After the rain of the previous day the last day of my break turned out to be beautifully sunny though also very windy. I had to be off my pitch by 11am so the first dog walk was just a fairly short one close to the site, meaning I could have breakfast and get ready for the homeward journey without rushing. Handing in my barrier pass at reception and ready for the road my first stop was down the hill for a good walk along the path near the beach. A few wisps of grey cloud were still hanging about from early on but with blue sky and sunshine the area did look nicer than the previous early morning.
My next stop was another visit to Eileen; I’d left my phone in the van while I was out walking and when I got back I found a message from her to say that she and hubby had gone to the harbour with Tilly so I decided to go straight there to see if I could find them. On my way I made a brief stop to take another photo of the friendly neighbourhood giraffe wearing his new and very tall Christmas hat – I’d taken a photo two days previously but somehow it got sunlight reflection on it. When I got to his garden however I found that his hat had been blown off in the wind and he was left with just a stick sticking out of his head, so Eileen has very kindly sent me the photo she took herself a few days before Christmas.
Round at the harbour I parked up near the Harbour Hub cafe and took a walk along the boardwalk and dunes of Horton’s Nose nature reserve, one of the last sand dune systems on the North Wales coast. I didn’t see anything of Eileen, her hubby and Tilly so thought I may have missed them but as I headed back to the van I found them in the car park. It was agreed that we should go across to the cafe and instead of coffee we had hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows, accompanied by bacon rolls. In spite of it being the middle of winter and the wind still blowing it was really quite warm so it was very pleasant sitting in the sunshine at one of the outside tables and chatting over our snack lunch, but all too soon it was time for me to say goodbye and hit the road.
My third and final stop was Talacre Beach along the coast and close to the mouth of the Dee estuary. From the A548 a long lane took me past fields and a mixture of private bungalows and static caravan parks, then towards the end I came to a couple of amusement arcades, a walk-round ‘sells everything’ general store, a chip shop, small bakery, ice cream parlour, bar/restaurant, a small cafe and the Lighthouse Inn, with the end of the lane itself leading to a footpath through the dunes.
Leaving the van in the car park near the Lighthouse Inn I set off on the trek through the dunes and across the beach to the Point of Ayr lighthouse. Built in 1776 to the design of Joseph Turner of Hawarden and modelled on a pre-existing Liverpool Docks Board light at Hoylake it was constructed to mark the entrance to the Dee estuary following the loss of two Dublin packet boats and more than 200 lives. Trinity House assumed responsibility for the light in 1819 and soon afterwards rebuilt the upper section with a new lantern light.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1844 after a piled structure was built further round the estuary. In 1882, following the grounding of a steamship which had just started a voyage from Mostyn, further along the estuary, to Barrow-in-Furness with a cargo of iron and coal, it was alleged in court that this second lighthouse was situated too far inland so in 1883 it was replaced by a lightship moored in the estuary though this has long since disappeared.
The original lighthouse has a slight lean but in spite of being in such an exposed location it has withstood countless storms over the years. In November 1973 it became Grade ll listed and was restored in the 1990s, then in 2011 it featured in the background of a tv advert for Dulux paint which was designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of their Old English Sheepdog mascot, although as I’m not familiar with the advert I fail to see the significance.
With no more en route stops and no delays on the motorways the rest of my journey home in the sunshine was uneventful and I arrived back before the daylight faded. In spite of the cloud and rain it had been good to get away for a couple of days and also to experience a new-to-me camp site, and as the old year turned into the new one I already had a few ideas for another North Wales break in the not-too-distant future.
After a very comfortable and quiet night I woke the following morning to grey clouds which were gradually being replaced by blue skies and the promise of a nice day. The first dog walk of the day was to be an exploration of the nearby beach; from the site entrance it was just a 3-minute walk down the hill but if there was any sand at all it was completely covered by the high tide which came right up to the sea defences. Two rough surfaced car parks were situated between the sea defences and the North Wales Coast Path and the River Dulas came from somewhere inland and ran parallel to the path for a distance before curving round and emptying itself into the sea. Admittedly this wasn’t the prettiest of places but it did give us a good dog walk before we went back to the site for breakfast.
My main aim of the day was a visit to Conwy, somewhere I hadn’t been for a few years, though I was stopping off at Rhos-on-Sea on the way. Now although I left the site in brilliant sunshine the same couldn’t be said for arriving in Rhos – less than six miles along the coast the sun had almost disappeared and the sky was clouding over rapidly. Leaving the van in a roadside parking place on West Promenade I walked along the seafront, passing Combermere Gardens and the harbour and making my turn around point the tiny St. Trillo’s Chapel on the lower promenade at Marine Drive.
Combermere Gardens is a small but attractive raised paved area overlooking the sea and incorporating a few benches and planted flower beds. In Victorian times, before the promenade linking Rhos-on-Sea to Colwyn Bay was constructed, this site was the grounds of a house known as Combermere Lodge, sometimes referred to as Combermere Cottage. The house was demolished in the early 1900s as a result of either constructing or widening that section of the promenade and the owners of the nearby Cayley Arms Hotel made a contribution towards the cost of demolishing the other buildings between there and the sea, presumably to improve the hotel’s own view.
