In late September sunshine the group set out on what was to prove a journey of discovery as fascinating as any exploration in a distant land. Each member was equipped by Jill with a file containing detailed information on each place to be visited and her commentary on places and people encountered en route made every mile a source of interest. Our arrival at Llandudno for lunch was followed by an illustrated talk on the history of the town, once a mining village before the development of the Victorian resort on what was formerly marshland, and a walking tour, conducted by our guide, Geraint Griffith.


Outside our hotel, the Somerset, Olwen Griffiths, Betty Thomas, Jim Reynolds, Joan Jones, Conrad Davies, Mary Reynolds

The second day took us to Anglesey and a visit to the copper mines on Parys Mountain. Though there is evidence of some excavation in prehistoric and Roman times, our main concern was a much later period. Our guide Dave Wagstaffe's erudition and enthusiasm led us back to the 1760's when the vast reserves of copper ore were found and the mine became the greatest in the world. The Copper King, Thomas Williams, Twm Chware Teg, became a leading figure at the start of the Industrial Revolution. This led us to Amlwch and a guided tour of the port from which the copper ore was exported to smelting works in Swansea and Lancashire and scrap iron was imported for use in the precipitation ponds in the mine. Ancillary industries, such as sulphur extracting, developed in the town and Amlwch became the most important port in Wales. In the late 19th century as the demand for copper declined, shipyards owned by William Thomas and Sons built some of the finest three-masted steel schooners ever built.


Dave Wagstaffe talks to the group overlooking the great open cast site on Parys

The exploration of the industrial revolution in Wales continued in a visit to Llanberis and the National Slate Museum. Situated at the base of towering slate mountains, the Museum preserves the workshops that serviced the Dinorwig Slate Quarry and demonstrates the traditional skills of the craftsmen who split and dressed the slate by hand. Our guide here was Dr Dafydd Roberts whose illustrated talk and infectious enthusiasm enhanced our knowledge and enjoyment. The hardships and dangers endured by the quarrymen here and in other slate quarries at Bethesda and Ffestiniog can be more fully appreciated by such visits, as is our admiration for the determination to preserve their intellectual integrity and regard for education.

A by-product of the slate industry was seen in Penrhyn Castle, built by the wealthy Pennant family from the profits of the Penrhyn Quarry (and earlier, from their Jamaican slave plantation). This grandiose neo-Norman edifice was built between 1821 and 1836 around the core of a medieval fortified manor and is a fitting memorial to the industrial baron, Lord Penrhyn. Its size and extravagant display of opulence, from the cathedral-like entrance hall to the grand staircase and the one-ton slate bed made for a visit by Queen Victoria is his legacy to the nation, along with a collection of paintings by Renaissance and 20th century artists, but the real beauty of the castle lies in the views of the countryside from its walls. The abiding legacy of the quarrymen, including the 3,000 men from Bethesda locked out for three years from the quarry by Lord Penrhyn in an industrial dispute, is less apparent but its abiding riches can be found in the names in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography.

Further achievements of the industrial age were to be admired: the graceful Menai Suspension Bridge completed in 1825 which, with the great A5 road from Holyhead east to Llangollen and beyond, are monuments to the enduring genius of Thomas Telford, and Robert Stephenson's Britannia Bridge, which opened in 1850.


Two churches which bridge the gap of centuries, from the 17th to the 21st, were visited. Rug Chapel, near Corwen, founded by Col. William Salusbury, hides behind a plain exterior an exuberantly carved and painted rood screen, roof and altar rails and in contrast a momento mori painting of a skeleton with appropriate text. The whole effect was a delight to the eye and the chapel is said to have influenced Sir Edwin Lutyens in his design for the Viceroy's house in New Delhi. In marked contrast is Llanfaelog Church (1848) where again a plain exterior hides an interior which combines the best of today's craftsmanship and technology to suit a 21st century community: an altar, pulpit and rails are carved from the same oak tree by local craftsmen, while the font is a stone from the 12th century housed in the same carved oak, all on the theme of the "tree of life". There is a Burne-Jones window and another designed and made by an art student who until recently was a member of the church choir. The church has underfloor heating, comfortable chairs and is the centre of village life in all its activities.


Rug Chapel

Two houses we visited also crossed the bridge of time. Erddig, built by Thomas Webb in the 1680s but occupied by a later owner, John Mellor and his descendants, the Yorkes, remains today as witness to family life in the early 19th century. It is completely furnished as it then would have been. Of particular interest is the insight it affords of life "below stairs". The kitchens, laundry, bakehouse, estate buildings and stableyard are here, but uniquely so are the portraits of the servants with their names and verses composed about each individually.

Plâs Mawr in Conwy was the home of Robert Wyn, the grandson of Meredith Wyn of Dolwyddelan. Completed in 1585, it is the finest surviving Elizabethan town house in Britain. Here the life of a prosperous and well-travelled gentleman can be fully imagined. In the great chamber a table is set to welcome the guests. The brightly coloured plaster overmantels and plaster work ceilings and friezes seem to echo the gaiety of the entertainment that would follow the meal. The kitchens below display abundant game, poultry and fish, pies and pastries, herbs and spices that supplied the fine fare. The restoration of this house is a tribute to Cadw and the work of today's craftsmen who maintain yet another bridge across time.


Wendy Davies and Conrad Davies at Erddig

Our excursion took us from prehistoric times to the present day, and all the time we travelled through a glorious countryside of majestic mountains and green and pleasant valleys, never far from the sea, where life continues much as it always has. Historical events and people were given "a local habitation and a name" and we are all the richer for the experience.

Joan Jones

Arwyn Price, Peggy Walters, Mike Benbow-Jackson and Pamela Lewis