Day 9 – A visit to Gwrych Castle

It was another dull morning with lots of grey cloud around and the wind still blowing a hooley but with one or two patches of blue sky showing through there was a chance it would brighten up later on. I was nearing the end of the holiday though and I didn’t want to waste the day by staying on site so I took myself off to visit Gwrych Castle in Abergele.
The fascinating history of Gwrych Castle and its long line of owners dates back to 1485 and the Lloyds, a family with impressive ancestry and whose seat was Gwrych House, Abergele. Three hundred years later Frances Lloyd, heiress to the Gwrych estate, married Robert Bamford-Hesketh of Chester in 1786 and in 1788 their first son, Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh, was born. Frances died in 1797 when Lloyd was only nine years old and his father Robert subsequently rented out Gwrych House and moved the family to Chester, though he and Lloyd eventually moved back to the house in 1809.
From a very early age Lloyd had been fascinated by castles and after developing an interest in medieval architecture he made it his ambition to create a castle on the hillside behind the house as a monument to his mother and his Welsh ancestors. In December 1814 he embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe during which he made sketches of the architecture in some of the towns and villages he passed through but his travels were cut short in 1815 when his father died. Inheriting the whole of the Gwrych estates, which stretched across North Wales into north west England, meant inheriting a great responsibility so any plans to create a castle were put on hold and it wasn’t until December that Lloyd’s attention returned to building his new family seat.
Having sketched several designs of his own for his proposed vision Lloyd wasn’t confident enough to use them to turn his ideas into reality so he commissioned Charles Augustus Busby to produce a plan and sketch of a castellated mansion. Although Lloyd initially liked Busby’s design he felt it was too plain and nothing like the Gothic Revival castle he envisioned so in 1816, after drastically altering Busby’s plan with ideas of his own, he employed Liverpool-based architect Thomas Rickman, an authority on medieval architecture, to advise on Gothic window design. Rickman submitted several designs for cast iron windows though rather than choose one particular window pattern Lloyd picked elements of each design to create a new pattern which would be to his own taste and unique to Gwrych.
During 1818 the final plan for Gwrych was formulated, influenced by both Busby and Rickman, but it was Lloyd’s own ideas which produced the final development – without his direction and intense involvement in every step of the process Gwrych would probably have been just like any other Regency castellated mansion which can be seen throughout Wales and the rest of the UK. Work on the castle and outbuildings began in 1819, with the ‘official’ foundation stone being laid for the main house on June 13th that year. By 1822 most of the work was complete and Lloyd began furnishing the interiors and laying out the gardens, though over the next thirty years he also added towers, walls and battlements to the property, enlarging and developing what eventually became the largest built structure in Europe until the Crystal Palace was built for the Great Exhibition in 1851.
A general view of the 1,500ft castle frontage, August 2017
In 1825 Lloyd had married Lady Emily Esther Ann Lygon, youngest daughter of the 1st Earl of Beauchamp, with their eldest son Robert Bamford-Hesketh, named after Lloyd’s father, being born at Gwrych a year later. At the age of 25 Robert married Ellen Jones-Bateman of Pentre Mawr, Abergele, in 1851, thus uniting two gentry families, and in 1859 Winifred, their only surviving child, was born. Lloyd died in 1861 at the age of 73 with Robert subsequently inheriting Gwrych Castle and its estate, and over the years he and Ellen planted much of the present gardens with their enormous monkey puzzle and yew trees.
In 1878, at the age of 19, Winifred had an arranged marriage to Lieutenant General Douglas Cochrane, and in 1880 the first of their five children, Lady Grizel Cochrane, was born and brought to Gwrych Castle. Sadly the marriage wasn’t entirely a happy one and as a consequence Douglas spent much of his time either in Scotland or away fighting wars whilst his wife and subsequent children remained in her Welsh homeland, meaning that the two led increasingly separate lives. In 1885 Douglas became the 12th Earl of Dundonald when his father died, with Winifred becoming Countess of Dundonald, then in 1894 her own father Robert died at the age of 68 followed by her mother Ellen in 1902, with Gwrych Castle and its estates passing to Winifred.
Robert had provided in Winifred’s marriage settlement that the family’s wealth and land was hers alone to use or dispose of however she wished so following in her father’s footsteps after his death she chose to run her inherited estates herself with the help of an agent, resulting in her husband having little, if anything, to do with her affairs. By 1904 the two were virtually estranged and by 1906 the marriage was over, and though Winifred stopped short of divorce the Earl was banned from Gwrych, a fact which was to become significant in later years.
Winifred, Countess of Dundonald, date unknown – Photo from Abergele library
Throughout her years at Gwrych Winifred made many changes, refurbishments and additions to the castle including a wide 52-step marble staircase designed by architect Detmar Blow and installed in 1914. She was a remarkable woman, being an advocate for both womens’ rights and animal rights, championing many causes and financing many projects including the building of Abergele drill hall and the village hall in nearby Llanddulas. She donated land to build Colwyn Bay Community Hospital and in 1916 set up a Prisoner of War camp at Llansannon and a military hospital in London. The First World War took its toll on her however – she developed diabetes and died suddenly from heart failure in 1924.
Gwrych Castle was bequeathed to the then Prince of Wales as a royal residence but the bequest was declined and the property passed to the Church in Wales, of which Winifred had been one of its founding members in 1920, however to spite his wife in death the castle was re-purchased in 1928 by the Earl of Dundonald who sold the contents to meet the £70,000 cost. He claimed that Winifred had gone mad before her death and declared that no member of the family would ever live there again – and none ever did. The Earl himself died seven years later at his home in Wimbledon in April 1935 aged 82 and was succeeded by his and Winifred’s elder son Thomas who then became the 13th Earl of Dundonald.
The sale of the castle contents in 1928 started a decline in Gwrych as it lay virtually empty for the next twenty years although in 1939 the Government did, as an emergency measure, requisition the property from Thomas, the 13th Earl, to house up to 300 Jewish refugee children brought to Britain as part of Operation Kindertransport after being separated from their families. The children left Gwrych at the end of the war when they had the chance of being reunited with their relatives and in 1946 the castle and estate were sold by Thomas to Robert Jesse Rennie for £12,000, meaning that for the first time in nearly 1,000 years the lands had not been owned by a member of the Lloyd family.
Following the sale the estate was broken up – at the castle itself trees were felled in the woodlands and the vast parkland became subdivided farmland in multiple ownership. Two years later the castle was sold again, this time to entrepreneur Leslie Salts who laid new paths and a car park alongside the lower drive. The main rooms were refurnished, the original stables were converted into a cafe, a miniature railway was laid and a childrens’ zoo developed. As the ‘Showplace of Wales’  Gwrych was one of the first country houses in Britain to be opened to the public as an attraction and for the next twenty years it continued as a very prosperous business employing over 200 people and attracting nearly ten million visitors. By the late 1960s however Leslie Salts felt that the expectations of the public were changing so in 1968 he decided to sell the castle and retire.
Gwrych was purchased by a London-based development company but with the estimated cost of restoring the castle to its former glory being well beyond the company’s budget it was decided to put little money into the fabric and as much as possible into the entertainment content. The formal gardens were cleared and structures bulldozed to make way for a medieval jousting arena, the ‘Knights of Gwrych’ were formed as a permanent entertainment troupe and the Principality of Gwrych was created. Between 1972 and 1987 jousting tournaments, medieval banquets, markets and a bar operated in and around the castle but nothing was paid into the preservation of the building and by December 1985 the venture was deemed to be a lost cause, with only the bar and jousts in operation. The last jousting tournament was held in 1987 and the castle closed to the public in 1988.
In 1989 Gwrych was sold to an American businessman for £750,000 but his plans to restore the castle were never realised; it fell victim to vandalism, looting and arson and was left to decay. In 1994 the site became an illegal encampment for ‘New Age Travellers’ who stripped the lead and slates from the roof, sold off internal fittings and burnt the floorboards on bonfires, while local dealers stole architectural items like fireplaces which ended up in reclamation yards. It was eighteen months before the travellers were evicted but by then the castle had been reduced to little more than a roofless shell. Further damage was caused to the grounds in 1996 when they were used as a film set by Constantine Films for the filming of Prince Valiant – much of the slope in front of the castle was excavated and though it was later re-landscaped and restored to grass it was nothing like the gentle slope constructed by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh 150 years earlier.
Wrecked stairway, 1997 – Photo from Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust
1997 – Photo from Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust
Heading into the present day Mark Baker, an 11-year old schoolboy who passed the castle daily and played around its walls, found its destruction so appalling that he decided to do something about it and in 1997, aged just 12, he founded the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust with the aim of restoring the castle and making it accessible to visitors once more. The condition of the castle was monitored by the Trust and in 2006 lobbying Conwy Council to compulsorily purchase the property put pressure on the absentee American owner to put it up for sale. It was bought for £850,000 by City Services Ltd, trading as Clayton Hotels, and in 2007 they proposed a £6m project to convert Gwrych into a 90-bedroom 5-star hotel; the project was subject to planning permission but had the support of the Trust.
Significant sums were spent by Clayton Hotels on plans and partially clearing the site but work was halted by the credit crunch in 2008 and in 2009 the company went into administration. The following year the castle was purchased by another development company and in 2012 planning permission was obtained for a 75-bed luxury hotel but with the company unable to secure the considerable funds needed to invest in such a major renovation the project never got off the ground.
Although the future of the castle itself remained uncertain the Trust was eventually able to lease part of the site from the development company and the gardens and some of the outbuildings began to see a period of revival under the care of its members. In August 2016 a special open weekend was held to celebrate the life and achievements of world champion boxer Randolph Turpin who lived and trained at the castle in the early 1950s, then in 2017 the gardens were opened to the public on a daily basis. In June 2018 the castle and its immediate estate were sold to the Trust, it’s purchase enabled by a massive grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and its future was finally secure.
The formal gardens and Lady’s Walk
The Conservatory
The Countess’s writing room
The Gardener’s Mess
The formal gardens
The Gazebo
The marble staircase as it once was – photo from an information board
The staircase after renovation – sadly not marble but concrete
Stable Hill
Main west terrace
I visited the castle during the open weekend in 2016 then again in August 2017 but aside from the formal gardens, which were still very much in their infancy, there was very little to see as the main building was still a dangerous ruin and therefore closed to the public. Much has changed since then however and a lot of work has been done, helped along in no small part by the 2020 and 2021 series of the I’m A Celebrity tv programme. Advance preparations for both series included work to make parts of the premises usable and safe for the celebrities and the overall revenue from ITV put the castle renovations at least two years ahead of schedule. I was very impressed with what I saw this time and I’ll certainly be making another visit in the not-too-distant future to see what else has changed.
**I visited and photographed a few other areas of the castle but these were all connected to I’m A Celebrity so they may become part of a future post.
***All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Day 6 – Morning at Conwy Castle

