Sometimes circumstances dictate that we have to walk anti-clockwise rather than clockwise – its all to do with availability of public transport and where to leave the car. Today is one of those days where we start east of Colwyn Bay and walk west with the sea on our right.
At Abergale we are detained somewhat by a gathering of classic car enthusiasts in the carpark next to the station. For those who do not know, Damian is the proud owner of two old, not quite classic Mercedes (young timers apparently) so any opportunity to talk to fellow enthusiasts cannot be missed. I busy myself with train and bus timetables.
The path continues as expected along the shore but instead of tramping along the concrete sea wall we opt for the grassy bank that runs parallel. Over to the left a seemingly unending row of caravans stretch out into the distance. It is chilly as you can see – gloves and hat in April.
Battered breakwaters appear at intervals – I don’t know how effective they can be when they’re in this state.
And when we reach Llanddulas the path takes us over a footbridge to cross the River Dulas which by now is no more than a small stream.
A little further on we meet some very sculptural sea defences – they look like concrete anchors tipped on to the shoreline and remind me of the game of jacks we used to play as children. They are also individually numbered. Did this make it easier to position them? Who knows.
As these strange shapes peter out we reach what looks like a derelict per but is in fact a jetty for a working quarry. Limestone from the quarry on the other side of the A55 is fed down to the jetty to be transported by coastal freighter to other parts of the UK.
As recently as 2011 one of the freighters, MV Swanland, sank in stormy weather on the Irish Sea after collecting 3,000 tons of stone from Raynes jetty bound for the Isle of Wight. Two crewmen were rescued but five, all Russian, were lost.
As we get closer to Colwyn Bay the cycle path we’ve been following is diverted and we suddenly find ourselves directed down the back of houses on the outskirts of the town and a little later to a major crossroads where we manage to catch a bus to the station. Time to drive back to London.
Llandudno does have quite an impressive promenade but as soon as we can we take the opportunity to walk down on the beach – not for long however. The headland in front of us is the Little Orme but unlike its big brother there is no path to take us round it. Instead we are directed inland and onto a fairly steep and very busy main road.
There is a little to alleviate the tedious tramp but these friendly donkeys do their best – after a lot of encouragement from Damian Doolittle.
Eyes glued to the road I suddenly hear a shout from Damian who is some way behind me – in my reverie I had missed the turn off up onto the Little Orme.
With a great deal of relief we leave the roar of the traffic behind and climb a narrow path up onto the rocky outcrop which houses Rhiwledyn nature reserve. Gorse and juniper bushes line the path and there are fabulous views from the top.
After picking my way down a very steep slippery slope (wishing I had my pole) the path widens and eventually leads us through quiet residential streets and onto the seafront of Penrhyn Bay. From here there is not a lot to say – the seafront of Rhos on Sea is particularly boring so we opt to walk down by the sea defences.
Happily we soon reach the broad sweep of Colwyn Bay and climb down onto the beach to reward ourselves with a glorious walk along the sands until we reach what must be the shortest pier in Britain.
The pier was apparently much longer but fell into such disrepair that much of it needed to be demolished. After restoration it opened again in 2021.
The colours used on the decorative ironwork are taken from the results of a paint analysis that dated the colour scheme back to 1934. Salmon pink? I wonder.
From the station we take an early morning walk around the walls of Conwy Castle before heading off across the road bridge in the direction of the Great Orme.
Conwy is famous for its three bridges – the suspension bridge, the tubular railway bridge and the ‘modern’ road bridge, built in 1958.
The suspension bridge was built by Thomas Telford betweern 1822–1826 at a cost of £51,000, to replace the dangerous ferry crossing. It was part of his A5 route for a mail coach road between Holyhead and Shrewsbury. It was one of the first road suspension bridges in the world and the end supporting towers were built to match the towers of the castle.
Slavishly following the green diamonds of the coastal path we actually miss this opportunity to walk across the suspension bridge, assuming it was closed to the public – what a shame.
Anyway, at the end of the road bridge we turn left on to a footpath that runs along the east side of the river back to the coast. I turn and take a photograph but I’m too far away.
The path follows the bank of the river past the back of Deganwy railway station and on to a concrete promenade where we stop at an isolated tea hut. It is not so often I actually notice the quality of my cups of tea but this is probably the best cup of tea I have ever tasted. We ask the friendly tea lady for thoughts on the path up to the Great Orme and are told that the first part involves struggling though some very soft sand dunes. “Hard on the hips” she says, nodding sagely. We load up with two or three slices of Bara Brith and walk on.
