February mini break day 2 – Colwyn Bay

The second morning of the weekend arrived gloriously sunny and perfect for my intended day out. The main destination this time was Colwyn Bay, less than four miles down the coast, and the main objective was to see for myself the ridiculously short pier which Eileen and her hubby had told me about, though first was a walk from the camp site and along by the nearby beach.
Not far from the site and near the beach car park was Llanddulas railway viaduct, constructed in 1879 after the original viaduct collapsed during a storm in August that year. With round-the-clock working facilitated by one of the first uses of electric lighting on a construction site work progressed rapidly and the new bridge was opened to rail traffic just one month later, though the current bridge deck is more modern and dates from 1974.
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My walk took me along the coast path for about a mile, past the point where the River Dulas runs into the sea, to Tides cafe bistro at The Beach caravan park; this was the place where I’d had my first taste of the fruit cake version of bara brith several years ago, and very nice it was too. Since my walk along there in December I’d learned that this was also the area where, on August 20th 1868, what was then the worst railway disaster in Britain occurred.
A goods train was being shunted into sidings and half a dozen wagons loaded with paraffin were left temporarily on the main line, held only by the brakes of the brake van even though they were parked on an incline. The two brakesmen had both dismounted to take part in the shunting operations but when the engine backed onto the wagons the jolt caused the brake van to release its own brakes, sending the wagons rolling down the line into the path of the approaching Holyhead-bound Irish Mail express train.The force of the collision derailed the Irish Mail engine, its tender and the leading guard’s van; the engine ran on for about 30 yards then overturned to the left while the tender overturned to the right, completely fouling up the other track.
The heavy loss of life resulting from the accident was actually caused less by the impact itself and more by the load of two of the runaway wagons. Some of the barrels of paraffin broke up in the collision and their contents caught fire and exploded; the Irish Mail engine, tender, guard’s van and the first three passenger carriages were instantly enveloped in dense smoke and flames which soon spread to the fourth carriage and the leading post office van. This prevented any immediate rescue attempt and the occupants of the first four carriages all died, together with the guard in the front guard’s van and the locomotive’s fireman. The engine driver had managed to jump clear just before the collision and though he was wounded by flying splinters he was able to uncouple the last six carriages of the train, which were moved away before the fire could reach them. He died two months later from a pre-existing condition though an inquest concluded that his death had been hastened by the injuries he sustained in the accident.
On legal advice the two brakesmen of the goods train didn’t give evidence at the inquest and the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against them. They were tried at Ruthin assizes the following spring but were acquitted after the jury returned a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’ following the judge’s instruction that they should consider if the two men were, or should have been, under the supervision of a superior officer, ie the Llanddulas stationmaster.
A total of 33 people died in that accident, with the victims being burned beyond recognition, though three of them were later identified by their personal effects. The final official tally was 10 males, 13 females, and 10 gender unknown, and all the remains were buried on August 25th 1868 in a mass grave at St. Michael’s Church, Abergele, where a memorial to them still stands. Walking along the pleasant path in the sunshine of a quiet morning it was hard to believe that such an accident had occurred near there more than a century earlier.
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The drive from the camp site to Colwyn Bay took less than ten minutes and I parked at the far end of the promenade not far from Rhos-on-Sea. Set in the pavement every few yards were a series of granite ‘postcards’ depicting various points in Colwyn Bay’s timeline as part of the Waterfront Project, a recent upgrade and enhancement of the promenade area. Local architect Sydney Colwyn Foulkes (1884-1971) was responsible for the design of many of Colwyn Bay’s most lovely buildings and the elephant featured was mechanical rather than a live one.
Designed and patented by Frank Smith of Morecambe in the late 1940s after visiting a zoo, the Colwyn Bay mechanical elephant ran on wheels powered by a small belt-driven two-stroke petrol engine. Children sat sideways on benches which ran the length of the creature’s back and the fare for a ride was 6d each (six old pence). The elephant travelled at about 2mph and the ‘keeper’, who had to have a driving licence, walked alongside it.
Rhos-on-Sea from Colwyn Bay promenade
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The centrepiece of the newly upgraded promenade was the word ‘Colwyn’ designed by an architecture student at Wrexham University. The letters, each two metres tall, were formed from a precast concrete mix containing a dye to give them a unique coppery-orange colouring, then to complete the finish they were chiselled with an attractive design to depict either waves rolling onto the beach or hills and sand dunes.
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And then there was the pier – and yes, it was short. The original pier, which opened in June 1900, had suffered from years of neglect and decay and on February 1st 2017 the seaward end partially collapsed into the sea. This was followed by a further collapse on the 23rd of the month during Storm Doris and following a lot of discussion among the powers-that-be it was decided to remove the pier completely, with dismantling taking place between February and May 2018. All the salvageable parts were stored safely and after restoration the construction of the new but much shortened pier began in 2019, with the pier itself finally being opened to the public on July 14th 2021.
Now I have to admit that personally I think the new pier does look nice – the restored and repainted ironwork and the replica lamp columns are lovely – but it also looks a bit pointless. A few nice benches along each side would really complete the look but as it is now it’s just a wide empty boardwalk with fancy sides, no character and no real purpose.
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Across from the pier a pedestrian underpass led under the nearby railway line towards the town and on each corner wall I found some great street art, with all the murals featuring something pertaining to Colwyn Bay in years gone by. A bit further along the promenade I came to another art installation, a family of life-size silhouetted figures made from cast steel and overlooking the beach, then a short distance away was a series of contemporary seats and benches of different shapes and sizes, although none of them looked particularly comfortable to sit or lie on.
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Further on still was the Porth Eirias Waterfront Complex, a modern building housing a watersports centre, bike shop, childrens’ play area and a (very expensive) Bryn Williams bistro, and at the front of the building was The Cormorant, another art installation.
The Little Orme headland, less than four miles along the coast, has one of the largest Cormorant colonies in the UK and the birds are a frequent sighting on the Colwyn Bay coastline. The idea for the installation came from a student concept and the initial frame was created from welded steel rods with wings formed from old shelving panels. The feet are an unwanted pair of swim flippers while the feathers were made from old bicycle tyres and a tractor inner tube. The wing peaks and chest are from fly-tipped quad bike mud guards, the tail and lower belly were made from an old plastic garden chair and the beak was made from a discarded flexible yellow plastic tub. Black land drainage pipe made the neck and the plastic bottles in the belly highlight the issue of plastic pollution in the sea and the detrimental affect it can have on marine wildlife.
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At the back of the building a grass covered slope with a zigzag path and steps up the side led up to the roof. The slope looked rather untidy but according to the nearby information board these plants and grasses are native to the British coastline and in that particular location they contribute to the building’s low environmental impact. Up on the roof there was a great view across the beach in both directions and looking down the grass covered slope was much nicer than looking up it, in fact I thought the view could quite easily have been somewhere abroad.
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Although I knew there were other parts of Colwyn Bay to see there was also somewhere else I wanted to go to and I had quite a distance to walk to get back to the van so I made that my last photo and headed back along the promenade. I’d never been to Colwyn Bay before so I don’t know what it was like in previous years but I was very impressed with the promenade and the lovely beach so it’s definitely a place I’ll return to in the not-too-distant future.

