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This is Portmeirion, where the 1960s cult TV series The Prisoner
was filmed. It featured a killer weather balloon called Rover.
It's really weird, but I think I'm being followed.
This week, I'm visiting two Welsh holiday hot spots
that really pull in the crowds.
But I'll be bypassing their big attractions
to uncover a more secret side that's well worth a look.
Later in the programme, I'll be in Carmarthenshire,
hunting for gold at Dolaucothi Gold Mines,
before climbing to the highest point on the estate
for some great views across the Cothi Valley.
But first, I'm heading north to Portmeirion
to explore this famous Italian-style village,
before taking a walk on the wild side.
Portmeirion is a true feast for the eyes,
a place where everything has been planned and painted to perfection.
But just a stone's throw from this centrepiece is Y Gwyllt,
"the wilderness", which, in its own way, is just as breathtaking.
I'm starting my walk on the other side of the estuary in Porthmadog,
where I'm meeting my old friend, Meurig Jones.
He's the events manager for Portmeirion
and knows its every nook and cranny
in this stunning part of Wales.
Meurig, great to see you again.
Derek, it's always brilliant to see you back in Porthmadog,
and thank you for bringing this lovely weather with you.
I was just looking at this wonderful old photograph of this very spot
around 1870, and look at the big industrial harbour
it was at that time.
At the end of the 19th century, Porthmadog was a major port,
shipping hundreds of thousands of tonnes
of Blaenau Ffestiniog slate all across the world.
It's amazing to think all these huge ships used to come to this very
-It's a bit different now.
And just like those ships, it's time for us to set off.
Starting in the coastal town of Porthmadog in Gwynedd,
we leave the harbour to cross the Cob and head inland
until we arrive at the Italianate village of Portmeirion.
But we're not stopping.
We're off to explore its nearby wild headland,
before ending our walk overlooking the beautiful village.
To return, you can retrace your steps or catch a bus
Our first stop is another jewel in Porthmadog's industrial heritage.
So, this is the Ffestiniog Railway?
Yes, it is. This is the wonderful Ffestiniog Railway
that goes back to the slate heritage.
Before the Ffestiniog Railway,
the only way of bringing slate down was by boat and, of course,
that was very tidal and it was quite difficult.
When the railways came here, it was a fantastic way of getting
all the slate down to export then around the world.
The slate industry was finished by the First World War, and the
railway almost went under as well.
But in the 1950s and '60s,
it was revived by a band of dedicated volunteers
and is now a hugely popular tourist attraction.
It's also the oldest operational railway company in the world.
But we're not going to go on the train today.
We're going to have a little walk.
Well, that's a shame, but even I agree -
it's a bit too soon for a sit down.
Great view of Cnicht and Snowdon from here, isn't it?
Oh, it's great, isn't it?
So, this is another important development
in Porthmadog's history. This is the Cob.
And it was William Madock's idea to build this.
-When was it built?
-It was built and opened in 1811.
Wealthy local landowner William Madock
created Porthmadog, and gave the town its name.
He built the Cob in a failed attempt to create a new route
from London to Ireland, via the Lleyn Peninsula.
It did nearly ruin him, though, because it cost £60,000 to build.
And in this day, that would be several million.
But what Madocks' Cob did for the area is priceless,
creating a wildlife paradise on the reclaimed land.
-So, we've got to cross a busy road now.
And now we're crossing the border into Meirionnydd.
Which I often mention during my forecast.
To recoup some of his money, Madock charged a toll for crossing the Cob,
which, until recently, created a bit of a bottleneck.
Now then, Derek, do you remember paying 5p to go across the Cob?
I do, yes. It stopped over ten years ago now.
-It did, indeed.
-And it used to cause chaos and gridlock in the summer...
-..with all the traffic trying to get over.
-It did, indeed.
It was quite difficult to get over the Cob in the summer.
It was stopped on the 29th of March 2003.
And how I remember that date is because the car in front of me
was the last car to be charged, and I was the first car that came
-through not having to pay.
-So, that was quite lucky.
-What did that feel like?
-Freedom, I suppose.
-But it was lovely.
-Saved you 5p.
Today, traffic flows much quicker,
so it's a relief to leave the busy road behind
and head for a woodland walk.
Up here, the views back over Porthmadog
and the Glaslyn estuary are just breathtaking.
-Not quite Portmeirion yet.
Now, there is a charge to enter Portmeirion,
so check before you set off for up-to-date prices.
Here we are, Derek. Entering Portmeirion.
Which was built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.
-It was. It was his vision.
-It was, indeed.
Clough Williams-Ellis was an eccentric architect
who spent 50 years between the 1920s and the 1970s
perfecting this Italian-inspired village
on the North Wales coast.
