After a very comfortable and quiet night I woke the following morning to grey clouds which were gradually being replaced by blue skies and the promise of a nice day. The first dog walk of the day was to be an exploration of the nearby beach; from the site entrance it was just a 3-minute walk down the hill but if there was any sand at all it was completely covered by the high tide which came right up to the sea defences. Two rough surfaced car parks were situated between the sea defences and the North Wales Coast Path and the River Dulas came from somewhere inland and ran parallel to the path for a distance before curving round and emptying itself into the sea. Admittedly this wasn’t the prettiest of places but it did give us a good dog walk before we went back to the site for breakfast.
My main aim of the day was a visit to Conwy, somewhere I hadn’t been for a few years, though I was stopping off at Rhos-on-Sea on the way. Now although I left the site in brilliant sunshine the same couldn’t be said for arriving in Rhos – less than six miles along the coast the sun had almost disappeared and the sky was clouding over rapidly. Leaving the van in a roadside parking place on West Promenade I walked along the seafront, passing Combermere Gardens and the harbour and making my turn around point the tiny St. Trillo’s Chapel on the lower promenade at Marine Drive.
Combermere Gardens is a small but attractive raised paved area overlooking the sea and incorporating a few benches and planted flower beds. In Victorian times, before the promenade linking Rhos-on-Sea to Colwyn Bay was constructed, this site was the grounds of a house known as Combermere Lodge, sometimes referred to as Combermere Cottage. The house was demolished in the early 1900s as a result of either constructing or widening that section of the promenade and the owners of the nearby Cayley Arms Hotel made a contribution towards the cost of demolishing the other buildings between there and the sea, presumably to improve the hotel’s own view.
In 1909 suggestions were made in the local press as to the best use for the site of the demolished Combermere Lodge. Some locals wanted it used for public conveniences, some for public gardens, and there was also an application made to the council to rent the land for a ‘café chantant’ which would have provided refreshments, musical entertainments, dancing and lights at night. Although this had a lot of support it also had a lot of objections and the idea was eventually abandoned.
It’s unclear what decisions were taken at the time but underground public conveniences were erected at some point, along with a basic bandstand with a small canopy, and the site was given the official name of Combermere Square, though by the advent of the Second World War the local nickname had become ‘Lavatory Square’. These public conveniences were demolished sometime after the war and curved enclosing walls with coloured glass inserts were erected around the square. These in turn were demolished in the 1990s and the current attractive raised gardens and seating were built in their place giving good views across the bay.
Barely 7ft tall at its apex and seating just six people the tiny St. Trillo’s Chapel is thought to be the smallest church in the British Isles. It was named after St. Trillo, a 6th century saint who built his cell there, though having been heavily repaired several times over the centuries its true age is unknown. St. Trillo’s original cell was probably made of wood and wattle although he may have built a wall of stones gathered from the beach to protect the structure from winds. His decision to build his cell on that particular spot would probably have been influenced by a natural spring which provided him with drinking water; the chapel was later built around the well and for centuries this well supplied the water for baptisms across the extensive medieval parish of Llandrillo. It also had a long tradition of being a healing well and it can still be seen in front of and below the altar.
A locked wrought iron gate across the chapel entrance stopped me from going inside but the place was so small I had no difficulty in taking a couple of shots through the bars. There was a very pretty Christmas wreath attached to the gate and on the surrounding wall was a pretty Christmas plant and a collection of painted pebbles and stones left in memory of various loved ones. The chapel is still used for an Anglican Eucharist every Wednesday and though I admit to not being particularly religious, with no-one around just then it was nice to sit on the bench and spend a few minutes in quiet contemplation.
Walking back along the promenade I came across Rhos-on-Sea’s very own version of ‘street art’, a Welsh dragon painted on the garden wall of the Cayley Flyer pub/restaurant. The pub, formerly the Cayley Arms but renamed after refurbishment in 2017, was named after the Cayley family who were once prominent landowners in the area, and several other local place names mark this influence including the Cayley Promenade with its distinctive steep grass bank on the landward side of the road.