31 thoughts on “February mini break day 2 – Colwyn Bay

    1. Thanks for the link, this is mine and my husband’s neck of the woods. Colwyn Bay promenade has been spruced up with the help of the Council’s Colwyn Bay Waterfront Project.

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  1. Colwyn Bay looks a lovely place to visit, even with it’s incredibly short pier ๐Ÿ™‚ You would think it might have some benches at least.
    The art installations are impressive. I especially like the cormorant. X

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    1. If Lily likes beaches she would love the one at Colwyn Bay. I think the cormorant is great, I love things which have been made from a variety of unwanted/discarded bits. It’s a shame it doesn’t have an information panel but maybe its message is supposed to be self-explanatory.

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  2. The Cormorant sculpture hits a nerve – the litter in the belly – however it is cleverly done and hits home the problem with litter (and those seats – I agree, how are they even comfortable? Must be an art statement as opposed to a comfort one)

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    1. I agree with you about those seats – art rather comfort. I don’t think I would like to try sitting/lying on any of them anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Did you visit St Michael’s Church to photograph the memorial to the victims of the rail accident. I’ve only been inside the church once before and that was for a funeral but I’m sure hubby has told me about the train disaster before. The Colwyn Bay Waterfront Project isn’t completed yet and the next phase will extend to Rhos-on-sea. There are also plans to return the pier to it’s former glory but I don’t know if that will ever happen, surely some benches on there now would make all the difference. I haven’t been through the underpass for quite a few years so I didn’t know about the murals. I like the dinosaur, Dinosaur World in Eirias Park used to be very popular. I’ll have to ask hubby if he remembers that elephant from the 60’s when he was a lad, I know he used to play on the beach there.
    A fascinating blog post Eunice.

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  4. I didn’t get chance to visit St. Michael’s church to see the memorial but I will do the next time I’m down there. I think the murals on the underpass walls have only been done within the last year or so – google maps street view from November 2020 shows the work on the new pier and there are no murals showing then. I came across a lot of info about the (old) pier so I may very well write a full post about it in the future.

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  5. Sounds like a great place to visit and I enjoyed your photos & commentary, making me want to come to UK again to see so much more. Ah, maybe one day, but then I might be too old. Thanks so much for your travel post. Take care & hugs.