In 1909 suggestions were made in the local press as to the best use for the site of the demolished Combermere Lodge. Some locals wanted it used for public conveniences, some for public gardens, and there was also an application made to the council to rent the land for a ‘café chantant’ which would have provided refreshments, musical entertainments, dancing and lights at night. Although this had a lot of support it also had a lot of objections and the idea was eventually abandoned.
It’s unclear what decisions were taken at the time but underground public conveniences were erected at some point, along with a basic bandstand with a small canopy, and the site was given the official name of Combermere Square, though by the advent of the Second World War the local nickname had become ‘Lavatory Square’. These public conveniences were demolished sometime after the war and curved enclosing walls with coloured glass inserts were erected around the square. These in turn were demolished in the 1990s and the current attractive raised gardens and seating were built in their place giving good views across the bay.
Barely 7ft tall at its apex and seating just six people the tiny St. Trillo’s Chapel is thought to be the smallest church in the British Isles. It was named after St. Trillo, a 6th century saint who built his cell there, though having been heavily repaired several times over the centuries its true age is unknown. St. Trillo’s original cell was probably made of wood and wattle although he may have built a wall of stones gathered from the beach to protect the structure from winds. His decision to build his cell on that particular spot would probably have been influenced by a natural spring which provided him with drinking water; the chapel was later built around the well and for centuries this well supplied the water for baptisms across the extensive medieval parish of Llandrillo. It also had a long tradition of being a healing well and it can still be seen in front of and below the altar.
A locked wrought iron gate across the chapel entrance stopped me from going inside but the place was so small I had no difficulty in taking a couple of shots through the bars. There was a very pretty Christmas wreath attached to the gate and on the surrounding wall was a pretty Christmas plant and a collection of painted pebbles and stones left in memory of various loved ones. The chapel is still used for an Anglican Eucharist every Wednesday and though I admit to not being particularly religious, with no-one around just then it was nice to sit on the bench and spend a few minutes in quiet contemplation.
Walking back along the promenade I came across Rhos-on-Sea’s very own version of ‘street art’, a Welsh dragon painted on the garden wall of the Cayley Flyer pub/restaurant. The pub, formerly the Cayley Arms but renamed after refurbishment in 2017, was named after the Cayley family who were once prominent landowners in the area, and several other local place names mark this influence including the Cayley Promenade with its distinctive steep grass bank on the landward side of the road.
One member of the family, Sir George Cayley, was an eminent inventor and in 1853, fifty years before the Wright brothers, he designed and built a flying machine which could carry the weight of a man. This glider, the “Cayley Flier”, flew for about 275 metres across Brompton Dale in Yorkshire before crash-landing. Sir George, who was 80 years old at the time, hadn’t wanted to risk flying the plane himself so he had ordered his coachman, John Daley, to fly it for him – after the alarming experience of the crash-landing the coachman promptly resigned. This was the first recorded flight in history in a fixed-wing aircraft and it paved the way for the Wright brothers first powered flight in 1903, though the brothers did acknowledge Sir George Cayley as being the true inventor of the aeroplane.
I’d just got past the Cayley Flyer when it started to rain, just spits and spots at first but becoming heavier after a few minutes. With no umbrella and quite a distance still to walk to the van I dodged into a promenade shelter in the hope that the rain would soon stop, and that’s where I made what must be the silliest find of the year – left on the bench in the shelter was a bag of Tesco potatoes.
It was a bit of a mystery where they had come from as there is no Tesco in Rhos, and even though I sat in the shelter for a while no-one came to claim them. With no ‘best before’ date on the bag there was no way of knowing how long they could have been there but they looked okay so when I finally made my way back to the van I took them with me; I didn’t want them for myself but I knew someone who might be able to use them. Unfortunately it seems that when they were opened they had a funny smell so they were relegated to the bin, but it’s still a mystery as to how, when or why they came to be left in that shelter in Rhos-on-Sea.
With no sign of any improvement in the weather it crossed my mind to go back to the camp site but there was a shop in Conwy which I particularly wanted to visit so I continued with my day out, driving round to Conwy and finding a space in a car park on the edge of the town centre. The shop I wanted to go to is featured on the Quest tv programme Salvage Hunters and I’d been in there not long after it first opened a few years ago. It would be nice to have another look round but I was destined to be disappointed as not only was the place now ‘by appointment only’ it was also closed for the Christmas and New Year period, though I did manage to get a couple of photos looking through the windows.
Having window-shopped my way round the town, which didn’t take long as it isn’t a big place, I went to take some photos near the castle. Unfortunately the suspension bridge, designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1826, was closed with railings and a locked gate barring my way; in the care of the National Trust it’s been open to pedestrians only for many years but it seems that every time I’ve been to Conwy it’s been closed so I’ve never yet managed to walk across it.