This we're walking underneath, Gatehouse,
he felt very strongly that every way you come into the village,
you need to feel as if you've arrived.
-Did you ever meet him?
The closest I did was I was in the schools choir who sang
for Clough in 1976, here.
That's the closest I got to meeting him.
-And now you work here.
-Absolutely. It's a fantastic place.
-It really is.
became world-famous as the location for cult TV series
The Prisoner, that in turn has inspired an annual music festival -
Festival No. 6,
with headline bands including the Manic Street Preachers
and the Pet Shop Boys. Well, this is lovely.
Yes, this is the quayside and this is the River Dwyryd.
And it's a lovely calm estuary at the moment.
But we're leaving the tranquillity to head to the wilderness.
And here we are, Derek, we are entering the Gwyllt.
I can see why it gets its name, it is wild in here.
Yes, it is. Totally different to what we left, of course.
There's so many interesting things to see here.
-Just look at that tree.
-It's a funny shape.
Absolutely, there's lots more like that here.
Shall we go and see them?
Well, Derek, have you seen one of these before?
-What is it?
-It's a wishing tree.
Some very unusual things happened in 2007.
We were widening the path here,
so the gardeners had to cut back this tree.
I was walking back about three months later,
people were putting coins in it. I had no idea what it was,
so I went on the internet - wishing trees.
It's an old Celtic tradition. If you have an illness or ailment,
you're supposed to put money into a tree and the illness goes into the
tree with the money. But if you take the money out of the tree,
you're supposed to get the illness of the person who put the money in.
So, the moral is, don't take the money out of the tree.
Right, well, I think I've got a penny, so here we go.
There we are.
Should stop me from feeling under the weather. Hopefully.
Are you feeling fit, Derek?
-I think so, yes.
-We're going to go up the 49 steps.
49? I can manage that.
-Right, I'm going to count these steps just to make sure.
49, you were right.
-Come on, keep up.
So, this is the Chinese lake area.
This area was developed by Susan, Clough's daughter.
And she was very hands-on on the gardens from the early '50s.
And it was her idea to have a Chinese lake and a Chinese bridge
and Pagoda there. One of the last things that she designed
was the screen behind us there, and the most important thing about
the screen is the hole in the middle, because it's a framed
picture of her favourite view,
which was sitting on there, looking at the Chinese lake.
-A window overlooking the lake.
Susan's hard work here has helped create this special sanctuary.
It's just a shame we can't stay here all day,
but Meurig has lots more to show me.
One thing I like about Portmeirion is there's so many different trees
-and plants here.
-Oh, there's a fantastic collection.
The gardens were started in the 1850s.
Sir William Fothergill-Cook was a Victorian plant collector who went
around Asia mainly, collecting up all these rare species.
We're on the Gulf stream here, we very rarely get any frost and snows.
So, these plants from Asia, that shouldn't grow in Wales,
-were flourishing here, you know?
-We could be in the middle
-of a jungle, couldn't we?
-Yes, we could.
-Gosh, what's this?
-This is our dog cemetery.
That was started here by Adelaide Haig,
and she was the person who was
living in the main hotel now when it was a house.
And she preferred the company of dogs to people,
and she had 15 dogs and she used to read the Bible to them from behind
a screen in the mirror room. We don't know why she did that,
but she started the dog cemetery here
and some of these graves date from 1875 onwards.
Well, I think it's a wonderful idea. People love their pets,
-and what a great place to come and remember them.
It's just amazing what you can discover when you take time out from
the village to explore this Welsh wilderness.
It's a bit of a climb, but...
it's well worth it, just look at that.
-That's great, isn't it?
So, this is the Dwyryd Estuary.
Yes, it is. And that's the Glaslyn there.
And in the distance there,
we can see the Lleyn Peninsula, Morfa Bychan,
and we can even see Harlech.
-That's great, isn't it?
And there are even more magical gardens to discover.
What do you think of these, Derek?
This is my favourite place in Y Gwyllt, this is Tanglewood.
And these are rhododendrons that are over 110 years old, and they've all
grown-up in this twisted way.
I think it's quite magical, quite otherworldly.
Well, I didn't know rhododendrons could grow this big.
-And they're not trees?
-No, they're bushes.
-We could be standing in Japan, couldn't we?
-Yes, we could.
Well, we're nearly at the end of the journey now, Derek.
This is Castle Rock, the site of the original 12th century castle that
was here, Castell Deudraeth.
Here we are, Derek. This is the end of the walk.
And this is the best view of the village.
Well, thanks very much, Meurig. It's been absolutely fascinating.
I thought I knew this area very well, but it just goes to show,
there's always something new to be discovered.
-Diolch yn fawr.
And if you fancy trying this or another of our walks,
go to our website.
