. As you rise ever higher eventually passing in to the low hanging clouds, the mountains become even more dramatic. The mist adds to the mystical lure and try not to imagine passing through and pretending you’re not part of a ancient Celtic tribe.
Yes it is true Snowdonia can suffer from rain however this helps ensures that on those beautiful hot sunny summer days the lakes such as the alluring Llyn Padarn are full and water still cascades from Swallow Falls as well as numerous other waterfalls. The environment means that the vegetation of Snowdonia is always rich with life and it is home to rare flora and fauna which includes the “Snowdon Lilly” (Gagea serotina) and the rainbow coloured “Snowdon Beetle” as well as a host of birds rarely found in the rest of the UK.
Sometimes man made structures can ruin a scene however in Snowdonia I would argue they have enhanced it. The simple, yet effective dry stone walls, the lovely churches and the small cottages with their locally produced slate roofs, not to mention the occasional coastal castle. If you’re after something older there are ruins dating back to the Romans. Then, finally there are the “Great Little Trains of Wales” which look like miniature model trains as they slowly meander through the landscape leaving a trail of smoke in the gentle breeze.
The world famous Ffestiniog Railway still carries passengers from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog. At Blaenau the man made slate slag heaps tower over the little town with their industrial monuments long out of use sitting at the top of disused inclines. The Welsh Highland Railway also departs from Porthmadog carrying people through the Aberglaslyn Pass to the charming village Beddgelert, on to Rhyd Ddu where hikers can climb the route to the summit of Snowdon. Finally the train arrives at Caernarfon which is dominated by its mighty castle, arguably one of the finest in Wales and used as the investiture for Charles, Prince of Wales.
If you fancy seeing the beautiful landscape from a different view you can go White Water Rafting along the Tryweryn river, fly above Penrhyn Quarry on Europe’s longest zip line or hang off Snowdon whilst mountain climbing. If you somehow get bored of the stunning views you can discover the beauty inside the mountains by exploring the disused slate caverns of Blaenau Ffestiniog or perhaps even bounce on a giant trampoline if you want to get close to the ceiling!
As I said at the start, beauty is in the eye beholder. Snowdonia may appear a random choice but it seems this is still an area slightly off the main UK tourist trail. If you want to see variety and scenery rivalling parts of New Zealand, I urge you to stick on some dramatic sounding Celtic music and take a drive through Snowdonia.