Across the road and down on the quayside a handful of fishing boats were moored up and several jumbles of fishing baskets were piled here and there. Most were heaped in a somewhat haphazard fashion but one lot of rectangular baskets had been stacked neatly in a way similar to building a brick wall and they provided me with quite a colourful abstract-type shot.
Further along the quay was the Smallest House in Great Britain, originally created in the 16th century to fill a gap between two previously built rows of cottages. With the side wall of each end cottage and the back wall being part of the town wall’s central tower an enterprising builder realised all that was needed to create another house was the front wall and a roof. Over the years the house was home to many different people including a painter, a widow, a master mariner and his wife, a coachman and a fisherman and in 1891 it was bought for £20 by Robert Jones, a land owner who lived further along the quay. A copy of the conveyance hangs on a wall in the house, showing that for that price he not only bought the house but also acquired a sitting tenant with it, another Robert Jones. Robert Jones (the tenant) was 6ft 3ins tall but somehow continued to live in the Smallest House until 1900 when the local Corporation inspector declared it and the cottages to the left of it unfit for habitation.
Unhappy about the potential loss of rental income from the Smallest House Robert Jones (the owner) and his friend Roger Dawson, editor of the North Wales Weekly News, took a tour of the UK to measure other small houses in an effort to declare the Conwy house the smallest in Great Britain and thus save it from being demolished. Having established that it was indeed the smallest the Corporation agreed that it could be saved from demolition and opened instead as a tourist attraction. The Guinness Book of Records confirmed its status as the Smallest House in Great Britain in the early 1920s.
Measuring just 6ft across, 10ft deep and 10ft 2ins high the house has a single cramped bedroom upstairs and a downstairs living area with a water tap, an open coal fire and very basic cooking facilities. It has remained in the ownership of Robert Jones’ family ever since Jones himself bought it and is currently owned by his great, great granddaughter. It’s open to visitors daily from early spring until late autumn, with a lady in Welsh national dress standing outside, but due to structural instability the upstairs can only be viewed from a step ladder.
While I’d been looking round the shops earlier on I’d also been looking for a cafe where I could get a coffee and a simple snack but most places didn’t seem to offer what I was looking for, however I did find one where I would be able to get a toasted sandwich. It wasn’t to be though as no sooner had I got through the door than I was told rather abruptly by the young woman behind the counter “Sorry, we’re full!” even though there were several empty tables in evidence. So after photographing the Smallest House I got fish and peas from a nearby chippy and took them back to the van.
As I was on my way back there I came across a window display which somehow I’d missed before. It was the most adorable nativity scene made up of felt mice and a few other little animals, so cute that I just had to take a photo looking through the glass. That was my last shot of the day and after demolishing my fish and peas, which were very good, I set off back to the camp site.
It was unfortunate that the promising sunshine of the morning had been replaced by grey clouds and rain but I’d still enjoyed my day even though my photos at Conwy had to be taken from under the shelter of my umbrella – and seeing the mouse nativity scene just ended my day out nicely.
With almost two weeks off work and nothing to do in the week between Christmas and New Year the morning of Wednesday December 29th saw me heading down to North Wales on an impromptu and hastily arranged 2-night break at a new-to-me camp site not far from Abergele. The weather was atrocious when I left home, that fine but heavy rain which really wets you, and the spray from other vehicles on the motorway was dreadful. At one point I did question my own sanity in doing this but by the time I’d got a couple of miles past the turn-off for Manchester airport the rain had stopped and the sky was doing its best to brighten up.
Undecided whether to head straight down the A55 or turn off along the A548 coast road I opted for the second choice when I noticed some patches of pale blue sky appearing over to the west. The A548 crosses over the River Dee via the Flintshire Bridge which was officially opened in 1998; it cost £55m to construct, is 965ft long and 387ft high, and is Britain’s largest asymmetric cable-stayed bridge. It would give me a few good photos but there was nowhere for me to safely stop so I was only able to get one shot quickly snapped through the van’s front windscreen.
Unfortunately the patches of blue sky which had initially looked so promising had amounted to nothing and it was still very dull and grey when I made a short stop at Greenfield Dock on the River Dee estuary. It was a shame the tide was out as it’s quite an attractive little place, especially when there’s blue sky and sunshine. Now incorporated into a section of the North Wales Coast Path the dock itself was constructed in the early 1700s on the site of a natural harbour and was used to import raw materials to and export goods from the nearby (now non-existent) Greenfield Valley mills which processed copper and cotton.
Raw copper from Parys Mountain on Anglesey was unloaded at the dock and sent to the mills where it was turned into cups, pots and manilas – lead coated copper armbands which were highly prized in West Africa and were the currency of slave dealers. The copper goods were shipped round to Liverpool and the slave ships took the manilas to West Africa where they were exchanged for slaves who were then taken to America to work on the cotton plantations in exchange for bales of raw cotton. These were then brought back to Liverpool and shipped round to Greenfield Dock for spinning at Greenfield Valley’s cotton mills, thus completing the infamous ‘Triangular Trade’ which was eventually abolished by the Slave Trade Act in 1807.