It was encouraging to see widespread blue sky, sunshine and not too much cloud that morning and with two places in mind to visit I made sure I was in Conwy not long after 9am so I could hopefully get a shady space in the edge-of-town car park I prefer to use. I got lucky, there was a vacant space right underneath the big tree where I parked at Easter, and first thing was a long walk to the marina and back so I knew that Snowy and Poppie would be settled and quiet in the van while I was looking round the castle.
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Conwy Castle was one of Edward I’s ‘iron ring’ of castles around North Wales and was built over a 4-year period between 1283 and 1287. Before his invasion of North Wales the site of the castle and its walled town was occupied by Aberconwy Abbey, a Cistercian monastery favoured by the Welsh princes; when Edward captured Aberconwy in March 1283 he decided that the location would form the centre of a new county and he would relocate the abbey to a new site eight miles away at Maenan near Llanrwst, building a new English castle and walled town on the monastery’s site.
Work began on the castle within days of Edward’s decision, it was controlled by Sir John Bonvillars and overseen by Edward’s architect, master mason James of St. George who had also worked on the castles at Flint and Rhuddlan. More than 1,500 craftsmen and labourers were recruited from across England for the task and the first phase of work between 1283 and 1284 focused on creating the exterior curtain walls and towers. In the second phase, from 1284 to 1286, the interior buildings were erected while work began on the walls for the neighbouring town and by 1287 the castle was complete. Edward’s accountants didn’t separate the cost of building the town walls from that of building the castle so the total cost of the two projects together came to around £15,000, a huge sum of money for that period.
Conwy castle model
Conwy castle and walled town, late 13th century – model on display in the castle
The first constable of the castle, who also became Mayor of the new town of Conwy, was William de Cicon who had previously been the first constable of Rhuddlan Castle. He held the position at Conwy from its construction until his death in 1310 and during that time, for a yearly fee of £190 (equivalent to £200,000 today) he oversaw a castle garrison of 30 soldiers including 15 crossbowmen, supported by a carpenter, chaplain, blacksmith, engineer and a stonemason. During December 1294 and January 1295 Cicon held Conwy Castle alongside Edward whilst under siege during the rebellion of Madog ap Llywelyn, a distant cousin of Llywelyn the Last; the castle was supplied only by sea before forces arrived to relieve Edward in February. For some years afterwards the castle formed the main residence for visiting senior figures and also hosted Edward’s own son, the future Edward II, when he visited the region in 1301.
Unfortunately Conwy Castle wasn’t particularly well maintained during the early 14th century. A survey in 1321 reported that it was poorly equipped, had limited stores and was suffering from roof leaks and rotten timbers, and by 1322 it was no longer fit to accommodate the king. These problems persisted through the years until Edward, the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III, took over control of the castle in 1343. Sir John Weston, his chamberlain, conducted many repairs including building new stone support arches for the great hall and other parts of the castle, however after the death of the Black Prince in 1376 Conwy fell into neglect again.
In August 1399 the castle was used very briefly by Richard II as a refuge from the forces of his cousin and rival Henry Bolingbroke. After Richard’s abdication Henry IV’s reign began in 1400 but rebellion broke out in North Wales shortly afterwards under the leadership of Owain Glyndwr. In March 1401 two of Owain’s cousins undertook a surprise attack on the castle; pretending to be carpenters sent to do repairs they gained entry, killed the two watchmen on duty and took control of the fortress, with Welsh rebels attacking and capturing the rest of the walled town. The brothers held out for around three months before negotiating a surrender and as part of the agreement the pair were given a royal pardon by Henry.
The east barbican
The outer ward, north west tower and kitchen tower
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In the 1520s and 30s Henry VIII conducted much restoration work on the castle, during which time it was being used as a prison, a depot and as a potential residence for visitors, but by the early 1600s it had fallen into disrepair once again. In 1626 Charles I sold the castle to Edward Conway, an English soldier and statesman and 1st Viscount Conway, for £100, then four years later Edward’s son, also called Edward, inherited the ruin. When the English Civil War broke out in 1642 the Archbishop of York, John Williams, took charge of the castle on behalf of the king and set about repairing and garrisoning it at his own expense but in 1645, Sir John Owen, a Welsh landowner, was appointed governor of the castle instead, leading to a bitter dispute between the two men.
Following a substantial siege in November 1646 Colonel John Carter was appointed governor of the castle and fresh repairs were carried out but in 1655 the Council of State appointed by Parliament ordered the castle to be deliberately damaged to render it beyond military use. Following the return of Charles II from exile in 1660 the castle was handed back to Edward, Earl of Conway but five years later, and despite opposition from the town’s leading citizens, he decided to strip the remaining iron and lead from the fortress and sell it off. Completed under the supervision of Edward’s overseer William Milward, it was work which finally turned the castle into a total ruin.
View from King’s Tower looking west towards the gatehouse, with the Bakehouse Tower on the left
The roofless royal apartments and Chapel Tower
By the end of the 18th century the ruins were considered to be very picturesque and they began attracting visitors and several artists including J M W Turner. Between 1822 and 1826 Thomas Telford’s 326ft long suspension bridge was built across the River Conwy, with one end being anchored into the rock at the base of the castle, then in 1848 Robert Stephenson’s tubular railway bridge was built with the rail line into the town passing the rear of the castle.
Stockhouse tower, King’s tower and Bakehouse tower
In 1865 the castle passed from the Holland family, who had leased it from the descendants of the Conways, to the civic leadership of Conwy town and restoration began on the ruins, including the reconstruction of the Bakehouse Tower which had been deliberately damaged in 1655. In 1953 the castle was leased to the Ministry of Works and Arnold Taylor, a medieval historian and international expert on European castle building, undertook a wide range of repairs and extensive research into the castle’s history. Following a steady increase in traffic over the years the suspension 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.
Already protected as a Scheduled Monument, in 1986 the castle and its town walls were added to the World Heritage List as a historic site of outstanding universal value, and now in the 21st century it’s managed and maintained as a tourist attraction by Cadw, with a separate visitor centre which opened in 2012.
Thomas Telford’s suspension bridge from the east barbican
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Great Hall fireplace
In the Great Hall invited guests would enjoy a feast of good food in front of the warming fire but those summoned there when the constable of the castle was doling out justice weren’t so lucky – they would find themselves on a short trip along the passage behind the fireplace to the Prison Tower, followed by a 12 foot drop into the dark, damp dungeon below.
Chapel window adjacent to the Great Hall
King’s Great Chamber and Chapel Tower
A lovely and very unexpected surprise greeted me when I climbed the spiral stairs of the Chapel Tower. On the first floor was the tiny Royal Chapel and with its vaulted recess forming the chancel and three narrow stained glass windows it’s the single most beautiful surviving feature in the castle. Flanking the chancel were two much smaller rooms, one which would have been the sacristy and the other the vestry, for which two locks were bought for its door in 1535. In the centre of the small room was a modern wooden bench engraved with words by Welsh poet and author Damian Walford Davies – ”At the altar they heard estuary birds cry over the kiss of salt and river water” – words which I thought were quite sweet.
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While I’d been wandering round I’d heard a couple of trains going past the castle so back down from the Royal Chapel I went to sit in a window recess in the Queen’s Chamber overlooking the rail line; I knew if I waited long enough I would see a train and sure enough, ten minutes later, one came past on its way to Llandudno Junction.
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Having climbed four of the eight towers I drew the line at climbing the other four right to the top so I was happy just to walk round the castle’s upper walls and take photos wherever I could, especially of the views over the estuary. Needless to say, I took so many I couldn’t possibly put them all on here.
Overlooking a section of the town walls
Three bridges – the 1958 road bridge, Telford’s suspension bridge and Stephenson’s tubular rail bridge
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Chapel Tower and view over the estuary
View towards Deganwy with Great Orme headland in the distance
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I really enjoyed looking round the castle and I could have stayed much longer but I had to get back to the dogs. Having bought the guide book after I came back out (I’d wanted to keep my hands free for taking photos) I knew there were several parts which I hadn’t seen so maybe a second visit will be planned in the future. Snowy and Poppie were curled up fast asleep when I got back to the van and I don’t think they’d missed me but they were happy to see me, and as I headed off to the next place to visit I knew that this time I could take them with me. 

