Easter in North Wales – Day 3 Exploring Conwy

Knowing that Conwy would be very busy my day started reasonably early this time – my plans meant that at some point I would have to leave the dogs in the van for a while so I wanted to be sure I could get a parking space in some shade. Just before 9am I pulled into the edge-of-town car park I usually use and bingo! – only three cars there and a space underneath a big tree which would provide shade all day long.
Heading down the road from the car park and in the direction of the river a short dead-end lane took me to Marine Walk. The pedestrian footpath/cycleway ran along by the waterside before turning inland alongside a tidal creek crossed by a blue/grey bridge which provided private access to a sports field for pupils of a nearby school. Past the end of the creek the path took me onto a minor road which crossed the busy A55 just west of the Conwy Tunnel which ran deep underneath the river estuary. 
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View across to Deganwy with the gorse covered hillside leading to the castle ruins
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Opened by the Queen on October 5th 1991 the Conwy Tunnel was the first immersed tube road tunnel in the UK and Ireland. Designed for the Welsh Office by Travers Morgan & Partners and a joint construction venture between contractors Costain and Tarmac it took 1,000 workers five years to construct at a final cost of £144m.
At 1.09km long the tunnel is comprised of 300,000 tonnes of concrete and 10,500 tonnes of steel reinforcement, and carries two lanes of traffic in each direction, separated by a full-height dividing wall. The east and west approaches were constructed using a ‘cut-and-cover’ technique and the central immersed tube section was formed from six steel-reinforced concrete units, precast inside a basin on the west side of the Conwy estuary. Each unit was 118 metres long, 24 metres wide, 10.5 metres high and weighed 30,000 tonnes.
When construction of the units was complete they were made watertight by temporary steel bulkheads at each end, the casting basin was flooded and they were floated into the estuary, being towed into position by pontoons and sunk on a falling tide into a pre-excavated trench some 10-20 metres deep, where they were finally joined together underwater and the temporary bulkheads removed to complete the roadway. Sand was injected to fill the voids beneath the tube and graded backfill placed round its sides and top to fill the trench, finished off with a protective covering of rock armouring. The whole operation took a huge collaborative effort which included a team of 90 divers working 24-hour shifts and making approximately 7,000 dives.
Surplus granular material excavated from the casting basin and dredged from the tunnel trench was deposited upriver beyond the road and rail bridges and used to reclaim parts of a tidal area which is now the Glan Conwy Nature Reserve, while the basin itself was developed into Conwy Marina. Opened in 1992 and with 500 pontoon berths it’s the largest marina in Wales.
Today’s tunnel technology includes 36 giant fans in each bore, CCTV cameras monitored from a control room, emergency telephones, evacuation doors, incident detection and public address systems and a computerised lighting system with 2,600 58W single and twin fluorescent lights and 1,850 LED lamps which automatically adjust to visibility conditions, all supported by 4km of cabling and 3km of steelwork. Probably most people, myself included, will have driven through that tunnel without giving a moment’s thought for the planners, engineers and construction workers who made it a reality – maybe some don’t even realise they are driving under a river – but the technology and work undertaken to get it there is certainly pretty amazing. 

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Conwy tunnel heading west – photo from the internet
At the far side of the A55 the minor road took me to a small private estate of modern houses and a car park and boat yard with Conwy Marina at the far side, overlooked by the terrace of the Mulberry pub/restaurant and a very attractive small square dotted with planters and seating. A pleasant pedestrian promenade led to the far end of the marina and the continuation of the minor road which ended in a rough surfaced car park with a slipway down to the water.

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My original idea had been to walk along the beach for a while but not far from the slipway the sand gave way to rocks and with a high tide there was no beach to be seen so I walked along the dunes for a distance before turning round and retracing my steps. At one point I came across what seemed to be a memorial cairn of some sort but on closer inspection I found it was a crudely made hand carved signpost pointing one way to Conwy and the other to Sunset – as the only caravan site near there doesn’t have that name I can only assume it refers to a point at which you can get a good view of the sunset across the sea.