During the early 19th century ferry services were introduced to Greenfield Dock. Ferries sailed to and from Liverpool and the Wirral and the dock became an important passenger terminal for pilgrims visiting the nearby St. Winefride’s Well, however freight and passenger business eventually declined when the Chester-Holyhead railway line was opened in 1848. Fast forward to more modern times and in a collaboration between Coastal Rangers and local fishermen the dock was restored and reopened in 2010; now more than 40 commercial fishermen work on the Dee estuary, cockle fishing in the summer and landing seasonal catches of bass, flounder and shrimp throughout the year.
The second stop on my way to the camp site was a surprise visit to friend Eileen. When I visited in October she had known about it beforehand but this time she didn’t so I was taking a chance that she and her hubby would be in. Luckily they were and I spent a lovely couple of hours with them and Tilly the Cockapoo before it was time to head off to the camp site.
Now to call this place a ‘camp site’ is rather a misnomer – it’s a 5-star holiday park, doesn’t accept tents and is way over my normal budget, but trying to find somewhere open at this time of year in the right place and with availability at short notice had been like looking for the proverbial needle in the equally proverbial haystack. My options had been limited but this site ticked all the boxes in many ways; I could live with the expensive cost just for a couple of nights so my large mpv became a ‘small campervan’ and I’d booked a serviced pitch for a 2-night stay.
Booking in at reception I was given a site map and a barrier pass then a very helpful young lady showed me to my pitch, which turned out to be in a small section of the lower part of the site and directly overlooking the sea, and with only one unoccupied caravan in the corner I had that section to myself. Living in the van meant that things had to be kept to a minimum so it didn’t take long to get sorted out and after a quick dog walk round the site I was soon settled in for the evening.
The only downside to the site was the railway line to Holyhead running below it and the very busy A55 running behind it, but train noise was virtually non-existent and once I was settled in the van I couldn’t hear any traffic noise at all. After a very grey start to the day the sun had appeared at lunch time and the rest of the afternoon had been lovely so I kept my fingers metaphorically crossed that the next couple of days would be just as nice.
The morning of my third day arrived with beautiful blue sky and sunshine so after a leisurely breakfast I took my time have a good wander round the site. With the early closure of the site where I would normally have stayed down in Abergele I’d searched UK Campsite (the website for all things camping related) and found this one. It was a bit further away from where I really wanted to be but only an easy 6-mile drive away from my friend so the previous week I’d phoned up to book – and that’s when my brain started to get confused.
On the UK Campsite listing it was advertised as being a ‘club member only site’ (which usually means that a site is connected to either the Camping & Caravanning Club or the Caravan & Motorhome Club) but when I asked which club (I’m a member of the first but not the second) I was told it’s a private site but as it’s now out of season they are letting non-members stay. The lady I spoke to (Marjorie) sounded friendly enough but didn’t offer any explanation as to what sort of ‘club’ the listing referred to, however she quoted me a very reasonable pitch price which included electricity and the instructions were that on arrival I should park outside the barn and ring her, which I did when I got there.
Expecting to pay cash for my 2-night stay I was quite surprised when she said that her son would come and show me to my pitch (seems she was isolating prior to going into hospital for an operation) and once I got settled in I was to ring her again and she would take my payment over the phone. Her son arrived a couple of minutes later, showed me to my pitch on the camping field and very helpfully directed me as I reversed so the van would be level, then he explained where everything was and that was it – other than ringing Marjorie again to pay for my pitch I was very much on my own.
Apart from the camp site’s reasonable price and its convenient location for visiting my friend the one thing which first stood out was its name – Pet Rescue Fundraising Camp Site. Anything connected to animals, especially rescued ones, attracts my attention and a big banner on the entrance gate said this was the Pet Rescue Welfare Association, but if I’d been expecting to find an animal sanctuary where visitors could walk round and see various rescued pets waiting for adoption I was destined to be disappointed, and though I heard dogs barking on a couple of occasions during my stay there were none in evidence.
Across from the barn where I’d parked on arrival was a portacabin reception office which was closed and a large farm gate, also closed, with a ‘Private’ notice on it. A small ‘visitors parking area’ contained a couple of cars, neither of which had been there the previous day, so I was hoping I could see someone to ask what the ‘club membership’ thing was all about but there was no-one around at all. Outside reception was a small garden overflowing from an old bathtub and containing a couple of cute dog ornaments and on the farm gate was a different take on the usual ‘Beware of the dog’ notice. Hearing a noise from the nearby barn I went to see if there was someone I could speak to but only saw the faces of two curious cows.
The camp site itself consisted of two large fields separated by a stream which originates from a waterfall less than a mile away; one field was a ‘pitch anywhere you like’ rally field while the main field had 20 electric pitches on one side and 20 non-electric on the other, all very generous sizes and separated by ropes and traffic cones, also there were four fully-equipped camping pods with decking and hot tubs. About halfway along the electric side was a small motorhome obviously used as a site office during the season and a catering trailer – closed now – with several picnic benches in a large enclosed gazebo, while in the middle of the field was a large open-sided gazebo.
