Living in Liverpool, I am just 30 miles away from another country - Wales.
Taking a day trip recently into the Snowdonia region of Wales, I saw the welcome sign at the border, with its fiery-looking red dragon. It was the first indication that I was entering a land of history with a proud heritage and its own language: - a land of castles and kings, myths and legends, mountains and rivers; Wales has it all, and should not be missed!
The first stop on my trip was at the foot of Mount Snowdon itself. At 3560 feet (1085 meters), it is the highest peak in England & Wales. Just a mere hill compared to some of the great mountain ranges in the world, but significant enough to have been the peak on which Sir Edmund Hillary trained, in preparation for his first-ever ascent of Mount Everest.
You would need a whole day and proper outdoor clothing to climb Mount Snowdon, so I had to give this a miss today, and instead, took the road down the spectacular Llanberis Pass to the village of Llanberis in the Padarn Valley. You can even take a steam train to the summit of Snowdon from here.
This is slate mining country, for sure. The first quarries were opened more than 200 years ago, and one of the most famous and most productive is the Dinorwic Quarry.
Closed in 1969, it now hosts the fabulous National Slate Museum. Free to enter, it is an excellent place for all the family to visit. I found myself learning about the story of slate, watching a slate splitting demonstration, marvelling at the enormous historic waterwheel, and wandering through old cottages, that housed the hard-working miners who produced 80,00 tons of slate every year!
Time for a coffee in the village's legendary mountaineering café, "Pete's Eats", then it was back on the road to Caernarfon.
I always think of Caernarfon as the town that was made famous twice.
Firstly, in 1283, when King Edward 1 of England built the magnificent castle here to defend his newly acquired land on the Welsh coast. Town walls were added later, and the whole structure was supported by timber brought in from my city of Liverpool. King Edward made his son and heir, the very first Prince of Wales.
Then, almost 700 years later, the town and its castle took centre stage once again, when the current heir to the British throne, was invested here as the most recent Prince of Wales. The investiture of the young Prince Charles in July 1969 was broadcast on TV in colour and attracted a worldwide television audience of 500 million people.
I visited the castle, climbed the Eagle Tower, walked the walls and stood on the very stone (made of local slate), where the investiture ceremony had taken place. That was a surreal moment.
Caernarfon Castle was just one of several such castles built along the coast by King Edward back in the 13th century. A short drive brought me to another great example in the small town of Conwy.
This whole fortress and walls are so well preserved that you can still walk right around the town on the top of the walls. There are great views of the Conwy Estuary and the "Great Orme" limestone headland at Llandudno. And from one of the most outstanding castles in the country, just down the street in Conwy, you can find the smallest house in Britain!
Conwy's main high street bustles with cafes, pubs, shops and restaurants, and is the ideal place for a late lunch.
No visit to North Wales would be complete without a trip across the Menai Straits to the Isle of Anglesey, or "Ynys Mon", in the Welsh language. There is a choice of crossings on one of the two beautiful and historic bridges – the Suspension Bridge, built by Thomas Telford in 1826, and the "double-decker" Britannia Bridge, carrying road and rail traffic, and designed by rail engineer Robert Stephenson in 1850. I went across on one and returned on the other!
Anglesey is home to the impressive Beaumaris Castle, as well as the RAF airbase at Valley where Prince William learned to fly. The island has its breed of sheep, and more than 100 ancient monuments. But I headed for a tiny railway station that boasts one of the longest names in the world!
In English, it is: "St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the fierce whirlpool of St Tysilio of the red cave".
But it is the Welsh version that causes people most problems! Thankfully, the station sign has a helpful guide to how to pronounce it.
I was still practising how to pronounce this as I drove back home to Liverpool. What a great day out in the magical, historical land of the dragon.
What more can I say than, "Thank you, Wales" or should that be:
"Diolch Yn Fawr Cymru"
Gwrych Castle is a Grade I listed 19th-century country house near Abergele in Conwy County Borough, Wales. in 2020, this will also be the home of ITV's 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here'.