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    1. I’m pleased you like the post and photos Susan. Maybe one day soon you will be able to come over here again to see some more of the UK – you should make it no.1 on your bucket list ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. We had a holiday in Colwyn Bay in 1976 (me, my sister, a cousin, and a friend) – I remember the year specifically because it was that scorching hot summer and we had a plague of ladybirds while we were there. However, I donโ€™t remember it looking anything like this! It has certainly come on in the world over the last few decades. Nor do I remember learning anything about the terrible rail disaster.

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    1. I remember that year very well – I put Michael in his playpen out in the garden one day, he had suncream on and he wasn’t out that long but he still got sunburnt ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I remember going to Rhos-on-Sea during a family holiday when I was about 7 or 8, I used some of my pocket money to buy a pretty bracelet from a seafront shop, but I don’t remember going to Colwyn Bay even though the two are next door to each other. The promenade regeneration only started in 2016 so no, you won’t remember it looking anything like this ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. Another enjoyable read Eunice and I didnโ€™t know about the train disaster before now. What a tragedy. The coastline looks lovely in the summer sun and Iโ€™m looking forward to the next instalment already.

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  8. The train disaster was certainly a tragedy, though it did pave the way for various safety measures to be put into place afterwards. I was really impressed with Colwyn Bay, it looked good in the sunshine though I may have had a different opinion if it had been cloudy and dull ๐Ÿ™‚

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  9. Oh Iโ€™m sorry, how did I miss this yesterday?

    Can you imagine any modern civil engineering project being completed in a month (rolls eyes!!)

    What a lovely (massive) beach at Colwyn and I suspect the postcards amused you. I rather like that dinky little pier – it is gloriously idiosyncratic.
    If there is street art to be found your internal radar always seems to find it. โ˜บ๏ธ

    Lovely morning, I think you could have easily spent the whole day there?

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  10. I could have spent a lot longer there Jayne and with hindsight I wished I had as I suffered a couple of minor disappointments later on. I’ll definitely go back another time and explore some more though. The beach is lovely and I can see why Eileen likes taking Tilly there. Without seating the pier doesn’t currently seem to serve much of a purpose but I do like the colour of the restored and repainted ironwork, it’s lovely and apparently matches the 1934 colour scheme.

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  11. I don’t know what the promenade was like before all the regeneration but it certainly looks good now. It looks so clean and bright and I was really impressed.

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  12. What a terrible rail accident, how awful. We visited Colwyn Bay when we had a trip to North Wales but we weren’t there long enough to really explore. We had Archie with us so we had a stroll along the beach. We actually visited in March 2017 so it will have been just after the collapse of the pier, though I don’t recall anything about it. Perhaps we were on a different stretch of beach, you’ve got me wondering now.

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  13. The beach does stretch for quite a long way so maybe you were at the Rhos-on-Sea end which is quite a distance from the pier. It’s a lovely beach and seems to be a popular place for taking dogs out of holiday season.

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  14. That rail disaster is indeed tragic – and the fact that there were so many people buried who were unidentifiable (even down to their gender!) Who was left behind, forever wondering where their loved one was.
    On a brighter note, we visited Colwyn Bay on our honeymoon – in 1985. Goodness me! So long ago!! My dad was evacuated there from Liverpool. My mum went to Frodsham. I know which I would have preferred!!

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  15. The rail disaster was certainly tragic and it’s hard to imagine what the families of those who lost loved ones went through, especially as the bodies couldn’t be identified. Colwyn Bay is lovely, and having been through Frodsham a few years ago I know which I would prefer too ๐Ÿ™‚

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  16. The new short pier is very nice but without seating or anything else it serves no real purpose. I suppose the sea might come underneath it if there’s a very high winter tide but maybe not under normal circumstances – if you look at the first two pier photos you can see the high tide mark just beyond the pier end.

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  17. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Colwyn Bay itself. It looks very genteel, if you know what I mean, but rather nicely updated. I loved the murals in the underpass- especially the elephant.

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  18. You’re right Jo, it does look very genteel – there are some lovely properties along the promenade and not an amusement arcade or tacky gift shop to be seen anywhere. I like the elephant mural too, I’d love to have seen the mechanical one back in the 60s, it must have been quite something.

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  19. I have to say that your last couple of trips to North Wales have opened my eyes to what Iโ€™ve missed zooming along the A55 to catch the ferry at Holyhead. Iโ€™ll have to explore a little more myself – maybe I should take advantage of my sister in law living in Prestatyn!

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  20. That sounds like a great idea, you should do it when you get the chance. The A55 is great for getting from A to B quickly but it bypasses so many things of interest. I’ve just found out about another couple of interesting things/places to see, one not far from Prestatyn, so I’m now planning another future trip down there ๐Ÿ™‚

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