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.
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.
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.
On the immediate north east side of Manchester’s city centre, off the A664 inner ring road and just a stone’s throw from Victoria Station, is Angel Meadow, a small public park occupying an area of about seven-and-a-half acres. With its open green spaces, trees and pleasant pathways it provides a lovely quiet oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby city centre but it wasn’t always so nice – back in the 18th/19th century it was part of a larger area of the same name but known to many as ‘hell on earth’.
Three hundred years ago Angel Meadow was an affluent suburb of just less than one square mile, divided into three hedge-lined fields where rows of cottages were spaced out and many smart houses were built for merchants, artisans and tradesmen, but as Manchester grew larger Angel Meadow fell out of favour when those who could afford it moved further afield. By 1770 the city’s population had doubled to 100,000, the large old merchants’ houses were let out to lodgers while builders operating without planning restrictions built poor quality houses in every available space, and in spite of the name conjuring up an image of a heavenly landscape nothing could have been further from the truth.
In 1782 Richard Arkwright’s cotton mill, the first of its kind, was built in Angel Meadow, followed by workshops, a dye works, two iron foundries and a rope works which were all opened to service the new cotton industry, and within a few years the River Irk, which ran through the area, had more mills along its banks than any other river of the same length in England. Thanks to Manchester’s new industrial age and the need to house a great many destitute Irish who had fled the Great Famine in Ireland to find work in the city Angel Meadow very quickly became run down, neglected and grossly overcrowded, and by the mid 19th century it had become one of the city’s worst slums.
Looking round the modern area today it’s hard to imagine what it was like two centuries ago with its rows of dingy back-to-back terraces and damp lodging houses which had once been elegant Georgian properties. Up to 30,000 people were packed into the dense and unsanitary slum housing where families struggling to make ends meet lived alongside criminals, gangs, vagrants and prostitutes. Homes were so cramped and dirty that new arrivals to the dingy lodging houses of Angel Meadow often had no choice but to remove their clothes to keep them free from lice and sleep naked among strangers in rooms where cockroaches were welcomed because they ate the bed bugs.
Covered passageways led to dismal inner courtyards; backyard piggeries, slaughterhouses, bone yards, catgut factories and piles of dung released a potent cocktail of obnoxious aromas into the air and very often the alleys and back streets would be ankle deep in rotting rubbish and offal. Rickety stairs led to windowless attics where some lodgers slept on temporary beds, known as ‘shake downs’, on the floor and many people ended up living in cellars. Some of these were up to 15ft below ground level and if a home was unfortunate enough to be located next to a privy (an outside toilet) waste would frequently run down the walls. The cramped conditions, dangerously dirty dwellings and an abundance of rats led to diseases being rife, which in turn led to a high mortality rate with many of the deaths being babies and young children.
When St. Michael and All Angels Church was built in 1788 the adjacent land was designated as a parochial burial ground, used for the interment of those who had no family place of burial or were too poor to afford a proper funeral, and the number of bodies buried there was so high it became Manchester’s largest cemetery at the time. It’s been estimated that in the 28-year period from 1788 around 40,000 bodies were interred there, all victims of sickness and extreme poverty and most buried in mass graves where coffins were piled next to and on top of each other, as many as possible until a pit was filled, then it was closed up, covered with earth and another pit dug next to it.
The burial ground was closed in 1816 but as social and living conditions in Angel Meadow became worse over the years some of the poorer people resorted to digging up the cemetery and selling the soil as fertilizer to nearby farmers. Gravestones were removed and used to repair holes in house walls, exposed bones were collected and sold to the local glue factory, human skulls were kicked around in impromptu games of football and some slum dwellers used the cemetery as a dumping ground for ashes, offal and rotten shellfish. The situation became so bad that following a government-led investigation into the levels of squalor in the area the Burial Act of 1855 was passed requiring redundant graveyards to be covered with flagstones. This led to the burial ground becoming known as St. Michael’s Flags, and it’s this burial ground which is now Angel Meadow park.
From time to time over the years several improvements were made to St. Michael’s church, including the removal of the galleries and the three-decker pulpit, and the provision of a new roof, though when the Rev Jowitt Wilson was appointed rector in 1913 he arrived to find the main church door without a handle, cats and kittens in the organ and the church itself heavily in debt. Nevertheless, in his 14 years there he did tremendous work including opening the tower prayer room for daily prayer, persuading the parks committee to turn the surrounding churchyard into a garden and building a rectory. Sadly falling attendances meant the closure of St. Michael’s in 1930 and the site was sold on condition that the building was demolished, with the work finally being carried out in 1935.
