Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Walk 330 -- Flint to Prestatyn

Ages:  Colin was 71 years and 56 days.  Rosemary was 68 years and 198 days.
Weather:  Grey skies, but remaining mostly dry.
Location:  Flint to Prestatyn.
Distance:  17 miles.
Total distance:  3405 miles.
Terrain:  Good paths, tracks and cycleways of the new Wales Coastal Path.  Unfortunately this included some pavements along a busy road.  Flat.
Tide:  In, going out.
Rivers: None.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  Nos.426, 427, 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434 & 435 spread out along the way.
Pubs:  None.
‘Cadw’ properties:  No.2, Holywell Spring which was about a mile inland, so we visited it on another day.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  No.71 near Mostyn Dock where the footpath was closed for reasons unknown.  We had to walk along a pavement by a busy road, but we came to a café so we didn’t really mind!
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan which was on a small farm site near St Asaph.  This morning we drove to Prestatyn where we parked in a residential street because the car park would have cost us £4.50.  (Funny how the car park was empty of cars, yet the nearby streets were packed solid!)  We walked to the station, being dive-bombed by an aggressive seagull on the way.  There we caught a train to Flint (fare: £7.40 each even though it was only the next station down the line!) where we walked over to the castle.
At the end we came to our car, but we moved it to the seafront car park by the toilets before we had our tea because we reckoned we were too late for any attendants to be hanging about.  The toilets were locked, but we were able to use our Radar keys — thank goodness because Colin was extremely uncomfortable until he was able to change his pad.  We had our tea and chocolate biscuits, then drove back to the caravan near St Asaph.

From the car park where we finished the last Walk, we hiked round Flint Castle on the ‘sea’ side.  This was not the official coastal path and we were really walking on the marsh, but the path was quite good.  It improved dramatically on the other side — when we did reach the official path, it was wheelchair/cycleway quality for at least a couple of miles.  We were taken past an industrial estate and across Flint Marsh on a path not marked on our OS map.
There were wild flowers everywhere, especially roses and orchids, it was a glorious display.  Through the trees we could see across the Dee to the Wirral, and up-river to the bridge which we used to cross from England.
We came to Flint Dock, just a muddy inlet these days.  But in the 19th century it would have been a completely different picture.  Two thousand people were employed at a soda factory there.  The air used to be dusty, and yellow with poisonous fumes including hydrochloric acid gas.  The river would have been polluted with heavy metals and industrial waste.  Today there were just warning notices about obvious hazards like deep water and mud, so many such signs litter the countryside in these days of litigation.  Whatever happened to common sense?
We passed an ‘artistic’ gate with pictures of local scenes cut out of it.  The orchids were spectacular there, and all wild.  They were everywhere, and wild roses, too, giving off a wonderful scent.  We continued on a long straight path on top of the earthen/concrete sea wall with water lapping on our right hand side.  Further on we didn’t notice that the path had veered slightly inland until we saw another path on the marsh to our right.  It was too steep to get down to it easily, so we stayed where we were.  There were a couple of men down there with dogs — perhaps they were locals and knew the way down.
The path curved inland towards the railway, and the leaflet sketch map we had of the Wales Coastal Path indicated that we crossed over it.  We’ve found these leaflets to be pretty much useless — they show no detail, just a squiggly line across the page, and the OS maps don’t show the new bits of the coast path because they are seriously out of date even though we’ve only just bought them.  So we used our initiative and didn’t cross the railway.  We sat on a rock and ate our pies.
We passed Bagillt Dock, another muddy tidal creek in this modern age.  It is difficult to envisage what it must have been like in the 19th century when up to thirty ships a day docked there carrying coal, copper, lead and passengers from Liverpool, Hoylake and Parkgate (the latter two both on the Wirral); passengers bound for Holywell, Denbigh and St Asaph.  Life is very different these days.
