Some lovely weekend weather just recently gave me the opportunity to head off to the village of Overton on the Lune estuary for a walk round Bazil Point, a place I hadn’t previously been to. Turning off the main road leading to Heysham port I took a minor road running alongside the river and I hadn’t gone very far when I spotted a dead cat at the side of the road. Now I hate to see road kill of any sort, especially someone’s pet, but with no houses in the vicinity there was no clue where the cat could have come from, anyway I wasn’t going to leave it there to possibly get squashed so I stopped the van and went back to deal with it, picking it up and laying it gently in the long grass under a nearby tree.
A mile or so along the road I passed half a dozen ponies grazing by the riverside then came to a small and very pleasant looking residential static caravan park and the Golden Ball Hotel, also known as Snatchems. Closed two years ago at the start of the pandemic, surrounded by steel barriers and overgrown gardens, the place looked a bit of a mess but chatting to a lady from the caravan park who was walking her dog I was told that it’s due to re-open in a couple of months time.
A pleasant 3-mile drive round the country lanes took me to Overton where I parked not far from what would be the end of my route round Bazil Point then walked through the village to my starting point near to St. Helen’s Church. Across the street from the church and just by a garden gate was a stall with a few plants and various hand crafted items on display along with a price list and honesty box, though as the street was a bit ‘out of the way’ I did wonder if whoever lived there actually ever sold anything. Also on top of a nearby gate post was a rather strange looking dragon/goblin/hobbit thing which seemed to be either sucking its thumb or trying to decide what to do next.
A gravel lane led from the street corner and past a handful of bungalows to a farm track across a vast field and at the far end I came to the first gate of the walk, with a narrow path leading between high hedgerows to a second gate and a bench overlooking the estuary and Glasson Dock across the far side. I don’t know who Butler was but there was certainly a good view from his bench and it was from there that I spotted a heron out on a sandbank.
A bit further on I came to a small stone-built shed tucked into the surrounding trees; a bit of an odd place for a garden shed but maybe it was used to store kayaks or something similar. Just past the shed was the washed up remains of a huge tree stump, though looking at the calm waters of the estuary with the tide already receding it was hard to imagine the water coming up so close to the boundary wall and tree line, but it obviously does as not far away huge boulders were piled up against the land to prevent tidal erosion.
Round the end of the point the stony/rocky ground gave way to grass and there was a good view across the mouth of a nearby creek and the marshes to Heysham power station in the distance. Eventually the path turned slightly inland and took me through the last named gate onto a raised bank with a view across the fields to the outskirts of Overton village.
Curving round above the marshes the path brought me to a stile which, with two dogs, proved to be a difficult one to negotiate. Poppie wanted to go under it while Snowy was trying to climb up and through the middle of it, and I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the people who build these things don’t consider those with shorter legs. We got there eventually though and the path dropped back down to the edge of the marsh where, in the rough scrub just in front of me I saw a peacock butterfly which stayed still just long enough for me to snap a quick photo.
From there the path followed the edge of the marsh for quite a distance, gradually widening out and ending in a small parking area set back near the beginning of the tidal road to Sunderland Point and village. Not far away was the larger parking area where I’d left the van and a nearby sign gave a clear pictorial warning to anyone not aware of the tide times but the water had been receding for a while and I’d already noticed a couple of cars crossing the causeway so I knew it would be safe for me to drive over to the village.
Not far along the road I was happy to see that the next warning sign was completely free of water although some sections of the narrow causeway were very muddy, and with not many passing places I was just hoping I wouldn’t meet something coming the other way. I reached the far end with no problems though and found another warning sign which was a variation of the first one. I couldn’t remember having seen either of them before and talking to one of the locals it seems that they had been installed since my previous visit in an effort to reduce the number of people needing to be rescued after getting themselves and/or their vehicles stranded by the tide.
Walking along First Terrace something white out in the estuary caught my eye and when I zoomed in with the camera I saw it was an egret stalking along through the shallows, presumably looking for his lunch. At the end of the terrace I turned up The Lane and followed the fragrant scent of the hawthorn hedges along the path to Sambo’s grave then retraced my steps for a walk along Second Terrace to Sunderland Hall at the end before making my way back along the beach to the van.