Easter in North Wales – Day 2 Deganwy Castle

It was a bit of a strange morning weather-wise. Blue sky and bright sunshine one minute then all-over white cloud and hazy sunshine the next, with the best of the blue sky appearing in the direction of the coast a few miles away. It was dry and warm though and nice enough to have breakfast with the van door open, however I’d just settled down with my toast and marmalade when I was interrupted by the sound of a tractor and there in the next field, less than a hundred yards away, one of the farm workers was muck spreading. It didn’t smell too bad at first but by the time I was ready for going out the ‘perfume’ was much stronger although I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. Living within spitting distance of my own local countryside I’m quite familiar with various aromas drifting over from the nearest farm, and camping on a farm site the occasional farm smells are only to be expected.
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For several years now, whenever I’ve been to Conwy, I’ve been intrigued by a pleasant looking steeply sloping gorse covered hillside above Deganwy across the estuary; when I found out a few weeks ago that it’s possible to walk up there to the remains of an old castle on a rocky outcrop it immediately went on my ‘to do’ list and this was the day I was going to go up there.
Deciding to take the route nearest to the outcrop I left the van in the car park near Deganwy station and set off uphill on a very pleasant residential street off the main road. Towards the top of the street a narrow path between two houses took me to the lower slopes of the outcrop and from there it was a steep and steady climb up and around until I got to the top. Now I don’t quite know what I was expecting to see when I got there but what I wasn’t expecting was a whole lot of not-very-much; a few bits of old wall here and there and that was it, although the views were good.
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Less than halfway up – the view across the estuary

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The history of Deganwy Castle goes back to the late 11th century although the site had been occupied at some point for centuries before that. In 1080 Robert of Rhuddlan, a Norman knight and important retainer of the Earl of Chester, was looking to expand his own lands so built a timber and earth castle on the hilltop at Deganwy. He was staying there in July 1093 when there was an invasion by armed men from three Welsh ships; he rode out to the attack but was killed in the subsequent skirmish, with the Welsh raiders allegedly sailing off with his severed head attached to the mast of one of their ships.
The history of the castle in the hundred years after Robert of Rhuddlan’s death is rather vague but by the end of the 12th century it was in the hands of the Welsh Prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great, and aided by the policy of King John it remained that way into the early 13th century. In 1210 however, Llywelyn turned against the King which prompted John to send an English army to invade the castle but it was pre-emptively destroyed by the Welsh to prevent it being used by the English. Unfortunately John was unable to sustain his army in Wales and Llywelyn was able to recapture the castle in 1213. He substantially rebuilt it in stone and it became one of his key facilities; in 1228 he even imprisoned one of his own sons there. Llywelyn died in 1240 and under the leadership of his son David the Welsh once again destroyed the castle to prevent its use by the English.
Deganwy Castle was eventually taken over by Henry III and in the years 1245-54 it was rebuilt into a substantial medieval fortification. The main part was constructed on the western summit of the hillside and crowned with a substantial round tower, while a secondary irregular-shaped structure known as Mansel’s Tower was built on a smaller eastern summit nearby, with a bailey established between the two hilltops. As Henry rebuilt the castle one of his noblemen wrote a letter home…
”His Majesty the King is staying with his army at Gannock (Deganwy) for the purpose of fortifying a castle which is now built in a most strong position there. We are dwelling round it in tents, employed in watchings, fastings and prayers, and amidst cold and nakedness. In watchings, through fear of the Welsh suddenly attacking us by night; in fastings, on account of a deficiency of provisions for a farthing loaf now costs five pence; in prayers that we may soon return home safe and uninjured. And we are oppressed by cold and nakedness because our houses are of canvas and we are without winter clothing.”  From: Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora (thirteenth century)
A Royal Charter in 1252 had formally created a new borough adjacent to the site of the castle but over the subsequent decade this new settlement was subject to frequent Welsh attacks, culminating in the castle being besieged and captured by Llywelyn the Last in 1263. His territorial achievements were approved however when in 1267 Henry III sealed the Treaty of Montgomery, recognising Llywelyn as overlord of Wales.
In 1272 Edward I became King but relations with Llywelyn soon broke down, in particular over Llywelyn’s failure to pay homage to Edward. After the defeats of two Wars of Welsh Independence and the death of Llywelyn, killed in battle in 1282, the whole of North Wales, including Deganwy Castle, finally came under the control of the English. Five years earlier Edward had started to build his ‘iron ring’ of castles around North Wales but Deganwy Castle wasn’t suitable to be re-used; the 1263 siege had shown how vulnerable the hilltop location was so Conwy Castle across the river estuary was built as a direct replacement. Building materials were robbed from Deganwy Castle for the new structure and what remained of Deganwy was completely ruined. The ruins visible today belong mainly to Henry III’s castle though the bases of two D-shaped gatehouse towers and a section of the curtain wall hastily built by Edward I can still be recognized.

