AS I start to write this, the sun is blazing in a blue sky and we are experiencing an unseasonably warm beginning to November, with the promise of an exceptionally cold spell to follow. I should therefore have made the most of the good weather and gone walking but — thanks to my prioritising socialising over organising — that has failed to happen. Today’s walk-related endeavour will therefore be limited to documenting my last perambulation.
I awoke in Llandudno to another blue and lightly cloud-flecked sky in which the sun shone brightly. So brightly in fact that when, after breakfast, I strolled out onto the promenade and faced eastwards I was so dazzled and near-blinded that I could scarce see where I was going. My immediate solution was to stop facing east and instead look back the way I’d come the previous evening.
Grand Hotel & Llandudno Pier
Sun Hat Weather
To complain about sunshine in rainy North Wales seemed somewhat churlish, especially as my glasses quickly darkened. Now merely squinting, as opposed to recoiling from the eyeball-melting glare, I donned my canvas sun hat and, uncaring of how ridiculous it might make me look, set off with a jaunty stride.
The Hatter was one of several characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland represented in statuary, forming a trail through Llandudno.
Curiouser and Curiouser
This initially perplexed me, as I wasn’t aware of a link between the town and Lewis Carroll, who devised and wrote the story in Oxford, where he lived. It turns out that Alice Liddell and her sisters, for whom Carroll (real name: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) first created the story, used to holiday in the town as children.
This is a fairly tenuous link — someone who first heard the tale and who may or may not have inspired its protagonist to any great extent used to, quite separately from any association with the book or its author, holiday there — but Llandudno is running with it regardless.
Four statues were sculpted by Simon Hedger and erected over this summer (I didn’t find the Queen of Hearts) in what can only really be described as a cynical ploy by the local council to increase the tourist footfall by attracting international fans of the Alice books.
A previous plan to create a trail of White Rabbit statues all over the town was derided as the ‘Disneyfication’ of Llandudno and seems to have been abandoned. My sympathies are entirely with the objectors and I love the books. I quite liked the three statues that I found; I don’t think Llandudno needs many more of them though.
I wasted just enough time looking for Alice-related statues that the sun had risen just far enough to no longer be shining exactly at eye level, which was nice. Ahead, the promenade stretched out towards the Little Orme (Rhiwledyn) and Penrhyn Bay (Bae Penrhyn), about two miles away.
The promenade was, as one might expect, easy going and there was a positive bounce in my step as I strode past the seemingly endless parade of hotels.
After a while, Llandudno just sort of stopped and there was very briefly a field or two on my right before I reached Penrhynside, on the outskirts of the town of Penrhyn Bay. Here the promenade had ended and I found myself walking alongside the B5115 but my roadside rambling turned out to be pretty minimal as the coast path branched off up onto the top of the Little Orme.
The Little Orme
The Little Orme is, as its name suggests, a smaller counterpart to the Great Orme at the other end of Llandudno Bay. Both limestone headlands, they neatly bookend the bay, effectively defining it.
The Little Orme was inhabited in Palaeolithic times and shows evidence of Iron Age metalwork but managed to escape the extensive copper mining experienced on the Great Orme. It has however been quarried as a source of limestone.
The climb up the Little Orme wasn’t particularly arduous although somehow managed to involve slippery mud in spite of the blazing sunshine. A small yappy dog took loud exception to my sun hat for reasons not immediately obvious to me or the couple who owned it, barking furiously while I was wearing the hat and quietening down the moment I took it off. I may have done that several times.
The Old Quarry
The path curved back on itself before descending a steep grassy slope that may once have supported a quarry tramway. At the bottom of the slope, which was still atop a cliff, the old quarry was immediately obvious, with suspiciously regular cliffs gouged out of the hillside and remnants of winches and other quarry gubbins still in evidence.
It seemed to me, as I sat and rested for a moment, that every dog owner in North Wales was walking their dog on Little Orme, nine tenths of them ignoring the sign declaring that dogs should be on leads.