By this time I was feeling more than a little peckish and as there’s no shop in the village or in Overton I drove the three miles round the country lanes to Middleton Sands where I parked up on the edge of the salt marsh and got myself a sandwich, chocolate bar and can of Coke from the shop in the nearby caravan site. This was the coastal side of the Sunderland peninsula with the village itself just over a mile away along the marsh; out at the water’s edge and quite a distance away a family of four were playing with a dog and the sun shining from that direction made them look like silhouettes against the background of a silvery sea.
After all my walking it was nice just to sit in the van with my ‘picnic’ and chill for a while, in fact I stayed far longer than I intended but eventually it was time to head for home. Driving back round the country lanes I made another brief stop near the Golden Ball Hotel and my final two shots were of the river with a much reduced water level than when I was there earlier in the day.
The walk round Bazil Point at Overton had shown me some scenery and views which I hadn’t previously seen and it’s a walk I may very well do again sometime. It had been nice to revisit Sunderland village too and the pleasant drive home in the late afternoon sunshine just ended the day nicely.
A gloriously sunny morning greeted me on the final day of my break and with the other handful of campers having left the previous day and no-one occupying the white campervan parked near the entrance I’d had the site all to myself since getting back from the zoo the day before. Eventually though it was time for me to leave too and as living and sleeping in the van meant that things had been kept to a minimum it didn’t take long to pack up and get on the road.
First was a stop at Asda where I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Less than a hundred yards away was the beach and a long promenade/cycleway which I hadn’t been along before so leaving the van in Asda’s car park I set out to see what I could find. At the far side of a pay-and-display car park four kiosks were set back off the promenade and on the back walls of two of them were a couple of bright and colourful artworks.
On the beach four anglers were fishing near the water’s edge and further along at Horton’s Nose nature reserve I came across a couple of washed up tree stumps – the second one was huge and its shape and position reminded me of the bow of a ship. Across the harbour bridge and two main roads I came to Marine Lake, another place I’d not yet managed to get to, so the next part of the day was the one mile circuit all the way round it.
Opened on May 24th 1895, the day of Queen Victoria’s 76th birthday, and built on land adjacent to the River Clwyd estuary Marine Lake is North Wales’ only saltwater lake. The land had previously been known locally as the ‘mud hole’ as it would be flooded by the river at high tide then turn into a muddy bog when the tide receded. The local council bought the land for £1,050 from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests and the design and construction of the lake, the island, and its surrounding grounds cost a further £10,200. Designed by Baldwin Latham and constructed by contractor George Law of Kidderminster the whole lot was completed in less than six months.
On the day of the lake’s official opening the culvert close to the nearby railway bridge was opened in the morning to start the flow of water into the lake then in the evening the culvert near the road bridge was also opened. A regatta, aquatic fete and gala were held on July 6th and described in the local press as one of the most successful days in the town’s history. At 4ft deep and covering an area of 40 acres the lake became home to Rhyl Swimming Club in 1896 and was also used for sailing, rowing and yachting.
In 1908 a showman set up a high water chute in an enclosed part of the lake and this was supplemented by various fairgound attractions including a roller coaster. In 1910 The Rhyl Amusement Company took over Marine Lake, with the company’s main owners being the Butler family whose steel foundry in Leeds had supplied the water chute. In June 1914 Alfred John Nightingale, a visitor from Bala, was killed in an accident on the water chute – the mechanism which raised the boats malfunctioned and 27-year old Alfred fell to his death.
The miniature railway around the lake opened on May 1st 1911 and was acquired by Rhyl Amusements in 1912; the original steam engine was a ‘Little Giant’ built at the Bassett-Lowke works in Northampton but during the 1920s engineer Albert Barnes, the amusement park’s manager, built a series of new bigger locomotives for the railway at the Albion Works in Rhyl.
During the 1930s Rhyl became a popular destination for holidaymakers from all over the North West, especially during the summer factory closure weeks. Families would arrive by train to stay at the holiday camps along the coast and visit the Marine Lake attractions, with the area enjoying annual visitor numbers on a scale which is difficult to imagine now.
The fairground left the Marine Lake site in 1969 when Rhyl Amusements decided to concentrate on their larger Ocean Beach site nearby, which also led to the closure of the miniature railway and the removal of the track. Ownership of Marine Lake reverted to Rhyl Urban District Council who did introduce some amusements of their own including boat rides and a huge childrens’ slide. In 1978 the railway track was re-laid and the railway runs to this day; owned and operated by a charitable trust and still using the locomotives and stock from 100 years ago it’s now Britain’s oldest such railway.