The Welsh-built revetment wall and tower base of the upper bailey

Northern gate of the lower bailey

View across to Conwy marina

View across the estuary with Anglesey in the distance

View towards Great Orme

View towards Llandudno and Great Orme

Accommodation block wall

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View inland

Conwy Castle and quay

View towards the smaller hilltop

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Section of wall from the southern outer gateway

The castle’s twin hills

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Heading back down the hillside

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Heading back down to civilisation I took a route across the part of the hillside which has intrigued me for so long, eventually joining a path which brought me out into a small cul-de-sac of houses just up the hill from the road into Deganwy marina. From there it was just a short walk past the station to where I’d left the van, and finding the Tea Station Cafe open I called in for a much needed coffee and a snack before setting off to return to the camp site.
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After the steep climb to the top of that rocky outcrop I’d been a bit disappointed to find there wasn’t a lot there but what it lacked in actual castle was more than made up for by the peace and quiet. I was the only one up there and it had been nice to sit for a while in solitude with the dogs and take in the views even if the sunshine was a bit hit-and-miss. And at least now, when I see that hillside from across the river in Conwy, I can finally say I know what’s up there.

Easter in North Wales – Day 1

Good Friday morning at 7.45am saw me on the road for yet another break in North Wales. This time I ignored both the A548 coast road and the A55 in favour of a B road off the A494 which took me to the first stop of the day, Ewloe Castle, hidden deep in woodland a short walk from a convenient roadside lay-by.
Situated on steeply sloping ground above a wooded valley and constructed of locally quarried sandstone Ewloe was one of the last fortifications built by the native Princes of Wales. Abandoned at the beginning of the invasion of Wales by Edward I in 1277, much of the castle’s dressed stonework from its curtain walls and keep was later removed for various constructions around Mold and Connah’s Quay and by the late medieval period the site was in ruins. More details and photos of the castle will be in a future follow-up post.
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A couple of hundred yards along the road from the path to the castle was the Castle Cafe, situated in the grounds of a large and fairly new fishing site, and as I’d only had one piece of toast and a quick brew before leaving home it was time for something a bit more substantial. Looking at the menu the full breakfast seemed to be far more than I would eat so I settled on double scrambled eggs on toast with a mug of coffee, and very nice they were too. Chatting to the very friendly lady behind the counter she told me that one of the ducks on the nearest lake had recently gained a brood of nine tiny little ducklings so with breakfast over I went to find them and take a few photos round the lake.
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From the cafe a drive along the B roads through the village of Northop Hall and some very pleasant countryside took me down to the A548 coast road close to Flint and a few miles further on I made my second stop near the village of Bagillt. I had to turn off the main road, go down a narrow track under the railway line and park close to a car scrap yard for this one – initially not the most attractive of places but it did have some quite interesting history to it.
The scrap yard occupied the site of the former Bettisfield Colliery with the last remaining colliery building, the engine house, standing close to the track. With no windows and holes in the roof where the slates were missing it looked rather worse for wear although it’s actually Grade I listed. Sunk in 1872 the colliery was owned by the Bettisfield Colliery Co. Ltd and by 1896 employed 538 men; with a working area of 4,000 acres and a yearly output of 150,000 tons Bettisfield was the largest and most important colliery in the Bagillt area.
Despite extending under the Dee estuary water was never reported as a problem and only two small 15-inch cylinder pumps were ever needed. By 1908 the colliery was in the hands of the Bagillt Coal Co. Ltd and employed 641 men but by 1918 ownership had reverted to the Bettisfield Colliery Co. with a workforce reduced to 450. By 1923 the workforce totalled 502 but the colliery couldn’t survive the Depression and the miners’ strikes of the 1920s and early 1930s and it closed in December 1933 with the loss of 415 jobs. The colliery hadn’t been without its accidents though and many lives were lost during its years of operation.
At the corner of the small parking area was a wooden sculpture, The Miner, also known as Bettisfield Bob, and a gate took me to a footpath leading up an incline across the fields towards the foreshore. Not far along the path was a modern working sundial sculpture designed and made by local blacksmith and artist Peter Carlyle and unveiled in July 2021 by Lady Hanmer of Bettisfield on the North Wales/Shropshire border, whose family opened Bettisfield Colliery in the 19th century. Part of a local community group’s project to develop and enhance the natural and historic heritage of the area it was a memorial to all those miners who lost their lives while working at the colliery.

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Along the path and overlooking the estuary was what I’d originally set out to see, the Bagillt Beacon, one of a number of beacons placed along the Flintshire coast to celebrate the opening of the Wales Coast Path on May 5th 2012. Standing on a stone plinth built by local stonemason Paul Evans the Bagillt Beacon, in the shape of a Welsh dragon, was designed and made from mild steel plate by Peter Carlyle and was first lit on June 4th 2012 to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

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A memorial to a much loved dog maybe?

From the beacon I walked round the perimeter of the small headland and down to the nearby creek known by the rather unattractive name of Dee Banks Gutter, then taking advantage of the tide still being reasonably well in I drove the short distance along to Greenfield Dock for another quick photo stop. By this time the sky had clouded over considerably so rather than go anywhere else I made my way from there straight to the camp site.

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Expecting the site to be reasonably busy I was quite surprised to see hardly anyone there – just one caravan, a 4 x 4 vehicle with a fold-out tent on top and two small tents on the far side. Booking in at the campervan which served as a reception office I was told I could choose my own pitch so I opted for No. 8, the fourth from the end, and once I was settled in I spent the rest of the afternoon in chill out mode before phoning friend Eileen and arranging to call over to see her and hubby a while later.
It was a lovely evening spent in the company of two good friends and Tilly the cockapoo but it was when I was driving back to the site that I encountered a slight problem. I’d set out in daylight but completely forgotten that the road passing the site was unlit – it was dark, and to make matters worse the sign at the corner of the farm track to the camp site wasn’t very prominent so I’d gone past it before I realised it was there.
With a couple of cars behind me I couldn’t just stop suddenly and turn round so I went up to the nearby crossroads and turned round there, but couldn’t believe it when I missed the sign again going back the other way! This time I had to go almost into the next village before I could turn round safely and fortunately it was third time lucky – with nothing behind me at the crucial point I was able to slow down enough to see the sign and make the sharp 90 degree turn into the farm track.
Finally back on my pitch I took Snowy and Poppie for a quick torchlight walk round the perimeter of the site then made a brew and settled in for the night, vowing that the next time I leave the site in an evening I must be back before it goes dark!

