Saturday, 21 July 2012

Llangollen, North Wales



Following the decision of the coach driver to visit "Two churches and a Tweed mill" we were given an extensive tour of the Welsh countryside to the south and east of Llandudno. The main afternoon stop at Llangollen was a huge ... 75 minutes ! Ah well I should be thankful that I was allowed to see such a place from the starting point of Llandudno as it's something I would not have considered doing.

In addition to Llandudno, Llangollen was another location that I had up my blogging sleeve from last year, so hopefully I can preserve some specific text and photographic content such as the railway and festival for that occasion in the future.


Following a conversation with the coach driver about the location of the canal, my Mother went around the shops with her friend while I went off to discover the waterway which I didn't have time to see on the rather hurried previous occasion when I was passing through.


The Canal system was originally built generally for transporting products to and from ironworks and coal mines in the area and the grand plans for connecting the system to the major western rivers were modified to join with The Shropshire Union Canal. Due to the modified plans, The Llangollen section of the canal had a secondary use as a source of water and strong currents to feed the Shropshire system. Freight was transported along the canal until 1939 before final closure in 1944.


Thankfully the canal was never totally abandoned or disposed of as the strong current provided water for a local reservoir and the exploration of The Llangollen Canal as a boating holiday commenced in the 1970's / early 1980's. It has become popular due to the surrounding hillside scenery, the nearby Pontcysylite Aqueduct built by Thomas Telford and indeed Llangollen itself.


Those wishing to sample the delights of the canal and The aqueduct without too much outlay can opt for a horse drawn trip of 45 minutes or 2 hours.

"Window of opportunity"
Stan.   "I hope this is the 45 minute trip"
Shop door artwork ... or Stan's pin up !
Bridge ... more than meets the eye.
One of the more surprising historic structures of the town is the bridge that crosses The River Dee that was built in 1345 that had to be bizarrely extended over the railway at the north end when it was built during the late 19th century. If that's not enough, the bridge was then widened during the 1960s with the opposite side to the one depicted being of a more modern construction in keeping with the historic side.
On a side note, the hotel in the background at the south side of the bridge was rebuilt to accommodate more guests in 1815.  Before she became Queen, Princess Victoria once stayed here with her Mother in 1832 and subsequently the owners renamed The Kings Head to The Royal Hotel.

Trying not to bore you with bridge details !


The 600 year old Corn Mill, on the same side of the river as The Royal but on the other side of the bridge, was once used for grinding corn by possibly The Cisterian Monks. It was rebuilt in 1786 and was still used up to 1974 before being abandoned and in danger of collapse.  The preservation of the building took decades as all the people and authorities involved couldn't agree on the function and purpose of the building. The owners finally achieved their dream and eventually opened it as a restaurant and pub in 2000 complete with working waterwheel.


Lastly, there was just enough time to have a quick look at all the shops from the outside, so here's an opportunity to sample the some delights of Castle street, Oak Street and Market Street.







Mr Jones, proud of his Welsh roots !







Sidal's Food to go ... Yum


I met up with my Mother and her friend for a drink in The Buttered Crust before they got back on the coach, but my thoughts were with someone else who seemed to be denied of the culinary privileges !!! ....
"Is it my turn now ? " !!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Two churches and a Tweed mill, North Wales



If I was travelling solo or having to organise a day out, I would never think about coming to these three places. However when I'm in the hands of a coach driver and wishing my Mother a good holiday, I was prepared to give anything a go.
This post was essentially a morning tour of 2 short stops with a lunch break before the main location of the day in the afternoon. As it wasn't a humorous morning, I decided when writing this to insert some detailed content as a personal Google experiment because these are generally unknown places to the majority of the average North Wales visitors.

The unusual first site of the day was new to me as I had never even heard of it before. St Trillo's chapel on the promenade at Rhos-on-sea is well hidden out of sight on the coastal side of the Llandudno to Rhos-on-sea road.


The age of the current building is unknown but it is thought that the 6th century French Missionary, St Trillo, built a basic structure over a pre Christian Holy well and used this source originally for healing properties of drinking water and facilities for baptism.

Had to hurry to beat the coach party to get these "people free" images !
From ancient maps, the "cell" as it was known at the time was originally thought to be on an island possibly linked by a causeway. As a result, St Trillo sought to spread the Christian message to mainly fishermen and farmers before moving inland.
St Trillo came from a background rich in church history as his brother, sister and father also founded churches of their own when they arrived in North Wales.
The building was later upgraded to an 11 x 8 ft size stone structure before falling into a poor state long after disuse following The Dissolution of the Monasteries. The last major restoration took place to the exterior of the building during the 1890s by a church benefactor called William Horton.


St Elian was a Catholic saint who was thought to have landed in Anglesey from Rome to build a church there in 450AD. Local folk lore would suggest that he warranted his picture depicted somewhere. An ancient place like this seems ideal even if his beliefs are a little different to the current Anglican church.