The facilities, although spotlessly clean, were rather odd to say the least. At each end of the site were two portaloos and set back in a corner not far from the entrance a timber-framed open-sided gazebo housed a small washing up sink with hot water piped from somewhere via a length of green hose while drinking water came from a yellow hose with a tap. A much smaller sink, similar to those seen at the side of a dentist’s treatment chair, had its pedestal fixed into what appeared to be the waste tank of a caravan cassette toilet and was labelled ‘teeth cleaning only’ while next to it were two showers, one a portaloo-type and the other housed in what could only be described as an 8ft x 6ft plastic garden shed. It was all very basic yet there was everything a no-frills camper would need.
Eventually it was time for me to leave the site 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, though before I actually headed home I was making a second visit to Eileen as she had asked me to take some photos of Tilly. It was another couple of hours spent in the company of some lovely friends but all too soon I had to leave as not only did I have to go home, I had to go to work when I got there.
Heading down to the coast road I made a brief stop to snap a photo of the friendly neighbourhood giraffe looking over someone’s hedge and who is sometimes featured by Eileen on her blog. I think maybe he’s reluctant to admit that summer is over as he’s still wearing his sunglasses though it probably won’t be long before he has his Christmas hat on.
When I walked round by the harbour the previous day the tide was on its way out, this time it was high so I made a brief stop just to take a few more photos. My final stop along the coast road was the one I didn’t have time to make two days before, a short walk from the main road to photograph the Duke of Lancaster, a ship taken out of service in 1979 and abandoned several years later. It’s an interesting story and one to be told another time.
With no more stops it wasn’t too long before I was on the motorway and heading north though I got stuck in very slow moving traffic just after I got off the M56 onto the M61. It delayed me by a good half an hour which meant I would be a bit late for work but I got there in the end.
Since getting back home I’ve found out that the pet rescue side of the camp site offers several services to the community including doggy day care, a lifetime pet foster scheme, pet food bank, community vet clinic and lifetime pet care for animals whose owners are deceased. As for the camp site itself, it’s close to a busy main road so I wouldn’t take my tent and stay there for any length of time but in the van I hadn’t heard any noise at all. It may be a bit of an odd place with quirky facilities but it was reasonably priced and nice enough for a couple of days so I may very well be tempted to stay there again another time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The day after my visit to Silloth I’d wakened to a grey and drizzly morning which turned into a grey and drizzly afternoon so I stayed on site and only went out briefly to get a few supplies from Cockermouth. By 4pm it was raining properly, heavy rain which continued for the rest of the day and all through the night but by the following morning it was fine, the grey clouds were clearing away and the sunshine was back. Taking a chance that the day would improve even more I decided to drive over to the coast again, this time to revisit Workington harbour, Harrington and Whitehaven. There were still some grey clouds around when I got to Workington but they soon cleared from the west and it turned into a beautiful day.
Parking briefly near the beach I took a walk along the nearby pier/breakwater to the ugly square tower with the beacon light on its roof and which is one of the two official west coast starting points of the C2C cycle route. Many people refer to C2C as being Coast-to-Coast but it actually means what it says – Sea-to-Sea. There was nothing special about the tower but round the back was a circle set on the ground and showing the distances from there to various other places, presumably as the crow flies, though I can’t see what connection it has to the C2C.
Driving past the harbour entrance and the port on the far side of the river a left turn took me to Town Quay on the riverside. With a mixture of new houses and older small commercial premises it was a long quiet road with pink pavements, pleasant roadside parking areas, colourful planters on the railings and benches overlooking the river where many fishing boats and a few pleasure craft were moored. At the harbour end of the road was a patch of rough ground with a few private garages; the pavement ended just beyond the garages and I came to a small quay and the attractive yacht harbour which I didn’t manage to photograph properly on my previous visit.
From the riverside I drove the three miles down to Harrington but this time I didn’t go anywhere near the harbour. While researching the area for a previous post a while ago I came across something on another blog which mentioned some pastel coloured houses on Rose Hill, a single sided street on the hillside overlooking the parkland and the harbour, so checking out the area on Google maps street view I thought it was worth taking a look.
The Cumbrian Coast railway line ran between Rose Hill and the parkland and the road took me under a viaduct, past the end of the harbour, back over the line via a bridge and up the hill, where there were several gravel parking areas set in the wide grass verges opposite the houses. The top end of the street narrowed into a farm track with vehicle access only to the farm and another couple of houses up there, and the steepness of the hillside meant that the railway line ran out of sight below street level so there was an uninterrupted view over the parkland, harbour and coastline.
The top two houses were large double-fronted 1950s semis while the rest of the properties were split into two long terraces of Georgian and Victorian houses and cottages, many painted in pastel colours and all well kept with small neat front gardens. It was a lovely street well worth a few photos and I was glad I’d found out about it even if it was by accident on the internet.
