Monday, July 08, 2013

Walk 333 -- Conwy historical

Ages:  Colin was 71 years and 59 days.  Rosemary was 68 years and 201 days.
Weather:  Very hot and sunny.
Location:  An historical day in Conwy.
Distance:  0 miles.
Total distance:  3435½ miles.
Terrain:  Lots of spiral staircases in the castle, and steep steps on the town walls.
Tide:  Going out.
Rivers: None.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  None.
Pubs:  None.
‘Cadw’ properties:  No.4, Conwy Castle.  No.5, Plas Mawr — which we forgot to visit!
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan on a small farm near St Asaph.  This afternoon we drove to Conwy where we parked in a huge ‘overspill’ car park.
At the end we drove back to our caravan. 

Conwy  Castle 
Conwy Castle was built in the 13th century by Edward I as part of his ‘iron ring’ of fortresses around North Wales.  It was the only one of his castles he actually finished, and cost a phenomenal amount of money.  It withstood a siege soon after it was built, Richard II hid in it temporarily at the end of the 14th century, and it was held by Owain Glyndŵr’s forces for several months a couple of years later.  In the 17th century it was held by the Royalists for four years before surrendering to the Parliamentarians.  They ‘slighted’ the building, and it has been a ruin ever since.
Some restoration work was carried out at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th when Conwy became popular as a haven for artists.  In the present day it is managed by Cadw, and is a World Heritage Site.  UNESCO considers Conwy Castle to be “one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in Europe”.
For us it was one of the best castles we have visited!  We were amazed just how much of the original building is still there.  We didn’t climb all of the towers because it was too exhausting (or perhaps we’re getting too old!) but we had wonderful views over the town and estuary from the top of those we did manage to stagger up.
Colin, of course, was more interested in the gulls which were nesting in several nooks and crannies in the ruins.

The  Town  of  Conwy 
Conwy is a fortified town, and the walls enclosing it were built at the same time as the castle.  They enclose the town on three sides leaving the fourth open to the estuary.  This was so that ships carrying soldiers and supplies could safely dock, overlooked by the high towers of the castle.
The town itself is very compact, rows of terraced houses squashed inside the high walls.  In fact, one house on the quayside boasts that it is the smallest house in Britain.
Again we were amazed at the state of preservation of the town walls.  It is possible to walk all round on top of them, which we did, but you need a good head for heights.  They are very high and the paths are narrow, steep and uneven, but the views make it worthwhile.  We could even see the railway station far below from one section.

The  Three  Bridges 
The view of the estuary from the castle battlements reveals three bridges side by side across Afon Conwy.  The middle bridge, the view of which seems to be masked by the other two bridges, is the most ancient.  In fact it is the oldest suspension road bridge in the world!  It was built by Thomas Telford in the 1820s to replace a ferry which, up until then, was the only way to cross the river at this point.  He designed the towers at each end as turrets, complete with arrow slits, to complement the 13th century castle adjacent to the bridge.  Originally it had a wooden deck, but this was replaced by an iron roadway in the late 19th century.  Until 1958 all traffic had to use this bridge, but then it was superseded by a more modern road bridge built to the north of it.  It became a footbridge when the new bridge was opened.  In 1999 a tunnel was constructed under water, and nowadays the bulk of traffic bypasses Conwy by travelling through that.  (More about the tunnel in Walk 334.)  The 1958 road bridge is still used by traffic wishing to stop in Conwy, and we crossed the river by this method several times.
In the present day Telford’s suspension bridge, a Grade I listed structure, is managed and maintained by the National Trust.  You have to be a member or pay to walk across it, so we didn’t.

The box bridge to the south of Telford’s bridge is a railway bridge.  It was built in the 1840s to carry the North Wales Coastal Line across the Afon Conwy.  It was originally supposed to be a suspension bridge complementary to Telford’s road bridge, but when Robert Stephenson was appointed chief engineer he realised that no suspension bridge would bear the weight of a steam engine.  He designed a wrought iron box bridge and built it here as a prototype of the Britannia Bridge which was to carry the railway over the Menai Strait.  After the original Britannia Bridge was destroyed by fire in 1970 (more about that in Walk 348) the single span box bridge at Conwy remains the only railway bridge of its type in the world.  Again it has towers complete with turrets and arrow slits at each end as if it was part of the adjacent medieval castle.
We travelled across it in a train when we were setting up Walk 332.  We parked in Conwy in the early morning and caught the first train of the day to Colwyn Bay.

Plas  Mawr 
Plas Mawr is an Elizabethan townhouse built by a rich member of the gentry called Robert Wynn.  It was constructed in the middle of Conwy towards the end of the 16th century.  He built it to show off his wealth and apparently entertained lavishly.  The house still retains much of the intricate and colourful plasterwork with which it was decorated more than four hundred years ago.  This includes a number of symbols, badges, heraldry, topless ladies and severed heads!
In the present day the house is managed by Cadw.  We forgot to go there when we were touring round Conwy, but we did visit it a couple of weeks later when we were walking further west.  We took lots of photos inside and out, but somehow they all got deleted.  One day we’ll visit it again and rectify this.

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