Further on we had a choice of three ways at a rock spur.  The blue logo told us the official coastal path went behind the spur, but our rules say we must take the nearest safe path to the coast.  There was a path through a gate up to a viewpoint, and a permissive path led nearest the sea round the spur.  We chose the viewpoint because we like views, and blow the rules!  We climbed to the top of a mound, and there we came across a metal beacon stand in the shape of the Welsh Dragon — it was quite impressive.
The path petered out there but we managed to follow a ‘sort-of’ path through gorse bushes and down to the next inlet where a number of small boats were stranded on the mud.  We emerged in a car park there.
There was gushing water coming through a tide flap on the embankment.  A nearby notice explained it was the outlet from the Milwr Tunnel which was constructed in the early 1900s to drain former mine workings in Halkyn Mountain.  It stretches from below tide level, where we were standing, ten miles into the mountain.  It was currently being strengthened and supported because it is now used to supply industrial water to the surrounding area.
We were still in an industrial area, and the path went off behind an industrial estate.  Colin was in a bit of a state too (we do so wish the NHS would take his problem seriously, but because it is non-life-threatening he is always put on the back burner) so while he went behind a bush to sort himself out I amused myself by photographing the wild flowers which were growing in profusion everywhere.  I found an exquisite tiny moth on a daisy.
The official coast path went straight on from this point, but a wheelchair/cycleway-quality tarmacked path followed the actual coast, so we went that way.  We met several workers who had ‘escaped’ from the industrial estate we were walking round.  We passed a small beacon with fishes depicted on it before we approached Greenfield Dock.  Built in the 18th century this dock has a grim history, for it made its money from the slave trade.
Raw copper from Parys Mountain on Anglesey was unloaded here and sent to Greenfield Valley’s mills to be turned into copper goods.  The owners of Greenfield Valley and Docks grew rich exporting these cups, pots and manilas (small bracelets used as currency in West Africa) to the slave-trader ships in Liverpool.  Also copper nails and sheets were used to protect the hulls of ships sailing to the tropics.  The ships sailed to West Africa where they exchanged the copper goods for slaves.  This sad human cargo was then shipped to the Americas where they were exchanged for cotton bails.  The cotton was shipped back here for spinning in Greenfield’s cotton mill – thus completing an infamous triangle of trading which continued for more than fifty years.  This trade was finally abolished in 1807.
During 19th century Greenfield Dock had ferries to the Wirral and Liverpool, but it was also an important passenger terminal for pilgrims to St Winefride’s Well, a mere mile inland.  This is the history of the pilgrimage site at Holywell, sometimes called the ‘Lourdes’ of North Wales.  Winefride lived in the 7th century AD and was betrothed to Caradoc.  But she decided to become a nun instead, and when Caradoc heard about this he decapitated her (as you do!)  Her head rolled downhill, and where it stopped a spring magically appeared.  Fortunately her Uncle Beuno was nearby, and when he rejoined her head to her body she was restored to life and lived for another twenty-two years.  Seeing her murderer leaning on his sword with an ‘insolent and defiant air’, Beuno invoked the chastisement of heaven.  Caradoc fell dead at the spot, the ground opening up and swallowing him.  Beuno seated himself on the stone which now stands in the outer well pool and promised, in the name of God, “that whosoever on that spot should thrice ask for a benefit from God in the name of St. Winefride would obtain the grace he asked if it was for the good of his soul."  Both Winefride and Beuno have been venerated as saints from that moment on, and for thirteen centuries Holywell has been a place of pilgrimage and healing, even to this day.  The museum is full of wooden crutches which have been discarded by cured pilgrims over the centuries.
Back to the Walk.  We went round the end of the dock, which was completely dry now that the tide was out, and then we saw seats on the side we had just come from!  Reluctant to go back, we walked on through a car park to an open area where there was a sculpture on a plinth.  No seats there, so we sat on some rocks to eat our sarnies.