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Deganwy and the castle outcrop

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A cute poster in the marina shop window
Back at the van after our long walk the dogs were settled in their beds with a chew each to keep them occupied for a while then I set out for the next part of the day. First was the suspension bridge and I was happy to see that after all the times I’ve found it closed this time it was open and I could walk across it.
The bridge is a Grade I-listed structure, one of the first road suspension bridges in the world and probably the only one anchored into the base of a medieval castle. Built by Thomas Telford between 1822 and 1826 the 99.5-metre-long (326 ft) bridge is in the same style as Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge further down the coast, but with castellated towers created to complement the castle. Carrying what was once the main trunk road from Chester to Bangor it replaced the ferry which crossed the river at the same point and which was considered both inconvenient and dangerous. Opened to traffic on July 1st 1826 the first passengers waved from their carriages as they crossed the bridge and sang ‘God Save the King’ as loud as they could. 
In 1896 the original wooden deck, 15ft above high water, was replaced by an iron roadway which still exists today and in 1903 the bridge was strengthened by adding wire cables above the original iron chains, then the following year a 6ft-wide walkway was added for pedestrians. Following a steady increase in traffic over the years the bridge was superseded by a new road bridge which was built alongside it and completed in 1958. The suspension bridge closed to traffic on December 13th that year when the new bridge was opened and since then has only been used by pedestrians and cyclists.
Following a local uproar in 1965 after the council proposed the demolition of the suspension bridge its ownership was transferred to the National Trust who continue to own and maintain it; in 1969 it was restored and in 1976 it was repainted to celebrate its 150th anniversary. 

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At the entrance to the bridge a toll house was built and during the 1890s toll keepers David and Maria Williams kept the bridge running 24 hours a day every day of the year including Christmas. During his time as toll keeper David created a vegetable garden to help feed his family of six and any surplus food was sold to people crossing the bridge, while Maria took in washing from residents of the town to make extra money to sustain the family. A sign above the toll house door details the toll charges from the 1890s, and though the National Trust did for many years charge a nominal fee for non-members to walk across the bridge this no longer applies, and the toll house itself is currently closed to visitors.

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Sign above the toll house door

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Next came a visit to the castle, which was one reason why I’d had to leave the dogs behind, but unfortunately this turned out to be a non-event. I’d (mistakenly) thought it was a National Trust property along with the bridge so I’d tucked my card into my pocket, only to find when I got there that it’s owned by Cadw and I would have to pay. I did have some money but not enough and as the van was quite some distance away I wasn’t walking all the way back there for the sake of getting another 60p so I abandoned the castle idea and went to take some photos down at a quiet riverside spot instead. And that’s when I found the dog…
The rear of the castle

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Robert Stephenson’s tubular railway bridge

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Walking back up the lane from the riverside I noticed the medium sized dog trotting in my direction though he didn’t appear to be with anyone and he seemed to be unsure of where he was. He came to me when I called him and seemed very friendly, and though he had a collar on there was no tag and there was no-one around who seemed to be looking for him. There were some young guys playing bowls on the nearby bowling green though so I asked them if he was theirs – he wasn’t, nor had they had noticed anyone looking for a dog, however they said they would be there for at least another couple of hours so they would keep him with them in the enclosed space in case his owner came along.
Leaving the dog with them I went back into the town to see if I could find someone to help – enquiring at the visitor centre near the castle entrance it was suggested that I go to the tourist information centre across the road, however being Easter and also a Sunday the place was closed. Thinking that Eileen might be able to find the number of the local dog warden for me I rang her but unfortunately got no answer so reluctantly I had to accept there was nothing I could do other than hope the dog stayed with the young guys on the bowling green and was eventually found by his owner.
After all that it was time for the next part of the day, walking the section of the town walls starting from near the castle, which I didn’t do in February. This time though I could walk all the way round as the part which had been blocked off before was now open, although the views from the new-to-me section weren’t quite as good as those on my previous visit.
Statue behind St. Michael and All Angels church, viewed from the town walls

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I ended the wall walk not far from the car park where I’d left the van so I went to retrieve the dogs and found them both curled up fast asleep – they must have been tired after our long walk earlier on and they obviously hadn’t missed me. Down on the quayside the tide was going out and I’d missed the last pleasure boat sailing so I walked to the far end and back again, spotting a quirky garden ornament behind the steel mesh barrier of a small fishing compound.

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With the time on my car park ticket almost up but still about three of hours of sunshine left I drove out of Conwy and a couple of miles along the Sychnant Pass to where, thanks to Google maps, I knew there was a small parking area just off the road. Half an hour’s wandering round that bit of Conwy Mountain got me a few nice photos then I went back down into Conwy itself; the lost dog had been on my mind and I couldn’t leave the town without trying to find out what happened to it. When I got back to the bowling green however there was no sign of the dog or the four young guys playing bowls so I could only hope that its owner turned up and it was okay.
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On the way back to the camp site I stopped off at Rhos-on-Sea and from a chippy recommended by Eileen I got fish and peas which I ate in the van parked up on the promenade, and very good they were too. Finally back at the camp site my day was topped off nicely by a lovely sunset which cast a deep golden glow over the nearby fields.
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Apart from not being able to reunite the lost dog with its owner, and missing out on the castle, which I can visit another time, I’d had a lovely day. I think Snowy and Poppie enjoyed it too, although they always do wherever I take them, and I can safely say all three of us slept well that night.

