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This week, Caroline is in Wales at the Snowdonia National Park, best known for its spectacular scenery covering over 800 square miles of North Wales’ mountains, valleys, forests and coasts. Mount Snowdon is the tallest mountain in Wales and climbing and hiking are popular activities. But the mountains are so beautiful that it’s easy to forget they can also be treacherous.
Caroline volunteers to take part in a training exercise for the Mountain Rescue Dogs Association and finds herself hiding on a hillside, waiting for Skye the dog to track her down. One rescue dog can cover the same amount of ground as 12 people. There are nine rescue dogs in the team and in the peak season they can be called out several times a week to help people in trouble. Run entirely by volunteers, its made up of local people who will drop everything to come and help anyone who gets themselves into trouble in the mountains.
Snowdon is famous for its 50 miles of narrow gauge railways and they remain a picturesque way to enjoy the stunning scenery. Every August the annual Race The Train contest attracts over 2000 runners and has been going for 30 years. The Thomas The Tank Engine stories were based on the railway, which is run entirely by volunteers who give up their time to maintain the line. Caroline is in her element as she starts the race and cheers on the runners in the ultimate test of man versus machine.
The area is historically known for its honey and the Conway Honey Fayre still takes place every year. Producing honey and beekeeping is very popular in the National Park. Caroline helps beekeepers Holly and Jill to move a beehive to a hillside, in need of relocating due to a very wet summer. Caroline explains: “A bee’s sense of direction is so acute that if you relocate a hive you have to move it at least three miles away. Otherwise they’ll simply return to their previous home.” After moving the hive she assists with inspecting the slides of honeycomb and is a little apprehensive: “I’m not going to say it’s not slightly frightening because it is an unusual thing to do but actually it’s absolutely riveting, it’s a whole other universe.” In a good year, the beehive could provide about 30 jars of honey although a lifetime’s work for one bee will produce just one teaspoon of honey.
In the heart of Snowdonia is the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog with its rich slate history. At its peak there were over 17,000 men employed in the mines. They are now closed but visitors can still go deep into the earth. Caroline makes the journey 480ft underground, before trying her hand at making roof tiles from the slate and meeting a couple planning a very unusual wedding in the chamber.
In addition to the dramatic mountain range, Snowdonia boasts 40 miles of stunning coastline. Cardigan Bay on the West coast of Wales is a special area of conservation because it is home to 10ft basking sharks, 20 miles of reef and the biggest population of bottlenose dolphins in the UK. Phil Lewis from the RSPCA runs a training programme for volunteers on how to rescue stranded dolphins. Phil explains: “They do come in sometimes in bad weather and sometimes it could be through injury or by being caught out by the tide. We do need to get them back to the water quickly but we need to get them back in the correct way.”
Caroline joins Seawatch, a group tracking the number of dolphins in Cardigan Bay. After a slow start, she is overwhelmed by the arrival of four dolphins: “They are just wonderful. I’ve never seen anything like this before. They’re so wild and so beautiful…I’m chuffed to bits with this. This is a real special treat.”
Caroline ends her visit to Snowdonia by joining a choir in the town of Dolgellau. After a quick one-to-one lesson around the piano, she agrees to attempt singing in Welsh.
“Everything about Snowdonia is epic, the scenery, the mythology, the coastline. But that is not what’s most impressed me. What has most impressed me, is the people. And singing with that choir in there is something that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life.” Caroline Quentin
Actress and presenter Caroline Quentin visits three of Britain’s most popular National Parks in this new three-part documentary series, to celebrate some of the areas of outstanding natural beauty that are right on our doorstep.
Caroline immerses herself in every aspect of Park life, from taking part in an unusual race against a steam train through the valleys of Snowdonia, to spending the night counting bats on an island in Loch Lomond and rounding up wild ponies for auction in the New Forest. On her travels Caroline meets the extraordinary people who live and work in the Parks and witnesses some of the incredible wildlife that roams free. In doing so, she appreciates why so many people choose to visit these spectacular National Parks.