The 7 Wonders of Wales

Thursday 14 April 2011

What would Karl Pilkington of An Idiot Abroad have made of them? He owned up to visiting Wales prior to going off to visit the Seven Wonders of the World. I cannot help but wonder if the real reason he was not bowled over by the Taj Mahal was that he had already been won over by the beauty of St Giles’ tower. If you search online for 'Seven wonders Wales' you will come across a rhyme that I was taught in primary school: Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple, Snowdon's mountain without its people, Overton yew trees, St Winefride's well, Llangollen bridge and Gresford bells. The writer was that well-known poet Anonymous; maybe it was Karl's great, great grandfather? Perhaps he/she was English, but what is certain is that in exploring Wales, Anonymous seems to have failed to discover Mid and South Wales. One of my future posts will attempt to compile my personal Seven Wonders of Wales, but until I do, let's take a quick tour of the existing ones.

1. Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall

First up from the rhyme, is Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall, near Llanrhaedr-ym-Mochnant. The waterfall can be found at the end of very rural drive into the Welsh Marches and through locations for the film "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain". The road from Llanrhaedr-ym-Mochnant is single track with passing places, which means that it is best avoided if you don't have much patience or are poor at reversing. The car park for the falls costs £1.50, but you can park on the side of the road before you get to it, if you manage to find a space. At 74 metres, Pistyll Rhaeadr is the highest waterfall in both England and Wales and is fed by plentiful water from the Berwyn Hills. If you wish, you can take a footpath to the top of the  waterfall.


2. St Giles' Church, Wrexham

St Giles' Church, Wrexham makes it to the list due to its Steeple, which is in fact a tower. Along with the towering concrete Wrexham Police building, it is visible from all around the town. There is even a half-size replica of the tower at Yale University, which includes a stone from St Giles' tower. Just in front is the tomb of Elihu Yale - benefactor of Yale University, USA. The university now carries his name, though some cynics think that Jeremiah Dummer probably raised more funds for the university, but for some reason they chose to name it after Yale. St Giles' church, Wrexham

3. Snowdon Mountain

Snowdon is the only one from this list that I personally would include in a present-day version of the 'Seven Wonders of Wales'. The highest mountain in England and Wales stands 1,085 metres high. It can be climbed by a variety of routes, but a popular one is the main path from Llanberis, if only because of the tea rooms just outside Llanberis, halfway up, and again at the summit. For other routes, you can park up and get the Sherpa buses to drop you off at Pen-y-Pass and take the Miners' or the Pyg track. There are many more, some involving scrambling or mountaineering skills and equipment. The easy way up is on the Snowdon Mountain Railway from Llanberis. Everyone getting to the summit can have have a drink or meal at the Hafod Eryri visitor centre, protected from the weather, which can be surprisingly cold up there, even in summer. Summit of Snowdon

4. The Yew Trees, Overton-on-Dee

Overton-on-Dee's yew trees are old, very old. The oldest are believed to be between 1,500 and 2,000 years old. However there is one that was planted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992. The tree held up by the wooden posts is the oldest. Yew trees, Overton-on-Dee

5. St Winefride's Well, Holywell

At Holywell, the wonder is a holy well. Legend has it that Winefride was beheaded when she refused to yield to a would-be rapist. Where her head struck the ground a spring appeared. Her uncle, St Bueno, replaced her head and his prayers restored her to life. The waters have been renowned for their healing powers ever since and the site has become known as the 'Lourdes of Wales'. It is one of the few Welsh Wonders with an entrance fee, although only about £1, and includes an exhibition explaining the history of the site and even displays crutches left by some of the cured pilgrims from the 19th and early 20th centuries. St Winefride's Well, Holywell

6. Llangollen bridge

Llangollen bridge would now not be considered exceptional, but it was the first stone bridge to span the River Dee. Built by John Trevor I, Bishop of St Asaph, or rather under his direction, it has been upgraded many times, the last time in the 1960s, but each time in keeping with the original design. It is at its most impressive when the river is high, with white water breaking over the rocks above the bridge. Beautiful setting though. Did I mention that Llangollen was my birthplace? Llangollen bridge

7. Gresford Bells

Gresford All Saints Church's wonder is not the church but the bells. To actually appreciate them entails a visit on a Sunday or Tuesday evening. Gresford church

Visiting the Seven Wonders of Wales

The easiest way to visit these sights is by car, especially Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall. You can take a bus to within a short walk of another five, but to get to the summit of Snowdon will require a ticket for the mountain railway or a long hike. What would you include in a list of the present-day Seven Wonders of Wales? All photos by the author.

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