And she was so right…………………..and then it starts to rain.
At one point I lift my head and see a very unusual sight – a man on a ladder rising out of the dunes. What is he doing? I shout up to ask him and am told that it is a way of seeing more precisely where the ball is on the green. So now you know….
About a mile later the path takes us up onto a minor road which we will follow for 4 miles all the way round the Great Orme headland. I know there is a toll to pay for cars but not at this end – this building must be a gatehouse/lodge of some sort – stately for its size.
Up the road we walk – the rain has stopped and we can peel off horrible damp waterproofs. So essential for walking in the UK, I will never stop railing against the restrictions waterproof trousers place on free movement – bit like Brexit.
On the craggy limestone rocks to our right sheep and goats nibble grassy patches in the crevices between the rocks.
And down below, to our left, a row of millionaire properties are tucked into the base of the cliffs – fabulous sea views, swimming pools and private beaches (probably) …..me? envious?
I do actually have quite a lot of time to stare at this blatant display of wealth, as Damian has left my walking pole behind somewhere down the road and has volunteered to walk back to find it.
Anyway, by now we are more than a little peckish and very pleased to find a cafe round the next headland – the Rest and Be Thankful Cafe where we (or rather I) furtively eat a sandwich from my backpack and finish off with tea and cakes. Here is a link – note the reference to EU grant aid which allowed for the expansion of the cafe in 2001. Ha!
Suitably refreshed we carry on down the road – there are very few cars and only a few cyclists.
Round the next headland we see in the distance a small knot of people peering over the cliff and out to sea – this usually means seals. And around the next bend we are treated to the sight of a colony of seals lying on the shingle – they look like slugs.
We stand and watch them for a while and then walk on. The small group of people we had seen before turn out to be a group of very smartly dressed Pakistani men, busy taking photographs of one another. We tell them that if they want to see seals they are in the wrong place and point to where we had seen them – they do not seem very interested. Ah well……..
After a while we see Llandudno and its pier up ahead…………….
And then we walk past the toll building – it costs £4.50 for a car to drive around the Great Orme – bicycles are free.
We walk down past the Grand Hotel which towers above the pier and marks the beginning of the promenade ……..
On the way to the railway station we walk past an advertisement for a tour around one of the Penderyn Distilleries that produces Welsh whisky. My father bought one of the first bottles in 2004 – a wine rather than a whisky drinker, I think he bought it to share with Damian when we used to visit my parents in Penarth.
The next train from Llandudno to Conway proves to be a complicated affair and doesn’t leave for another hour. We decide to try and find a bus and as we wander around I notice several different wooden figures that ring a bell in my distant memory.
Later I find out that Llandudno was the holiday destination resort of the real Alice in Wonderland, Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Lewis Carroll and for whom he based his worldwide famous story on, Alice in Wonderland.
I admit I am not looking forward to this walk since the map shows a long stretch alongside the very busy A55. It is however a lovely day as we set off from the seafront of Llanfairfechan and I’m looking forward to seeing Conwy, a walled market town with what I’m told is an impressive 13th century castle.
Following instructions from a local we are directed under a railway line, through a small housing estate and across a metal bridge which lifts us above the roar of the traffic underneath us. We then thankfully leave the road for a while up a quiet cycle route which takes us away from the thundering traffic.
But what goes up must go down and soon we are back to the road and another metal bridge.
Halfway across the second one I have a bit of a wobble when I decide to look down at the blur of fast moving traffic under my feet but pull myself together and walk quickly on, staring straight ahead.
Approaching a village called Penmaenmawr we are faced with a decision whether to walk along the beach or follow the signs up into the village. It turns out to be the wrong decision but there are some quirky independent shop windows to stare into and churches and chapels to count – we walk past 11 for a population of 4,350 people and there are probably a few more. What god fearing people we used to be!
Anyway, we have lost a bit of time taking the long way round and it is getting very hot. We trudge along on a cycle route besides the road – my mood momentarily lightened by rows of flowering pine trees and gorse bushes
At some point even that joy is taken away as we approach a road tunnel that cuts through the hill known as Penmaenmawr Bach. My heart sinks when I see the tunnel as I can’t see any way for us ordinary mortals to get around it but to my great relief I then spy a cycle route sign and a narrow lane curling up and around the face of the cliff. I think you can see the traces of worry on my face in the picture.