In times of early Christianity, Monks and Missionaries lived in quiet places where life was a lot slower so as they could be free to meditate in solitude with the surrounding beauty and commune with their creator... My camera timing data shows that I was only allowed 8 minutes of photographs here ... shame, not enough time to enjoy that here then !!




As a place of worship, the church was re-consecrated on 16th June (St Trillo's day) 1935 and is used for Anglican services every week and is arguably the smallest church in Great Britain.


It comfortably seats ... six people ! On special event days, allowances are made for about 20 people to attend ... at a squeeze !


The next location is a spectacular church that I have passed many times at close proximity and at great speed on the A55 North Wales road without knowing anything about it.


St Margaret's church (The Marble church) at Bodelwyddan took four years to build starting in 1856 at a cost of £60,000. The building is constructed from local limestone, oak and 13 or 14 different kinds of marble decorated in a Gothic style with a spire that reaches a spectacular height of 202 feet.


Coming from a background of eminent lawyers and rich land owners, Lady Margaret Willoughby de Broke wanted to leave something in memory of her late husband (Henry Peyto-Verney, 16th Baron Willoughby de Broke) after he died in 1852. One of the things that she was passionate about was the creation of a separate parish for Bodelwyddan away from the neighbouring "mother" parish of St Asaph to which the church commissioners eventually agreed. However the irony is that Lady Margaret would never know that problems of identity would continue into the 20th century as the newly formed parish that seemed stable enough within the county of Flintshire, changed hands to Clwyd in 1974 and then Denbeighshire in 1996.

(Anglesey) Marble Arch !!
The church contains a rich variety of marble with examples from Sicily, Belgium, France, Ireland, England and Anglesey.

J_on_tour obsession !!  ... Chester, Bangor, Sheffield and now "Bodz" !
Not short of cash, Lady Margaret employed Mr T.H. Kendall of Warwick to create the lecturn at a cost of £600 with 6,000 carving hours ! He came highly recommended as he had previously worked on some dining room walls in the House of Commons and at Sandringham.

Pulpit carving
East window
I must apologise to those of you who want to see more images of the church interior. As you may have guessed from the first location, it was difficult to photograph "people free" subjects as we were on a tight time schedule. Once again my camera data told me that I was here for the longer time of ... 19 minutes !!


The area around the church became famous for another two reasons, one of which we didn't have time to see and the other that I didn't have time to see. The owners of Kinmel Hall, next door to the church, allowed part of their grounds to be converted into a camp as a staging post for the return home of Canadian soldiers from World War 1. Unfortunately they survived the combat but not the Spanish Flu Pandemic in 1918 - 19 within the camp and 83 were consequently buried in the churchyard due to pneumonia and influenza.

The story doesn't end there as some of the survivors were due to be taken home but their ship was diverted to Russia for food supply reasons in one of the many sailing delays they endured. A riot ensued amongst the 20,000 soldiers and 5 were killed and buried in St Margaret's churchyard next door. The Canadian authorities always denied the theory of mutiny and after months of research in Canada and Wales, a lawyer (Mr Kent) from Toronto confirmed that mutiny was not the cause.


There was nearly mutiny when I heard that we were going to visit the second Woollen mill in two days at Llannerch Park just south of St Asaph !!
The driver redeemed himself though when this was the opportune moment for a lunch stop in the adjoining cafe. While the rest of coach party looked around the large warehouse shop, I opted to go outside and view some garden furniture and plants !!

It's not 6th or 19th century, so let's start again !! ......


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Betws-y-Coed, North Wales

Church in the trees   GJC_008281

Following on from the previous post, this was the first place that the coach driver took my Mother and her friend to on their mini coach tour of North Wales from Llandudno. To put this post into perspective, the occupants of the coach were allowed a small amount of time here to see a few shops and enjoy the delights of a tea shop visit while my task was a little more rushed as my retrospective camera data showed that I took 40 photographs between 10:56 and 12:26. Unfortunately not enough time to photograph 3 key viewpoints on the perimeter of the village.

Ex Lead mining Betws-y-Coed is the principal village within the Snowdonia National park and is located in the Conwy valley of North Wales at the junction of the valley and River Llugwy. It takes it's name from rather misleadingly from the classic village image above of "Chapel or Prayer House in the wood", however this refers to a 6th century monastery, later replaced by a small 14th century church called St Michael's. Due to political struggles of the time, the great bridge builder Thomas Telford helped not only improve the links to Holyhead and beyond to Ireland at the head of the Conwy valley, but also on this more direct route by building the cast iron Waterloo Bridge over The River Conwy to the south of the village in 1815. Despite improving this link he had no idea that Betws-y-Coed would eventually become a destination in itself 30 years later when the first Victorian explorers, landscape artists and anglers who came to enjoy the beauty of the scenery and the contents of the river !!

Royal Oak   GJC_008251
Ancient Coaching Inn on the A5 road ( London - Holyhead - Ireland) ... Where's all the cars now ? ;-)
The most famous of these artists was David Cox (1783 - 1859) who no doubt stayed in the Royal Oak Hotel as he made several visits to this area of North Wales who not only painted the famous Swallow (water) Falls but also an early Royal Oak signboard still on display in the Hotel.