The Boisterous Bear-Thing
None of these dogs appeared to be in any way hat-phobic but several of them seemed quite reasonably afraid of something that I assume was a dog but which appeared at first glance to be a small bear. That was most definitely not on a lead, indeed I doubt a lead has ever been fashioned that could restrain such an animal. A chain forged from entirely from old battleships and quenched in the fires of Hell itself might just manage it; a lead would have no chance.
Fortunately, the Boisterous Bear-Thing just wanted to play. The other dogs clearly feared that what it wanted to play was a jolly game of dog-dismembering. Its ‘owner’, for want of a better word, stood off to one side, calling it back in the kind of tone that leaves no doubt who’s in charge (the bear-thing, obviously).
Gwynt y Môr
Looking out to sea, the horizon was littered with wind turbines. This was the Gwynt y Môr wind farm, the second-largest offshore wind farm in the world, with a hundred and sixty turbines. It lies about ten miles off the coast.
Penrhyn Bay Town
When I’d had enough of rampaging bear-things I set off in search of the path down to sea level; somewhat unsurprisingly this involved a bunch of steps. At the bottom of the steps were some very ordinary suburban streets in the town of Penrhyn Bay.
Penrhyn Bay was originally a farming community but became extremely quarry-focussed from the mid nineteenth century. When the quarry closed in 1936. Penrhyn reinvented itself as a desirable suburb of touristy Llandudno.
As befits a tourist-oriented suburb, the coast path resumed its identity as a seaside promenade, an identity to which it would now cling for several miles.
The promenade carried me along the curve of Penrhyn Bay — the actual bay, not the town — and towards Rhos Point. This headland marked a sharp turn in the coastline as I left Penrhyn Bay behind and followed the coast along Colwyn Bay (Bae Colwyn) instead. I paused at Rhos Point and cast a glance backwards, bidding the Little Orme farewell.
St Trillo’s Chapel
Just around the corner of Rhos Point I came across a tiny building, a veritable dolls’ house of worship. This was St Trillo’s Chapel (Capel Sant Trillo), on the site of a monastic cell founded by the sixth century saint (and son of the Armorican prince Ithel Hael) for whom it is named.
It is also on the site of a spring, once regarded as a holy healing well — St Trillo wasn’t an idiot; he knew he’d need a supply of good fresh water while ministering to the Welsh.
The current chapel building is sadly not the original and was last restored (for which read ‘mostly rebuilt’) in the late nineteenth century but it is the smallest chapel in the British Isles, seating grand total of six. I would have tried for a photo of its interior but I couldn’t actually see it on account of an extended family of Italians, who seemed to be intent on attempting the religiously-themed equivalent of the Phone Box Challenge.
The Death of Cameras
The Italians eventually emerged slightly ruffled, as befits the survivors of an ill-judged experiment to combine the classic Welsh elements of chapel and rugby scrum. They were grinning all over their faces and, unaware that I am the Death of Cameras, asked if I wouldn’t mind taking their photo for them. There’s a very real possibility that their camera never worked again.
Rhos Fish Weir
Having reached and rounded Rhos Point, I was now passing through Rhos-on-Sea (Llandrillo-yn-Rhos in Welsh, meaning ‘St Trillo’s in Rhos’).
Rhos-on-Sea is a small resort town but with some properly historic antecedents. It was the site of a twelfth century fish weir belonging to the monks of Aberconwy Abbey, being known then as Rhos Fynach meaning ‘moor of the monks’.
The fish weir outlasted the monastery and was still in existence in 1861 when Parliament banned such weirs on account of the devastation that they wreaked on fish stocks. The sole exception was for fish weirs that could be proved to have predated Magna Carta, an exception for which the Rhos fish weir was entirely qualified. It thus survived another fifty-odd years before falling into disuse during WW1 and then subsequently falling apart. Nothing now remains of it.
Madog ab Owain
According to enduring local legend, a prince of Gwynedd, Madog ab Owain, set sail from Rhos in 1170 (some sixteen years before the monks of Aberconwy would be permitted to build their fish weir).
