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Travel & Holidays in later life


World champion sheep handler Aled Owen with his Ram Parade at Ewe-PhoriaBy Easter, Wales is dancing with daffodils and spring lambs. It's a good time for a short break, with all the main attractions eager to open their gates after winter hibernation. The season then flourishes throughout summer, until tourism shuts down by the end of October.

The key approach into Mid and North Wales is the A5 highway, passing through gorgeous scenery. Historically, the A5 - designed by the great engineer Telford - was the only long-distance road commissioned by the central government between the building of the Roman roads, and construction of the Motorways. 

Built in early 19th century, it ran from London to Holyhead, to improve access to Dublin. The mountains of Wales presented great problems, but Telford's chosen route has changed very little over the past two centuries. Every few miles there are temptations to stop for pictures or sightseeing.

If you want to know more about the thousands of sheep that decorate the landscape, stop at the Ewe-Phoria Agri Theatre and Sheep Dog Centre. It's just off the A5 at Llangwm, past the market town of Corwen. 

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Bodnant Garden, open 10-5 daily from 28 Feb - 15 Nov,10am -5pm (4pm 2- 15 Nov); and . Entry 7.50, child 3.75. Tel: 01492-650460. Web: www.bodnant

 Ewe-Phoria opens at Easter Weekend and then Wed, Thu, Fri, Sun and Bank Holiday Weekends, 12.00 to 3.00. Also Tuesdays in August. Sept-Oct  Wed, Fri, Sun; Demonstrations at 1 pm.  Call 01490 460369 to book in advance. 

Plas Newydd is open April 1 to November 1, daily except Thu-Fri 12-5. Entrance 7, child 3.50. Garden only 5, child 2.50.  Tel: 01248-715272.

Welsh Highland Railway timetable.

More information: NORTH WALES TOURISM, 77 Conway Road, Colwyn Bay, LL29 7LN. Tel: 01492-531731. Bed bookings: 08705-168-767. 

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Demonstrations are given by the farmer Aled Owen - a former World Champion for sheep handling - together with his star sheepdog. 

The show starts with a joyous theatre-style presentation in a converted barn. One by one, well-bred rams are encouraged onto stands set on a three-level platform. Each individual animal comes trotting onto stage, heading for the nearest feeding-bowl filled with his favourite delicacies. 

Aled then explains the differences between the breeds, and their meat or wool qualities. He talks about the sheep-farmers' lifestyle and the economics of the business. 

After the Ram Parade, visitors can climb on the stage to pet the animals. They don't bite! 

That's followed by a live demonstration of Aled and his sheepdog herding a small flock. He may also show off a puppy or two, as Aled is also a Border Collier breeder of world renown. 

Further along the A5, turn off at Betws-y-Coed onto the A470 for the North Wales coastal resorts of Colwyn Bay, Llandudno and the smaller beach havens west towards Bangor.

Craft pots are on sale at Bodnant Garden NurseryEn route, stop at the National Trust property of Bodnant Garden, a few miles south of Llandudno. The 80-acre site opens in mid-March, ready to welcome you with a big display of daffodils.

The Garden is one of the major attractions of the Conwy Valley, with Italian-style hillside terraces that give wide views across to Snowdonia. 

If you miss the daffs, April offers stunning displays of magnolias and camellias followed by azaleas and rhododendrons. Then every month there's something else till the closing autumn colours of October.

Eighteen staff are under the command of third-generation head gardener Martin Puddle. The aim is to grow the world's most beautiful and unusual plants that are suited to the Welsh climate and soil, without having to coddle them in big greenhouses. They have come mainly from China, Japan and North America.

The adjoining Bodnant Garden Nursery has unique access to this treasury of plantlife, on sale to the public. Qualified horticulturists help and advise on making a suitable choice. The old-time kitchen garden buildings have been redeveloped in the style of a Victorian cobbled street, to include the Plant Centre, craft workshops and retail studios.

In the Snowdonia village of BeddgelertMeanwhile, if you have stayed on the A5, you are driving into the heart of the Snowdonia National Park, with all its great choice of mountain walking and climbing. 

Stay with A5, and you can soon cross the Menai Strait onto the island of Anglesey. Overlooking the Menai Strait is Plas Newydd, the 18th-century stately National Trust home of the Marquess of Anglesey.

Historically the 1st Marquess commanded the cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo, and a house museum contains campaign relics. But the main interest is Britain's largest canvas painting stretching 57 feet long and 12 feet high in the dining room.

The artist, Rex Whistler, took two years to produce the work which gives the impression of looking across the Menai Strait towards Snowdon. Visitors can also admire the view from the garden. Rex Whistler was born 1905, but he was killed in the war. 

You can't do Wales without riding on at least one of the Great Little Trains. Among them is the Welsh Highland Railway which runs in two instalments between Caernarfon and Porthmadog, with a gap in between.

The 12-mile northern section opened up in 2003 from Caernarfon to Rhyd Ddu at the foot of Snowdon. There and back takes around two hours. The southern end at Porthmadog is only a mile, but includes a visit to the railway workshops.

Dedicated rail-fans have been doing volunteer work to restore the line completely, running from Caernarfon via Beddgelert to link with the Ffestiniog Railway at Porthmadog. 

A 5m grant is helping to complete the project by 2009. This will then make a total 40 miles from Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog on the joint narrow-gauge railway. 
In the first-class carriage of a Welsh Highland narrow-guage train
Meanwhile, the northern section offers daily services from mid-March - mostly steam hauled, but with a vintage diesel locomotive at off-peak times.

So, whatever your interests - gardens, scenery, historic houses, general sightseeing or keeping the kids amused - Wales has plenty on offer. Get ready to go!

Here are more ideas on where to go in Wales

CARDIFF - great to visit any time

CARDIGAN - Self-catering along the Heritage Coast

LLEYN PENINSULA - Go walking around the Edge of Wales

SWANSEA - On the Dylan Thomas trail around the Gower peninsula 

TENBY - along  Pembroke's coastline

WALES - Steam up for North Wales

WELSH RAREBITS - for a taster of Wales

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Collins Rambler's Guide: Snowdonia and North Wales by Richard Sale - Covers many of the beautiful and dramatic walking areas which can also be reached by the steam trains.

Narrow Gauge Railways of North Wales by Andrew Wilson - Covers all of the steam railway lines

Favourite Welsh Choirs - A compilation on CD of top choirs in full voice, featuring the well-loved traditional songs.

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