Wales

Castles and Dragons

Cardiff to Cardiff

30 April - 8 May, 2018
£962
Includes 3 National Parks, 2 Geoparks, 3 World Heritage Sites and 14 Castles
Exclusive small group tour, number of participants : 2 - 6
Includes: Bed and Breakfast accommodation, transportation, geological guiding and all castle and geosite entrance fees.

Wales is a fantastic country for a geotour. It lends its name to the Cambrian Period, as Cambria was the Roman name for Wales. The Welsh tribes the Ordovicies and Siluries also lend their names to the Ordovician and Silurian Periods. Additionally several Welsh towns and villages givetheir names to Ordovician and Silurian stages. Wales also has 600 castles and we have the opportunity to visit some of the most impressive on our tour.

The former ironworks at the Blaenavon World Heritage Site.
Trilobites from Gilwern Hill Quarry

Dinorwig Power Station and Slate Quarry

Caernarfon Castle part of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd World Heritage Site.
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch  in the GeoMon Geopark in Anglesey, the longest place name in the world, and home to blueschist rocks that were formed in a Pre-Cambrian subduction zone.
Parys Mountain in the 19th Century this was the largest copper mine in the world.
The prehistoric copper mine at the Great Orme
Conwy Caslte part of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd World Heritage Site.
Road across the Long Mynd - Shropshire
Folding in the coal measures at Broad Haven
The view of Pen-y-Fan from Mynydd Illtyd
Henrhyd waterfall - Fforest Fawr Geopark.
Bwa Maen, a folded anticline, one of the best examples of a Variscan structure in South Wales
The Triassic dinosaur trackway near Barry

ITINERARY

Day 1 - Arrive in Cardiff the Capital of Wales. Cardiff has its own international airport and is only 2 hours by train from London.

Day 2 - Blaenavon World Heritage Site, Brecon Beacons National Park and Gilwern Hill Trilobite Quarry. Our first stop of the day is at the Blaenavon World Heritage Site, where we can descend the Big Pit coal mine and visit the ironworks where steel was first made from high sulfur coal, enabling the Industrial Revolution to begin around the world. We then descend into the Brecon Beacons National Park, with magnificent views, and drive past Tretower and Crickhowell Castles to reach Llangorse Lake, the largest natural lake in Wales that formed in the last Ice Age. We then drive  north into Mid Wales and visit the Gilwern Hill Trilobite Quarry, near Llandrindod Wells. This site is the best place in Great Britain to find trilobites. We spend several hours here finding and collecting our own fossils before moving on to Llanidloes to spend the night.

Day 3 - Harlech Castle World Heritage Site and Snowdon National Park. We start by driving through the rolling hills of the Cambrian Mountains which lend their name to the Cambrian Period, and then briefly stop at the Bryntail Lead Mine before reaching Snowdonia National Park. Our first stop in the park is the mighty Harlech Castle which is part of the Castles and Town Walls of Kind Edward in Gwynedd World Heritage Site. We then continue on through the village of Tremadog, which lends its name to a Stage of the Ordovician, to reach the Ogwen Step, where a Roman Bridge can be seen hidden right under the main road bridge. Here tuff beds of volcanic ash can be seen and in one bed there are many fossil brachiopods that were killed by a volcanic eruption. We then take a walk into Cwm Idwal, a spectacular glaciated valley where we will see Darwin's Boulders; this is where he first realized Britain must have once been glaciated. We then pass the base of Wales's highest mountain, Snowdon, which is made up of Ordovician volcanic rock, to reach the village of Llanberis. In Llanberis we can visit the Dinorwig Power Station and Slate Quarry, the National Slate Museum and Dolbadarn Castle. The night is spent in Caernarfon.