February mini break day 2 – Deganwy & Conwy

From Colwyn Bay promenade I drove along the seafront through Rhos-on-Sea and Penrhyn Bay to Llandudno’s North Shore promenade then from there over to West Shore where I picked up the road going past the golf course and straight into Deganwy, parking near the station. A short walk from the station was the marina, a place I hadn’t been to for several years but it seemed that nothing had changed since my last visit.
The original harbour was built there by the London & North Western Railway and opened in 1885; it was equipped with both standard and narrow gauge railway tracks to facilitate the transport of Welsh roofing slates from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog via the Conwy Valley to Deganwy where they were loaded onto coastal steamers for export. Unfortunately the venture wasn’t a great success as the Ffestiniog Railway – now a major tourist attraction – provided a shorter route to the sea at Porthmadog.
In the mid-20th century the sidings were used to store old railway carriages which would be put into service for the crowds visiting North Wales each summer, though this practise stopped in the 1960s and the tracks were removed. In the 1970s the dock became a major area for leisure boat owners to moor, store and repair their vessels and was also home to various businesses. Unfortunately the tidal nature of the dock prevented boats going in or out at low tide, eventually leaving Deganwy’s mooring facilities unable to compete with the new facilities at Conwy Marina which opened in 1992 across the estuary. In 2002 work began on transforming the old dock into a new marina with constant water and this opened in 2004 along with the first phase of a new development of waterside homes, with the Quay Hotel opening in 2007.
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View towards the sea with Conwy Marina across the estuary

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Walking back past the station I crossed the railway line and headed along Marine Crescent, a quiet dead-end road with attractive garden-fronted houses facing the estuary. The first house in the road, No.1, was once the home of Commander Harold Lowe who, in April 1912, was serving as 5th Officer on board the RMS Titanic when it hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage and started to sink.
Although he was off watch at the time Commander Lowe took charge of loading passengers into several lifeboats before taking charge of lifeboat No.14. He gathered together four more lifeboats and transferred people from his own boat to the other four, then with a volunteer crew he set out to try to recover any survivors from among the wreckage and dead bodies. His boat picked up four male survivors, one of whom later died from injuries, and eventually they were all rescued by the RMS Carpathia. He married in 1913 and settled in Colwyn Bay, then in 1931 he retired from seafaring and moved to the house in Deganwy where he lived until his death in 1944.
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The far end of Marine Crescent led onto the pedestrian promenade and up ahead was the attractive Edwardian beach shelter, erected in 1904 as part of the Deganwy promenade development. In the winter of 2013/14 it was badly damaged by storms and after being declared unfit for public use it was cordoned off by its owners, Conwy County Borough Council.
Most of the promenade was washed away in the storms and though major repairs were carried out on the sea defences and the promenade itself the shelter was just left to deteriorate further. After various fund raising initiatives and grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Conwy Town Council and the County Borough Council the Deganwy & District Residents’ Association raised enough funds to repair and restore the shelter; work was started in March 2017 and the shelter was returned to public use in August that year.
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View towards Llandudno’s West Shore and Great Orme

Further along the promenade was a small kiosk-style cafe where I hoped I could get a coffee and a snack but being a Sunday and still early in the year the place was unfortunately closed, so I turned round and headed back towards the station for the second time. Not far from the level crossing was a small stretch of beach with a slipway and a long grassy area where a number of dinghies and colourful kayaks were pulled up, and the handles of a simple boat trailer made a good place to loop the dog leads while I took a quick photo of Snowy and Poppie.

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A hazy view of Conwy Castle and quay across the estuary

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At the other side of the level crossing, partially obscured by a wall and high hedges, was a large and attractive building which had once been a farmhouse called Treganwy, reputed to date from the 17th century. When the railway branch line to Llandudno was being constructed in the mid 1850s Treganwy’s then owner insisted – for reasons unknown – that he wanted it to run close to the house and the line does indeed run right past the boundary wall.

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When Deganwy station was opened in 1866 the building was still a private house but after several years of being home to a school called St. Oswald’s College it opened as the Deganwy Castle Hotel in 1882. Owned by the Tritton family and later on the Ferranti family it was reputed to be the first hotel in the area to have electricity. From being established in 1882 until 1935 the building was enlarged and remodelled several times, including the addition of the landmark four-storey tower.
In 1959 the hotel was acquired by musician Jess Yates and his new wife – Jess had grown up in Llandudno and began his career playing the organ in cinemas there and in Colwyn Bay though he became best known for his 1960s/70s tv show Stars On Sunday. After further changes of ownership the hotel closed in January 2010 and in 2012 it was converted into luxury apartments known as The Moorings, although the Deganwy Castle Hotel name is still painted on the boundary wall overlooking the railway line.

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Across the road was a long row of shops and a couple of cafes – hopefully I would be able to get a coffee at one of them but I was completely out of luck. The Tea Station looked like it was closed up for the winter and when I went in The Olive Grove they were in the process of closing so I couldn’t even get a coffee to take away. I did consider getting a can of Coke until I learned the OTT price they were charging, so I left with nothing, went back to the van and headed off to Conwy at the other side of the estuary.
Leaving the van in the same edge-of-town car park I used on my previous visit I went to a nearby newsagent’s/corner shop and got a bottle of sports drink for a third of the price of a can of Coke at Deganwy, and there was more in it too. For my next bit of exploration – walking the town walls – I had to leave the dogs behind but with the van parked under trees in a quiet corner they would be okay for a while. I’d walked the town’s high walls about nine years ago so I knew the route was rough underfoot, often steep and narrow, and with big gaps in the safety railings which an eager little dog like Snowy, even on a lead, could quite easily fall through, so I wasn’t taking any risks.
Unfortunately, by the time I got to the start of the walk the sun had decided to play hide and seek behind some banks of cloud which had accumulated so the light over the estuary wasn’t as bright as it would have been earlier, but on the occasions when the sun did reappear the views were good. Halfway into the walk however I suffered a disappointment when I came to a locked gate at the base of one of the towers – I could go no further so had to retrace my steps all the way back to where I started the walk.
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I did briefly consider rejoining the wall at the far end near the castle and walking back as far as I could from there but I’d had enough for one day so I decided to walk along the quay instead. Not far from the road was an old anchor which, according to the brief and ambiguous information on the plaque in front of it, was presented by Jack Williams M.B.E, Conwy’s Mayor in 1969/70.
The anchor, weighing about three tons and formed from a single piece of iron split to make the prongs, was discovered on the seabed near Llandudno when fishing nets got caught in it. The Conwy-based trawler Kilravock raised it from the seabed and brought it ashore where it was later mounted near the quay to commemorate the actions of the ship’s crew on May 6th 1968.
The coastal cruise ship St Trillo was ferrying 325 American passengers back to their luxury cruise liner Kungsholm, anchored 2km off-shore, after a coach trip to Snowdonia; also on board were about 50 local people who had taken a short trip out to sea to view the glamorous liner. Approaching the cruise liner St Trillo’s propeller became entangled in one of the liner’s mooring ropes and soon afterwards one of its engines broke down; in heavy seas and with a 35mph wind it began drifting towards Little Orme, the rocky headland east of Llandudno. The Llandudno lifeboat was launched and with coxswain Gordon Bellamy the crew managed to get a line to St Trillo, steadying the ship until other help arrived.
The crew of Kilravock were unloading their catch at Conwy quay when they heard radio messages suggesting that a disaster was about to happen nearby. The trawler, skippered by Jack Williams, immediately set out to sea with its fish still on board, clearing the estuary bar shortly before the tide was too low, and on reaching St Trillo proceeded to tow it and its passengers safely back to Llandudno pier, with the rescue being watched by hundreds of people on the shore. Kilravock was later sold to a Cornish fisherman, then found its way to Scotland where sadly it was eventually abandoned.
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Rusting and paint peeling – a Conwy trawler

Colourful sea fishing equipment stacked on the quayside

Resisting the temptation to get fish and peas from the chippy I’d been to in December I headed back to the van and on the way I spotted what was to be my last shot of the day, a house name on a gate. The kitten looked a bit indistinct and worse for wear but it was cute and still just about recognisable so it was worth the photo.
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When I got back to the van I found both dogs fast asleep; I don’t think they’d even missed me so I didn’t feel too guilty at having left them behind for once. As I drove out of Conwy to go back to the camp site the clouds decided to disappear, the sunshine came back and it turned into a lovely late afternoon which ended in an equally lovely sunset – a perfect end to what had, on the whole, been a great day.