There were bullocks in the next field, on the continuation of the Wales Coastal Path, which were a bit lively and kept trying to mount each other.  We soon came to realise that there was a man the other side of the cattle (an industrial worker coming back from his lunchtime stroll) who was too frightened to barge past them.  Colin shouted over to him, trying to persuade him that he only had to shout “Boo!” and they’d get out of his way, but I realised that he was really scared and in trouble.  I said, “Go round and help him, he’s really too frightened to do it himself!”  So Colin went round the bushes and rescued the poor man by shooing the bullocks away.  Later we had to go on that way ourselves, but the creatures backed off as soon as we approached.  They started to follow us, but soon got bored with that and went back to mounting each other!
We walked a long stretch along the edge of the water, nearly two miles which was very pleasant.  It was a grassy path, but still good quality and easy to walk.  A big ship came into view.  It was ‘parked’ in the next inlet, and we thought it was too big to be there legally.  It was quite rusty, but there was some spray-paint graffiti on its side.  As we got near, we realised it was huge!  It was called ‘Duke of Lancaster’, and when we got home I looked up its story on the internet.
It was built in 1956 and served as both a cruise ship in the North Sea and as a passenger ferry between Ireland and mainland Britain.  As more and more people wanted to ferry their cars it became a bit of a white elephant because it could not easily be converted into a car ferry.  It was taken out of service in 1979 and has been moored here ever since.  The owner described it as a ‘fun ship’, and set it up with casinos, dance floors, function rooms, etc.  Despite initial planning permission and funding from the local Council, after a few months the Council changed their minds saying that the ‘fun ship’ was taking trade away from Holywell.  The owner has been in dispute with the Council ever since.  The Council lost the case every time it was taken to court, and has had to pay unprecedented costs.  But still they kept on until, in 2004, the owner closed the business because he had been so ground down.  He is still fighting the case which remains unresolved.  The ship is rusting on the outside, but the interior is in good condition, apparently.  The plan is now to turn it into an open-air art gallery.  The ship is slowly being covered with graffiti described as ‘bright and surreal’ – the work is being carried out by professional graffiti artists on commission.
We couldn’t cross the inlet that side of the railway, so we had to go under it, ducking because the bridge was so low, in order to cross the inlet on the main road bridge.  The path the other side, which led back to the sea, was closed!  There was no explanation, and Colin started on his usual track of, “Let’s go along anyway and see if we can get through!”  I put the stoppers on that — I was in no mood for extra mileage if we had to backtrack.  “Well, we’ll have to walk for miles along this shitty road then!” was his answer, he was getting increasingly irritated.  (I don’t blame him really, he has to put up with increasing incontinence, and is beating his head against a brick wall with the NHS.  Now, if he could pay……..)  I agreed wholeheartedly that we should walk along the shitty road, and set off.  There was heavy traffic, but we did have a pavement to walk on.
Almost immediately we came to a new shopping complex which was still being built.  But the café was up and running and a cup of tea beckoned!  Oh!  How it revived us!  And Colin was also able to comfortably change his pad again in the loos, so he left in a much better mood.  After about a mile we came to another footpath which led over the railway to the water’s edge, but this was also closed.  Colin suggested that the arrow on the notice meant it was only closed the way we had come, and that if we went out to the estuary we could continue onwards unimpeded.  I pointed out that if we did this we would be walking round three sides of a square, but if we carried on along the shitty road we would only walk one side of the square and end up in exactly the same place within a few yards.  He agreed much more readily this time.
After we’d done that, we had to follow the shitty road — which didn’t seem nearly so shitty now — for the next couple of miles, we had no choice.  There were blue logo ‘buttons’ in the pavement telling us the way to go.
Occasionally we had a grass verge between us and the traffic, but usually we didn’t.  We passed an ornate building which was a memorial church hall, and also a well in the wall on the opposite side of the road.  The stream from it ran under the road and under our pavement towards the estuary.  Through the trees we caught glimpses of the Port of Mostyn.  There has been a port there for a thousand years.  It’s heyday was in the 18th and 19th centuries when coal was exported and there was an ironworks on site employing two thousand men.  Today the business is offshore windmills, and we could see some of these enormous structures piled up on the quay.