Day 4 - Caernarfon Castle World Heritage Site and the GeoMon Geopark. The first stop of the day is Caernarfon Castle, also part of the Castles and Town Walls of  King Edward in Gwynedd World Heritage Site. This castle is considered by many to be the finest castle in all of Wales and it is here that the modern day Prince of Wales is crowned. We then cross the Menai Straits to the Island of Anglesey which forms the GeoMon Geopark. Our first stop on the island is at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch, the longest place name in the world or Llanfair P.G. for short! Here we can see Precambrain blueschist rocks that were formed in a subduction zone. This is followed by a visit the railway station and the famous place name signs. We then head on to South Stack. This is an RSPB reserve with spectacular Cambrian folded schists and quartzites which are considered to be world class.  Our next stop is Cemaes Bay near Llanbadrog to see the oldest rocks in England and Wales. These 800 million year old stromatolites are contained with the melange that was formed by the ancient subduction zone. After this we call into  Amlwch Port and the Geopark Visitor Centre, before visiting Parys Mountain. Here, smokers rising from under the sea bed disseminated copper and other metals into the Silurian-age mudstones on the sea floor. During the 19th century, Parys Mountain was the largest copper producer in the world. The ore was exported from Amlwch Port. Mining has taken place sporadically from Bronze Age to present times. We then cross the Menai Strait back to mainland Wales and spend the night in Llandudno.

Day 5 - Great Orme Prehistoric Mine, Conwy Castle World Heritage Site, Pontcysyllte Aquededuct World Heritage Site and Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Our first stop of the day is the Great Orme prehistoric Copper Mine. Here we can descend into the mine shafts that were carved out by Bronze Age workers thousands of years ago. We then visit nearby Conwy Castle, which, like Harlech and Caernarfon forms part of the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd World Heritage Site. We then drive south along the English/Welsh border to reach the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct World Heritage Site. Crossing the border into the English county of Shropshire, we then reach Wenlock Edge which lends its name to the Wenlock epoch of the Silurian and demonstrates the best examples of Silurian reef development in Britain. It is possible to find coral fossils here. We then drive past Caer Caradoc  a hillfort which was the site of a battle between the Ancient British King Caratacus and Romans. Caratacus's forces consisted of the Ordovicies and Siluries tribes, after which the Ordovician and Silurian Periods are named. Additionally, the  site Caer Caradoc lends its name to the Caradoc epoch of the Ordovician. The night is spent in Ludlow, which gives its name to Ludlow Stage of  the Silurian Period. Here we examine the famous Ludlow Bone Bed

Day 6 - Mid Wales - Stanner Rocks, the Elan Valley and Devil's Bridge.  Today we return to Wales visiting Stanner Rocks which is right on the Welsh/English border. These rocks are pre-Cambrian in age and are the remains of volcanoes. We then drive through the beautiful  Elan Valley with its scenic Victorian dams to reach Cwmystwyth, a former lead mine. At the mine it is possible to find our own samples of galena. We then reach Devil's Bridge where great waterfalls can be seen before visiting the Llanwernog Lead Silver mine where we take an underground tour. The night is spent in the university town of Aberystwyth, where there is the option to visit the ruined in the evening.

7 - Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Our first stop of the day is a brief look at the turbidite layers in Aberystwyth before heading to a quarry in the Preseili Mountains, of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park where  the Bluestones of Stonehenge may have originated. Our next stop  is the nearby Pentre Irfan burial chamber. We then drive on to Abereiddi Bay and Llanvirn Farm, which lends its name to the Llanvirn of the Ordovician. Abereiddi Bay is a former slate quarry with a beautiful blue lagoon; graptolites are very common here. We then visit St David's, the smallest city in Britain. Its amazing cathedral is made from beautiful purple Cambrian sandstones. The next stop is the famous fossil site of Porth y Rhaw. Here the rocks are Cambrian in age. This is the site where, in 1862, palaeontologist J.W. Salter discovered the Paradoxides davidis trilobite; the exact same species of trilobite was later found in the rocks of Newfoundland. Our last stop of the day is at Broad Haven where we can see amazing Variscan folds in the coal measures. The night is spent in Pembroke, which has a mighty castle that can be viewed from the outside.

Day 8 - Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Fforest Fawr Geopark and Brecon Beacons National Park.  Our first stop of the day is Stackpole Quay where impressive folds and faults are seen in the Carbonifeous limestone. There are also fossil crinoids to be seen. We then continue to Skrinkle Haven passing Manorbier Castle. Here we can see the Carboniferous/Devonian contact and the vertical strata of the rocks forming the cliffs. We then pass through the picturesque town of Tenby and head to Saundersfoot to see the famous Lady's Anticline Fold. We then drive past Dryslwyn Castle on our way to visit Dinefwr Castle, the discovery site of the first trilobite known to science. This is situated just outside the town of Llandeilo, which lends its name to a stage of the Ordovician. Our next stop Llandovery which has a ruined castle and gives its name to a stage of the Silurian. Llandovery is situated both in the Fforest Fawr Geopark and Brecon Beacons National Park.  We briefly stop at the oldest tree in Europe before reaching the Brecon Beacons National Park Visitors Centre. From a nearby viewpoint, the whole national park can be seen, including the highest peak in southern Britain: Pen-y-Fan. The night is spent in the town of Brecon.