From here on it’s a heads down half a mile trudge alongside the busy road until we reach yet another metal footbridge across the railway line and down to the beach – hurray!
Just before we start walking along the beach we find a seat and some metal statues where we take a well earned rest. Later I find out that the steel statues represent (from the left) Llewelyn The Great Prince of Gwynedd, Thomas Telford Civil Engineer and Margaret Williams Local Journalist and Author.
The path now skirts an area of reclaimed marshland called Conwy Morfa which is now being used as a golf course. Up ahead in the distance is the bulk of Great Orme’s Head which we will be walking around tomorrow.
After the hard thump of tarmac and concrete it is a pleasure to walk on the beach, even if it is stoney, which curves around and up the estuary of the Afon (River) Conwy. We walk past the affluent looking marina and into the town, where we follow the path around an unexpected patch of woodland encircled by stone walls, to our first sight of Conwy Castle.
Conway Castle and the town walls were built on the instructions of Edward 1 of England between 1283 and 1289 as part of his conquest of the principality of Wales. The walls are part of a World Heritage Site and people born inside them are known as Jackdaws after the jackdaws that live in and on the walls. It all looks like something out of a fairy tale.
Down on the quay another piece of history. The house (3.05 x 1.8 m) was occupied from the 16th century to 1900 when the then owner, a fisherman called Robert Jones, was evicted on grounds of hygiene. He was too tall to stand up inside the house!
We find a pub for a very welcome pint and sit outside watching the comings and goings of the harbour. A very fat seagull keeps a watchful eye on our crisps.
So here we are in Bangor after a seven month break from walking – goodness knows what we’ve been doing, a lot to do with a new flat in Copenhagen I think. Back to the lovely pier and its small jewelled towers.
There is a blue sky above but a strong gusty wind that propels us down the road to a point where we turn off right. Following the red diamonds of the Welsh Coast Path on the OS map we walk past rotting wharves and down at heel housing estates – to what we assume is the path but actually isn’t. We are brought to a halt in front of one of the entrances to a private estate with its own castle. Penrhyn Estate is the reason the path is now heading south, away from the coast – we have to walk all the way round it.
Retracing our steps across the bridge we spy the cheery coast path signpost which leads us through a stone arch, over another bridge and onto a peaceful tree-lined path where the only disturbance is the occasional cyclist.
It is a beautiful morning and we are now sheltered from the wind by woodland on both sides of the path – a small river can be seen through the trees off to the right. At one point the tall arches of an imposing red brick bridge spans the path. Further research tells me that this is a well-preserved example of an early railroad bridge, built between 1798 and 1800 to carry the Penrhyn railroad over the lower reaches of the Afon Cegin (the river). It is likely that the Cegin Viaduct is the oldest known multi-arched railway bridge to survive above ground in Wales and possibly the world. The precision and symmetry of the brickwork are astonishing.
Soon we come to the end of the path which then joins up with a narrow tarmac lane. A little further up the lane the Welsh coast path suggests we turn off through fields to Llandygai but we decide to stay on the road as I am hoping to find somewhere for a cup of tea in the village. Disappointingly Llandygai is simply a collection of houses with no real centre, but just outside we stumble across a pub, right into the middle of a staff meeting when they were not expecting any customers.
Out of the pub we follow the main road back in the direction of the coast. At one point we walk past what I think is the main entrance to Penhryn Castle – a photo opportunity.
We now follow a quiet road, still skirting the stone walls of the Penhryn Estate until the map indicates a turn off into a small nature reserve called The Spinnies. At the entrance to the path is a very strange looking gate which Damian has to investigate.
Dotted around the reserve are hides where one can while the time away watching for waders, wildfowl and small birds – not sure I’ve reached that stage in my life yet.
From here the path now hugs the coastline on a grassy path and occasionally right along the stoney beach. On a grey day this could be rather bleak – a dark marshy shoreline dotted with rotting groynes, but in today’s intermittent sunshine the vast expanse of mud and sand and the mountains off to the right have their own beauty.
Eventually we roll up next to the boating lake of Llanfairfechan where a solitary swan glides sedately across the surface of the still water. We now need to find the station for a train back to Bangor.
On the opposite station platform a group of young Hasidic Jewish boys are assembled, waiting for their train. The composition of the group would have made a brilliant “motif” for a painting but I’m afraid my iPhone does not do it justice and I was also a little wary of taking a photo. Anyway….