At Ffynnongroywr we were able to turn on to a minor road, which gave us some relief.  There was a seat at the start of this road, so we made use of it to rest and eat our apples.  This road is called Chapel Lane — well named because we passed several chapels along its short length, most of them redundant.  Before the end of the road, we took a path which led across the main road, then over several fields and under the railway.  There we met a young foreign couple — Eastern European? — who were backpacking.  They were resting on a rock, and we passed the time of day.
We turned sharp left and continued alongside the railway towards a gas terminal.  There we came across a most ridiculous situation, absolutely nonsensical.  A brand new footbridge had been constructed, at great cost no doubt, over a railway which had obviously been redundant for years!  The rail line was covered in weeds, and will probably never be used again.  A man-sized hole had been punched in the fence, so we went through it and nipped across the rusty rails just like everyone else had done.  We wondered how much that white-elephant of a bridge had cost.
From there we zigzagged back on ourselves, then walked along a derelict concrete road in order to skirt a gas terminal.  As I was trying to photograph the gas flame, the young foreign couple passed us again — it was a bit like the hare and the tortoise!  Past the gas terminal we turned north towards Point of Ayr.  Now there were marshes to our right with bird hides, though we didn’t go out to them because time was getting on.  It was all very pleasant, at last we seemed to be out of the industrial area.  There were picnic tables set in the side of the path and we met up with the young foreign couple again.  They asked us to take a photograph of them, so we asked them to take one of us as we had reached the 3400mile point of our Trek.  It was a good picture, though it only had marshes in the background.
We walked to the end and saw a lighthouse in the distance, so we stopped another couple and asked them to take a picture of us with that in the background.  In the end we much preferred the picture the first couple had taken.
Colin was desperate to change his pad again so we didn’t go right out to the end, which was a dead end anyway.  We turned on to a cycleway which ran behind the dunes where there were thick bushes in which Colin could hide himself.  While waiting for him, I sat on some grass by the cycleway and ate my chocolate — Colin likes to ‘graze’ on chocolate as he walks along.  We continued along the cycleway, which wasn’t marked on our brand new OS map, for about a mile.  It led into a ‘Haven’ caravan site — and all direction signs magically disappeared as soon as it did so.  The caravan site was huge, a mile long, and it was like a maze.  We got completely lost.  It was a bit like déjà-vu — we’ve got lost in caravan sites several times before on this Trek.
Eventually we found an exit leading towards the beach.  In hindsight we should have gone right out to the beach, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.  We took a path westwards through the dunes, it was a good straight path for a long way, and lined with beautiful wild flowers including orchids.  But suddenly it came to an end in the middle of nowhere.  We were still behind the caravan site and a fence stopped us getting back into it, so we climbed a high dune to get our bearings.  (We’ve been here before — lost in the dunes — another bit of déjà-vu!)  We went down another path to the beach which we managed to reach this time.  But there was marsh grass instead of the sea, like Grange-over-Sands.  We were amused by “Open Water” notices in front of the grass.  A notice told us that there were rare natterjack toads living in the grass, but we didn’t have time to search for them.
We found the missing Wales Coastal Path signs, and the familiar blue logo.  At last we managed to get the caravan site behind us, and we took a cycleway, which was marked on our OS map, across a golf course.  Some golf balls came worryingly near to our path, we didn’t feel very safe.  The cycleway led past the clubhouse, on to the entrance road and thence to the road where our car was parked on the edge of Prestatyn. 

That ended Walk no.330, we shall pick up Walk no.331 on the edge of Prestatyn.   It was five to eight, so the Walk had taken us ten hours five minutes.  We were parked in a residential road, so we moved the car to the seafront car park by the toilets before we had our tea — we reckoned we were too late for any attendants to be hanging about.  The toilets were locked, but we were able to use our Radar keys — thank goodness because Colin was extremely uncomfortable by then.  We had our tea and chocolate biscuits, then drove back to our caravan near St Asaph.

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