Hidden gems of the Llŷn Peninsula – Plas yn Rhiw and Pernarth Fawr

You have to be a bit determined to get here. Tucked away on the southern coast of the Llyn Peninsula and after a couple of miles on narrow lanes, you reach one of Wales’ prettiest manor houses – Plas yn Rhiw. The 17th century Tudor/Georgian style manor house and terraced garden overlook the beach of Porth Neigwl, Cardigan Bay and Llŷn Peninsula in Gwynned, northwestern Wales. The history of the estate goes back even further to neolithic times and today is under the care of the National Trust .

Now, when you hear manor house you might think of stately homes with columns at the front, lion flanked stairs leading up to an impressive entrance and big windows through which you can see rich paintings and chandeliers. A Welsh manor house in a location like this is somewhat smaller and more solid build but what it might lack in size and grandeur it sure gains in atmosphere and charm. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take any photographs inside but let me show you around the grounds.

The 17th century house was built for a descended from a ninth-century King of Powys and from there passed through the family until 1874, when it was bought and occupied by a series of tenants.
After being abandoned it was finally acquired by the Keating Sisters in 1939 who restored the building and recreated the garden. Big supporters of the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, they donated the surrounding land of the estate to the National Trust in 1946 and Yn the rest of the property in 1952.

After indulging in a cream tea we headed back home (I was travelling with my parents) when my dad said: “Oh, what’s this with a star on the map, shall we stop there?” (See, that’s one of the perks about travelling old-style with a map instead of a naviagation system, you notice things you otherwise wouldn’t.) It was Penarth Fawr, a medivial hall house with thick stone walls, high ceiling and beautiful timberwork. Today it is under the care of Cadw and was definitely worth our little detour.

 

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Ness Botanic Gardens

Usually, late March wouldn’t be my preferred time of year to visit a botanic garden but it was a glorious spring day (and Mother’s Day on top of that) so I made my way to Ness Botanic Gardens.

The brainchild of Liverpool cotton merchant Arthur Kilpin Bulley, he began to create a garden in 1898 and thus laid the foundations for one of the major botanic gardens in Britain. He sponsored expeditions to the Far East, believing that Himalayan and Chinese mountain plants could be established in Britain. After his death in 1942, his daughter presented the Gardens to the University of Liverpool. Apart from some fascinating plants, it features different habitats like a Rock Garden, Water Gardens, The Spinney, Wildflower Meadow, Azalea Walk, Herbacious Lawn and much more.

But without further ado – let the garden do the talking…

Of views and greens in London

I think there are two ways of really getting a feel for a city: walking its streets and public parks and viewing it from above. But being my parents’ daughter I am not one to spend a lot of money on these things if I can get them for free instead (so sorry, no pictures of a helicopter ride). Fortunately, walking is free but then only half the fun in the rain on a cold January day.

So instead I headed inside for some luscious greens at one of London’s best kept secrets – the Conservatory at the Barbican. This hidden tropical gem actually the second biggest Conservatory in the city and features over 2,000 species of tropical plants and trees and even some exotic fish. The conservatory was built as an “add on” to disguise the theatre’s fly tower (where sets are stored) and manages to incorporate the structure in clever ways. There are bridges and balconies to explore and some of the plants you might even recognise from your own home, though they are enormous in here. Who would have thought there is such a fine green oasis hiding amidst this brutalist concrete structures. Entry is free but the conservatory is only open on certain dates so check their website in advance.

 

One of my other favourite indoor green spaces is the Sky Garden at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (locally also known as the “Walkie-Talkie“). And best of all, it combines a garden with spectacular views (depending on the weather obviously). The Sky Garden features three storeys of exquisite public gardens including an open air terrace. 155 meters up, the Sky Garden begins at level 35 and gives you a 360-degree view of London. Entry is free but spaces are limited and you have to book in advance!

