Bala is an historic Welsh market town located on the eastern edge of the Snowdonia National Park in Wales. It sits to the North of Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) between the towns of Corwen to the north east, Blaenau Ffestiniog to the west and Dolgellau to the south west. Today it is a popular inland holiday resort and there is a wide variety of holiday accommodation available including hotels, bunkhouses, and self-catering holiday cottages.
The town's most popular attractions include Bala Lake, which offers facilities for sailing, windsurfing, boating and angling, and the Bala Lake Narrow Gauge Railway that offers trips alongside the lake. Being a relatively flat area (for Wales) Bala is an excellent location for cycling, either mountain biking or recreational cycling on quiet country lanes.
However, a holiday in Bala would not be complete without a visit to the White Water Rafting and Outdoor Pursuits Centre at Canolfan Tryweryn National White-water Centre at nearby Frongoch. Canolfan Tryweryn is renowned as a centre of excellence for white water rafting in Wales and the UK with full day and half day rafting adventures down the tumbling waters. Hard hats and lifebelts are compulsory wear for the boulder dodging, soaking wet experience. But if you do get a wetting at least it's in a picturesque location and trained staff are at hand to help and advise.
The white water is dependent on the release of water from the dam at Llyn Celyn, but don't despair should you visit on a day when water is in short supply (water shortage in Wales Surely a contradiction in terms!). The woodlands surrounding the Tryweryn are a beautiful location for a riverside walk and a bit of bird spotting. Indeed the walk along the banks of the Tryweryn is an attraction in itself. The trees are cloaked in emerald green mosses from root to branch and hung with more ferns than I have seen outside of a garden centre. The wildlife appreciates this "green" environment and we were fortunate to see wagtails, a wren, nuthatches, and a family of dippers during our short visit to Tryweryn.
Fortunately, we did not catch site of the Greater Bulimic Prescot (reputed to have been identified on the white waters) and unfortunately neither did we spot the otters reputed to swim in the waters of the Tryweryn. Nevertheless, although we missed the “white water” and the otters our serendipitous nature walk made for a great afternoon's walk.
Another “must do” is a trip around Bala Lake : whether by the Narrow Gauge Railway along the east bank of the lake; by bicycle on the narrow country lanes; or by Shanks's pony either walking or running around the lake.
There are fine views and many places of interest bordering the lake including the picturesque but dilapidated Llangower Church; the village of Llanuwchllyn; and Llanycil church renowned for the story of Mary Jones and the Welsh Bible. All around can be seen the Welsh mountains, including the hills of Moel Ddu, Foel Figenau, Moel Ffenigl, Aran Benllyn, Aran Fawddwy, and Arenig Fawr.
A walk around the lake may well be a pleasant way to pass the day; however, you do not need to walk that far for an interesting walk in Bala. The town itself is one of those fortunate Welsh towns that, whether by accident or design, were missed out when the "developers" in the late 20th century ruined many historic town centres. Take a walk along the high street and indeed the back streets and you will see old stone and slated properties full of character, and not a MacDonald's or Tesco's in site!
At the top of High Street are the remains of the castle, Tomen y Bala, a large grassy mound or motte dating back to the late 11th or early 12th century. Close by stands the old grammar school, not demolished as in many other towns, but given a new lease of life and converted to a restaurant.
Stroll down High Street and you will find fine stone terraced houses intermingled with a wide variety of shops, banks, churches, hotels (one a four star) and more than their fair share of pubs to slake the thirst of the farmers. Stroll a little further to the end of the tree-lined street and you find yourself in a ...farm yard, well almost. In addition, just across the road are the old blacksmiths and a row of traditional Welsh barns and cottages.
However, my favourite building in this old Welsh town is the “English” Presbyterian Church in the High Street. It is a small building with simple proportions but what a fantastic stone tower!
There is a wealth of history in the area and the lands around Bala have been fought over for thousands of years as evidenced by the remains of three Roman Forts and no less than four earthwork Castles at the North end of the lake.
One of the signs of medieval occupation of the land is the Castle of Tomen y Bala. This is a medieval earthwork castle of the 11th to 12th Century situated close to what is now the High Street in Bala. The Castle is 40m wide and 9m high and is likely to have been the administrative centre of the commote of Tryweryn. It was still fortified in 1202 when Llywelyn ap Iorwerth drove out Elis ap Madog, Lord of Penllyn.
This predates the actual town of Bala, which although being situated in the Welsh heartlands was originally an English town. However, we have to go back to the middle ages and the year of 1310 when Bala was founded as an English borough.
Over the years its Englishness dissipated and Bala has once again become a Welsh stronghold.
The English are invading again in the 21st Century ...this time however they are tourists on foot, in boats and on mountain bikes. Moreover, this time they are welcomed with open arms and encouraged to explore and enjoy the hills and vales of Meirionnydd and the Snowdonia National Park.