One member of the family, Sir George Cayley, was an eminent inventor and in 1853, fifty years before the Wright brothers, he designed and built a flying machine which could carry the weight of a man. This glider, the “Cayley Flier”, flew for about 275 metres across Brompton Dale in Yorkshire before crash-landing. Sir George, who was 80 years old at the time, hadn’t wanted to risk flying the plane himself so he had ordered his coachman, John Daley, to fly it for him – after the alarming experience of the crash-landing the coachman promptly resigned. This was the first recorded flight in history in a fixed-wing aircraft and it paved the way for the Wright brothers first powered flight in 1903, though the brothers did acknowledge Sir George Cayley as being the true inventor of the aeroplane.
I’d just got past the Cayley Flyer when it started to rain, just spits and spots at first but becoming heavier after a few minutes. With no umbrella and quite a distance still to walk to the van I dodged into a promenade shelter in the hope that the rain would soon stop, and that’s where I made what must be the silliest find of the year – left on the bench in the shelter was a bag of Tesco potatoes.
It was a bit of a mystery where they had come from as there is no Tesco in Rhos, and even though I sat in the shelter for a while no-one came to claim them. With no ‘best before’ date on the bag there was no way of knowing how long they could have been there but they looked okay so when I finally made my way back to the van I took them with me; I didn’t want them for myself but I knew someone who might be able to use them. Unfortunately it seems that when they were opened they had a funny smell so they were relegated to the bin, but it’s still a mystery as to how, when or why they came to be left in that shelter in Rhos-on-Sea.
With no sign of any improvement in the weather it crossed my mind to go back to the camp site but there was a shop in Conwy which I particularly wanted to visit so I continued with my day out, driving round to Conwy and finding a space in a car park on the edge of the town centre. The shop I wanted to go to is featured on the Quest tv programme Salvage Hunters and I’d been in there not long after it first opened a few years ago. It would be nice to have another look round but I was destined to be disappointed as not only was the place now ‘by appointment only’ it was also closed for the Christmas and New Year period, though I did manage to get a couple of photos looking through the windows.
Having window-shopped my way round the town, which didn’t take long as it isn’t a big place, I went to take some photos near the castle. Unfortunately the suspension bridge, designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1826, was closed with railings and a locked gate barring my way; in the care of the National Trust it’s been open to pedestrians only for many years but it seems that every time I’ve been to Conwy it’s been closed so I’ve never yet managed to walk across it.
Across the road and down on the quayside a handful of fishing boats were moored up and several jumbles of fishing baskets were piled here and there. Most were heaped in a somewhat haphazard fashion but one lot of rectangular baskets had been stacked neatly in a way similar to building a brick wall and they provided me with quite a colourful abstract-type shot.
Further along the quay was the Smallest House in Great Britain, originally created in the 16th century to fill a gap between two previously built rows of cottages. With the side wall of each end cottage and the back wall being part of the town wall’s central tower an enterprising builder realised all that was needed to create another house was the front wall and a roof. Over the years the house was home to many different people including a painter, a widow, a master mariner and his wife, a coachman and a fisherman and in 1891 it was bought for £20 by Robert Jones, a land owner who lived further along the quay. A copy of the conveyance hangs on a wall in the house, showing that for that price he not only bought the house but also acquired a sitting tenant with it, another Robert Jones. Robert Jones (the tenant) was 6ft 3ins tall but somehow continued to live in the Smallest House until 1900 when the local Corporation inspector declared it and the cottages to the left of it unfit for habitation.
Unhappy about the potential loss of rental income from the Smallest House Robert Jones (the owner) and his friend Roger Dawson, editor of the North Wales Weekly News, took a tour of the UK to measure other small houses in an effort to declare the Conwy house the smallest in Great Britain and thus save it from being demolished. Having established that it was indeed the smallest the Corporation agreed that it could be saved from demolition and opened instead as a tourist attraction. The Guinness Book of Records confirmed its status as the Smallest House in Great Britain in the early 1920s.