North Wales weekend – Day 2

After spending a very comfortable, cosy and quiet night in the van (it wasn’t worth putting the tent up just for two nights) the morning of the second day arrived with a mixture of sunshine and showers and grey clouds similar to the previous day so I decided to stay on site for a while and wait to see if things cleared up. By lunch time it was looking a bit more promising so not wanting to waste the day completely I took myself off out, though staying fairly local.
My first stop was Rhuddlan Castle, just over two miles along the road from the camp site and the second castle in King Edward I’s ‘Iron Ring’. At the outbreak of the First War of Welsh Independence Edward had established an advance base at Flint in July 1277 and building work immediately began on the castle, but just one month later he moved his forces to Rhuddlan where construction of his second castle started. Initially under the control of Master Bertram, an engineer from Gascony in France, in 1282 the castle was handed over to master mason James of St. George who transferred from Flint and remained in charge until its completion later that year, four years before Flint Castle was completed.
Although Flint Castle was being built on the coast Rhuddlan was several miles inland so during the castle’s construction Edward conscripted hundreds of ditch diggers to divert and deepen the course of the nearby River Clwyd to enable troops and supplies to reach Rhuddlan by ship if hostile forces or a siege were to prevent overland travel. The castle itself was the first of many concentric ‘walls within walls’ castles and was built as a unique diamond-shaped inner stronghold with twin-towered gatehouses at opposite corners, set inside a ring of lower turreted walls beyond which a new plantation town was created to the north. The half-timbered walls of the inner ward contained a great hall, kitchens, private apartments and a chapel while the outer bailey had a granary, stables and a smithy, with a deep dry moat protecting three sides of the castle and the River Clwyd protecting the fourth.
Edward’s eighth daughter Elizabeth was born at the castle the same year work was completed then two years later, in 1284, the Statute of Rhuddlan was signed following the defeat of Llewellyn the Last, Prince of Wales from 1258, who had attacked the castle unsuccessfully. Ten years later, during the 1294/95 Welsh revolt, the castle was attacked for the second time but it wasn’t taken; it remained in English hands and was one of the places where Richard II stopped in 1399 on his way to Flint Castle. In 1400 the castle was attacked again, this time by the forces of Welsh leader Owain Glyndwr, and though it held firm the town was badly damaged. In the latter 15th and early 16th centuries the castle’s strategic and administrative importance waned and because of that its condition gradually began to deteriorate.
During the English Civil War of 1642/51 the castle was garrisoned by Royalist troops and remained a stronghold of King Charles I of England until it was taken by Parliamentary forces under Major General Thomas Mytton after a siege in 1646. Two years later, in accordance with Cromwell’s orders, Parliamentarians partially demolished the castle to prevent any further military use. Over the next century time and the elements took their toll and by 1781 it was mostly a ruin, but more than two centuries later and now managed and maintained by Cadw it still looks like a castle that was worth moving a river for.
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The outer ward, moat and west wall

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Inner ward, east wall and south tower

North tower and the well

East gatehouse tower

West gatehouse

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View from the north wall

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Rhuddlan Castle from the River Clwyd

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To get the shots of the castle from across the river I had to walk down to the nearby main road; the road bridge itself was very narrow with single file traffic controlled by lights but there was a footbridge/cycle way running next to it and across the far side was St. Mary’s Parish Church which I thought may be worth a look. The appropriately named Church Street took me past an attractive row of stone cottages to the church but disappointingly it wasn’t open to the public so I retraced my steps.
Round the corner and set a few feet up from the pavement was an attractive little garden with a wooden sculpture as its centre piece and a bench set in the wall. The Knight’s Sculpture by artist Mike Owens was created in an ambiguous style to represent the medieval history of Rhuddlan; it was carved from 380-year old oak from Nannerch and the larch to make the bench was grown in Rhuddlan by the artist’s own grandfather.
Heading back to the castle car park I came across a rather unexpected surprise. A detached cottage with an ivy covered end wall adjacent to the street, and nestling among the red and green leaves was a name plaque – The Mouse House. It may seem silly but it was such an unexpected find that I felt childishly thrilled that there was a house named after this blog, although in reality the house was probably called that long before I thought of the blog name. I’d love to know who gave the cottage its name and why but unfortunately there was no-one I could ask so it may forever remain a mystery.
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From Rhuddlan I drove the few miles down to Abergele and after a quick visit to the local Original Factory Shop – where I didn’t find what I was looking for – I crossed the railway line and parked up overlooking the  promenade and beach with the intention of having coffee and a snack in the nearby cafe. Unfortunately the cafe was only serving stuff to take away so I scrapped the snack idea and just got the coffee which I drank in the van while watching the world go by.
While I’d been up at the castle the sky had alternated between patches of bright blue with white clouds and grey clouds all over but down on the coast it was much clearer and getting better by the minute, however while I was having my coffee a sudden brief rain shower arrived and with the sun still shining a lovely, if rather pale, rainbow appeared over the sea.
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Coffee finished and takeaway cup duly disposed of in a nearby bin I headed three miles along the coast road, past the many huge static caravan holiday parks of Towyn to the harbour car park near the mouth of the River Clwyd and close to the Harbour Hub cafe and bike shop. A walk back along the road took me past the local yacht club premises to the main road where a left turn led me across the Blue Bridge over the river and another left turn took me towards the new pedestrian/cycle bridge.
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The Pont y Ddraig bridge (Dragon’s Bridge) is part of the 15-mile traffic-free cycle route across the counties of Conwy and Denbighshire and was opened on October 22nd 2013 by Welsh cyclist and London 2012 Paralympic Champion Mark Colbourne MBE, with the name having been suggested by a local pupil in a schools’ competition. Technically a modern version of a medieval drawbridge, the central mast is 45 metres high while the bridge deck is 32 metres long and made of polymers reinforced with glass fibre. The underside is illuminated at night by lights which change colour and both sections are designed to be raised from the central tower with the mechanism being controlled from the nearby harbour office.
Just to the right of the bridge entrance was a bench and three not-quite-life-size local figures. Chosen for their individual contributions to the life of the community were Sir John Houghton, the Nobel prize winning climate scientist, musician Mike Peters, lead singer of rock band The Alarm and founder of the Love Hope Strength cancer charity, and Rhyl FC’s Don Spendlove, who achieved a record of 629 goals during the 1940s and 50s; all have been immortalised in the metal artwork but I have to admit I’ve never heard of any of them.
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Across the bridge and a right turn took me almost immediately onto the oddly-named Horton’s Nose nature reserve, a small area of sand dunes and beach on the spit of land between the river mouth and the sea. The tide had gone out quite a distance, leaving a fascinating expanse of ridged and patterned sand interspersed with shallow pools, and out near the water’s edge were literally hundreds of seagulls, far too many to count – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many seagulls on a beach before. Through the dunes a boardwalk took me onto a tarmac path running past the back of a caravan park and a boatyard and a few minutes later I was back at the harbour car park.
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The weather had turned out so nice that while I was doing this circular walk I contemplated doing a second one, a circuit of the nearby Marine Lake, but at gone 5pm I was already losing the best of the sunshine so I put that one on hold for another time and headed back to the camp site – and being the only person there I was certainly guaranteed another very quiet night.