It's got detailed route information
and walking maps for you to print off,
or you can download it onto your tablet and take it with you.
Dolaucothi gold mines are a treasure trove of discovery.
With over 2,000 years of history and underground mines to explore,
it's no wonder most visitors stay put.
But I'm off to discover a very different side, full of murder,
myth and mystery.
Taking me on my tour through time is head guide, Emyr Thomas.
He's a local lad and has worked at Dolaucothi for over three years.
So if anyone can help me get my hands on some gold, it's him.
-Shw mae, Emyr.
-Thanks for meeting me.
Welcome to Dolaucothi.
Now, these aren't any old mines, are they?
They're gold mines.
Yes, it's the only known Roman gold mine in Britain,
so it's quite a special place.
Am I going to find any gold here today?
There's not too much left after the Romans were here,
but I can show you the best place to look for it.
Show me the gold.
Our Roman rendezvous starts near the small village of Pumsaint
in Carmarthenshire. Leaving the yard,
we make our way up to the Roman mine for some underground exploration,
before setting off uphill to complete our Trig Point Challenge.
It's then a downhill stroll back to the village
for a well-deserved rest,
before walking back to the starting point.
A round trip of four miles.
But first, it's time for a treasure hunt.
I'm sure you've heard of panning for gold.
-I've always wanted to do this.
-Well, now's your chance.
All you need to do is put the pan with the rims facing away from you.
Scoop all that up.
And shake all that water out and get rid of all the big bits.
You don't want anything that looks like stone.
You want to get to the finer stuff.
Gold is really heavy, but also fool's gold is very heavy
and that getting caught up in there as well.
-I've heard of fool's gold. What exactly is it?
-It's iron pyrite.
It's very similar to gold in look.
You tend to find it wherever you find gold.
So it's the clue that you could have had gold at this site.
Well, I'm feeling quite lucky today. If I find anything,
-do I get to keep it?
-Of course you do, yeah.
There's a little bit of pyrite there.
There you go, there's a little souvenir for you.
Not quite a gold nugget but it'll have to do.
Right, let's get underground.
And to go underground, we need to get kitted up.
-We're all set to go.
So, this is one of the mines?
Yeah, this is part of the 1930s workings,
one of our more modern periods.
They stopped mining here in 1938.
The site has three different periods of activity to explore,
with Roman and Victorian underground mines as well as the remains
of the 1930s mine yard.
The site and surrounding walks are free,
but if you want to tour the mines, there is a charge.
We're not too far from the mine entrance.
Quite nice through the trees.
Gives it a different setting, doesn't it?
Well, you can't see too much today, but the village of Pumsaint is down
there. It was the site of this Roman Fort that was discovered by the
Victorians. Right in the centre is the military headquarters.
The Fort Of Five Saints.
Yes. Five saints is where the village gets its name from.
Today, there is nothing left to see the Roman fort,
but experts agree that soon after it was built, around 70 AD,
the gold mining began.
So, here we are at the entrance of our Roman gold mine.
We're going to be going straight through the hillside now.
On the other side, there's an opencast.
The miners were digging down,
originally sending the quartz over the top,
but they created this access route to make life a lot easier.
-Shall we go and have a look at it?
-Looks a bit dark in there.
-I've got the keys to a gold mine here.
There we go. After you.
-Watch your head there, Derek.
-Oops! Watch your head!
You can see it's perfectly square cut.
These corners on each side, it's taken a lot of time.
You can even see some of the markings right above your head here.
How old would these be?
Well, they must date back to about 2,000 years ago now.
-Yeah. From the Roman period.
Of course, all put in by slave labour.
It wasn't the Romans doing the hard work themselves.
And what sort of implements would they have used?
A hammer can get through this rock here.
This is shale, and shale is quite soft, closer to the surface,
when you get deeper underground, it's hard.
This is why...we're in a hard-rock mine and there are no pit props or
anything like that holding the rock up.
This is what all the work was for.
So far, we've been mainly going through the shale rock.
This grey rock here, that's layered, looks a lot like slate.
But unfortunately isn't worth anything.
What you really want here is the quartz,
because it's inside the quartz you'll find these tiny little bits
of gold, like gold dust.
We know it's inside this quartz because it's rusty on the outside.
That means there's plenty of iron pyrite, fool's gold around.
So, this is the stuff they were after.
That's exactly what they were looking for.
Well, that was fascinating but it's nice to be back out in the sunshine
-Yeah. Well, we won't be needing these any more,
so let's pop them down.
This lush green landscape hides over 2,000 years of industrial activity,
with the final search for gold ending in the 1930s.
So, you see these concrete blocks here,
these are the remains of the old barracks where the 1930s miners
were accommodated. We've got the old shower block here,
you can see the drain still in the middle there.