From Harrington I went the five and a half miles down to Whitehaven, leaving the van in Tesco’s car park and walking along the Millennium Promenade past the harbour and marina. At the far side of the harbour a flight of wide steps and a path led up the steep hillside to the Candlestick. Reputed to have been modelled on a candlestick in Whitehaven Castle, the ancestral home of the Lowther family, it was built by architect Sydney Smirke as a ventilation shaft for the Wellington Pit which was sunk in 1840 and closed in 1933. The surface buildings of the pit were also designed and built by Smirke and were in the form of a castle with a keep, turrets and crenellated walls.
On May 11th 1910 Wellington Pit became the scene of Cumbria’s worst mining disaster when 136 men and boys died following an explosion and fire deep underground. Just below the Candlestick were the remains of the surface buildings’ retaining walls and on the ground a colourful modern mosaic commemorating the mine workers, although Wellington Pit wasn’t the only Whitehaven mine to suffer fatalities. Not far from the mosaic was quite an attractive white building, Wellington Lodge, which was once the entrance lodge for Wellington pit but is now used as a coastguard base.
Although I’d been up to the Candlestick a couple of years ago I hadn’t gone any further along the hillside so anything beyond Wellington Lodge was all new to me. A tarmac lane and a footpath led from the Lodge to a residential road further up the hill and halfway along, set up above the grass, was a paved area with a modern circular seat and good views over the harbour and town. Surrounding the seat were several curved paving slabs showing the goods once imported into Whitehaven and the countries they came from.
Along the road was a building which looked very much like a ruined castle but was actually the remains of the Duke Pit Fan House built in 1836. It initially housed a steam-driven fan wheel measuring 8ft in diameter which circulated 23,000 cubic feet of air per minute through the mine workings below, but in 1870 a much larger fan wheel was installed – at 36ft in diameter it was capable of circulating 70,000 cubic feet of air per minute. Duke Pit suffered three explosions between 1842 and 1844 with the 1844 explosion killing eleven men and eleven horses. The pit closed later that same year and the shaft was then used to ventilate the nearby Wellington Pit. The fan house itself is now regarded as being the best surviving example in the country.
Just beyond the fan house the path doubled back on itself and took me lower down the hillside to a narrow flight of stone steps which led to the car park of the Beacon Museum opposite part of the marina. Heading back towards the Millennium Promenade I came to the bandstand, a modern structure with a tent-like canopy and a colourful circular mosaic floor, then along the promenade itself I found two random metal fish. I’d already seen several of these on a corner and as an art installation, if that’s what they were, they looked quite attractive but these two didn’t seem to serve any purpose except maybe as a trip hazard for someone too busy looking at their phone.
In the late afternoon sun it was a very pleasant walk along the promenade and I would have liked to sit on a bench and watch the world go by for a while but my two hours were almost up on Tesco’s car park so I had to get back to the van. Since getting back home I’ve realised that there are a couple of other places in Whitehaven which I’d like to take a look at so no doubt I’ll be making another visit during my next holiday in that area – it’s now on my list.
A day where I meet a big man and his dog sitting on a bench….
It was another morning of blue sky and fluffy white clouds, just right for a drive over to Silloth on the coast, but unfortunately the further west I went the more the clouds joined up until the blue disappeared and Silloth itself became very dull and grey, although the sun did occasionally manage to pop out from behind the clouds. The main reason for going there was to visit Christ Church situated on a very pleasant corner opposite Silloth Green – I’d been in there two years ago and found it to be a lovely place with unusual interior brickwork but sadly a revisit this time was out of the question as the place was closed due to building work being carried out inside.
Further along the wide cobbled road I came to the replica Lockheed Hudson Bomber installed at the edge of the green in 2018. Sunday April 1st that year marked the 100th birthday of the Royal Air Force and to commemorate the occasion the replica WW2 plane was constructed by apprentices at the Gen2 technology college near Workington and gifted to Silloth town. A raised flower bed was created round it by the Town Council’s ground maintenance team and planted up in the blue, white and red colours of an RAF roundel although a bit of yellow now seems to have crept in from somewhere.
The Lockheed Hudson was an American-built light bomber and coastal command reconnaissance aircraft designed by Clarence ‘Kelly’ Johnson. A military conversion of the Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra airliner, it was built for the RAF shortly before the outbreak of WW2, serving through the war years with Coastal Command and in transport and training roles as well as delivering agents into occupied France.
Silloth Airfield, originally designed to be used by RAF Maintenance Command, opened in June 1939 but was handed over to Coastal Command during November that year, with No.1 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit being responsible for training pilots and crews from the UK and Allied countries. During the Unit’s time at Silloth 64 Lockheed Hudsons were lost – at least 24 of those crashed on take-off or landing while a further 17 went down in the nearby Solway estuary, resulting in a number of fatalities and later earning the area the nickname of ”Hudson Bay”. The war graves in Christ Church cemetery and the name ”Hudson Bay” remain today as a poignant reminder of the young men that so many families lost.
