Gwyn Griffiths looks at the inspiration behind a project listing 100 places to visit in Wales before you die...
Bucket lists of 100 things to do, places to visit, songs to hear and so forth before you die always seem to conjure up a sense of unrealistic optimism.
Who can afford to tick off Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the Great Wall of China in a lifetime or find the energy and time to swim with dolphins or go sky diving?
But when John Davies and Marian Delyth teamed up to lovingly detail Wales’ 100 favourite places, theirs was a project that was far more achievable.
A point John stressed as he and Delyth travelled the length and breadth of Wales to lovingly detail the places the historian felt we should take time out to visit in our lifetimes.
From Paris Mountain in Anglesey to Tintern in the Wye Valley, from the magnificence of St David’s in Pembrokeshire to North East Wales’ industrial heartland, the pair journeyed and recounted what they saw in ‘100 Places to Visit in Wales Before You Die’.
Wrexham, Flintshire and Denbighshire locations in Wales in 100 Places:
RHUDDLAN AND ST ASAPH: including Rhuddlan Castle and Parliament Street.
DENBIGH: looking at the Castle and the tomb of St John and Joan Salusbury at St Marcella’s Church.
HOLYWELL: St Winefride’s Well.
EWLOE AND HAWARDEN: focusing on history of Ewloe Castle and the Gladstone Library.
MOLD: Welsh novelist Daniel Owen and the town’s role as an administrative centre.
GRESFORD: All Saints Church is billed as Wales finest parish church and its bells feature in the ‘Seven Wonders of Wales’.
BERSHAM AND ERDDIG: the area’s industrial heritage and the finest of stately homes.
WREXHAM: the town’s museum is described as one of the best in Wales.
CHIRK: the colourful history of Chirk Castle.
PONTCYSYLLTE: the story of Telford’s famous aqueduct.
LLANGOLLEN: Valle Crucis Abbey and the international eisteddfod.
RUTHIN: black and white houses and ‘The Eyes of Ruthin’, the Myddelton Hotel.
“During my travels, I came to realise how fortunate we are in Wales. Citizens of the larger nations cannot hope in the span of a single lifetime to visit all the highlights of their country’s heritage.
“But Welsh residents and visitors to Wales can, by the time they reach three score years and ten, visit, appreciate and love all its glories,” claims John in the first edition of his travelogue.
No fewer than 12 locations in Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham are included in the new, revised edition, now titled ‘Wales in 100 Places’.
The historian was ahead of the game too for while he passed away in 2015, he had visited most of the places on his list as a young man, perhaps just to make sure he wasn’t caught out by time.
For Aberystwyth-based photographer Marian, the exercise proved more of a marathon and she readily admits when she ticked off the 99th and 100th – the second Severn crossing and Chepstow – she felt as much a sense of achievement and relief as the long-distance runner breaking the tape in exhaustion.
Along the way she recalls being accosted by a stampeding bull near the Alleluia Monument in Gwernaffield and some hair-raising journeys in her trusted camper travelling up remote narrow lanes to complete her commissions.This is no ordinary guidebook to Wales, though.
While there are old favourites like Caernarfon, Harlech, the Mumbles and Tenby, the historical duo have captured the offbeat and the remote at places like Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey, while also focusing on the nation’s industrial heritage at places like Bersham.
Among the jewels in the crown, unsurprisingly, is Poncysyllte, a UNESCO World Heritage site visited every year by thousands of tourists who marvel at Telford’s towering aqueduct across the Dee Valley.
The author admits that, had he only had five to choose from, then after selecting St David’s, Blaenavon, Portmeirion and St Fagans he would have been forced into a toss up between Pontcysyllte and Newport’s transporter bridge to complete Wales’ top five.
And yet, as the historian points out, Pontcysyllte might not have ever made any sort of list had it been demolished when the industrial venture that inspired its building ran aground.
Work had already started on the aqueduct at the start of the 19th century when the plans to link the Denbighshire coalfield by canal were abandoned.
The aqueduct’s £45,000 cost – at least £5m today – looks a waste of cash now when you consider the terminus of the canal was drawn just a mile north at Trevor Basin.
But when the commercial traffic on the British canal network ended in the 20th century, Pontcysyllte was saved from the axe as it was by then carrying large amounts of water to northern cities, and Liverpool in particular.
John points out the irony when he notes: “Liverpool’s desire to have water from Wales was a defining happening in the nation’s political history.
“Perhaps there should also be awareness that it was Liverpool’s desire to have water from Wales that saved the nation’s greatest glory.”
Elsewhere, a walk along the Clywedog Trail from Coedpoeth to Wrexham takes in the site of the country’s first iron ore plant at Bersham, diverting to visit nearby Erddig.
Wrexham’s history as Wales’ main centre for brewing is recounted as is its role in establishing the Football Association of Wales, who first met at the ballroom in the Wynnstay Arms in 1876.
In the modern era the Racecourse Ground last hosted an international fixture way back in 2008 and the nation’s football team appears to have been lost to the south of the country in terms of live exposure.
But John says that in the late 1800s it was “a team of the north” and had played 66 international matches before it included any footballers from South Wales on the team sheet.
‘Wales in 100 Places’ by the late historian John Davies and graphic designer and photographer Marian Delyth is the updated version of ‘100 Places to See in Wales Before You Die’ and is published by Y Lolfa (£19.99).