In 1998 the land around Marine Lake was changed drastically by a huge construction scheme which included burying a storm water tank underneath the car park area as part of the local flood defences. A new railway building, Central Station, was opened in 2007 and the nearby Ocean Beach funfair closed that same year. Plans to build a retail, leisure and housing complex on the site, with construction due to start in May 2009, were delayed and ultimately scrapped, leading to the site becoming a derelict eyesore, then in 2015 plans for a smaller retail-only park called Marina Quay were approved. Stores began to open there in stages from 2017 and now include an Aldi, Farm Foods and The Range while the lake itself continues to host activities for local groups and visitors, including water skiing, wake-boarding and non-powered sailing.
With my circuit of the lake completed I crossed back over the road and the harbour bridge and with a few more snaps taken I retraced my steps along the promenade and back to the Asda car park, then it was only a few minutes drive from there to Eileen’s for my second visit before I set off for home.
It was another enjoyable couple of hours spent in the company of Eileen, her hubby and Tilly and though I could quite happily have stayed chatting all day if they let me I did have to get home and go to work. The sunshine stayed with me all the way back and with no delays on the motorways I was home in good time. It had been a great long weekend and needless to say I’ve already been planning my next North Wales break, which hopefully won’t be too far away.
My plans for the penultimate day of my break depended on sunshine and blue sky, neither of which were evident that morning. It looked okay over towards the coast but my intended destination was several miles inland and white sky with grey cloud wouldn’t be a good look on my photos. There was no real improvement by lunch time so after a trip to Asda to get some supplies I took myself off to the Welsh Mountain Zoo in the hills above Colwyn Bay; if I was photographing animals it didn’t really matter what the sky looked like.
In 1897 a Manchester surgeon, Dr. Walter Whitehead, purchased 37 acres of woodland above the new and expanding resort of Colwyn Bay with the intention of retiring there. The layout of the new estate was designed by Thomas Mawson, the renowned Victorian landscape architect, who based the project on idyllic woodland walks, herbaceous borders and formal rose gardens as well as homes for staff. After Dr. Whitehead’s death in 1913, the estate changed hands several times until the site was taken over by the Jackson family in 1962 and formally opened as a zoo the following year.
A short walk from the zoo car park a large grassed area had been roped off to form an arena and I was just in time to catch the last few minutes of the birds of prey flying display. The barn owl was lovely but the turkey buzzard was one of the ugliest creatures I’ve ever seen though I suppose someone must love it. Next came the penguin parade with the keeper walking round with a bucket of small fish which he continually threw to the Humboldt penguins following him, though the odd one or two wandered off to say hello to various visitors and a couple of them came close to me. A circuit of the arena and they went back into their enclosure then it was time for the sea lion display in the pool a few yards away.
After seeing the sea lions I wandered up, down and along various paths and steps from one exhibit to the next although not in any particular order. Unfortunately I missed quite a few things, including the snow leopard, brown bear and tigers; the zoo covers quite a large area and as I popped back to the van every so often to check that Snowy and Poppie were okay I completely forgot which sections I’d been to and which I hadn’t, also some of the animals themselves seemed to be hiding from view.
Just three days after my zoo visit there was a new arrival on April 21st, a foal called Khan, the first Przewalski’s Wild Horse to be born at the Welsh Mountain Zoo since 1995, and looking at my photo I rather think that could be his mother, Wendy. The Przewalski’s Wild Horse was completely extinct in the wild by 1966 but following a successful captive breeding programme they have since been reintroduced into their natural habitats among the reserves and national parks of Mongolia, meaning their conservation status has been reclassified from “extinct in the wild” to “endangered”.
The zoo isn’t just about animals though. The garden areas are made up of an ever-expanding collection of plants and seeds from around the world, some of which are considered rare and endangered and all of which grow well on the hillside site, with a host of other unusual tropical plants growing in the reptile and alligator houses.
With the blue sky and sunshine having gradually increased while I was in the zoo and the dogs deserving a decent walk I decided to go down to Colwyn Bay’s seafront and walk along the promenade for a while. Being later in the afternoon there weren’t too many people around so it was a very pleasant walk which just rounded off the day nicely.