Across the road from the replica plane was the Silloth branch of the Royal Air Force Association club and on part of the side wall round the corner was a very colourful artwork, while further along on the edge of a small and pleasant green was a bus shelter with some artwork on its inside walls. Across the green was Silloth Discovery Centre and Tourist Information, housed in an attractive building which looked like it had once been a church but was actually the old St. Paul’s School, said to be the first public building in Silloth. A short pathway from the green took me past a primary school and back out onto the cobbled road close to a couple of rows of attractive terraced houses and a little way along, facing the pedestrian promenade and the sea, was the Big Fella sculpture.
The sculpture, made of steel and almost 9ft tall, was produced by Durham artist Ray Lonsdale and unveiled on August 1st 2019, erected in memory of Silloth resident Peter Richardson who passed away in 2017 at the age of 72. Peter had seen one of Ray’s sculptures elsewhere in the country and was so impressed that he tracked down the artist and asked if he could do something for Silloth Green. Sadly he passed away before he saw his wish fulfilled but his son was determined to complete the job his dad had started and provide a sculpture as a gift for the town.
Peter had always loved the view looking across the sea to Criffel in Scotland and was often heard to say “Look at that view” so the sculpture, while not being a copy of Peter himself, depicts a man taking in the beautiful sea views and shielding his eyes from the evening sun while his dog lies beside him on the bench. The dog must have looked quite realistic to Snowy and Poppie as they both seemed curious and Snowy even stretched up to sniff its nose.
From the sculpture I walked along the promenade until the docks got in the way then headed back north along the green. Planned landscaping along the green began to develop from the mid 19th century; in 1859 the seawater baths were built and at each high tide a steam engine would pump gallons of water from the sea to fill the plunge type pools. A century later a new sea wall and repairs to the promenade in the 1950s gave Silloth Green a chance to re-invent itself; the building which had once housed the Victorian baths and a later tea room was transformed into an amusement place and a miniature railway and paddling pool became popular attractions to both visitors and local people.
Fast forward to 2010 and a successful bid for Heritage Lottery funding enabled the restoration and enhancement of the Green, with work including the restoration of the pagoda and Edwardian toilets, the replanting of the rose garden and the installation of a children’s water splash park. Unfortunately the rose garden was now a bit of an overgrown mess; one of those currently fashionable ‘bug hotels’ sits in the middle of it and what were supposed to be flower beds contained a mish-mash of everything except roses.
East Cote Lighthouse was established in 1841 as a navigational aid for ships sailing across the Solway Firth between Port Carlisle and Annan; originally manned by Silloth man Edward Dalglish it was later maintained by the Silloth Port Authority. As the navigable channels in the Solway changed with the tides the lighthouse was reportedly placed on a short rail track so that at any given time it could be moved to shine a light down the latest navigable channel whilst also working in conjunction with the Silloth Pierhead lighthouse. In 1914 it was fixed in its current position with a small keeper’s cabin below the tower, then in 1997 it was rebuilt in its original style.
Although there were several patches of blue sky showing through the clouds the sun didn’t really stay out long enough to make visiting somewhere else worthwhile so abandoning my intention to drive down to Allonby and spend some time there I headed back to the camp site – Allonby wasn’t going to disappear so I could always visit another time.
A day where I end up almost in Scotland. Well not quite, but it was only just across the water….
Wall to wall sunshine and blue sky on the first dog walk showed the promise of a lovely day to come, with an early morning mist slowly clearing from the valley where the river ran down below the fields. Other than the occasional bleat of a sheep everywhere was completely quiet and it all looked so lovely that I went back to the tent for the camera and repeated the walk just so I could take a few photos.
My destination for the day was Bowness-on-Solway and Port Carlisle, two villages within a mile or so of each other on the eastern end of the Solway Firth estuary where the rivers Esk and Eden meet. I’d seen a photo of Bowness ages ago – on someone else’s blog I think – and though there didn’t seem to be much there it had intrigued me enough to want to go there on a nice day.
Set just off the road on the western edge of Bowness was a small parking area with just about enough space for half a dozen cars. Unfortunately it was full and the road through the village was too narrow to park anywhere else so I drove on to Port Carlisle and was lucky enough to find a small lay-by close to a section of Hadrian’s Wall Path at the start of the village. Now to be honest I really don’t know what some people find so fascinating about walking 84 miles from coast to coast along a path which supposedly follows the line of an old wall, much of which now doesn’t exist anyway, but for curiosity’s sake I went along the short section through the village.
The village itself is little more than a hamlet of less than 100 houses mainly situated on the landward side of the coast road. Originally called Fisher’s Cross it was renamed Port Carlisle in 1819 when it became the sea terminus of the short lived Carlisle Canal. The Hadrian’s Wall Path actually bypassed the village, running behind a handful of houses on the seaward side of the road where not far from the shore were the remains of a long brick-built wall which was once the sea wharf for the port.
