It is a toss-up between North Wales and Shropshire as to which is my favourite area of the UK. Whilst both share some topographical characteristics and are the seats of wonderful historical buildings (and ruins), the coastline of the former and its varied and eventually steepling hinterland just about gives it the edge over landlocked Salop.

My recent journey through North Wales took in several stops that would be regarded as on the tourist trail, especially those which feature on the itineraries of many foreign tourists. Similarly, the quintessential traits of a ‘good old fashioned British seaside holiday’ were in abundance and whilst not everyone’s cup of tea and not always necessarily mine, they afforded a snapshot of yesteryear that continues to remain relevant in our technologically advanced and increasingly cynical age.

The administrative boundaries of North Wales have changed on several occasions in my lifetime, so much so that maps of the current configuration have had to be consulted to ascertain in which jurisdiction I was in when visiting certain towns and landmarks. Travelling west from the English border I sojourned through Flintshire, Denbighshire, and Conwy, three of Wales’ twenty-two principal areas. Whilst Conwy’s County town is its namesake, the administrative centres of Flintshire and Denbighshire are in fact Mold and Ruthin respectively, rather than the more obvious Flint and Denbigh.

Inevitably where the British coastline is popular with a mixture of tourism offerings and expectations ranging from the high(er) class of Llandudno to the gentility of Penrhyn Bay, complemented by the sea of mobile home caravans whose occupants are entertained by the fun fairs and amusement arcades of Rhyl, Towyn, and Pensarn, the economic reality can be somewhat different just yards from the stunning vistas and general jollity, and admittedly some tackiness, found on sea front promenades. Certain towns along the coast, and I would say that Rhyl is the prime example of this, are subject to extreme poverty, crime, and decrepitude synonymous with package holidays to the sun usurping the traditional seaside getaway which was for so long the staple respite of the British working class. Rhyl, but you can also include Blackpool, Morecambe, Southport, and others in this, has become a victim of when as a whole town it was geared up for tourism but is now struggling to repurpose extant and in many examples’ grand old buildings into something different than allowing rot and dereliction to take hold. That the aforementioned has taken place whilst slum landlords, and admittedly planning regulations, allow old buildings to be turned into Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) for those receiving state welfare benefits but when in many instances the properties are not fit for habitation is a stain on the UK seaside in general and not simply the preserve of Rhyl, but is somewhere where this has been most conspicuously allowed.

Visiting Wales’ many castles – it reputedly has in the region of 600 in various states of preservation – is a passion of mine. I have over recent years become frustrated by the behaviour of many of those who visit some of these fascinating historic structures, simply because they wish to bring their dogs! Also, it is not obvious to me why certain edifices attract more discarded soft drink (and sometimes hard liquor) bottles than others, or why individuals wish to deface the often near-thousand-year-old buildings with their names/initials. Nevertheless, Cadw, the Welsh government’s historic environment service in charge of overseeing amongst other things the country’s castles, does a fine job in making its cultural heritage as accessible as it can although this inevitably varies on a case-by-case basis. Quite simply, some castles are more ruined than preserved, whilst venturing on the walls of certain fortresses is too unsafe to be allowed. It was with some relief that my recent visit to Conwy Castle was, despite mindless protests from a vocal minority online, a dog-free zone. Ascending the castle’s towers is difficult enough for humans beyond a certain rotundness and whose feet are over a size five, which makes it unimaginable to think how entitled dog owners and fido would cope.

What follows is a pictorial selection of my stay within North Wales, and travels that predominantly focused on the littoral areas of Conwy, Denbighshire, and Flintshire:

Rhuddlan Castle, built in 1277 by Edward I
A further view of Rhuddlan Castle, one perhaps familiar with those fond of the 1970s UK comedy film Holiday on the Buses. Note the missing stone in the towers’ lower reaches, which was apparently pillaged by persons unknown over an indeterminate period of time.
A ‘ground floor’ view of Rhuddlan Castle. Note its pleasing solitude and quietness!
A view from the only upper stretch of Rhuddlan Castle which is safe enough for public access.
The ruin of the 12th century Cistercian Basingwerk Abbey, situated in Greenfield, Flintshire. Sadly, prior to my visit it was apparently popular with Lucozade drinkers…
Again, despite being one of the ‘attractions’ within the Greenfield Valley Heritage Park and visited on a weekend, the abbey was pleasingly deserted.
A view of Llandudno and its pier from the northern aspect of the four-mile Marine Drive that runs around the Great Orme’s limestone headland.
Rising 683 feet above sea level, the Great Orme is a wonderful area for viewing birds such as Stonechat and Wheatear, as well as seals and the occasional pod of dolphins.
A trip to the Orme would not be complete without catching a glimpse of its burgeoning herd of Kashmiri goats.
A view from one of the towers of Conwy Castle, built in the mid 1280s by Edward I. Some serious legwork is involved in getting to the ‘summit’ but the views more than offset any claustrophobia felt during the climb.
A fine view of the Conwy countryside from its iconic castle.
The Little Orme, the lesser known and explored junior partner of the Great Orme. A beach through its lack of sand is not exactly user friendly but is pleasingly quiet even during high season. Closer to the towering sides of the Little Orme dolphins are a common sight.
By contrast the Great Orme, behind the photographer when viewing the Little Orme, resembles without much imagination the sea monster from which its Norse-inspired name derives.

To be continued…

All photographs are the copyright of C. Bowman and may not be reproduced without the permission AND acknowledgement of the rights holder.

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