If I have one criticism about the zoo it’s the signs pointing to the different exhibits. Presumably in an effort to make it more interesting for children they are made up of small colourful pictures (not photos) of the animals in any particular area but I found some of them hard to distinguish, which is probably another reason why I missed several exhibits. Other than that it’s a very nice place and I may very well go back sometime in the future to try and find the things I missed this time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The TSS Duke of Lancaster was built in 1955/6 by Harland & Wolff in Belfast and was the sister ship to the TSS Duke of Rothsay and TSS Duke of Argyll. Of steel construction and 376ft long it was designed not only as a passenger ferry operating on the Heysham-Belfast route but also as a cruise ship sailing around the Scottish islands and further afield to Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Spain. Initially owned by British Railways it was transferred to Sealink ownership in 1963.
With the advent of car ferries in the mid 1960s the Duke of Lancaster eventually became redundant so it was decided to undertake a programme of part conversion. The main deck was rebuilt to accommodate vehicles via a door at the stern and as a result the ship no longer served its secondary role as a cruise ship. Passenger capacity was reduced from 1800 to 1200, which included cabin accommodation for 400, and with space available for 105 cars the ship returned to service on April 25th 1970 as a car ferry, once again serving the Heysham-Belfast route.
On April 5th 1975 service on the Heysham-Belfast route was withdrawn and the Duke of Lancaster was transferred briefly onto the Fishguard-Rosslare crossing before becoming the regular relief ship on the Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire route, then in November 1978 it was taken out of service completely and docked at Barrow-in-Furness.
In 1979 the ship was sold to Liverpool-based company Empirewise Ltd and in August that year was towed by tug to a permanent dock at Llannerch-y-Mor on the Dee estuary in North Wales, to be used as a dry-docked leisure and retail complex. Opened to the public in 1980 as The Fun Ship, attractions included market stalls, a café, amusement arcade and a children’s play area. There were also grand plans for a hotel conversion but these came to nothing and after several long-standing legal disputes with the local council the ship closed for business in 1984. In 1985 it was used briefly as a clothing warehouse for a company with the same business address as Empirewise but after more legal disputes any further plans were abandoned.
In February 1990 the dock and the ship itself suffered severe damage during freak storms and high sea levels, setting back any new plans for the venture, but by 1994 the Fun Ship was ready to re-open to the public once more. The council however had other ideas and served the owners with an injunction forcing them to close the ship before it had even re-opened. After another 2-year legal fight against a very corrupt council, in 1996 the owners were advised by their lawyers to withdraw from the case; although reluctant to do so they agreed but had to pay the council’s costs in excess of £200.000
After lying almost unloved for so many years the Duke of Lancaster was featured in an episode of the BBC2 series ‘Coast’ in 2011 which showed that in spite of much of the ship’s exterior being covered in rust the interior was in surprisingly good condition, with most features just as they were in the 1970s and early 80s.
In early 2012 a group of arcade game enthusiasts made a deal with the ship’s owners and were able to purchase most of the retro coin-operated gaming machines left behind when the Fun Ship closed in 1984; more than 50 machines were removed from the ship, with cranes and other heavy lifting equipment being used to get them out.
Also in 2012, after being contacted by a group of European street artists, the owners allowed them to transform the ship’s exterior into an open air ‘art gallery’. The first phase of the project saw Latvian graffiti artist ‘Kiwie’ and other European artists paint murals on the ship between August and November that year and the second phase, starting at the end of March 2013, featured the work of British-based artists including Dan Kitchener and Dale Grimshaw. One of the artworks was a picture of the ship’s first captain, John ‘Jack’ Irwin but in 2017, for reasons currently unknown, both sides of the ship were painted black.
I first became aware of the Duke of Lancaster in 2016 when I saw a couple of photos of it on another blog. It looked and sounded intriguing so I decided that the next time I went down to North Wales I would forgo my usual route down the A55 and take the new-to-me A548 coast road so I could find the ship and see it for myself.