Madog went to sea to escape dynastic strife in his homeland and, according to the legends — for which there is absolutely no evidence but which became immensely popular in Elizabethan times — made it all the way across the Atlantic to North America, where his Welsh sailors built some forts and taught Welsh to some of the locals.
An Ancient Kingdom
Rhos (meaning ‘moor’) is currently within the county borough of Conwy and was previously part of the county of Clwyd and before that the county of Denbighshire. Before the conquest of Wales, it was a cantrev of Gwynedd but before that it was a minor kingdom in its own right and one of its early sixth century kings, Cynlas Goch, was denounced by Gildas as a tyrant and a ‘tawny butcher’.
The Seaside Spirit
Rhos-on-sea, being a seaside resort, was not exactly short on seaside cafés and ice cream parlours and I took the opportunity to obtain both a cup of tea and a delicious ice cream. I ate the latter as I ambled along the promenade, gazing out across the wide expanse of Colwyn Bay.
A Resort Town
A pleasant stroll along the edge of Colwyn Bay brought me to the town of the same name, although the roaring A55 endeavoured to get between us and keep us apart.
Colwyn Bay is a formerly significant resort town on this stretch of the coast but prior to the 1850s it didn’t really exist. It grew rapidly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and became an important holiday destination. From the mid-twentieth century, its star began to fade somewhat and now, while still attracting many tourists, the town is something of a shadow of its former self.
A little further on from the pier was Old Colwyn (Hen Golwyn), the original settlement from which Colwyn Bay grew.
It was basically just a tiny village and some farms when it became its own parish in 1844 but exploded from 1856 onwards when the owners of the Pwllycrochan Estate realised that they could make an absolute fortune by turning large parts of their woodland into hotels and villas. Referring to the remaining woodland as a ‘Fairy Glen’ helped.
Most of Old Colwyn was hidden from me by the A55, which runs right alongside the coast at this point. Fortunately though, I had no need to get intimate with the roadway since the promenade was broad, if a tad functional, with plenty of room for pedestrians and a cycle path.
Gulls and the Gullible
I sat on one of the benches on the seafront, noting wryly that they face away from the sea and towards the road, which is an interesting choice.
A young mum with a small girl in her arms sat on the next bench, carefully allowing the girl to excitedly point at the seagulls without getting her outstretched fingers pecked. The little girl indicated that she wanted to cuddle one and I wondered what she could see that I couldn’t; what I could see was a beady-eyed herring gull. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a herring gull? They have eyes to chill the soul…
Leaving the gull and its evil eye behind, I headed onwards. As I went, I noted a change in the promenade as benches gave way to railings so corroded that the rust was held together only by salt and seagull guano.
I was heading for Penmaen Head, the near headland in that last photo, which is where Richard II was captured in 1399, prior to being deposed by Henry Bolingbroke (who, two weeks later, became King Henry IV).
On the way I basically ran out of promenade, with footpath and cycle path condensing down into one narrow lane above a concrete sea wall. It opened out as I reached Penmaen Head, revealing a car park and a bridge across the A55 which I had no need to cross.
The headland has changed beyond recognition since Richard II’s days, having been both quarried and tunnelled, allowing the railway and A55 to pass round it. At the end of the fourteenth century, it presented a rather more serious barrier and the route eastward was therefore an ideal place for the Duke of Northumberland to ambush the King.
The Cycle Path
For the next few miles the coast path would comprise this cycle path, which was well-used by cycles, while the view to my left would mostly be a ‘beach’ made of giant concrete shapes resembling anchors or cufflinks.
The ‘concrete units’ — as they are described by the sign that tells you to keep off them — are designed to dissipate the waves and are thus a particularly complicated form of riprap. Well, either that or there some really upset giants somewhere, wondering how to do up their shirt cuffs.
The cycle path ran mostly level with the exception of where it passed by industrial jetties such as the one in the photo above, which is associated with a quarry.