Measuring just 6ft across, 10ft deep and 10ft 2ins high the house has a single cramped bedroom upstairs and a downstairs living area with a water tap, an open coal fire and very basic cooking facilities. It has remained in the ownership of Robert Jones’ family ever since Jones himself bought it and is currently owned by his great, great granddaughter. It’s open to visitors daily from early spring until late autumn, with a lady in Welsh national dress standing outside, but due to structural instability the upstairs can only be viewed from a step ladder.
While I’d been looking round the shops earlier on I’d also been looking for a cafe where I could get a coffee and a simple snack but most places didn’t seem to offer what I was looking for, however I did find one where I would be able to get a toasted sandwich. It wasn’t to be though as no sooner had I got through the door than I was told rather abruptly by the young woman behind the counter “Sorry, we’re full!” even though there were several empty tables in evidence. So after photographing the Smallest House I got fish and peas from a nearby chippy and took them back to the van.
As I was on my way back there I came across a window display which somehow I’d missed before. It was the most adorable nativity scene made up of felt mice and a few other little animals, so cute that I just had to take a photo looking through the glass. That was my last shot of the day and after demolishing my fish and peas, which were very good, I set off back to the camp site.
It was unfortunate that the promising sunshine of the morning had been replaced by grey clouds and rain but I’d still enjoyed my day even though my photos at Conwy had to be taken from under the shelter of my umbrella – and seeing the mouse nativity scene just ended my day out nicely.
With almost two weeks off work and nothing to do in the week between Christmas and New Year the morning of Wednesday December 29th saw me heading down to North Wales on an impromptu and hastily arranged 2-night break at a new-to-me camp site not far from Abergele. The weather was atrocious when I left home, that fine but heavy rain which really wets you, and the spray from other vehicles on the motorway was dreadful. At one point I did question my own sanity in doing this but by the time I’d got a couple of miles past the turn-off for Manchester airport the rain had stopped and the sky was doing its best to brighten up.
Undecided whether to head straight down the A55 or turn off along the A548 coast road I opted for the second choice when I noticed some patches of pale blue sky appearing over to the west. The A548 crosses over the River Dee via the Flintshire Bridge which was officially opened in 1998; it cost £55m to construct, is 965ft long and 387ft high, and is Britain’s largest asymmetric cable-stayed bridge. It would give me a few good photos but there was nowhere for me to safely stop so I was only able to get one shot quickly snapped through the van’s front windscreen.
Unfortunately the patches of blue sky which had initially looked so promising had amounted to nothing and it was still very dull and grey when I made a short stop at Greenfield Dock on the River Dee estuary. It was a shame the tide was out as it’s quite an attractive little place, especially when there’s blue sky and sunshine. Now incorporated into a section of the North Wales Coast Path the dock itself was constructed in the early 1700s on the site of a natural harbour and was used to import raw materials to and export goods from the nearby (now non-existent) Greenfield Valley mills which processed copper and cotton.
Raw copper from Parys Mountain on Anglesey was unloaded at the dock and sent to the mills where it was turned into cups, pots and manilas – lead coated copper armbands which were highly prized in West Africa and were the currency of slave dealers. The copper goods were shipped round to Liverpool and the slave ships took the manilas to West Africa where they were exchanged for slaves who were then taken to America to work on the cotton plantations in exchange for bales of raw cotton. These were then brought back to Liverpool and shipped round to Greenfield Dock for spinning at Greenfield Valley’s cotton mills, thus completing the infamous ‘Triangular Trade’ which was eventually abolished by the Slave Trade Act in 1807.
