Love, peace and Llangollen We visit the picturesque North Wales town that's home to festivals, a historic railway and so much moreWORDS BY EMMA MAYOH

Festival fever is alive and kicking in the pretty riverside town of Llangollen. The Llangollen Fringe Festival, the balloon festival, festivals for food enthusiasts and a more recent addition to the group, a festival dedicated to gardening. Between them they attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the town. But the town's coup de grace is the renowned Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, one of the world's largest global celebrations of music and dance.

Thousands of competitors descend annually from all corners of the earth to take part in the event, this year being held from July 6th to 12th. It is filled with colour and sounds with outdoor performances, workshops, singing and dancing. Last year 50 countries and 4,000 competitors took part and the event has been great experience for numerous singers, including previous winner Faryl Smith, who is just 14-years-old.This year's big stars include Faryl along with singer/songwriter Barbara Dickson, Jamaican bassbaritone Sir Willard White, chart-topping male quartet Blake and soprano Natasha Marsh.

Mervyn Cousins, executive director of the festival said: 'This year's festival has a fantastic line-up and everyone involved is really looking forward to getting things started. It's great to have performers like Faryl here too because she was one of our winners and she is well-known because of her appearance on Britain's Got Talent.We like to think we helped her on her way.'

The Eisteddfod was set up in 1947 by volunteers to promote peace and goodwill between nations. There are always evening concerts and daily competitions and past performers have included Luciano Pavarotti, who was a competition winner in 1955. He returned to perform in 1995 as an international star.

The festival has close links with the United Nations and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Its patron is Prince Charles and Cheshire-born Terry Waite is the current president. The foundations of the festival 62 years on are still built on the dedication of the hundreds of volunteers who give their time to ensure the event runs smoothly.

Mervyn said: 'We've quite often had between 800 and 1,000 volunteers and the festival is almost entirely run by volunteers. This includes local people and those who have come from far afield.

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'There are very few festivals that have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize but this was the whole reason it was set up. Before now we have had countries that in reality are at loggerheads but their groups of singers here getting on and enjoying themselves.'

There is a new twist for this year's festival. For the first time there will be an extra day of activities on Sunday extending it to a six-day festival. Also, 007 comes to the festival as Carl Davis, the renowned composer and conductor, will direct the music of James Bond with the Welsh National Opera Orchestra, Mary Carewe and Simon Bowman at a Licensed to Thrill concert. Honor Blackman, the actress who played Bond girl Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, will host it.

Mervyn said: 'The Eisteddfod is evolving each year and we have more and more to offer. It does so much for the town of Llangollen. The impact on the area is huge financially and because it attracts so much attention. There's a great feeling in the town when the festival is on, everything comes to life.'

There are many aspects of Llangollen which have created its reputation as an intriguing place. The Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, set up home together in the area after running away from their families in Ireland. Throughout their residence at the magnificent Plas Newydd, which they decorated in their own gothic style, they were visited by the Duke of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth and Lady Caroline Lamb, to name but a few. They won the hearts of the regency and you can visit their magnificent home and gardens.

Another beautiful, albeit rundown building is Valle Crucis Abbey. Various alterations to the 13th century building have been made, including those made after a fire in 1235. Burn marks can still be seen on some of the stones. Over the years the building fell into disrepair but there is enough of it left to imagine what it would have been like when it was occupied by Cistercian monks.

Perhaps they would have ventured further than their fish pond if they had been able to take a ride on the Llangollen Heritage Railway. It's probably the best way to arrive in the town. The seven-anda- half mile track takes the steam train through the Dee Valley, along the River Dee and some of the most glorious countryside up to the village of Carrog. The route offers some of the best views of North Wales and possible the most romantic way to travel.

Another historic transport attraction in Llangollen could soon be officially recognised as one of the best heritage sites in the world. British Waterways, who look after the Pontscyllte Aqueduct at the foot of the Horseshoe Pass, is waiting with bated breath for the decision.

The aqueduct - over 1,000 foot long - was built by Thomas Telford, is Grade II listed, a national monument for Wales and the longest aqueduct in the world. More than 1,000 canal boats use it every year.

Representatives from UNESCO visited Llangollen last year to examine it and a decision on whether it will be awarded World Heritage Status is expected in July. If successful, it will join the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park in Australia, the City of Potosi in Bolivia, the Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu in Peru.

The aqueduct stands for a great historical resource for Llangollen and the wider area and if given approval by UNESCO will be only the third World Heritage Site in Wales.Peter Birch, British Waterways Wales and Border Counties heritage and environment manager, said being awarded the status would be fitting recognition for the painstaking work in restoring the aqueduct as a world class monument and visitor attraction.

' This would be the first World Heritage Site specifically focusing on the Inland Waterway Network, which were the motorways of their day. They played a pivotal role in our Industrial Revolution and are now at the heart of a modern waterway leisure renaissance.'

Llangollen lowdown

The area is also popular with walkers as there are many beautiful areas to discover while visiting Llangollen. Why not try the Llangollen History Trail or if you're feeling more energetic try a section of the Dee Valley Way or the North Berwyn Way which link up Llangollen with nearby Corwen. For more information about the area you can contactLlangollen Tourist Information Centre on 01978 860828.

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