Having checked out the location on Google maps I knew there was a large car park just off the main road and not far from the ship, and through a gate in the corner I came to a footpath – part of the North Wales Coast Path – which took me along the side of a narrow creek and under a low railway bridge, though I hadn’t gone far when I came to locked steel gates and a high metal fence preventing access to the dock. The path went round to the left of the fence and ran along the top of a bank towards the shore, and though I couldn’t get as close to the ship as I wanted to be I was able to get a few photos looking over the top of the nearby hedge.
Now I have no doubt that when all the artwork was first done it looked really good but four years later, with much of the ship sides covered in rust, it all looked a bit of a mess. I was to learn later that every one of those murals contained a hidden message pertaining to the corrupt council which blocked every attempt to set up the ship as a permanent tourist attraction.
To see the other side of the ship I had to go right back along the path to the main road, cross the end of the creek and go down the path on the far side. In the sunshine, and with not as much artwork on that side, it did look marginally better – with all the rust cleaned off and a decent paint job it could have looked quite smart.
I didn’t visit the ship again until five years later in October 2021 after I learned that it had been painted black just a year after my previous visit. This time it wasn’t as easy to see from the path as the hedges were much taller than before, and though from a distance it did look like the whole of the hull had been painted black a close-up view showed me otherwise. The bow had indeed been painted and it looked good but the rest of the hull was a black of a different sort; the artworks were all gone although traces of some of them were still visible, and in places it looked like it had been on fire, although maybe it had just been stripped back prior to more painting which hasn’t yet happened.
According to various internet sources (if true) it seems that during the last six months a couple of events have taken place on the quayside next to the ship in an effort to raise money towards the cost of ongoing restorations, and other fundraising events are being planned. There’s far more to this story than I could possibly write on here but there’s a more detailed account from a few years ago here – best watched with the sound off though.
It remains to be seen whether the owner, who is now 71 years old, will ever achieve his dream of the ship becoming a proper tourist attraction – if not, then the Duke of Lancaster is destined to forever remain a ship frozen in time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 StTrillo’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.
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.
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.
The second morning of the weekend arrived gloriously sunny and perfect for my intended day out. The main destination this time was Colwyn Bay, less than four miles down the coast, and the main objective was to see for myself the ridiculously short pier which Eileen and her hubby had told me about, though first was a walk from the camp site and along by the nearby beach.
Not far from the site and near the beach car park was Llanddulas railway viaduct, constructed in 1879 after the original viaduct collapsed during a storm in August that year. With round-the-clock working facilitated by one of the first uses of electric lighting on a construction site work progressed rapidly and the new bridge was opened to rail traffic just one month later, though the current bridge deck is more modern and dates from 1974.
My walk took me along the coast path for about a mile, past the point where the River Dulas runs into the sea, to Tides cafe bistro at The Beach caravan park; this was the place where I’d had my first taste of the fruit cake version of bara brith several years ago, and very nice it was too. Since my walk along there in December I’d learned that this was also the area where, on August 20th 1868, what was then the worst railway disaster in Britain occurred.
A goods train was being shunted into sidings and half a dozen wagons loaded with paraffin were left temporarily on the main line, held only by the brakes of the brake van even though they were parked on an incline. The two brakesmen had both dismounted to take part in the shunting operations but when the engine backed onto the wagons the jolt caused the brake van to release its own brakes, sending the wagons rolling down the line into the path of the approaching Holyhead-bound Irish Mail express train.The force of the collision derailed the Irish Mail engine, its tender and the leading guard’s van; the engine ran on for about 30 yards then overturned to the left while the tender overturned to the right, completely fouling up the other track.
The heavy loss of life resulting from the accident was actually caused less by the impact itself and more by the load of two of the runaway wagons. Some of the barrels of paraffin broke up in the collision and their contents caught fire and exploded; the Irish Mail engine, tender, guard’s van and the first three passenger carriages were instantly enveloped in dense smoke and flames which soon spread to the fourth carriage and the leading post office van. This prevented any immediate rescue attempt and the occupants of the first four carriages all died, together with the guard in the front guard’s van and the locomotive’s fireman. The engine driver had managed to jump clear just before the collision and though he was wounded by flying splinters he was able to uncouple the last six carriages of the train, which were moved away before the fire could reach them. He died two months later from a pre-existing condition though an inquest concluded that his death had been hastened by the injuries he sustained in the accident.