 

18 thoughts on “Easter in North Wales – Day 3 Exploring Conwy

  1. What a shame you missed out on visiting the castle. It is a good excuse for a return visit, however.
    I am thinking of a trip to Wales next year myself. It’s been so long since I last visited Conwy that I have very few memories of it. X

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    1. I wasn’t really too fussed about missing out on the castle as being a bank holiday it would have been very busy anyway. I can always go another time, and probably on a weekday during term time it will be quieter – I don’t ‘do’ kids 🙂 🙂

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  2. What an amazing day out. Thank goodness the suspension bridge was saved – Councils in the 60s and 70s were responsible for the destruction of so much wonderful architecture.

    I am sure the fate of that little dog played on your mind, one can only pray things turned out OK . . .

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    1. How on earth anyone could even THINK about getting rid of that bridge is beyond me, it’s a fantastic piece of history and heritage so I’m glad it was saved. The lost dog was lovely and I still think about him – I really do hope he found his owner.

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  3. You’ve taken some fabulous photos of Conwy from parts I’ve never visited. Last time I walked across the suspension bridge it cost me £1 not being a member of the National Trust.As you say most historical places of interest in Wales are owned by Cadw and dogs aren’t allowed at Conwy Castle so I’ve not been round that one either. It’s a shame you missed the boat trip from Conwy it’s a good trip with commentary. You have a fabulous photo of Deganwy and the castle outcrop which you see from the boat. If you get the chance a boat trip from Beaumaris to Puffin Island is an even better trip to see the birds and seals. What a shame I wasn’t at home to give you the phone number for the dog warden and although you don’t mention in your blog post you did try phoning me, I hope the owner found the dog OK but naughty for not having a dog tag on it. Glad you enjoyed your fish and peas from the best fish and chip shop in Wales, that’s official 🙂

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  4. I remember going to the suspension bridge a few years ago (it was closed!) and there was a toll of £1 to pay then so I wondered if maybe it had been scrapped because of the pandemic, however I’ve looked through Tripadvisor reviews going back through 2019 and there was nothing to pay then either although it still says in the NT handbook that there’s a nominal charge.

    The castle is earmarked for my next visit down there – watch this space 🙂 – if the dogs get a good walk beforehand they will be okay in the van for while. I was tired when I wrote about the lost dog so I forgot to mention you, however I’ve now amended the paragraph 🙂 The fish and peas from that chippy were lovely and I’ll certainly go there again now I know about it 🙂

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  5. I enjoyed this read. My daughter lives in Rhyl and she is often working a few hours when we visit so this is a good walk for us to do next time we are down there.. Just love the bridge!!

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  6. The bridge is great isn’t it, and so photogenic too. Apparently there are good views of it from the top of the castle so I’m looking forward to going up there before too long. A coincidence your daughter lives in Rhyl, the camp site I stayed at is only a short drive from there and walking Rhyl promenade is next on my list 🙂

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  7. What a jam packed day full of photo opportunities. Sorry about the dog, but you did all you could I think. Almost surely he has been reunited with his owner. X

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  8. It was a busy but very enjoyable day made better by the great weather. The dog was really lovely, I really do hope he was reunited with his owner.

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  9. Not being able to visit the castle must have been so disappointing, but at least you captured some good pictures of it as compensation. I can’t believe that the suspension bridge was under threat of demolition. What were the powers that be thinking of?

    Another interesting part of the North Wales jigsaw now slotted into place 🙂

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  10. I wasn’t too disappointed at not visiting the castle, it just meant I had to alter my plans slightly. Anyway, it’s been there since 1287 so I don’t think it’s going anywhere – I can always visit the next time I’m down that way. It beggars belief that the powers that be could propose demolishing the suspension bridge, it’s such an iconic piece of history and heritage. Unless the council coffers were empty and they wanted to sell it for scrap… 🙂 🙂

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    1. It was a really good day Anabel and the weather was perfect. The bridge is really something and great for photos – fancy someone wanting to demolish it! 😦 There are four tunnels on the A55, the other three west of Conwy go through rocky headland though none are as long as the Conwy one

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  11. Heavens, it’s a lot of years since I crossed that bridge! Surprisingly for us, we didn’t visit the castle. Must have been en route for somewhere else. It’s an attractive coastline, isn’t it? As you say, that castle’s going nowhere fast!

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  12. I remember going on holiday to Llandudno in 1961, we went by coach and my mum pointed out the bridge as we passed it on the new road bridge next to it. The coastline is lovely and I hope to be exploring more of it before too long.

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