Then there is the iconic Route 66, which ran from Chicago to Los Angeles in California, and was made famous, at least for me, by the Rolling Stones cover version of the Bobby Troup song, Route 66.
In Wales we have our own highway that deserves to live in the annals of history, the A470, which being the shortest of the three - brief and to the point - could be referred to as laconic rather than iconic!
The A470 extends from Cardiff on the south coast, to Llandudno on the north coast, a stretch of 299 kilometres. After leaving Cardiff the A470 passes through the neighbourhood of Whitchurch where I spent most of my youth, and on North to Tongwynlais. It is here that you can visit the fairytale castle named Castell Coch, meaning Red Castle.
From Tongwynlais, the road continues north to Merthyr Tydfil, which, according to legend is named after Saint Tydfil, daughter of King Brychan Brycheiniog, a 5th century king of Brycheiniog, or Breconshire, which was one of the thirteen historic counties of Wales. Legend has it that Saint Tydfil was slain at Merthyr by pagans around 480 AD, and thus the town got its name in honour of her. The word Merthyr means martyr in modern Welsh, though it is probable in this instance that the meaning is "church” (in memory of a saint or on his/her grave). According to archaeological records people have lived in the area since 1000 BC.
This area is known as the Brecon Beacons National Park, and is an area of immense natural beauty. I have visited the Brecon Beacons on numerous occasions, both with my parents as a young lad on a Sunday afternoon excursion, and working in the area as a land surveyor many years ago on a new road project. I love the wild, unspoilt beauty of the Brecon Beacons, the crystal clear mountain streams, the waterfalls and tarns, the old stone bridges, if you ever visit Wales, make sure you visit this area.
From The Storey Arms Pass the road descends into the market town of Brecon. Brecon, as I remember it, is a lovely sleepy town, and well worth stopping at if you are in the area. It is also the place to stay if you are planning on touring or hiking in the Beacons National Park. Brecon is also famous for its annual Jazz festival, usually held in August, and which attracts jazz musicians from all over the world.
There is a 1000 feet square mural in the centre of Builth Wells depicting the final days of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Prince of Wales. The mural shows Llywelyn and his men, a scene depicting the fighting, and a representation of Builth Castle, where Llywelyn was turned away when trying to flee from the English. It also shows a blacksmith - Madoc Coch - who reversed the horseshoes on Llywelyn's horse so that the prints in the snow would look as if he was travelling in the opposite direction when fleeing from his enemies. The mural was designed by Ronald Swanwick, and painted by him and Neil Chambers.
Builth Wells is also famous for being one of the few places in Britain where there is a post box with the cypher of King Edward VIII who abdicated in 1936.
The area is outstandingly beautiful, and deserves its popularity. The B4574 mountain road to Aberystwyth, which passes through Pont-rhyd-y-groes and Devil’s bridge, has been described as one of the ten most scenic drives in the world. It’s only a short stretch of road, but incredibly beautiful.
Continuing north we come to the town of Llanidloes, which is near the dam and reservoir Llyn Clywedog. Llanidloes is popular among walkers as there are many scenic walks in the area. There is also a scenic mountain road which links Llanidloes with Machynlleth. Machynlleth was where the famous Welsh designer, Laura Ashley opened her first shop.
Machynlleth has a strong Welsh speaking population with approximately 40% speaking it as their first language. The town is also popular with those looking for outdoor activities.
Not far from the A470 in this area is Dolgellau, which is the centre for those wishing to climb Cadair Idris or take part in other outdoor pursuits such as walking and hiking, white water rafting or horse riding. Also in the area there is a ruined 12th century abbey called Cymer Abbey, a Quaker Graveyard and a field called Camlan, which is said to be where the last battle of King Arthur took place. Dolgellau also holds an annual world music event called Sesiwn Fawr.
From here you come to Blaenau Ffestiniog, which in the past, was famous for its slate mines. The town has the Ffestiniog narrow gauge railway that runs through beautiful mountainous scenery to Porthmadog approximately 14 miles away, a must for anyone visiting the area, and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, a slate mine open to the public and listed as one of the top five visitors’ attractions in Wales.
Not far from here is the small village of Betws y Coed, with its Miners’ bridge, the Conwy Valley Railway Museum, and the 14th century church of St Michael’s. Close to the village are various waterfalls including the famous Swallow Falls. From Betwys-y-Coed the road travels down the valley of the river Conwy and on to Llandudno, the largest seaside resort in Wales. Llandudno has much to offer the tourist, especially families with young children. There is a long sandy beach, a grade II listed pier, a tramway that takes passengers up the headland cliff known as the Great Orme, a marine drive and the Happy Valley landscaped gardens.
So that’s the end of our journey, you can get your kicks on Route 66 or feel free on the A470.
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