Stables Bar  GJC_008252

The Stable block that used to service horses on tour from London to Holyhead and beyond now caters for visiting tourists as an adjacent and separate hotel.


As this was such a big operation, there were additional stable facilities across the road and down a short tree lined drive. This block has been redeveloped as a visitor centre incorporating a tourist information centre, a display room and a craft / art shop unit.

Fusion or clash of Outdoor and tourist shops
Due to the subsequent popularity of the village, St Michael's church became too small and a new larger and accessible St Mary's parish church was built in 1873. The old church became inactive and eventually fell into a state of disrepair which was eventually restored as one of the most historic in Wales by a Trust in recent years. The village began to develop into a tourist destination which has remained until this day.


According to the coach driver, Swallow Falls have started charging for the privilege of the visit and consequently, the coach tours no longer stop there but instead a detour is made over the ancient miners bridge in the village to observe it's little sister Pont-y-Pair Falls.

Pont-y-pair GJC_008259

These Falls on the edge of the village are close enough to the provide the visitor with a small substitute for those on a budget of time and for the main event further upstream !!

Welsh Riverside House  GJC_008260

Accommodation with a view ... looking the other way downstream from Pont-y-Pair in the direction of the village.

House on the hill GJC_008263

There has always been controversy with the pronunciation of the name due to the incorrect lazy English way of Betsee Co-ed, there is always some doubt on whether it should be Bettus ee coed or Betoose ee coed. My idea rested on one of these for years until I was told that I was incorrect. My trip to Llandudno last October last year involved meeting a Welsh person from Anglesey and one from South Wales and after much discussion, it was agreed that the pronunciation depended on whether one was from South Wales, North Wales or ... Anglo Saxon !!!


The railway played a great part in the development of Betws-y-Coed with it's arrival in 1868. Like many of the rural Welsh railway lines, it's initial use was to transport slate from the mountains down to the sea. For cost saving exercises, many of these railways were built to narrow gauge standards but the terminus further down the line at Blaenau Ffestiniog that resembles something of an alien and lunar landscape to the first time visitor was unsuitable for this purpose. Such was the extent of the slate operation here that narrow gauge plans were abandoned in favour of a conventional size railway. The torturous route of excavation from Betws-y-Coed to Blaenau Ffestiniog meant that the railway line took another 11 years to complete.
GJC_008276
My first arrival through this arch back in 1986 ! ... or 5 minutes of my 90 waiting for a people free zone !

The station at Betws-y-Coed in 1868 provided a link for tourism by connecting with local buses to onward scenic journey via The Swallow Falls to the picturesque Snowdonian destination of Capel Curig.

Time for tea  GJC_008273
Tea anyone ? ! ... over the bridge to the Railway Museum and cafe

Back in the day, the railway station was a busy thoroughfare with many platforms but as they were gradually removed the empty space was later occupied by The Conwy Valley Railway Museum in the early 1970's to retain some of the heritage albeit in some unauthentic forms including a selection of vintage cars.

Little Brother   GJC_008274
Pretending to be like it's big brother !!
Imagine if plans were successful to run a narrow gauge railway back in 1868 ... it would take all day to get to the North Wales coast !!

Shop overexpansion  GJC_008254
Tourism over expansion ... closure of the original doorway.

During the 20th century, tourism took off in a big way with Anna Davies who has been trading and expanding her operation since 1956.

Coach tour goodies !!


The area around the railway station has developed as a bizarre mixture of tourism, shopping and sculpture.

Sharing the love in Wales !!

GJC_008267
Weird Fish, weird sculpture !

If tourist shopping is not quite your your thing, imagine my surprise when I saw this big and impressive fellow !! After much research, the existence of this cast iron statue made by Garden Art of Dolgarrog remains much of a mystery to me other than being an object of humour, discussion and distraction from the shops ... and another 5 minutes waiting for a people free scene !!


The Cockerel and it's size may be difficult to comprehend but maybe more surprising is this nearby sculpture. Although it struck me that apart from The Conwy Railway Museum and the village green, there are not a lot of things for entertaining children. Kazie the Gorilla may redress this balance as it seeks to raise money for several animal organisations such as Ape Action Africa and The Orangutan Foundation. These projects are supported heavily by the adjacent Alpine coffee shop who are passionate about animals .... even to the extent of their "sausages for dogs" loyalty card !!!

"Do I need to look at this marquee all day ... Can I not escape into the nearby "Coed" (woods) !!
It was time for the coach to leave and continue the tour for the day. ... Yes you've guessed it , it was up the Llugwy valley past the Swallow Falls and Capil Curig and down the mountain pass through Llanberis with the next destination looking like Anglesey.



harbour in the Menai  GJC_008296

The tour continued over Robert Stephenson's Britannia bridge with views of material from my previous posts Menai-bridge 2011/06 (Thomas Telford) and the torture of a Woollen mill that pretends to be Welsh but has it's roots in a more Northern part of the UK at llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll 2011/06 ...

Watch the cones ... Coach friendly destination ?? !
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