Through an area of scrubland I eventually found an offshoot from the path which took me back onto the road at the far end of the village and a hundred yards along I found the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, built of brick in 1861 though much altered internally over the years. In 1873 it had enough pews to seat a congregation of 150 but by 1940 these had been reduced to seat 90, then by 1980 they had been further reduced to seat 60. In the years since then the front of the chapel has been partitioned off to provide a lobby and a small kitchen, the ceiling has been boarded in and the remaining pews replaced with chairs.
Delighted to find the chapel open I went in to take a quick look and found a simple little place with just two identical stained glass windows and a rostrum at the far end, while a table at one side and the absence of any rows of chairs suggested that the building is probably used for things other than worship.
Walking along the road through the village I passed a couple of terraces of Georgian houses. The first row was fronted by a long cobbled area used for residents’ parking while the second row had very small front gardens, then at the end of the row was the Hope & Anchor pub with the Port Carlisle Bowling Club opposite. Between the road and the bowling green was a long, wide and very empty car park with a notice on the fence saying it was for the use of club members only. To be honest I thought that was a bit selfish when any visitors to the area have to find somewhere to park at the edge of the narrow road; I’m sure the car park is big enough to allow a just few spaces to be set aside for visitors, especially if there’s no-one there playing bowls.
Driving back to Bowness I was lucky enough to find just one available space in the small parking area with extensive views across the water to Annan Beach in Scotland and the outskirts of Annan itself. Leaving the van I walked back through the village, an attractive little place with a primary school, the King’s Arms pub, a bistro and a mixture of old cottages and more modern houses and bungalows with well kept gardens.
Sharing the same open courtyard with the bistro was a very small cafe with two or three picnic benches outside. I would have loved to stop for a coffee and a snack but several fancy hens and a whole load of tiny little chicks were roaming about and sitting under the tables – I didn’t want Snowy to grab an early dinner so I kept walking to the far end of the village then turned and retraced my steps back to the van, and with one final shot of the nearby signpost I set off on the drive back to the camp site.
Since returning home from the holiday I’ve found out about a few things of interest which I missed that day, both in Bowness and Port Carlisle, and though I won’t have the opportunity to go back again this year I’ll certainly make a longer return visit to both places the next time I’m camping in north west Cumbria.
In which I find an unexpected and economical solution to the tv problem….
My quest that day was to go in search of a new tv so the fact that it was another grey and cloudy morning didn’t really matter. Just like my previous tv the current one came from Tesco four years ago – one of their own brand – and I’d always been happy with it so Tesco in Workington was my first port of call. Now this place calls itself a Superstore but in reality it’s not that big – you could put it in one corner of my own local store – and it didn’t seem to have an electrical department so I had to have a rethink. I knew from my previous holiday that there was a Currys/PC World not far away so I decided to try there and was so glad I did.
Unfortunately the cheapest set they had was £179, far more than I was willing to pay just for a small bedroom tv I could also use when camping, however the very helpful assistant suggested a much cheaper alternative in the form of a small HD set top box which would connect to the tv by an HDMI cable, with the aerial plugged into the box instead of the tv itself. Now not being technically minded it took a minute or two to get my head round this, also I couldn’t believe the solution to my problem was so simple, but at £35 compared to the cost of a new tv it was a no-brainer so I bought one there and then.
Driving back to the site from Workington took me through Maryport so I decided to stop off there for a mooch round and to give the dogs a decent walk. The road past the harbour and marina ended in a rough surfaced car park close to the beach and backed by a long sea wall at the top of a grassy slope, where the overgrown ruins of the old harbour master’s house stood on the corner. A pavement of rough sandstone slabs ran for quite a distance along the top of the slope so I walked to where it ended, took a shot of the view back towards Workington then retraced my steps and went down to the roadway.
At the entrance to the harbour was the old lighthouse, an octagonal cast iron tower on a single storey stone base, built in 1846 and almost 36ft tall. Thought to be one of the first of its type built in the UK it’s possibly one of the world’s oldest cast iron lighthouses. It was deactivated in 1996 after a smaller, 15ft high aluminium square tower powered by electricity was built at the end of the pier.
Needing to find a cash machine I drove back to the other side of the harbour, parked near the aquarium and took a wander into the town centre – what there is of it – where I found a couple of bits of street art. The multi-coloured sweets were actually part of a window covering inside a shop but I liked their bright colours enough to take a photo.
Just to one side of the harbourside bridge over the River Ellen was A Fishy Tale, a sculpture of fishermen created by Colin Telfer, a local artist whose workshop is in the town centre. The sculpture was created using a unique process of bonding haematite iron ore from Florence Mine, Egremont, with resin and Telfer is the first artist to use iron ore in sculpture.
Although there were other photos I wanted to take there was no sign of any sunshine anywhere so I decided to call it a day and return to the camp site. Back at the tent the first thing I did was connect the new set top box to the tv and tune it in and I was really pleased when it found more channels than I’d had previously. So the problem of the broken aerial connection was well and truly solved without the purchase of a new tv and thanks to the very helpful Keaton at Currys/PC World, Workington, I was a very happy little bunny.