On legal advice the two brakesmen of the goods train didn’t give evidence at the inquest and the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against them. They were tried at Ruthin assizes the following spring but were acquitted after the jury returned a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’ following the judge’s instruction that they should consider if the two men were, or should have been, under the supervision of a superior officer, ie the Llanddulas stationmaster.
A total of 33 people died in that accident, with the victims being burned beyond recognition, though three of them were later identified by their personal effects. The final official tally was 10 males, 13 females, and 10 gender unknown, and all the remains were buried on August 25th 1868 in a mass grave at St. Michael’s Church, Abergele, where a memorial to them still stands. Walking along the pleasant path in the sunshine of a quiet morning it was hard to believe that such an accident had occurred near there more than a century earlier.
The drive from the camp site to Colwyn Bay took less than ten minutes and I parked at the far end of the promenade not far from Rhos-on-Sea. Set in the pavement every few yards were a series of granite ‘postcards’ depicting various points in Colwyn Bay’s timeline as part of the Waterfront Project, a recent upgrade and enhancement of the promenade area. Local architect Sydney Colwyn Foulkes (1884-1971) was responsible for the design of many of Colwyn Bay’s most lovely buildings and the elephant featured was mechanical rather than a live one.
Designed and patented by Frank Smith of Morecambe in the late 1940s after visiting a zoo, the Colwyn Bay mechanical elephant ran on wheels powered by a small belt-driven two-stroke petrol engine. Children sat sideways on benches which ran the length of the creature’s back and the fare for a ride was 6d each (six old pence). The elephant travelled at about 2mph and the ‘keeper’, who had to have a driving licence, walked alongside it.
The centrepiece of the newly upgraded promenade was the word ‘Colwyn’ designed by an architecture student at Wrexham University. The letters, each two metres tall, were formed from a precast concrete mix containing a dye to give them a unique coppery-orange colouring, then to complete the finish they were chiselled with an attractive design to depict either waves rolling onto the beach or hills and sand dunes.
And then there was the pier – and yes, it was short. The original pier, which opened in June 1900, had suffered from years of neglect and decay and on February 1st 2017 the seaward end partially collapsed into the sea. This was followed by a further collapse on the 23rd of the month during Storm Doris and following a lot of discussion among the powers-that-be it was decided to remove the pier completely, with dismantling taking place between February and May 2018. All the salvageable parts were stored safely and after restoration the construction of the new but much shortened pier began in 2019, with the pier itself finally being opened to the public on July 14th 2021.
Now I have to admit that personally I think the new pier does look nice – the restored and repainted ironwork and the replica lamp columns are lovely – but it also looks a bit pointless. A few nice benches along each side would really complete the look but as it is now it’s just a wide empty boardwalk with fancy sides, no character and no real purpose.
Across from the pier a pedestrian underpass led under the nearby railway line towards the town and on each corner wall I found some great street art, with all the murals featuring something pertaining to Colwyn Bay in years gone by. A bit further along the promenade I came to another art installation, a family of life-size silhouetted figures made from cast steel and overlooking the beach, then a short distance away was a series of contemporary seats and benches of different shapes and sizes, although none of them looked particularly comfortable to sit or lie on.
Further on still was the Porth Eirias Waterfront Complex, a modern building housing a watersports centre, bike shop, childrens’ play area and a (very expensive) Bryn Williams bistro, and at the front of the building was The Cormorant, another art installation.
The Little Orme headland, less than four miles along the coast, has one of the largest Cormorant colonies in the UK and the birds are a frequent sighting on the Colwyn Bay coastline. The idea for the installation came from a student concept and the initial frame was created from welded steel rods with wings formed from old shelving panels. The feet are an unwanted pair of swim flippers while the feathers were made from old bicycle tyres and a tractor inner tube. The wing peaks and chest are from fly-tipped quad bike mud guards, the tail and lower belly were made from an old plastic garden chair and the beak was made from a discarded flexible yellow plastic tub. Black land drainage pipe made the neck and the plastic bottles in the belly highlight the issue of plastic pollution in the sea and the detrimental affect it can have on marine wildlife.
At the back of the building a grass covered slope with a zigzag path and steps up the side led up to the roof. The slope looked rather untidy but according to the nearby information board these plants and grasses are native to the British coastline and in that particular location they contribute to the building’s low environmental impact. Up on the roof there was a great view across the beach in both directions and looking down the grass covered slope was much nicer than looking up it, in fact I thought the view could quite easily have been somewhere abroad.
