6 reasons to visit Bala in North Wales
- Credit: Pics; John Cocks
Meet some of the residents of this attractive lakeside town
If the beautiful scenery of Bala has left you feeling inspired, why not head down to Julie Rogers’s studio at the Gorwelien Visitor Centre to put your artistic vision to good use? As well as creating stained glass and mosaics for sale, Julie also runs workshops both at her studio and in local schools.
‘I was looking for a workshop in Manchester but began thinking outside of the box. My sister Hazel has lived in the Bala area for a number of years and she suggested coming here. I always thought there was a great vibe about the place. The lovely thing about it is how it’s so commercially untouched and there’s not a single empty shop on the high street.’
The artist soon grew out of the purpose-built log cabin in the garden of her house and relocated her blossoming business to the visitor centre just outside of the town centre. It is here where she makes her stunning pieces which range from Tiffany glass home accessories and traditional leaded glass panels for windows to personal and community commissions including mosaic panels for Loggerheads Country Park.
‘It’s a great spot for me to expand in; it’s proving to be very successful. It is a different format here compared to when I was working in Manchester. In Bala, people tend to travel from further afield to spend a day here so I have a wide client base of both locals and tourists.’
Bala Adventure and Watersports
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Venture down to picturesque Bala Lake and you will find an abundance of people kayaking, swimming and paddle boarding in the serene waters. When the sun’s shining, it feels almost as if you’re on holiday – but even when it’s typical British weather, Sarah Lind tells me that there are still plenty of people making the most of the lake.
‘It’s an all round season, but especially if it’s sunny then they will come!’ said the owner of Bala Adventure and Watersports, who this year celebrated their 20th anniversary of business.
She and husband Mark run the Royal Yachting Association approved centre, where as well as water activities you can take part in a variety of adventure things such as climbing, abseiling, gorge walking and archery.
‘The trends of what people want to do change each year. This year, sailing and gorge walking have been really popular, whereas it was windsurfing last year. You never know what it is going to be.’
The Old Workhouse
Established as a workhouse in 1837, it has since been County Militia barracks, an oatcake and biscuit factory, water bottling plant and a pyjama factory for Aykroyd and Sons. Today it has been transformed into a quirky bed and breakfast venue, thanks to Ian and Georgina Marrow. ‘Gruel is no longer on the breakfast menu, but will be served on request to anyone seeking the authentic experience – just don’t ask for more,’ joked Ian, who instead offers a delicious full Welsh breakfast, included in the room rate of £75, to any guest staying in their two-bed hideaway.
The couple bought the Grade II* central hexagonal shaped building for £35,000 in 2014 – a low figure for a building of its kind due to the horrendous state it had been left it. Timbers on the leaking roof were rotten, dry and wet rot infested the walls, some of the floors had started to collapse and the old cast-iron windows were falling apart. Add the fact there was no water, electricity or drains – you can see just how big a task it has been to transform.
‘It’s been a huge task to undertake; we have spent £200,000 and counting. We moved into the building in May when it became more habitable and then the two guest bedrooms were completed,’ said Ian. The couple’s vision has now resulted in two stunning letting bedrooms on the top floor of the building, with panoramic views over the rooftops to the surrounding hillsides. They’re a stylish mix of modern and traditional, with en-suite bathrooms, stripped back floorboard and vaulted ceilings.
‘Sometimes when things weren’t going too well we did ask ourselves why we took this on, but we’re now over the hardest part.’
Aran Hufen ia
It’s no surprise to see a queue forming outside Aran Hufen ia, its homemade ice cream is becoming somewhat internationally recognised. ‘It’s the best,’ beamed a group of tourists from Seattle, who make sure they always stop by for a scoop when visiting family. With flavours such as passion fruit and elderflower liqueur, and treacle sponge and custard on offer, the attraction becomes apparent.
The mastermind behind this tasty operation is Karen Bisby, who along with husband John moved from Yorkshire to Rhyd y Bod farm at Llanuwchllyn, near Bala, ten years ago: ‘I started to make ice cream four years ago, initially selling them at farmers markets, county shows and supplying tubs to local shops. I also had an ice cream bike which I would take to Bala Lake Railway’s main station in Llanuwchllyn.’
Karen then discovered a shop on Bala High Street and opened her flagship store in 2017. Alongside the fabulous array of ice cream, which is made on a daily basis in the morning for sale that day, there’s also milkshakes, waffles, affogato and the more unusual pan fried ice cream, which is thin rolls of the creamy treat.
‘Local people have been so supportive of the business, it’s a lovely town. When we first opened, customers were very traditional and stuck to vanilla, but now the question is always what flavours do you have this week?’
Bala Lake Railway
With views over the beautiful Snowdonia National Park and Bala Lake, a trip on Bala Lake Railway is nine miles well spent.
The narrow gauge steam trains run regularly from Llanuwchllyn, stopping at Llangower and just outside of Bala before finishing the one hour trip back at the main station where passengers can watch the locomotives being serviced, see the Victorian signal box in operation and enjoy refreshments in the station café.
If you’re looking for a really luxurious retreat and some culinary indulgence, this beautiful country house hotel is the place. Situated in the tranquil Dee valley, the historic Victorian mansion has won over many hearts since opening in 2016. It has 18 elegant, individually styled bedrooms with sumptuous décor, the perfect place to unwind after enjoying a meal in the hotel’s fine dining restaurant. Also open to non-residents, the restaurant was created in association with Michelin-star chef Michael Caines, with signature dishes created by their own head chef, Gareth Stevenson.