There were two such jetties and the path rose and fell as it passed them making, for the second one, some excitingly steep gradients for those on a bicycle. A group of cycling kids, heading down one such slope, let out such screams of mixed joy and terror that I’m sure they were audible in Llandudno.
The path was starting to pass through ‘a bit samey’ into ‘actually quite boring’ until it led to a car park at the mouth of the Afon Dulas. Not that the car park was terribly exciting but it was, at least, a change.
This seaside car park was on the outskirts of the village of Llanddulas, whose economy formerly relied on limestone quarries. The principle quarries were on the nearby hill of Cefn-yr-Ogof (‘ridge of the cave’).
Today, like most of the ex-quarrying villages, Llanddulas is more oriented towards tourism and here this took the form of a holiday park which had a pub and café near the rocky beach. This was an excellent discovery so far as I was concerned, as it meant that I could fuel my walk with that wonderful leg propellant they call ‘gin and tonic’.
Beyond Aberddulas, the path reverted to its former style, namely a narrow cycle path, which carried me towards the small market town of Abergele.
Abergele, or rather its northern suburb of Pensarn, had an actual beach rather than rocks or concrete units and so felt more seaside-y than much of the coast I’d just walked.
Abergele and Pensarn Station
It also had a station — Abergele and Pensarn — near to which in 1868 occurred what was then the worst railway disaster in Britain.
Basically, a late-running London to Holyhead mail train collided with a bunch of runaway goods wagons which were supposed to have been shunted into sidings at Landdulas to clear the track but which had instead escaped.
The 40-45 mph collision derailed the mail train and this would probably have been quite disastrous in itself but, as it happened, two of the runaway goods wagons were fully loaded with barrels of paraffin oil which responded to the impact and all the sparks in the way that paraffin does best. Thirty-three people died, their bodies charred beyond recognition. In the investigations that followed, the practices of the London & North Western Railway did not stand up to scrutiny well.
I am pleased to say that nothing more exciting happened at Abergele and Pensarn Station, while I was there, than a train passing through it without incident. I watched it go past and then headed off along the cycle path that by now was so very familiar.
‘Pensarn’ means ‘head of the causeway’ and is so named because that’s exactly where it was. The land immediately east of Abergele was the marsh of Morfa Ruddlan and this was crossed by means of a man-made causeway running alongside the coast.
Without it, the path in the photo above would be knee-deep in foul-smelling salt marsh. Indeed, in 1990 the sea defences were breached by a storm in Towyn — the next settlement — and four square miles were flooded, no doubt to the surprise and outrage of those who had purchased holiday homes built on a partially-drained marsh.
Towyn & Kinmel Bay
The cycle path was getting a bit old hat by now and I followed it hoping vaguely that it would change in character. My hopes were thwarted for quite some way. Only as it approached Towyn (Tywyn, meaning ‘dunes’) and Kinmel Bay (Bae Cinmel) did it open out somewhat, becoming with a sea wall on one side and a fairground on the other.
Towyn and Kinmel bay are holiday resorts and are essentially western suburbs of Rhyl, which lies across the River Clwyd (Afon Clwyd).
The path led me past endless holiday parks until I reached a harbourside area where I gazed at Rhyl across the river as I contemplated that, once again, I had managed to find a café just ten minutes after it had shut. I’m special, me.
Pont y Ddraig
I crossed the Clwyd using the Pont y Ddraig (‘dragon’s bridge’), a swing bridge opened in late 2013, and headed into Rhyl along the seafront.
Descriptions of Rhyl given to me by hoteliers on Anglesey had led me to expect some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland.
True, there were a number of establishments that had been permanently closed and the town is clearly not as prosperous as maybe it once was but Rhyl struck me as a perfectly pleasant resort
I went in search of food and drink and then, having found some, I went in search of the station. The station, it turned out, was undergoing extensive renovation work so not everything in Rhyl is fading quietly away. It was fortunately also still open and so I was able to catch a train to Chester, from where a second train would whisk me back home to London.
This time: 16 miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,841 miles