North Wales weekend – Day 1

A Saturday morning in late October saw me heading off to North Wales for a 2-night mini camping break though this time I was on a mission, making a long overdue visit to Eileen, a special blogging friend. My usual route into North Wales would be down the A55 but there were a couple of places I wanted to stop off at on the way, the first one being Flint Castle, so I took the A548 coast road instead. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t exactly brilliant, it was dull with some very dark clouds in places though the sun did make a few brief appearances so I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t rain on me while I was looking round the castle.
Flint was the first castle in what would later become known as King Edward I’s ‘Iron Ring’, a chain of fortresses designed to encircle North Wales and oppress the Welsh. The site was chosen for its strategic position just one day’s march from the walled English city of Chester, and being on the western shore of the River Dee estuary supplies could be brought to the castle by sea or along the river itself. Building work started in 1277 using millstone grit, ashlar and sandstone then in November 1280 master mason James of St. George, from the Savoy region of France, was brought in to oversee and accelerate the initially very slow construction pace; he remained at Flint for 17 months before moving on to oversee the completion of Rhuddlan Castle in the neighbouring county of Denbighshire.
It took a total of 1,800 labourers and masons nine years to build Flint Castle and when work ended in 1286 it had an inner ward and an outer bailey separated by a tidal moat but connected by a drawbridge and gatehouse. The inner ward had three large towers while a detached keep with walls 23ft thick protected the inner gatehouse and outer bailey, beyond which a plantation town was laid out. The design of the castle was based on medieval French models and as it was never repeated in any other castle built by Edward it remains unique within the British Isles.
During the 1294/95 Welsh revolt against English rule Flint was attacked and the constable of the castle was forced to set fire to the fortress to prevent its capture by the Welsh, though it was eventually repaired and partly rebuilt. In 1399 it became the location of a turning point in history when Edward’s great, great grandson Richard II came face-to-face with his cousin and rival to the crown Henry Bolingbroke. Richard was captured and escorted by Henry to London, where he abdicated the throne and King Henry IV’s reign began. Richard later died in captivity and two centuries on his sad fate was forever immortalised in the words of Shakespeare’s play Richard II.
During the English Civil War of the mid 17th century Flint Castle was held by the Royalists but was finally captured by the Parliamentarians in 1647 after a three-month siege, then to prevent it being reused in the conflict it was destroyed in accordance with Cromwell’s orders. It was never rebuilt and the ruins are those which remain today. DSCF0997 - Copy
South west tower, gatehouse, and the keep
View from the south east
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Inside the keep
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North west tower
South west tower
The keep
Most parts of the castle, including the isolated keep, are accessible to the public, and I was quite surprised to see that since my previous visit there four years ago a spiral staircase had been added to the centre of the north east tower. It was just begging to be climbed up but I couldn’t do it with the dogs so I had to leave them back in the van for a short while.
The well and north east tower
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View from the north east tower
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North west tower
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Since 1919 the castle has been managed as a public monument and is maintained by Cadw, the Welsh-government body which protects, conserves and promotes the heritage buildings of Wales. It’s an interesting place and I actually spent longer in there than I intended so I abandoned my plan to go elsewhere and headed straight for Eileen’s. Unfortunately Sod’s Law decreed that I should be delayed for a while by roadworks and single file traffic on the outskirts of Prestatyn but I got there in the end even if I was a bit later than I intended. It was really good to see Eileen, her hubby and new little dog Tilly and I spent well over two hours in their company but eventually it was time to head off to the camp site just a few miles away – and the camp site itself is a story on its own.

Greystoke Village

Going home day arrived with more blue sky and glorious sunshine making me wish I could extend my holiday but unfortunately all good things have to end sometime. After a leisurely breakfast I started on the even more leisurely packing up process and eventually left the site at 2.30pm, though as a final part of the holiday I was stopping off somewhere on the way home.
The village of Greystoke, just five miles west of Penrith, was featured in my ”111 Places” book and it sounded interesting enough for me to want to take a look, though when I got there I was disappointed to find that the castle isn’t open to the public. Surrounding a small green with an ancient market cross dating back to the early 1600s the village was a very pleasant mix of old stone cottages and more modern houses, with a small shop-cum-post office, an outdoor swimming pool, St. Andrew’s Parish Church and the Boot & Shoe public house, while on the outskirts were racehorse trainer Nicky Richards’ racing stables, breeders of two Grand National winners in 1978 and 1984 respectively.
Greystoke Castle began life as a timber pele tower built by Llyulph de Greystoke. After the Norman conquest it was replaced in 1069 with a stone built tower then in 1346 King Edward III gave permission for the building to be castellated, resulting in the creation of the castle proper. In the early 16th century the Greystokes married into the wealthy Dacre family and in the 1560s Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, met and secretly married widow Elizabeth Dacre who had inherited the castle and its land on the death of her husband, 4th Baron Dacre/Baron Greystoke. With Thomas Howard’s three sons marrying Elizabeth’s three daughters the castle and its estate passed into the hands of the Dukes of Norfolk and the subsequent Howard family.
In 1660 the castle was destroyed by Cromwell and lay dormant for a generation, with a small manor house being built on the site from reclaimed stone. The castle was later rebuilt and enlarged in the 1840s to a design by renowned Victorian architect Anthony Salvin and the extensive estate land was converted into a modern farm. In 1868 a disaster occurred when a maid left a lighted candle in a cupboard full of linen, with the resulting fire destroying large parts of the castle. It was then rebuilt by Henry Howard, with Salvin being brought in to oversee the reconstruction using labour and materials from within the estate. Henry even returned some money to his insurance company saying that he had been over-compensated for his losses.
In 1912 author Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was a regular visitor to Greystoke Castle, wrote Tarzan of the Apes using the little-known place as Tarzan’s ancestral home, though the work was purely fiction as all previous 18 generations of the Greystoke family had been accounted for and none of them were ever raised by apes in the jungles of Africa. In 1939 the estate was commandeered by the army and the land became a tank-drivers’ training ground, while the castle itself later became a prisoner-of-war camp largely for Polish men who had been fighting for the Germans, with the prisoners providing labour to run local farms where the men-folk were away fighting.
In 1949 the army decided that it no longer wanted to retain the Greystoke estate but by that time the damage done to the castle and the estate itself was overwhelming and the compensation fund had been exhausted. So began the long slow process of restoration and modernisation, started by Stafford Howard and which has continued in some form ever since. Of course a castle isn’t a castle without an obligatory ghost or two and Greystoke supposedly has nine, including the statutory white lady, a monk who was bricked up within the walls and a butler who likes to play tricks on people down in the wine cellar where he drowned in a huge barrel of the stuff.
Fourteen generations of the Howard family have lived in the castle so far, with the current owner being Neville Howard, and though the place isn’t open to the general public residents of the village are allowed to walk in the parkland and the grounds can be hired for charity events, concerts and off-road driver training, especially for mountain rescue teams, while some of the rooms in the castle can be hired for conferences, civil weddings and receptions.
Under the pretence of being a resident I decided to take a walk up the long driveway to see if I could get within photo distance of the castle, and not too far along was an extensive garden with several colourful beehives dotted about among the trees and bushes. Another couple of minutes and I was within sight of the castle but I could see a couple of people up ahead so not wanting to be noticed I took a quick shot from the safety of some nearby foliage then retreated back down the driveway to the road.
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Across the other side of the village green was The Boot & Shoe Inn, originally an old coach house dating from 1511. According to my ‘111 Places’ book a very informative board describing the history of the village could be found on the way into the pub garden but though I looked all over I couldn’t find it anywhere. The large courtyard garden was very attractive though, with tables and seating on paved terraces and a raised grass area at the end with a couple of 3D murals between the trees.
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Across the road from the pub was the village shop and post office while round the corner was the outdoor pool and small cafe, both now closed, and at the far end of the street St. Andrew’s Church. It was open to visitors so I spent quite a while looking round, though there was so much of interest it deserves a future post of its own.
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Making the church the last stop on my walk round the village I headed back to the car park; time was getting on and I didn’t want to be too late back home. With no traffic delays on the roads it was a good drive back and the sun staying with me all the way made the perfect end to another enjoyable Cumbrian holiday.