During the early 19th century ferry services were introduced to Greenfield Dock. Ferries sailed to and from Liverpool and the Wirral and the dock became an important passenger terminal for pilgrims visiting the nearby St. Winefride’s Well, however freight and passenger business eventually declined when the Chester-Holyhead railway line was opened in 1848. Fast forward to more modern times and in a collaboration between Coastal Rangers and local fishermen the dock was restored and reopened in 2010; now more than 40 commercial fishermen work on the Dee estuary, cockle fishing in the summer and landing seasonal catches of bass, flounder and shrimp throughout the year.
The second stop on my way to the camp site was a surprise visit to friend Eileen. When I visited in October she had known about it beforehand but this time she didn’t so I was taking a chance that she and her hubby would be in. Luckily they were and I spent a lovely couple of hours with them and Tilly the Cockapoo before it was time to head off to the camp site.
Now to call this place a ‘camp site’ is rather a misnomer – it’s a 5-star holiday park, doesn’t accept tents and is way over my normal budget, but trying to find somewhere open at this time of year in the right place and with availability at short notice had been like looking for the proverbial needle in the equally proverbial haystack. My options had been limited but this site ticked all the boxes in many ways; I could live with the expensive cost just for a couple of nights so my large mpv became a ‘small campervan’ and I’d booked a serviced pitch for a 2-night stay.
Booking in at reception I was given a site map and a barrier pass then a very helpful young lady showed me to my pitch, which turned out to be in a small section of the lower part of the site and directly overlooking the sea, and with only one unoccupied caravan in the corner I had that section to myself. Living in the van meant that things had to be kept to a minimum so it didn’t take long to get sorted out and after a quick dog walk round the site I was soon settled in for the evening.
The only downside to the site was the railway line to Holyhead running below it and the very busy A55 running behind it, but train noise was virtually non-existent and once I was settled in the van I couldn’t hear any traffic noise at all. After a very grey start to the day the sun had appeared at lunch time and the rest of the afternoon had been lovely so I kept my fingers metaphorically crossed that the next couple of days would be just as nice.
Another year has drawn to a close and it’s time for me to look back on some of the things which have featured in my life and on this blog over the last twelve months, though in some ways 2021 has been rather an uneventful year so this time I’m concentrating more on the places I’ve been to.
The beginning of January brought just enough snow to make things look pretty and my first walk of the year gave me the sighting of a heron at the hidden lake in the grounds of Smithills Hall and the llamas at the nearby open farm. More snow fell later in the month and during a walk through a local quarry and fields not far from home I was drenched from head to foot in a wave of slushy snow and water when a 4 x 4 driver deliberately drove at speed through a huge puddle at the side of the road. Only a mile from home I could quite easily have gone back to get changed but I decided to carry on and the climb up through the quarry and brisk walk through the fields stopped me from getting cold.
Early February brought a couple more light overnight snow falls and the 9th was the first anniversary of losing sweet little Sophie so in her memory I took the dogs for a snowy walk round the Belmont area, a walk which Sophie had done with me several times over the years. In one of the fields I met a sheep with extremely curly horns and found that the Blue Lake was almost completely frozen over with ice and snow. The following day I took a walk round the Jumbles Reservoir and got some more lovely snowy photos.
Early March saw me making two visits to a reservoir which, although fairly local, is in the middle of nowhere and too far to walk from home. The first visit failed however as the traffic and parking situation was a nightmare and after an hour and twenty minutes without ever getting out of the van I ended up right back where I’d started from, at my own front gate. The second visit was much more successful though and I had a lovely walk round the reservoir where I found much of the south side looking more open after the felling of quite a lot of trees. Also that month I made three visits to Manchester and on each occasion came back with a whole host of street art photos.
Early April saw me seemingly being inundated with chocolate. On the spur of the moment Michael bought me two bars of white chocolate from the corner shop, his girlfriend sent me a lovely bunch of flowers and some chocolates and I won a pack of Cadbury’s creme eggs in an online Easter competition. Later that month I had a ridiculous conversation with Michael when he couldn’t think whether that particular day was Wednesday or Thursday and only a week later I had almost the same conversation with the boss’s son at work when he couldn’t remember if the day was Wednesday or Thursday. As well as local walks with the dogs I also made another two trips to Manchester and made a spring revisit to Corporation Park in Blackburn.
