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24 September 2014

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North Wales - Cardigan Bay to the Dee


The Travellers Coast

West Wales has an incredibly cosmopolitan history. It was the jumping point for adventurers, travellers and traders. The people probably knew more about Valparaiso and the Horn than they did about London - or Cardiff.

Borth - Cantre'r Gwaelod ('The hundred in the Deep')

Prehistoric forest

The story of Cantre'r Gwaelod/The Sunken Hundred is centuries old. It is the legend of a once-fertile land and township lost beneath the waves when the floodgates were left open.

With the help of folklore expert Twm Elias and dendochronologist Nigel Nayling, Neil Oliver investigates the legend. He visits Sarn Gynfelyn, a natural causeway integral to the legend, and Borth Sands where the remains of an ancient forest are revealed at low tide. Another cluster of ancient tree stumps is located in the mouth of the Dovey Estuary.

Borth Sands is open to the public and the trees can be clearly seen at low tide. The trees in the Estuary are on privately owned land which is managed by Countryside Council for Wales and unsuitable for visitors.

Cardigan Bay - Dolphins

Cardigan Bay is one of the most important locations off the British coast for bottlenose dolphins, with a population of approximately 127. Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in New Quay runs regular dolphin-watching trips.


The Barmouth railway and pedestrian bridge which crosses the Mawddach estuary is wooden and was built in 1867 to carry the Cambrian Railway. This is where Snowdonia National Park meets the North Wales coast, providing spectacular views inland and out to sea.

The bridge is open to the public - the toll to walk across the bridge is 60p. It's a very popular walk with spectacular scenery.



Portmeirion village is a quirky, Italinate style village made up of a curious mix of salvaged buildings. It was the vision of architect Sir Clough William-Ellis, and provided the location for the enigmatic, cult TV series "The Prisoner", starring Patrick McGoohan.

Portmeirion is open to the public - entry is £6 per person (£5 for OAPs and students; £3 for children under 5 years).


The race was on in the 18th and early 19th century for a route from London to Dublin. One of the proposed routes was via Porthddinllaen on the Lleyn Peninsula. The most direct way to get there was via land owned by William Maddocks who embarked on a major scheme to win the race.

In 1800 he set about constructing a purpose-built town complete with church, chapel, factory, houses and accommodation for travellers, all on reclaimed land. He then blocked off the Glaslyn River, creating an embankment known as 'The Cob'. It was completed in 1811, breached in 1812 and re-opened in 1814.

However, his plans to win the race were dashed when the decision was made to concentrate on Holyhead as the favoured route to Dublin instead. Despite financial ruin, Maddocks realised that in constructing The Cob he'd created a deep harbour. Ever the optimist, he focused his attention on creating Porthmadog from where ships took out millions of tons of a material that was to roof the world - slate.

Porthmadog Cob is open to the public. The Ffestiniog railway, which crosses the Cob, is a pleasant trip.

Menai Straits - The Britannia and Telford bridges

Crossing the Menai Straits are two of the most extraordinary bridges in the world: Thomas Telford's suspension bridge, which opened in 1826, completing the race from London to Dublin, and Robert Stephenson's Britannia Bridge, the first box girder bridge which opened in 1850 to carry trains across to Holyhead. Nick talks to engineer William Day about the remarkable bridges, and how a fire in 1970 contributed to a dramatic change in appearance for Stephenson's bridge.

It is possible to walk across the bridges - but not recommended on the Britannia Bridge. Access inside the Britannia Bridge is not open to the public.

Conwy Mulberry Harbour

60 years after the end of WWII, we take the Normandy landings for granted. They wouldn't have been possible without the help of quiet North Walian Hugh Iorys Hughes, who devised and built a prototype for a mobile coastline in Conwy - the Mulberry Harbours. Neil Oliver talks to local man Mark Hughes about Hugh Iorys Hughes, whose efforts contributed to the success of the D-Day landings.

Great Orme Copper Mines

Under the Great Orme

Under the Great Orme near Llandudno is one of the biggest prehistoric mines in the world.

Alice sifts through the 33,000 bone tools that have been found in the shafts - among them, a human jaw and collar bone. Strontium analysis and bone analysis can give us an idea of the people who worked here. Reconstruction archaeologist, David Chapman, shows us the earliest known smelting site in Great Britain and shares the ancient methods of turning malachite (green rock) into copper.

Copper mines are open to the general public daily between February and October. Excavations continue on the site.


Coast Series 1

Dover to Exmouth
The Frontline

Exmouth to Bristol
The Wild West

Bristol to Cardigan Bay
Times and Tides

Cardigan Bay to the Dee
The Travellers Coast

Liverpool to Solway Firth
Shifting Sands

The Northern Ireland Coast
The Troubled Coast

West Coast of Scotland and Western Isles
Islands and Inlets

Cape Wrath to Orkney
Life on the Edge

John O'Groats to Berwick
The Working Coast

Berwick to Robins Hood's Bay
The Pioneering Coast

Robins Hood's Bay to The Wash
The Inventive Coast

The Wash to Dover
The Vanishing Coast

Highlights Programme
What have we learned and where to now?

See Also

Meet your Coast experts:

Neil Oliver
Alice Roberts
Mark Horton
Miranda Krestovnikoff
Nicholas Crane
Hermione Cockburn
Dick Strawbridge


The Prisoner
Welsh Castles
Welsh castles and their history
Surviving Iron Age Britain
Iron Age Tasks Gallery
Finding Coastal Wildlife
Kids Guide to the Seaside

On the rest of the web

Portmeirion Village
Ffestiniog Railway
The Great Orme
Countryside Council for Wales
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

Discover Your Coast

Try these great online walks from this stretch of coastline

Mid Wales
North West Wales
North East Wales

Tel: 0870 900 7788

for a free Open University “Discover Your Coast” pack - or visit

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external links.

Shifting Sands - Liverpool to the Solway Firth

Alice discovers 5,000 year old footprints on the beach; whilst Nick investigates our worst lifeboat disaster; Mark is on the track of the Roman conquest of Northern Europe in Maryport and Neil ventures onto the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay.

Nick Crane at Portmeirion
Nick Crane visits Portmeirion, Sir Clough William-Ellis's quirky Italianate village

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