The Angel Meadow area was eventually recommended for demolition under the 1930 Slum Clearance Act but it was World War Two which had the biggest impact on removing most of the slum housing – the area was heavily bombed and many homes were destroyed, though some families did continue to live there until the final slum clearances in the 1960s. Fast forward through the years since then to more recent times and the turn of the Millennium saw the regeneration of many of the old red brick factories and warehouses. The building of modern new apartments gradually brought residents back to the Angel Meadow area and St. Michael’s Flags was awarded a National Lottery Heritage grant to regenerate the neglected and overgrown space for the benefit of the new residential community.
In 2004 the Friends of Angel Meadow was formed to campaign for the continued redevelopment of the park and to research the history of the area. Over £200,000 was raised through grants and match funding, which was spent on re-landscaping the park, erecting four solar-powered street lights and an arched entrance way, installing street furniture including seating and bins, and planting trees and wildflowers, while a local heritage grant paid for the design and installation of six history boards and the publication of an information booklet. In 2006 the park was given Green Flag Award status which it has retained ever since, then in 2015 the Co-operative Group, whose newly built headquarters are nearby, funded a significant programme of work to improve the overall look of the park and rebuild its front entrance.
I visited Angel Meadow in early June this year while on a quest to find a particular floral art installation which was part of the Manchester Flower Show, though I knew nothing of the park’s dark, sad secret at the time. I didn’t stay there long as I had other places to go to but in spite of nearby ongoing construction work which is part of a massive regeneration programme it was still a very quiet, peaceful and attractive place to spend some time. The surrounding modern area is now known as the Green Quarter and though the hell hole of the original Angel Meadow has long since disappeared its name lives on in the tranquility of this lovely little park.
The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Wigton, was built between 1785 and 1789 on the site of a previous church built in the year 1100. Unfortunately no records of the old church exist so there’s no documentation of its size or appearance though it’s known that round about 1330 a pele tower was added to the building to fortify it after it suffered considerable damage during the Scots raids in the early part of the 14th century.
The contract for the new church was awarded to Messrs Pattinson and Holmes (joiners) and masons Parkin and Nixons (the Nixons being father and son) with one of the conditions being that none of the old church should be incorporated in the new building, though it seems that this condition may only have applied to the exterior of the building as some of the oak beams in the new church tower appear to have been taken from the old church.
Constructed to the same design as St. Michael’s in Workington and St. Cuthbert’s in Carlisle St. Mary’s was built of red sandstone from Shawk Quarry, Rosley, with the tower being raised about nine feet higher than originally planned so it might serve as a landmark. A new bell was cast by bellfounders William Mears & Co and in June 1790 it was transported from London to St. Mary’s at a cost of £3 19s; still in use and weighing 12.5 cwt it’s the biggest single bell of any parish church in Cumbria.
To meet the changing needs of its congregation and the people of Wigton St. Mary’s has seen many repairs and improvements over the years. In 1880/1881 the floor was remodelled and relaid with blocks, two new stained glass windows and a new heating system were installed, and the high box pews with their doors and brass name plates were removed and taken to the workshop of John and Daniel Pearson where they were converted into the open pews seen in the church today.
The first organ in the church is believed to have been a small barrel organ, later exchanged for a larger instrument which was in turn sold for £30 in 1859 to Causewayhead Church near Silloth. Thanks to the generosity of George Moore from nearby Mealsgate who personally paid the cost of £240 the second organ was replaced by a new 12-stop organ built by Gray & Davison, one of the leading London organ builders. This was situated in the West Gallery, the traditional site for church organs, but changing fashions meant that fifty years later its position was considered to be inconvenient.
In 1912 Harrisons of Durham built the current organ which was sited at the south east corner of the church within the space occupied by the former vestry. At a cost of £800 it was built much larger than its predecessor with two manuals, twenty stops and more than 1200 pipes, some of which came from the previous Gray & Davison organ. Harrisons were advised in their work by influential organ designer Colonel George Dixon of St. Bees and thanks to their combined expertise the organ was remarkably versatile.
Harrisons have periodically maintained and tuned the organ since its installation, carrying out repairs in 1938, cleaning and renovation in 1977 and further repairs to the pneumatic action in 1994. Unfortunately in more recent years the organ became less reliable and a complete restoration was necessary; a scheme was proposed by Harrisons and approved by the Parochial Church Council and in 2011 the Centenary Restoration Appeal was launched. In 2012, 100 years after it was originally installed, the organ was granted a ”Historic Organ Certificate” by the British Institute of Organ Studies then in January 2013 it was dismantled and various parts were taken back to Harrisons in Durham. After extensive work and the meticulous cleaning of 1200 pipes the organ was rebuilt and returned to full working order in June that year, with the total cost of the rebuild standing at £120,000.