Last but not least on my list of best views has to be one of its latest additions – the new Switch House at the Tate Modern. The top floor features an open viewing terrace and though it might “only” be 10 levels up, it certainly gives you good 360-degree views of the London skyline. Access is free but you might have to queue for the lift during busy times.

And I even managed to fit in a short walk along the banks of the River Thames.

A medieval castle, a chestnut tree and Hercules

Chirk Castle is a magnificent medieval castle not far from where I live and I like to go there for a stroll around the garden and park. With its rounded towers it has a very distinct shape which reminds of Beaumaris Castle, another of the famous castles of Edward I along the north Wales coastline.

Chirk Castle was built by Robert Mortimer de Chirk between 1295 and 1310 to guard the Dee and Ceiriog valleys and as the local administrative centre. It has changed hands many times in the beginning with some of its owners being very important men of their age and recognised for their services to the crown. Even a future king – Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III) – once owned it. But there is also another side to it. During the medieval period five of its owners were executed for treason, their estates seized by the Crown – caught up in wars that rumbled on for centuries.

Chirk Castle is the only Edward I marcher fortress that is still inhabited today and has been in the hands of the Myddleton family since 1595.

The gardens offer just the right mix of formality and lush flower borders with stunning views across the valley and the surrounding area. Actually the Hercules statue has probably the best view and he got here in a very ‘posh’ way – he was flown in by helicopter from his previous place in the lower woods. You will see a picture with a lonely plinth further down which used to be where he was positioned.

But it is worth to look beyond this and have a walk around the adjoining parkland. Various trails offer an insight into some interesting facts about the castle and the area and you might even see some wildlife and (almost) wild ponies.

And don’t miss the magnificent chestnut which has supposedly been here since the time of Henry VIII.

Even though I visit the house every time I’m there, I didn’t take any photographs as it is quite dark and my camera often struggles with these conditions. Best thing is to go there and explore it yourself. Chirk Castle is managed by the National Trust.

Bodnant Garden – A plantlover’s paradise

Once a year I get my family to stay with me for an extended visit and we usually end up traveling up and down the country visiting fascinating places. Our first stop this year was Bodnant Garden, a National Trust property overlooking the Conwy Valley in North Wales. Even though I had been several times before I never managed to see the famous and the UK’s longest Laburnum Arch and this year this was about to change. It is just beautiful.

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The Laburnum Arch. I suppose it looks even nicer with a bit of sunshine.

Bodnant Garden is a world-famous garden and noted for its botanical collections which it owes to its strong connection with the plant hunters and expeditions in the 19th and 20th century. Created by five generations of one family it offers spectacular views across Snowdonia and changes colours continuously thanks to its big variety of plant collections from all over the world.

Obviously there’s much more to see than I can show you here, so if you ever get a chance go and visit Bodnant Garden.

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A French château in England – Waddesdon Manor

Built in the late 19th century by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the style of the great Renaissance châteaux of the Loire Valley, Waddesdon Manor sits on a hilltop overlooking Waddesdon village in Buckinghamshire.

Wanting a country retreat to entertain his guests, some features of Waddesdon were inspired by two particular Loire châteaux: the towers by those of the Château de Maintenon and the staircase towers on the north facade by the staircase at the Château de Chambord.

Some of the elaborate details of the manor.

The Parterre at the south front of the house is a fine example of the flamboyant, high Victorian style of gardening with their bedding displays and fountains. The grounds were a wonder of their day, too, as many large trees were successfully transplanted. This was such a special thing those days, that even Queen Victoria invited herself to view them in 1890.

Sculptures are key to the garden, creating focal points and ever new things to discover. Being mostly allegorical and mythological figures, they form one of the most important collections of 17th and 18th century garden statuary in the country.

When first built, guests of the manor enjoyed all modern comforts of the time like running water, central heating and electricity. Still it feels like a French château with lavish furnishings, chandeliers and lots of gold.

There are many more things to discover and spending a whole day almost didn’t seem enough.
Today Waddesdon Manor is part of the National Trust and administered by a Rothschild charitable trust.