Early May was blighted by a fair amount of cloud and rain so there were no trips out and local walks were kept to a minimum. Another couple of photography trips to Manchester were made and when the weather came nice later in the month I got some lovely colorful shots of different shrubs and trees in various gardens which I passed on one of my walks with Snowy and Poppie.
The Manchester Flower Show was held in lovely weather during the first week of June and I made two trips to find and photograph the many floral displays and installations situated in various locations around the city centre. Also that month I discovered the delightful area of the Castlefield Basin where the Rochdale Canal and Bridgewater Canal meet and I was lucky enough to see the Castlefield Goslings who commute between the canal basin and the streets at the other side of Deansgate, taking their lives in their webbed feet by crossing the extremely busy main road. It beats me how they haven’t been squashed but traffic does seem to stop for them.
The highlight of July was my 10-day holiday in the Lake District, and though it started with a sore foot, a fault with the tent, a leaky loo and a swollen arm all four problems were soon resolved and with mainly good weather I went on to have a lovely time away. During the ten days I went to the delightful little village of Caldbeck, met up with blogging friend Jayne who took me on a lovely walk round Ravenglass, visited the Lake District wildlife Park and discovered several new-to-me places including Harrington harbour.
August was the month when Michael and I twice went for a curry meal at a local pub/restaurant and each time there was something missing from our order. The first time the mango chutney was missing so was substituted with mint yogurt, then the second time there was no mango chutney, no mint yogurt and no rice so we ended up with chips instead. Luckily we both saw the funny side of it and assumed that the lack of some foods was caused by various disruptions in the supply chain at the time. During the bank holiday weekend I had a nice walk along a section of the Lancaster Canal at Hest Bank, a place I’d never been to before, and also visited Arnside and Jenny Brown’s Point near Silverdale, then the following day went to Morecambe.
The middle Sunday of September was the start of my second 10-day Lake District holiday and though the first couple of days were grey and cloudy the weather came good and I was able to revisit some places I’d previously been to and explore others which I hadn’t, including Workington harbour, Bowness-on-Solway and Port Carlisle. I also walked by Bassenthwaite Lake and climbed Latrigg Fell the hard way (almost vertically) when the path ran out due to a large area of trees being felled, but it was worth the effort as the views from the top were fabulous. The highlight of the holiday though was without a doubt my visit to Ennerdale Water which offered fabulous views and gave me lots of great photos. The 25th of the month was Snowy’s first anniversary, a full year since she came to live in my little family at the age of 8 months.
October was very wet for most of the month but a break in the weather late on saw me going down to North Wales for a 2-night mini camping break and to make a long overdue visit to Eileen, a special blogging friend. During the weekend I met Eileen’s new little dog Tilly, and visited Flint Castle, Rhuddlan Castle and the oddly-named Horton’s Nose nature reserve at the mouth of the River Clwyd.
November for the most part was another rainy month when dog walking was kept to the local avenues or just the back garden if it was really bad but a couple of days of nice weather in the middle of the month gave me the opportunity to have a walk round Rivington Gardens to catch the remains of any autumn colours. Also that month I took the 25-minute train journey to Blackburn to see the Knife Angel, a 27ft tall sculpture made up of over 100,000 knives.
Early December was cold but dry and a lovely sunny day saw me taking the dogs on a local walk round Smithills Hall and through nearby woodlands and fields, then the week before Christmas I made my last visit of the year to Manchester, a late afternoon/early evening one to photograph the light sculptures in the city centre. To round off the year, just four days ago I made an impromptu spur-of-the-moment short trip to North Wales, staying at a new-to-me camp site and also visiting Eileen again. I only got back home late afternoon yesterday so it will be a while before details and photos appear on here.