Last spring Jo Toft spent a day in the lovely local town of Criccieth and wrote all about it for our Spring 2016 edition of We Love Llŷn magazine. Read on to find out what she thought of her day out!
Criccieth is located on the south side of the Llŷn peninsula, close to Porthmadog and Llanystumdwy, and is very much a destination in its own right. Known for its landmark ruined castle and its connection with former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Criccieth is a small town which became a popular Victorian seaside resort thanks to its station on the Cambrian Coast railway line.
We took a short drive to spend the day in Criccieth and found ourselves with plenty to do!
10am – Cadwaladers
Our first stop is the famous ice cream café and coffee shop, Cadwaladers, located on Ffordd y Castell/Castle Street. Opened in 1927 by the Cadwaladers family, and originally a general grocery store, this is where the Cadwaladers story began when Hannah Cadwalader started making batches of vanilla ice cream in the window of the family shop. Her original recipe was a closely guarded secret, reputedly including ‘6lbs of shan’t tell you’ and ‘a great deal of love and care’. Eventually the ice cream became the family’s main focus and by the 1960s the shop had become an ice cream parlour. To this day Cadwalader’s vanilla ice cream is still made using Hannah’s secret recipe.
At 10am on a grey February morning, in the midst of Storm Gertrude, it’s not an ice cream we’re after but a strong coffee! We sit in the window at the back of the café and watch the huge waves crashing into the breakwater, a lone surfer attempting, and failing, to catch a wave. It’s a nice spot and in the summer would be the perfect place to enjoy an ice cream sundae and take in the view.
11am – Criccieth Castle
The ruined castle really dominates the small town of Criccieth, standing high above the rows of houses on a rocky hill. Despite the howling gale we decide to venture up to the castle. As its low season the visitor centre, a small cottage which has been converted into a shop/ticket office/exhibition isn’t open, however, there is a gate at the side of the building which is left open, allowing free access to the castle ruins.
Although the castle appears to sit high above the rest of the town the path up to the ruins is actually quite short, it is however steep and there is only a simple handrail so it might not be suitable for everyone and certainly not for unruly young children!
Originally built as a Welsh castle, Criccieth was used as a royal residence and prison. Llywelyn ap Iorwerth began work on the inner ward around 1230, the outer walls being added in the 1260s by his grandson Llywleyn ap Gruffudd. By 1283 however the castle was in the hands of the English; Edward I did much to fortify it, heightening the walls and towers and strengthening the North Tower in order to mount a siege engine. Just as well he did as by 1294 the castle was under siege during a Welsh revolt. On that occasion it held, however it was sacked and burnt in 1404 during the uprising of Owain Glyndŵr. It was never rebuilt and consequently is now in a poor state compared to some of our other local castles – See our castles feature on page 52
There are some information boards mounted on the castle walls, along with a map of the original castle outline, so you can just about picture what it would once have looked like. Standing on the sloping ground in front of the ruined gatehouse towers you can image that with men stationed atop the tower, flags flying and the sturdy portcullis down this would have been an imposing and impressive sight.
Perhaps most impressive today are the amazing views which can be seen from the ruins; beyond Criccieth itself you can see along the coast in both directions with Harlech easily visible on a clear day. Due to the incredibly strong winds we stay within the castle walls, such as they are, but on a less blustery day we could’ve ventured outside the walls and enjoyed the view from one of the various benches that are dotted around.
1pm – Dylan’s
After nearly blowing away whilst exploring the castle we are cold and hungry and more than ready for lunch. We arrive at Dylan’s and despite it being a miserable Monday in February there are quite a few other people already seated.
We thoroughly enjoy our lunch here – see our ‘review and recommend’ feature opposite.
2.30pm – Beach Walk
Following lunch we have a brief walk along the esplanade which runs parallel to the beach. Thanks to Storm Gertrude there’s sand and stones all over the road and some quite impressive waves to watch. In the summer this is a popular beach, it’s an easy walking distance from the town and there is a large car park just yards away. This summer Dylan’s will be serving coffees and ice creams on the beachfront from their newly restored retro van. Perfect.
If you want to extend this walk continue along the esplanade (which becomes Lon Felin) past the lifeboat station on your right, and up the hill towards the castle. Once you pass the castle rising up on your left you’ll begin to descend towards Marine Terrace, an imposing row of Victorian houses, now mostly B&Bs and guest houses, presumably originally built to cater for Criccieth’s Victorian holidaymakers. Here you can choose to walk along the road or the beach, which once again runs parallel on your left. Follow the road to your right, over the railway line and you’ll find yourself back on the main road which runs through the centre of the town, here you’re in the perfect place to wander along Criccieth’s main street and enjoy its many shops.
3.30pm – Antiques Shops
We browse the antiques shops, of which there are several. Criccieth Gallery Antiques/Yr Oriel Criccieth is my favourite, it’s a real treasure trove of jewellery, pottery, silverware and small pieces of furniture and is well worth a look if you want to add some unique touches to your home, or if you’re looking for a quirky little gift. There are several other antiques and gifts shops along the high street so take your time and enjoy a good browse.
It’s also worth taking a look at Rousell’s Auction House if you can catch it when it’s open – auctions have been held here regularly on the last Saturday of the month, however the Auction House is currently in the process of being transformed into a shop which will sell a ‘range of home wares, gift ware, antiques and curios’.
4.15pm – On the trail of David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, Prime Minister between 1916 and 1922 grew up just a few miles down the road from Criccieth in the village of Llanystumdwy (where you can visit his childhood home). In later years he lived in Criccieth and before we head home we have a quick drive around in search of his family home, Morfin. We find this not far from Cadwalader’s, on a small side street called Tanygrisaiu Terrace. It’s an unassuming building, one of a short row of three storey Victorian terraced houses, and was Lloyd George’s home for around 10 years and also the location of his very first solicitor’s office. If this sort of historical trail interests you then take a look at Criccieth Memorial Hall, set back from the main road the Memorial Hall is a large public building, the foundation stone of which was laid by Lloyd George in 1922.
5pm – Time for another coffee!
Here at We Love Llŷn we need at least two strong cups of coffee to see us through the day – before we leave Criccieth we grab a takeaway coffee from No. 46, a lovely coffee shop right on the main street. Along with Cadwaladers and No. 46 there’s also the Blue China Tea Rooms, located close to the Lifeboat Station and Caffi Cwrt, a quaint little traditional cottage tea room set below the grassed area just off the main road, both of which are worth a visit if you’re spending the day in Criccieth.