Day 9 -  Fforest Fawr Geopark, Brecon Beacons National Park and Glamorgan Heritage Coast. Our first stop is the National Show Caves of Wales, which is in the Geopark and National Park.  It has 4 different caves to visit. Then we then walk to Henryhd waterfall, the highest in South Wales which was used as the entrance to the Bat Cave in a Batman film. The water flows over the Farewell Rock and a fossil tree trunk was found at its base. At nearby Pontneddfechan, fossil trees can still be seen in the 'Farewell Rock'. Here, we also see a Variscan fold, the Neath Disturbance Fault and the Sychrhyd waterfall. We then travel south to the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, to visit Nash Point where impressive cliffs can be seen and ammonites can be found. This is followed by a stop near Barry where we see the best Triassic Dinosaur trackway in Europe. This is followed by Lavernock Point where the Triassic/Jurassic boundary can be seen; there are many ammonites in the hard layers and recently a new species of Welsh dinosaur was discovered here. Our tour then ends in the city of Cardiff where you will spend the night in a hotel. 

Day 10 - Depart. Cardiff also boasts an excellent castle that you can visited in your own time on departure day.


Castles seen on this tour

Tretower - seen from outside only
Brecon - seen from outside only
Crickhowell - seen from outside only
Ludlow (England) - seen from outside only
Conwy - visited 
Caernarfon - visited
Dolbadarn - visited
Harlech - visited
Aberystwyth - optional evening visit
Pembroke - seen from outside only
Dryslwyn - seen from outside only
Dinefwr - visited
Llandovery - visited
Cardiff - optional visit before or after tour start


Pictures from previous trips

(click on thumb-nails to open photo gallery)

2013 

Reviews

"Our holiday was a fantastic tour-de-force through the geology, scenery, history and culture of Wales visiting 2 Geoparks, 3 National Parks and 2 World Heritage Sites - all in one week!"

Allen Fraser - The Shetland Islands, UK.  25 May 2013

"A Tour of Wales in May 2013, with resident geoscientist James Cresswell, in our opinion rated 5 stars in all categories! It was a well-chosen blend of geology, history, culture, and scenery impossibly packed into seven days. Travel for our small group was by car on sealed roads and entirely satisfactory; accommodation was usually in mid-range hotels but included a superb B&B in Brecon Beacons National Park (Tara, Felindre). We could not have had a better leader: warm, cheerful, knowledgeable, attentive to our every wants and needs. Thank you, James! The range of geologic sights was amazing; surely something for everyone. Paleontology was the lead-off subject. On arrival evening we were picking up ammonites on the beach near our hotel, and the next day following a Mesozoic dinosaur trackway; in subsequent days searching out graptolites and trilobites (Wales hosts the Type Sections for the Cambrian, Ordovician, and Silurian ). A focus on economic geology? Visits to once world-famous but now mostly inactive coal, slate, gold, lead-silver mines and related industrial facilities (in the 19th C. Wales was unsurpassed in coal production). Structural geology and tectonics? Multi-stage structures splendidly exposed in sea cliffs; extraordinary coastal displays of melange; glauconite-rich blue schists from deep in the crust or upper mantle; pillow basalts; silicic ash-flow tuffs; and more. It was amazing to contemplate that we could walk terraine once ripped from what is now Newfoundland during the sundering of Gondwana! Interspersed with all this geological variety are relics of human activity dating from earliest times on: dimension stone destined for Stonehenge; steles; ancient crypts; even a rare "cranog" ; walls, forts, castles, priories, etc., testimony to vicissitudes of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman preeminence and strife. We found it impossible to absorb and digest everything on our plate on this all-too-brief tour but we expect it to provide sustenance for years to come! Hats off to GeoWorld!"

Dick Blank -Geologist, USA July 8th 2013