In 1928 the remaining original ornate box pew, formerly occupied by the owners of Highmoor House, was removed from the eastern end of the north aisle and twenty five years later a side chapel was installed in its place by the Reverend John Ford in memory of his mother. The chapel is dedicated to St. Catherine and behind the communion table is a reredos made of re-used carved oak panels of North German origin. In 1952, prior to the installation of the side chapel, the church interior was completely redecorated, with the midnight blue of the flat ceiling and the gold detailing on the decorative plaster roundels complementing the overall scheme.
In 1958 the whole of the church’s exterior, including the tower, was restored and improved with the work being carried out by Messrs John Laing of Carlisle, and during this time the bell was re-hung. Between 1973 and 1976 the vestries were modernised, the ceiling insulated and the whole building rewired which meant that further redecoration was necessary though this kept to the Reverend Ford’s original scheme. The following year a number of pews were removed from the back of the church to provide a space for social gatherings and informal activities then in 1985 the vicar’s vestry was repositioned to provide a space for a new kitchen.
Designed by R B Edmundson of Manchester and dedicated in 1865 the East window was donated by William Banks of Highmoor to celebrate the coming of age of his eldest son, though the centre section attracted widely differing opinions. Featuring Jesus blessing little children it was described as ‘fine Venetian glass’ by one person and ‘intensely ugly, portraying grotesque children’ by another, though William Banks had paid for the best which was available at the time.
Throughout the life of the church there was never any serious attempt to install a complete ringing peal of bells until discussions in early 1996 resulted in the Parochial Church Council voting to pursue the possibility. A structural survey of the tower proved positive, estimates were obtained and early in 1997 an application was made to the Millennium Commission for a 50% grant; work then started to raise the remaining 50% and by the end of that year the Millennium funding was in place. An order for a new set of eight bells was placed with John Taylor, bellfounders in Loughborough and work was started on preparing the tower.
In 1998 a band of novice ringers started training and on February 19th 1999 the bells arrived in Wigton, being initially displayed in the church before being installed in the tower and tested on March 3rd. On Easter Sunday that year the new band of ringers rang the bells for the first time for the morning service and on May 1st the first full peal of 5,088 changes was rung by members of the Carlisle Diocesan Guild of Bell Ringers. New Year 2000 was rung in by the new local ringers and since then the bells have been rung regularly for services and special occasions. The original 12 cwt bell, standing in a steel frame and ball bearings, remains in the top stage of the tower and continues to be rung for funerals and to sound the hours every day.
In 2006 broadcaster and author Melvyn Bragg (Lord Bragg of Wigton) who grew up in the town, offered St. Mary’s the gift of three new stained glass windows, not only remembering his relatives past and present but also with a theme of bringing Wigton into the church and showing St. Mary’s as part of the community. Brian Campbell, a well known local artist, was chosen to design the windows and after many meetings with church authorities the designs were approved. Alex Haynes of Albion Glass, Brampton, created the stained glass and the windows were installed on the north side of the nave in July 2009.
Each of the windows is filled with images of the town, the church and its people and the left hand window shows much of the commercial life of Wigton including the auction mart, mill, factory and a street with church. St. Mary’s church tower is the dominant feature in the centre window while the right hand window includes the George Moore fountain, Highmoor Tower, Nelson Tomlinson School, the cenotaph and the Caldbeck fells, and even though the windows are so modern they all contain Christian symbols.
During the first few years of the 21st century it became apparent that the church roof was raining in and wasn’t in a good state of repair. Following meetings with architect Elaine Blackett-Ord it was agreed to apply to English Heritage for grants to help towards the cost of repairs and fund raising began in 2007. The contract was awarded to local firm RMT Slating & Tiling and work on the nave roof was completed first, with completion of the tower roof in 2010.
Since it was built in the late 18th century each generation has contributed in some way to the present church and it’s hoped that those latest roof repairs will keep St. Mary’s waterproof for the forseeable future. It’s a lovely old building with many interesting features and after discovering it while I was doing the Wigton Heritage Trail in September I was glad I was able to look round and uncover some of its history.
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.
Going home day arrived with more blue sky and glorious sunshine making me wish I could extend my holiday but unfortunately all good things have to end sometime. After a leisurely breakfast I started on the even more leisurely packing up process and eventually left the site at 2.30pm, though as a final part of the holiday I was stopping off somewhere on the way home.