Although I knew there were other parts of Colwyn Bay to see there was also somewhere else I wanted to go to and I had quite a distance to walk to get back to the van so I made that my last photo and headed back along the promenade. I’d never been to Colwyn Bay before so I don’t know what it was like in previous years but I was very impressed with the promenade and the lovely beach so it’s definitely a place I’ll return to in the not-too-distant future.
Three days ago, on Wednesday, it was the second anniversary of losing my faithful little friend Sophie, almost five weeks on from a stroke she suffered soon after New Year 2020. I’d nursed her almost 24/7 and promised her that when she was feeling better we would go to Lytham Hall to see the snowdrops but sadly it wasn’t to be. She closed her eyes to life and slipped quietly away on February 9th 2020 and I was heartbroken, sad too that she never got to see the snowdrops.
Sophie was buried in a sheltered corner of my garden and I made another promise, a silent one this time, that I would plant some snowdrops in her little patch just as soon as I could. Unfortunately most of that month was extremely wet so it was March when I finally got to Lytham Hall, but by then the snowdrops were almost over and there were none for sale in the small courtyard garden hub either.
Circumstances beyond everyone’s control meant that the Hall and its grounds were closed to the public for the early part of 2021 so I couldn’t do the snowdrop walk that year, but with things now finally getting back to some sort of normality I took myself, Snowy and Poppie to Lytham Hall on Wednesday to see if I could fulfill my silent promise.
After almost three weeks of what seemed like incessant rain and two named storms it was a lovely day – blue sky, sunshine, no wind and not too chilly, perfect for doing the snowdrop walk round the Lytham Hall grounds, however I’d not been there long when the sky clouded over and the sun disappeared. Fortunately it didn’t last too long and once the clouds cleared away again the rest of the day was glorious.
Dotted around the grounds were several picture frames in strategic locations, placed in such a way that they could be used to frame a shot and get the best photo of a particular view. I hadn’t really bothered with them on my first visit three years ago as it was a weekend and there were too many people around but now mid week the place was quieter and I was able to utilise each frame without feeling rushed.
Although an ‘official’ route round the grounds was marked out by discreet arrows I preferred to find my own way round and my wanderings took me to the Lily Pond, a small lake in the woodland. I’d been round there two years ago in search of a ruined boat house which could have been quite photogenic, only to find it was more ruined than I expected and seemed to be undergoing some restoration. Unfortunately the intervening two years don’t seem to have produced any work and the boat house now looks in a worse condition than before.
Next was a walk round the fishing lake known as Curtains Pond, used and maintained by a private angling club. Thought to have been created in the 17th century when earth was excavated to build the high mound known as The Mount it was once used by the Clifton family as a water supply, and it’s reputed that John Talbot Clifton, who lived at the Hall in the late 19th and early 20th century, would often throw things in there in fits of temper. The Mount is the highest point in Lytham and once provided a viewing point to the sea and to the 3-mile gallop in the parkland where the Clifton family raced their horses.
Separating the woodland from the formal garden and lawns is the Paradise Wall with several buttresses on the garden side. Dating back to the late 17th century it was originally known as the Monks Wall due to the fact that in the Middle Ages there was a Benedictine Priory on the site, but since the 18th century it’s been known as the Paradise Wall.
The Dovecote was built in the mid 18th century and is now a Grade ll listed building in need of renovation. There are 850 nesting boxes built into the walls and these would have been accessible to the gamekeeper via a revolving ladder suspended from a gallows arm projecting from a central rotating post which in turn pivots on a pad stone. It’s a pity the building isn’t accessible to the public as I’d love to see this thing working.
Just outside the rear courtyard was a display of garden ornaments and in the courtyard itself a rainbow of colourful flowering plants for sale. And in among them all I found just what I wanted – snowdrops. I didn’t think one pot would be enough so I bought three with plants which have yet to flower then went to get a coffee from the nearby cafe before setting off for home.
With the sun still shining from a by now almost cloudless blue sky it was a very pleasant journey back and it was even nice enough to drive with the van window down. The snowdrops were planted in Sophie’s little patch of garden yesterday and when they finally come into flower I’ll know then that, even though it’s taken two years to do it, I’ve kept my silent promise to the little dog I loved so much.