Once upon a time (and I mean once upon a time, circa 1990), I visited Conwy in North Wales on a cruise through the British Isles. I think there may have been a castle (I just looked it up and it is, in fact, the spectacular, 13th-century UNESCO-designated Conwy Castle) — and I think the town itself may have been charming. But after all these years what I remember best is Bodnant Garden.
Featured on the recent BBC documentary Glorious Garden from Above, Bodnant is one of the finest Edwardian naturalistic gardens anywhere and the setting on the river overlooking Snowdonia is out of this world. Its exquisite Italianate terraces, and the splendid rose gardens, documented in the film, were completely restored in celebration of their centennial in 2014. Many of the plantings date back to seed and cuttings brought back by plant-hunters during the golden age of exploration 100 years ago.
Wander if you can down to the recently restored Old Park, designed in the naturalistic tradition of the 1700s. For the first time in more than a century, visitors can now see The Yew Dell at the far south of the garden—a tranquil wooded area with a stream running through it, planted with ancient rhododendrons and reminiscent of a Himalayan valley. The Far End will be open to the public for the first time in March. That’s reason enough to return!
Kate Thomas, Associate Professor of English at Bryn Mawr, will lead Wild Wales: Landscapes and Literature, June 1-16, 2015, organized by Academic Arrangements Abroad with Bryn Mawr. Enrollment is open. The 10-day program includes, in addition to full days in both Conwy Valley and Snowdonia National Park: a visit to the Roman ruins in Caerleon; Tintern Abbey, an inspiration to Wordsworth and J.M.W. Turner; and a day in Swansea devoted to Dylan Thomas (no relation to Kate).
Please join us! Wales is even better with friends. Invite a friend or register as a couple and you’ll get a $100 credit at the Park Plaza Hotel in Cardiff, which you may wish to use at the in-house Laguna Health & Spa.
Images courtesy of Bodnant Garden.
By Darrel Schoeling, mostly reformed expedition leader, tour director and consultant at Academic Arrangements Abroad.