The village of Greystoke, just five miles west of Penrith, was featured in my ”111 Places” book and it sounded interesting enough for me to want to take a look, though when I got there I was disappointed to find that the castle isn’t open to the public. Surrounding a small green with an ancient market cross dating back to the early 1600s the village was a very pleasant mix of old stone cottages and more modern houses, with a small shop-cum-post office, an outdoor swimming pool, St. Andrew’s Parish Church and the Boot & Shoe public house, while on the outskirts were racehorse trainer Nicky Richards’ racing stables, breeders of two Grand National winners in 1978 and 1984 respectively.
Greystoke Castle began life as a timber pele tower built by Llyulph de Greystoke. After the Norman conquest it was replaced in 1069 with a stone built tower then in 1346 King Edward III gave permission for the building to be castellated, resulting in the creation of the castle proper. In the early 16th century the Greystokes married into the wealthy Dacre family and in the 1560s Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, met and secretly married widow Elizabeth Dacre who had inherited the castle and its land on the death of her husband, 4th Baron Dacre/Baron Greystoke. With Thomas Howard’s three sons marrying Elizabeth’s three daughters the castle and its estate passed into the hands of the Dukes of Norfolk and the subsequent Howard family.
In 1660 the castle was destroyed by Cromwell and lay dormant for a generation, with a small manor house being built on the site from reclaimed stone. The castle was later rebuilt and enlarged in the 1840s to a design by renowned Victorian architect Anthony Salvin and the extensive estate land was converted into a modern farm. In 1868 a disaster occurred when a maid left a lighted candle in a cupboard full of linen, with the resulting fire destroying large parts of the castle. It was then rebuilt by Henry Howard, with Salvin being brought in to oversee the reconstruction using labour and materials from within the estate. Henry even returned some money to his insurance company saying that he had been over-compensated for his losses.
In 1912 author Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was a regular visitor to Greystoke Castle, wrote Tarzan of theApes using the little-known place as Tarzan’s ancestral home, though the work was purely fiction as all previous 18 generations of the Greystoke family had been accounted for and none of them were ever raised by apes in the jungles of Africa. In 1939 the estate was commandeered by the army and the land became a tank-drivers’ training ground, while the castle itself later became a prisoner-of-war camp largely for Polish men who had been fighting for the Germans, with the prisoners providing labour to run local farms where the men-folk were away fighting.
In 1949 the army decided that it no longer wanted to retain the Greystoke estate but by that time the damage done to the castle and the estate itself was overwhelming and the compensation fund had been exhausted. So began the long slow process of restoration and modernisation, started by Stafford Howard and which has continued in some form ever since. Of course a castle isn’t a castle without an obligatory ghost or two and Greystoke supposedly has nine, including the statutory white lady, a monk who was bricked up within the walls and a butler who likes to play tricks on people down in the wine cellar where he drowned in a huge barrel of the stuff.
Fourteen generations of the Howard family have lived in the castle so far, with the current owner being Neville Howard, and though the place isn’t open to the general public residents of the village are allowed to walk in the parkland and the grounds can be hired for charity events, concerts and off-road driver training, especially for mountain rescue teams, while some of the rooms in the castle can be hired for conferences, civil weddings and receptions.
Under the pretence of being a resident I decided to take a walk up the long driveway to see if I could get within photo distance of the castle, and not too far along was an extensive garden with several colourful beehives dotted about among the trees and bushes. Another couple of minutes and I was within sight of the castle but I could see a couple of people up ahead so not wanting to be noticed I took a quick shot from the safety of some nearby foliage then retreated back down the driveway to the road.
Across the other side of the village green was The Boot & Shoe Inn, originally an old coach house dating from 1511. According to my ‘111 Places’ book a very informative board describing the history of the village could be found on the way into the pub garden but though I looked all over I couldn’t find it anywhere. The large courtyard garden was very attractive though, with tables and seating on paved terraces and a raised grass area at the end with a couple of 3D murals between the trees.
Across the road from the pub was the village shop and post office while round the corner was the outdoor pool and small cafe, both now closed, and at the far end of the street St. Andrew’s Church. It was open to visitors so I spent quite a while looking round, though there was so much of interest it deserves a future post of its own.
Making the church the last stop on my walk round the village I headed back to the car park; time was getting on and I didn’t want to be too late back home. With no traffic delays on the roads it was a good drive back and the sun staying with me all the way made the perfect end to another enjoyable Cumbrian holiday.