Most visitors from abroad are attracted to Wales for its castles, its miles of dramatic coastline, its mountains and its opportunities for outdoor adventure.What many don't appreciate is that Wales is a fiercely independent part of the UK that still holds on to remnants of its own ancient culture, has its own unique language - spoken as a first language in parts of the north and experiencing a revival elsewhere - and has bardic traditions of music, poetry and storytelling that are still widely practiced by ordinary people. So it's not surprising that this nation has more than its share of quirky places, weird legends and unique attractions, These are just the tip of the iceberg. (Click photos for a better view.)
01 of 10
Hard up against ancient walls of Conwy, near Conwy Castle and facing the quay, Britain's smallest house, sometimes known as Quay House, is a narrow red, one-up one down fisherman's cottage just under 6 feet wide and 11.5 feet deep. The last occupant, Robert Jones, was - at 6'3" - taller than the house is wide. He lived there, unable to stand up in the rooms of his own house, until 1900 when the local council declared the house unfit for human occupation. His family still owns the house and for small admission fee you can have a look around inside. There's a pretty long queue to get in on holiday weekends.
02 of 10The Waen Rhydd Bog, near Llanwrtyd Wells, Britain's smallest town, is the scene of one of the country's most bizarre sporting events. Bog Snorkeling probably began as a way to get a bit of tourism attention for this tiny place. But now it has grown into an international event with world records recorded by the man from Guinness and everything. Anyone, 14 years or older can don a mask, snorkel and flippers and swim back and forth the length of a 60 foot channel cut in a peat bog. Any stroke is allowed but the snorkeler has to keep his or her head submerged in the muddy water and make way through the reeds and peat.They also do a Bog Triathlon and Bog Cycling.
03 of 10
This remote hotel beneath Mt Snowdon was originally a farmhouse, then a coaching inn before it became the training headquarters for Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. This is where members of the British expedition stayed as they prepared for their successful assault on Mt Everest in 1953. Today, you can stay there for a taste of winter adventure in Snowdonia. Visit the bar where a "reliquary" holds a variety of objects and items of clothing that Hillary and Tenzing took up the mountain and back down. There are hats, ropes, snowshoes, cups, bottles, a radio, all sorts of things that the well equipped extreme mountaineer would need to conquer the Himalayas in 1953. By the way, don't worry about how to pronounce it - most of those in the know just call it the PYG.
04 of 10
How do you build a bridge tall enough to allow big, ocean going ships to come through when you're working to a tight budget and within tight spaces. That was the challenge facing the late 19th century builders of the Newport Transporter Bridge. A conventional bridge, of the height required, would need very long approach ramps. And tunneling was too expensive. But industry was expanding on the east side of the river while the population lived mostly on the west bank. The Transporter Bridge that opened in 1906 is essentially a suspended ferry. It is one of only six working transporter bridges left in the world.
A track runs between two high towers. The "ferry" swings below it on strong cables and carries people and cars across. It's open Wednesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays between Easter and the end of September. If you are brave enough, you can climb the steps all the way up to the high level track. But most visitors simply cross on the suspended ferry. (do click... on the photo to the left to see the full impact of this unusual bridge.)Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10According to legend, St Govan landed on the southernmost point of Wales, in Pembrokeshire, in the early 7th century, pursued by pirates. He took shelter in a cleft in the rocks that miraculously opened for him, then shut behind him to hide him. After, he decided to stay on, to preach and teach, for the rest of his life. The tiny chapel, clinging to the rocks beneath a particularly challenging part of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, was built by his followers in the 13th century. It is said that the saint is buried beneath the altar- and some believe that St Govan was actually Sir Gawain, King Arthur's nephew, who settled here are Arthur died. Whatever you think of the legend, the building is real and, provided you don't suffer from vertigo, you can reach it via a long, steep flight of stairs.
06 of 10
Machinations, in Llanbrynmair, Powys, is the only permanent exhibition of contemporary automata (mechanical moving models) open to the public in the UK. The collection features nine different sculptors and craftsmen who work in this unusual discipline. You'll find everything from animated mechantical cartoons to Heath Robinson assemblages of found objects. It's also the home of Timberkits, a collection self-assembly automata that are designed here and can be purchased in the Machinations shop.
07 of 10
Yew trees are among the oldest living things on the planet. And some of the oldest yew trees in Britain are in Wales. If you are interested in finding a truly ancient tree, head for a very old village or parish church. Chances are, the yew tree you find will be a thousand years or more older than the church. The reason the older trees tend to be near churches is that other, woodland trees, were cut down and used for furniture and firewood over the millennia. The one or two yews in a churchyard would have been respected and left to grow.
The Llangernyw Yew, outside St Digain's Church in the village of Llangernyw, Conwy, North Wales was certified, in 2002, to be 4,000 to 5,000 years old and may well be the oldest living thing in Britain. In honor of the Queen's Golden Jubilee that year it was named to a list of 50 Great British Trees. If you don't make it to St Digain's, visit the Ancient Yew Group website for a list of more ancient yews in Wales.
08 of 10This is one of the genuine modern wonders of Wales. Designed by award winning and world reknown architect Norman Foster, it is the biggest single span glasshouse in the world. It is made of 785 panes of glass - everyone a different size - and has 147 computer controlled air vents. Inside is one of the longest continuous flowerbeds in Europe. Among its wonders are plants that smell of toffee, chocolate, curry and rotting flesh (pollinating flies love it). There's a wild mushroom that grows out of the body of a caterpillar. And after you've finished admiring Foster's glasshouse, check out the greenhouse made entirely of plastic bottles.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Until recently, slate was used for just about everything connected with the home in parts of Britain. It was a building material, a roofing and flooring material, an outdoor paving stone and was even carved into furniture. One of the biggest producers of the material in the UK was the Llechwedd slate mines in Blaenau Ffestiniog. They still produce slate there and it's still an important material for roofing, flooring and outdoor paving, but activities at the quarries are much reduced. To take up the slack, part of the Llechwedd slate mine has been turned into a unique underground tourist attraction. Visitors ride the world's steepest cable mining railway into vast caverns and tunnels 500 feet underground. A ghostly guide tells relates the history of the place and the lives of the miners (many of them children), 170 years ago. Tunnels are atmospherically lit and all kinds of additional adventures are in the works. At this writing, a zipline is being installed in the underground... caverns and in the summer of 2014 you will be able to zip around the biggest underground chambers on it.
10 of 10
Beddgelert is an extremely picturesque, stone-built town beneath Snowdon. Its name means Gelert's Grave and the grave in question is a stone memorial, surrounded by slate, commemorating a faithful and badly betrayed dog.
Gelert was the pet hound of a medieval prince, Llewelyn ap Iorwerth. According to the legend, when the prince went off to battle, he left Gelert in charge of his baby son. On his return, he could not at first find the baby, but Gelert bounded up to him, his mouth dripping with blood. Instantly assuming the worst, the hot tempered Llewelyn drew his sword and slew the hound on the spot.Then he heard his son crying. After a short search, he found the baby beside a dead wolf that Gelert had killed to protect the child.