Wales Coast Path, day 91: Llandudno to Pensarn

May 2, 2017 0 Comments

I’ve always had a soft spot for Llandudno, despite its pretensions and its appeal to royalty, domestic and foreign.  It has many attractions: the languid curve of its bay bookended by the two Ormes, its numerous coffee shops, its graceful shopping arcades, its pride in whitewashed tidiness, the splendour of the Mostyn Art Gallery, the hidden secrets of the museum.  Today it’s our starting point for a walk to Pensarn, via the Little Orme.

We get off the No.12 bus at the west end of the town, have a coffee and fruit pie, and set off down the prom, broad and litterless, past the grand hotels and Venue Cymru (wrestling provided), towards the Little Orme.  Small yachts manoeuvre in the sunshine, chaperoned by a launch.  A paddling pool is still waterless and clogged by beach pebbles lifted into it by winter storms.  Up the hill we pass Villa Marina, a big modernist house built in 1936 by the architect Harry Weedon for a Birmingham cake millionaire who died before he could move in.   A donkey stands immobile in a field, contemplating the blue sky and sea.  We leave the main road and climb up the path to the Little Orme.  It takes just a few minutes to feel, up in the sun and the bright gorse, miles from the urban sprawl of the coastal flats.  The Little Orme was a magnet for early humans, who were here from palaeolithic times onwards, and a secret refuge for persecuted Catholics who set up their secret printing press in a cave in 1586-87, or so it’s said, to produce Y drych Cristionogawl, the first book printed on Welsh soil.  Below us the coast sweeps on east towards Rhyl and the Clwydian Hills.

A steep path down drops us straight into suburbia, and then on to the shingle beach at Penrhyn Bay, where the gardens of villas fall sharply to the sea.  Back on the prom we’re soon in Rhos-on-Sea and pass a small stone hut, the chapel of St Trillo.  There’s enough room inside for six worshippers.  An information board tries to claim a sixth century date, but it would be hard to say whether the much-restored walls, more mortar than stone, go much farther back than a couple of hundred years.

Rhos is sheltered from the north-westerly wind by its headland, so we take a rest, sitting outside Forte’s with an ice-cream, and then poke our noses into a second-hand bookshop, no bigger than St Trillo’s chapel.  Near the Harlequin puppet theatre a prom kiosk calls itself ‘The Cayley’, in honour of Sir George Cayley, the aircraft pioneer and so-called ‘father of aviation’, who owned an estate here.  As C observes, Sir George was canny enough to require his coachman to try out his perilous flying machine, a prototype glider, in 1853, rather than commit his own body.  When the glider crashed, the coachman’s wise response was, ‘Please, Sir George, I wish to give my notice, I was hired to drive, not to fly’.

Next comes Colwyn Bay, also neat and well cared for, except for its Victoria pier, a stubborn survivor but now at last facing the bulldozers after Storm Doris removed another section of it earlier this year.  Its central building looks like a decayed Italian palazzo.  It could house 2,500 people in its heyday.  We pass more metal silhouette sculptures, much favoured on this coast.  The shoreline path’s been carefully designed, again with EU money, and there’s a big, handsome new building, Porth Eirias, housing a watersports centre, Bryn Williams’s bistro, a planting of coastal grasses, and a bike hire shop with the fine name GogCogs.  There are older structures here, too, including a series of classic sixties concrete shelters with broad blue canopies and benches below.

Beyond Colwyn Bay the battle between land and sea becomes serious.  This coast is flood-prone – which may explain the large number of carpet shops – and to our right the beach is fringed by a long necklace of interlaced concrete tetrapods, each individually numbered.  At Llanddulas another long pier looms ahead, black and orange and skeletal.  This is Rayne’s jetty, built to transfer high quality limestone from the quarry opposite to coasters moored at its end.  A conveyor belt straddles the A55 and the railway and travels the length of the pier.  A sad-looking loop sits half way along, and a control centre that looks like the commentary box at a cricket ground.  The whole thing looks derelict, but it is working, despite more than one ship accident.

The fleshpots of Rhyl now look closer, and we can see the rusty railway bridge at Pensarn.  The path grows more mundane, our conversation lapses, and the caravans resume as we trudge the last couple of miles.  On the hills to our right a stone tower sits on a rock, overlooking the estate of Gwrych Castle, built between 1819 and 1825 by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh.  As well as having too many names, Hesketh was cursed with too much money.  He wasted it on a sprawling mock castle, a Grade 1 listed building that’s been an embarrassment to a succession of owners ever since.

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