Llangollen is one of the most beautiful villages in Wales, and perhaps the hardest to pronounce, given that the double L in Welsh is pronounced something like an aspirated “thl” and takes some practice to get even half right. The homes and businesses are of another time, and yet so clean and quaint that were it not for the automobiles, you might think you’d been transported back to 1830. There is even a steam train to complete the illusion. The village sits beside a stone bridge in the shadows of the Berwyn Mountains, on both sides of the River Dee. Though the town was founded more than 600 years ago, people have lived in the area since time immemorial; the Iron Age hill fort of Caer Drewyn looks down on Llangollen from a nearby peak.
Though only a small town (3,000 people live here), Llangollen hosts an
international music festival in July, an international food festival in October, and a Christmas Festival in December. If you’re there in quieter times, you may want to visit the gothic Plas Newydd, a home that was occupied for 50 years in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, who ran away from Kilkenny castle in Ireland to settle in this idyllic landscape, away from the pressure of their families’ conventional beliefs and expectations. The ladies collected elaborately carved wood pieces, most scavenged from churches and great houses, which they incorporated into Plas Newydd. Their unconventional relationship made them celebrities in their own day. Among their friends were the Duke of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott and William Wordsworth.
There is a little café on the grounds of Plas Newydd, as well as a center for arts and crafts. The day we visited, Ruth Eres, from the nearby town of Mold demonstrated the art of making lace by hand.
Also of interest is the Llangollen canal and the Thomas Telford designed Pontcysylite aqueduct, completed in 1805 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. The narrow, cast iron trough sits 126 feet above the Dee Valley and spans over 1,000 feet. Originally, the narrow canal boats were drawn by horses that trod the towpath beside the canal. Today’s canal boats are diesel powered.
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