Lancaster Canal – Garstang to Catterall

My Monday walk this week is the on-foot version of a cycle ride I did ten years ago. Back then I was camping at Bridge House Marina by the canal on the far side of Garstang so my cycle ride had started from there, however this time my walk was starting from Garstang itself, at Bridge No.62 near Th’Owd Tithe Barn pub/restaurant.
Set back off the canal and next to the restaurant was The Moorings Basin with several colourful narrowboats moored up, then a couple of hundred yards away was the Wyre Aqueduct designed by John Rennie and built in 1797; at 110ft long it carries the canal 34ft above the River Wyre. At the far side of the aqueduct a set of steep wooden steps led down to the riverside where I was able to photograph the structure from down below.
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Back up on the canal I passed a long stretch of modern houses and went under three bridges before I left civilisation behind, and apart from the sound of birds in the trees and an occasional passing boat it was very quiet and peaceful. Round a wide bend I could see the old Garstang castle, or what remains of it, standing on high ground in the distance at the far side of the canal; photographing it from nearby is something else on my ever-lengthening ‘to do’ list.
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Greenhalgh Castle was built in 1490 by Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby, and the land on which it was built was said to be a gift to Stanley from his stepson Henry Tudor for his assistance in defeating Richard lll at the Battle of Bosworth. Constructed of rubble and sandstone it stood on a small area of raised ground and was rectangular with towers 24 yards square at each corner.
During the English Civil War the castle was garrisoned by James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, in support of Charles l and it was one of the last two Royalist strongholds in Lancashire to succumb following a siege by Cromwell’s forces in 1644/45. The garrison eventually surrendered in 1645 on provision that the men were allowed to return to their homes unharmed, then demolition teams partially destroyed the castle to make sure it couldn’t be used again for military purposes.
After the castle’s destruction many of the local farmhouses, including the nearby Castle Farm, incorporated some of the stones into their buildings; following its continued deterioration over the centuries the only remaining part is the lower section of one of the four original towers and as it stands on private land it’s inaccessible to the public although it can be seen fairly close up from a nearby lane.
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Approaching the next bridge I was quite surprised to see a couple of cows across the other side of the canal, standing well over knee deep in the water and slurping copious amounts from between the weeds and water lilies. Eventually I came to a marker post telling me it was 16 miles to Preston – I didn’t think it was as far as that but if it was then I was glad I wasn’t going there.
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My goal on this walk was the Calder Aqueduct, again designed by John Rennie and built in 1797 but shorter than the Wyre Aqueduct. Carrying the canal over the River Calder in the Catterall area the aqueduct has an adjoining weir on the upstream side, built to lower the bed of the river under the canal with the river itself being channelled beneath the canal through a single elliptical arch. The riverbank on the downstream side was wide and grassy with a steep path down from the canal and ten years ago I’d stopped there for a picnic before cycling back to the camp site.
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Heading back to Garstang I spotted something up ahead on the far side of the canal and getting closer I found it was a heron. It hadn’t been there earlier so I watched for several minutes, and unlike the statue-like one I’d seen on another stretch of the canal back in June this one did actually move. Eventually I came to the marker post which told me it was a mile back to Garstang although to get to there from the town earlier on had seemed to be more than a mile.
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Approaching civilisation there was a small inset on the far side of the canal with three colourful narrowboats moored up and it wasn’t long before I began to see boats moored on my side. I’ve often wondered where some canal boats get their quirky names from and I couldn’t resist snapping a couple of them. One of the last in the row had some small brightly decorated barrels fastened to its roof and they looked so pretty I thought they deserved to be photographed.
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Back across the Wyre Aqueduct, past the Moorings Basin and Th’Owd Tithe Barn and I was back at my starting point, Bridge No. 62 where my van was waiting for me just a few yards down the road. The walk was one I’d been wanting to do for a while, I’d really enjoyed revisiting a part of the canal I first went to ten years ago and it was another completed section to tick off my list.

Snowdrops for Sophie

In light of my recent incredibly sad and heart breaking loss of Sophie I thought long and hard about doing this walk, especially as I’d originally intended taking Sophie with me, but there was nothing to be gained by staying at home and after several weekends of not being able to go anywhere I really needed a few hours out. My intended destination was Hornby Castle Gardens, only open on a few select weekends each year with the most recent being the snowdrop weekend. Sunday’s weather forecast for that area was for sunshine and even though it was cloudy and grey here at home I decided to take a chance and go.
As I got to the far side of the nearby moors I could see sunshine and blue sky ahead and by the time I was heading north up the M6 it had turned into a really lovely day. Living where I do, halfway up a hill on the north side of town, I don’t normally encounter any instances of flooding in bad weather so I was quite surprised at the sight which greeted me as I drove along the A683 towards the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Just before Claughton village the River Lune had overflowed and a huge area of flat grazing fields had disappeared underwater, though fortunately the natural slope of the land from the roadside had prevented the water from reaching the road itself or any roadside properties.

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There’s a river in there somewhere

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Set back off the road, and just out of reach of the flood water, was the old Lanefoot Crossing signal box in the garden of a nearby cottage. Once part of the long-disused ‘Little’ North Western Railway line which operated between Lancaster and Wennington, then extended to Leeds, it was in use between 1849 and 1968, and in more recent years has been preserved and refurbished to be used as a summerhouse for the cottage.

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The Lanefoot Crossing signal box

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There was no parking available in the grounds of Hornby Castle so I left the van in the village car park and walked along the road and over the bridge to the castle gardens entrance gates. The River Wenning, swollen from all the recent rain, was in full flow as it ran west to join the Lune, and on the east side of the bridge the water was a seething boiling mass as it came over the nearby weir – definitely not a place anyone would want to fall in.

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River Wenning looking west

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Looking east

Entrance to the castle grounds cost £5 with dogs free of charge and after being given a map, which I didn’t really need as I’ve been there before, though not at this time of year, I set off with Poppie to find some snowdrops. Now I don’t know if my expectations were too high or if maybe the recent bad weather was a factor, but far from seeing carpets of snowdrops as I thought I would all I found were small clumps dotted here and there among the trees, with several clumps together on the bank leading up to the castle lawns.

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Driveway up to the castle

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The pond and island

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Part of the path along the riverside had been closed off as it was muddy and very slippery but I got round that by walking along the riverbank itself, and when I rejoined the path I came to the remains of a dead tree trunk. One side looked very much like the other so it was hard to tell which had been roots and which were branches but I liked the shape of it so it was worth a quick snap.

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Along the riverside walk

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Just past the tree trunk the path wound steeply uphill and almost doubled back on itself, emerging at one corner of the castle lawn. At the far side steps led down a short steep bank to the main driveway and on the bank itself were a couple of clumps of pink flowers ; they looked a bit sorry for themselves but at least they provided a bit of colour.
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Across the driveway a path and a succession of wide shallow steps went down through a wooded area to the walled garden ; at this time of year there wasn’t much colour about the place but I did see some more pink flowers, some daffodils, a few more isolated clumps of snowdrops and some lovely bright blue things which I don’t know the name of.
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The walled garden was my last port of call, I’d been everywhere else and with so few snowdrops to see there was no point walking round again, so I made my way back to the van and with one last shot from the bridge I set off for home, arriving back at 4pm and still in sunshine. Although Hornby Castle’s website promises ‘hundreds of named varieties of snowdrops’ the ones I saw all looked the same to me, and compared to the carpets of flowers I saw at Lytham Hall last year the clumps of snowdrops dotted here and there were rather a disappointment.
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This had been my first proper walk with Poppie on her own and it seemed so strange having just one little four-paws with me instead of two. Even though the snowdrops didn’t live up to my expectations I know that Sophie would have loved the walk so I’ve decided – when the time is right, and in her memory, there’ll be some snowdrops planted in her corner of my garden.