The trips can be booked during registration.

The Vale of Llangollen – a journey through a romantic landscape

Leaders: Professor Nancy Edwards; Dr Owain Jones.

Some walking and sensible shoes required.

Thomas Pennant’s Tour in North Wales, published as part of A Tour in Wales (1778–83), became the guidebook for travellers to the Vale of Llangollen in search of the picturesque. Our journey will focus on the main places that they visited in this romantic landscape and the stories behind them.

We shall travel to Llangollen along the historic road built by Thomas Telford through the heart of north Wales in the 1820s. We shall view Plas Newydd, the house where ‘The Ladies of Llangollen’, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, lived in Rousseauesque ‘retirement’ after they had fled from Ireland and where they entertained many famous travellers, including Sir Walter Scott and Mrs Thrale. We shall then visit the spectacularly located hillfort, Castell Dinas Brân, later the site of a castle built by Madog ap Gruffudd, prince of northern Powys.

After lunch we shall also see the ruins of the Cistercian abbey of Valle Crucis, founded by Madog c. 1201, where Welsh chronicles were written, and which was the home of Gutun Owain in the late fifteenth century. The young artist J. W. M. Turner painted the Abbey after a trip to north Wales in 1794 where he also drew the Pillar of Eliseg. Our visit to the Pillar will trace the history of the site as an Early Bronze Age burial cairn (recently partly re-excavated) and its reinvention, probably as a site of early medieval assembly, through the erection of a ninth-century cross with a lengthy Latin inscription on its summit. The cross was torn down during the Civil War but re-erected as a pillar on the mound in 1779, as part of a reinvented romantic landscape. We shall then travel back via the pass of Bwlch yr Oernant.

Cost: £40

Castles of the Welsh Princes

Leaders: Dr Euryn Roberts; Professor Huw Pryce.

Some fairly strenuous walking required, including uphill. Steep ascents and uneven paths at Dinas Emrys and Dolwyddelan Castle. Good shoes essential.

This trip will visit three native Welsh castles in the heart of Snowdonia: Dinas Emrys, Dolwyddelan and Dolbadarn.

Dinas Emrys is a spectacular rocky outcrop in the Nant Gwynant valley. It originated as a hillfort during the Iron Age or Roman period but occupation continued in the fifth to seventh centuries. By the early ninth it had acquired a legendary status and is associated with the ‘Tale of Emrys’ in the early ninth-century Historia Brittonum. It was later the site of a small stone tower (recently conserved) possibly erected in the late twelfth century by one of the contenders for the succession to Owain Gwynedd. After lunch in Beddgelert we shall continue to Dolwyddelan Castle, begun by Llywelyn the Great (d. 1240), dramatically located above the Lledr valley, and Dolwyddelan Church with its early medieval bell. Our final destination will be Dolbadarn Castle, overlooking Lakes Padarn and Peris near Llanberis. This was also built by Llywelyn the Great, and was reputedly where his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (d. 1282) imprisoned his brother Owain after defeating him at the battle of Bryn Derwin in 1255, an event depicted in J. W. M. Turner’s painting Dolbadern Castle (1800).

Cost: £35

Beaumaris and the Menai Strait

Leader: Dr Karen Pollock

Some easy walking and a boat-trip (unless there is very poor weather). Penmon Church is approached by several steps with a handrail.

The aim of this trip is to view the seascape of the eastern end of the Menai Strait and the main medieval monuments associated with south-east Anglesey: Beaumaris, the town founded by Edward I with its castle (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and church, and the monastery of Penmon.

This trip will take a voyage from Beaumaris around the small island of Ynys Seiriol (Priestholm, Ynys Lannog), the site of a hermitage mentioned by Gerald of Wales in his Journey through Wales in 1191. It is also famed for its birds ( South-east Anglesey, on the route between Dublin and Chester, was an important focus of Hiberno-Scandinavian influence, still detectable in the place-names. We shall then visit Beaumaris Castle, built for Edward I by Master James of St George following a Welsh rebellion in 1294 but never completed. It is concentric in plan with the remains of a dock. The Church of St Mary and St Nicholas is fourteenth century but with subsequent alterations. It has several notable funerary monuments, including the purported sarcophagus of Joan (Siwan), the illegitimate daughter of King John and wife of Llywelyn the Great,  and the alabaster tomb c. 1490 of William and Elen Buckley. After lunch we shall visit St Seiriol’s Church, Penmon, the site of an early medieval monastery raided by the Vikings in 971, with its fine Romanesque church, probably built under the patronage of Owain Gwynedd, early medieval crosses and holy well. It was later an Augustinian priory associated with the hermitage on Ynys Seiriol.

Cost: £50

Slate, Poems and Authors

Leader: Professor Angharad Price

This excursion reveals the close relationship between the slate-quarrying communities of Gwynedd and some of the great writers of twentieth-century Wales.

Our journey begins near the small village of Bethel with W. J. Gruffydd (1881-1954) poet, author and scholar.  A product of this area's slate-quarrying communities - Welsh in language, liberal in politics and nonconformist in religion - Gruffydd, who first made his mark as a Romantic poet, became Professor of Welsh at Cardiff University following the Great War and was founding editor of the esteemed literary journal 'Y Llenor' during the 1920s and 1930s. We will visit the churchyard at Llanddeiniolen where he is buried and whose yew tree is the subject of one of his most well-known poems. In Bethel itself we will see the typical terraced house in which he was brought up and will also to visit the disused Congregational chapel which played such an important role in his childhood and youth.

A twenty-minute drive takes us to the village of Rhosgadfan and to the home of Wales's most distinguished female writer, Kate Roberts (1891-1985). Now protected by CADW, Cae'r Gors is a typical quarryman's cottage whose interior has been maintained as it was during Kate Roberts's childhood, memorably portrayed in her many short stories and autobiography 'Y Lôn Wen'. Weather permitting, a short reading from Roberts's most famous story, 'Tea in the Heather', will be held in the cottage garden against the backdrop of the quarries of Snowdonia, where her own father worked, and with views towards Anglesey, the Menai Straits and Caernarfon Castle in the distance.

Lunch of soup and sandwiches will be provided at Pant Du vineyard in the Nantlle valley, whose innovative owners have used slate waste to help cultivate vines to produce their bestselling wines. Cider is also produced here and tastings are offered on site.

After lunch, a drive through the stunning Nantlle valley (linked to the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi), will take us to the quarrying hamlet of Rhyd-ddu which lies at the foot of Yr Wyddfa (Mount Snowdon). The school house, Ty'r Ysgol, was the birth-place of renowned poet, T. H. Parry-Williams (1887-1975), famed for his sparse poems as well as his incisive literary essays on such subjects as slate tips, telegraph poles and the humble earthworm. A short stop at the school house will allow us to take in the breathtaking scenery as well as the remains of the local slate industry, which inspired so many of Parry-Williams's well-known works.

We will then continue through Snowdonia National Park  to visit our final destination, the National Slate Museum at Llanberis, where Director, Dr Dafydd Roberts, will lead us through the history of the slate industry in the area and also inform us of the latest developments in the bid to secure a UNESCO World Heritage Site status to the area's slate-quarrying inheritance.

Cost: £35