Ask a sample of the population which sites/sights come to mind that North Wales has to offer most would namecheck Snowdonia, the Clwydian Range, and Llandudno’s limestone leviathan Great Orme as some of the region’s most notable natural assets. Factor in its numerus fortresses including those dating back to the reign of Edward the First as well as more modern follies including Penrhyn and Gwrych castles, there is plenty to keep aesthetes and history buffs in indefinite clover.
Whilst this is hardly a blog post dedicated to ‘alternative North Wales’, the so-called ‘fun ship’ drydocked at Llanerch-y-Mor close to Mostyn Docks in Flintshire is about as left field as it gets.
There is plenty of online research material pertaining to the history of the 376-foot former Irish Sea ferry that hasn’t seen active service since 1979. Intentionally beached ever since, a succession of attempts to repurpose the Duke of Lancaster have included an amusement arcade, an outdoor art gallery and a last resort, as warehousing. Legal wrangles, disputes with the local municipality, and schemes that frankly would not be viable in such a location that is at the mercy of local meteorological vagaries have ensured that ideas ‘floated’ for the boat have invariably founded due to acrimony, discord, and an absence of viability.
Nevertheless, despite the rusting exterior which has over time been the canvas for organised and shall we call it impromptu graffiti the Duke of Lancaster is still afloat. The interior is apparently in decent shape, and still affords the boat’s current owners a blank piece of paper on which to imagine whatever future the 4,450-ton vessel could have.
It is difficult to envisage that despite the best of intentions the cost of turning the Duke of Lancaster fun ship into a money-spinner can ever be recouped and represents something of a large financial black hole from which much goes in, but little if anything returns. Despite this I genuinely wish the current proprietors well in their endeavours, and hope that instead of raging against the dying of the light that there is some tenability to whatever purpose for the ship they set their hearts and minds on.
For those of you who would like to see the ship in the flesh as it were, dedicated parking does not exist as such, what with the Duke of Lancaster despite its 40-plus years residence in Flintshire not actually being a tourist attraction in the purest sense; in other words, it isn’t open for visits and does not encourage the curious, even those whose interest is without criminal intent or with URBEX designs upon the ship. However, it is berthed close to a defined coastal path which is accessible from the A548 main road, with parking available at the nearby Abakhan Fabrics, Hobby, and Home store. Please do not simply park at these unattached, unrelated commercial premises just with the intention of visiting the ship; instead, peruse this interesting crafting emporium and partake at its well-stocked, and clean cafe. At least then you have put some money into the Abakhan coffers whilst using its car parking facilities to visit the Duke of Lancaster, approximately ten minutes away on foot. Part of that perambulation involves walking under a disconcertingly low railway bridge, one that is in active use!
As a child there was a fine line between marveling at the fun ship and being terrified by it as I sped past on a Llandudno-bound train for my annual family holiday. Now I have finally got as close as it was at the time legally possible to do so the same almost conflicting emotions are still stirred, admittedly not helped by a phobia of deep water in close proximity, but at the same time feeling opposing thoughts of being glad the ship is still ‘there’ but wondering if from a financial perspective whether it actually should be. Perhaps the owners will hit upon a winning formula, or simply can never say goodbye. Either way, it is worth a morning of your time, with the wonderful North Wales at your back and West Kirby on the Wirral Peninsula in the distance.
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