We've got a nice view over here of the largest opencast at the site,
the Victorian miners put their mine yard in the bottom here.
This would have looked very different when the Romans were here,
though. Very grey and quarry-like, it would have been
-a lot deeper as well.
-So it would have been really noisy here.
Lots of people, lots of activity?
Yeah. You can imagine the fire down there,
they would have been using fire setting to heat up the rock
so it expands and breaks. Washing all that water through as well,
to get rid of that loose rock.
Today, nature has covered up most of the traces of mining,
but in a clearing is a stone
which tells how the village of Pumsaint got its name.
-So, this is it, Carreg Pumsaint.
-The Stone Of The Five Saints.
Yes. It's a legend that goes back many years,
the local people here talk about these five saints that were walking
through this part of Wales to St David's on a pilgrimage.
The evil sorcerer didn't want those five saints to get through,
so he conjured up a nice big hailstorm,
so the only bit of shelter that four of those saints could find was this
stone. And you can see their indentations here.
The head and their shoulders marked out on each side.
The fifth saint was taken underground,
and he's meant to still be down there.
That's where the village gets its name from - Pumsaint.
That's the story, anyway.
It's a great story,
but now archaeologists believe that the stone was a Roman anvil,
used for crushing the quartz to get to the gold.
So, we're leaving the mines behind us now,
we're going out on the estate. Not many people do these walks,
but we're trying to encourage more people up here,
so we're about to attempt the Trig Point Challenge now.
Sounds interesting. I like a challenge.
As we cross the River Cothi,
we make our way towards another important site
in this area's vibrant history.
Now, not much remains of the Dolaucothi mansion,
but we've got here the wall, that was part of the walled garden.
There's a bit of quartz and there as well.
Yeah. All this rock has come from the local area so, yeah,
could be little bits of gold in there.
The mansion was the home of the Johns family,
who were wealthy landowners in the early 1900s,
and who own the nearby gold mines.
So, this is it, this is where the Dolaucothi mansion would have stood.
All you can see today is part of the servants' wing at the back of the
house, as it would have been.
I've got a picture of Dolaucothi mansion in my bag.
So, this is it. The Johns family had acquired the estate in the late
-Quite a grand building.
-Yeah, it's a beautiful building.
A very simple design. 28 rooms in total.
In the 1800s, there were about 3,000 acres of estate at this site.
But sadly, like many stately homes in Wales,
the mansion was too expensive to run after the Second World War and was
mostly demolished in the 1950s.
Today, the whole estate is in the care of the National Trust,
who have created a network of trails to explore,
depending on how fit you feel.
It's a bit of a climb up here, but not too far.
Just a few cumulus clouds now. At least it's dry and sunny.
It's nice and sheltered in here.
Yeah, there's quite a lot of wildlife in the woodlands
in this part.
We're trying to reintroduce red squirrels into the area.
They've got a lot of red squirrels over by Rhandirmwyn
and Llyn Brianne. Hopefully, given a few years,
we'll have this whole woodland full of red squirrels.
Emyr has been threatening me with something called the
Trig Point Challenge. And now I know what he means.
We're climbing up to the highest point on the estate.
I'm not as fit as I used to be, see.
Of course, you're half my age.
-How far is the top?
-Not far now.
So, here we are. We've made it to the trig point.
-We did it.
-Yeah. What do you think of the views?
Oh, fantastic. We can see for miles.
Well worth the effort.
Yeah. This is one of my favourite spots on the site.
We've got this contrasting view here of the Cothi Valley, going down
towards the Tywi Valley.
And then over here, we've got these mountains going over to Llyn Brianne
-It's wonderful. So, where to next?
Well, you'll be glad to know, it's all downhill now.
And I've got a little treat for you at the end.
I look forward to that.
And it's not long before Emyr keeps his promise and we reach the village
of Pumsaint, where I'm treated to a refreshing drink at the local pub.
It's a lovely place to end our walk, isn't it?
-Now, there's a reason I brought you here.
There's one last story I want to tell you.
It's with regards to this pub here, the Dolaucothi Arms.
It's all part of the Dolaucothi estate,
you remember the mansion I showed you earlier on,
where the Johns family lived. Judge John Johns was a big,
popular figure in the community at that time.
His butler of 17 years' service, Henry Tremble,
decided to shoot him in his own study.
With his own shotgun.
The reason for that was because Henry Tremble was refused the
application to become the landlord of this pub here.
Big news at the time,
shook the whole community and made national papers back in 1876.
Gosh, what a way to end a walk!
So, it was the butler in the study with the gun.
Blimey. Emyr, thank you so much for an interesting and varied walk.
And it just goes to show, it's well worth leaving the crowds behind,
getting outdoors and discovering new things.