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“I’m setting out on a personal odyssey, you see I was born in Wales but brought up in Essex and now I’m coming back. I want to get to grips with a wonderful, magical, remarkable country – Wales.” Griff Rhys Jones
Griff Rhys Jones presents this brand new series on his native country Wales, famed for its beautiful landscapes, friendly locals and Celtic traditions. Over eight episodes, Griff explores the land of his birth, appreciating the stunning scenery and searching for his inner Welshman.
In each programme Griff visits a different part of Wales; Snowdonia, the Gower Peninsula, Pembrokeshire, Anglesey, Mid Wales, Conwy, Border and the Brecon Beacons.. He is also set challenges designed to test his Celtic credentials and bring out his adventurous spirit. From searching for the Holy Grail to taking a dip in a mountain lake, Griff canoes, climbs, abseils and rides his way across the Welsh countryside in a bid to uncover the true spirit of Wales.
Griff begins his adventure in Snowdonia, an area famed for its landscapes and industrial past. He explores picturesque Portmeirion, a collection of buildings designed to resemble an Italian village by designer Clough Williams-Ellis.
Griff explains: “One of Wales’ most famous architect spent 50 years creating this slice of Little Italy.”
He adds: “The whole place is a bit like a sort of stage set, some of these buildings are real buildings borrowed from elsewhere and brought here and some of them are fake Italian buildings and some of the additions, the ornaments, are completely false but it is an enchanted garden.”
Portmeirion is so much like a stage set it was used as the backdrop for 1960s television show The Prisoner. After that it became one of the most fashionable places to stay in Wales. Whilst in Portmeirion, Griff receives a challenge, to track down the extremely rare and elusive flower, the Snowdon Lily. He seeks out the advice of Portmeirion’s head gardener and is advised to head towards Mount Snowdon if he wants to catch a glimpse of the rare alpine bloom.
Griff leaves Portmeirion in style, hitching a lift on a Celtic Longboat to Porthmadog. In the 19th century, Porthmadog was the gateway to the area’s mountain quarries and a bustling, international port, shipping slate all around the world. Industry in North Wales revolved around this export of slate and it was used to construct everything from the floor of Boston airport to the roof of Cologne Cathedral.
Porthmadog is also home to the oldest surviving independent railway company in the world, the Ffestiniog Railway, which opened in 1836. Griff climbs on board to travel the 13 miles to the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, once the slate capital of the world. Huge slag heaps surround the town as each tonne of slate quarried produces 30 tonnes of waste. The quarry once employed thousands of men but the slate has now been exhausted and the industry is a shadow of its former self. Griff visits the huge quarry and takes a ride on the zip wire, which has been constructed over the top of the quarry to give visitors a bird’s eye view. The zip wire is just under a mile long and passengers can travel at almost 100 miles an hour. It is the longest and fastest zip wire in Europe.
Recovering from his journey on the zip wire, Griff says: “Once you reach cruising speed, odd things happen to your face, they used to call it G-Force. The sensation is literally breath-taking, but much more extraordinary is the birds eye view of the sheer scale of human endeavour in excavating this vast crater.”
He adds: “I now know exactly what it’s like to be half superman, half oven ready chicken.”
As well as slate, Blaenau Ffestiniog is also famed for its male voice choir, Cor Y Brythoniaid, led by choirmaster John Eifion. Singing is synonymous with Welsh culture and John explains to Griff how the choir groups were originally made up of miners. Griff is invited to join a rehearsal of the choir and soon discovers why they have won so many awards and sung on major stages throughout the world.
Finally Griff heads to the slopes of Mount Snowdon where he hopes to complete his challenge and find the rare Snowdon Lily. Enlisting the help of national park officer Hywel Jones, they board the Snowdon Mountain railway, to speed up their journey. Mount Snowdon has over 1000 visitors each day so the location of a Snowdon Lily has to be kept a secret in order to protect it. The flowers have survived since the ice age and their endurance is partly due to the fact they grow in fairly inaccessible locations. It took Hywel two years of searching to find one and there are less than 100 plants left. He tells Griff the conditions the Snowdon Lily needs to survive: “It needs to be quite high up in a sheltered position on a north, north east facing crag where it’s cold and it also needs the correct type of rock. In other words, slightly less acidic than the majority of the rock. It’s very, very picky.”
The Snowdon Lily is so rare, will Griff be lucky enough to find one?