Friday, 11 March 2016

A470: Part 2: Llandudno

world-map llangelyninGreetings!

Today’s offering, the second part of my Grand Tour of Wales, deals with Llandudno, a fine Victorian seaside resort that I’ve visited countless times ever since I was a small child. It’s by far and away the finest resort on the north coast and if you’ve never been there, then please do. So, let’s buy an ice cream or some candy floss and take a leisurely walk along the prom. Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside…

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Links to all parts of this travelogue

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Llandudno

Also check out my other Welsh travelogues:

The Sacred Heart of Wales

Across the Sound

V-log: Llangelynin

V-log: Barmouth Cliff Walk

V-log: Walking Pilgrimage to Bardsey Island


Part 2: Llandudno

Llandudno, where the A470 commences – or ends, depending on where you start – is different to the other resorts dotted along that northern coast. Rhos-on-Sea, Colwyn Bay and Prestatyn seem to me to be housing estates by the beach; Rhyl is some apocalyptic vision of how bad a seaside resort can be if all planning, taste and money leave town, but Llandudno never fails to please; it has a gentility and class all of its own.

Part of that is the setting. Nestled on a curving bay in-between the Great and Little Ormes – two rocky headlands jutting out towards the Isle of Man – it seems as if God designed it purposefully to be made into a holiday resort with an elegant row of hotels lining the front. Dubbed the Queen of Welsh Resorts from as early as 1864 and still the largest resort in Wales it is also one of the oldest. Its development began in 1848 when Owen Williams, an architect and surveyor from Liverpool, presented Lord Mostyn who owned all the land thereabouts including the Great Orme, with plans to develop the marsh lands behind Llandudno Bay as a holiday resort. These were enthusiastically taken up by Lord Mostyn and over the decades that followed the town became a model Victorian seaside resort. During the years 1857 to 1877 much of central Llandudno was developed under the supervision of George Felton, the Mostyn Estate's architect and even today the grand sweep of his vision remains. Indeed, it is what makes Llandudno what it is and what sets it apart from its brothers and sisters further along the coast. However, Llandudno itself has a much older history than just as a resort. Even when the developments started there was already a community of over a thousand souls residing in the parish which was named after its church, the Church of St. Tudno which still stands on the slopes of the Orme. Tudno was a 6th century monk who established his first church here and healed people with water from one of the many wells on the Orme. Even Tudno though, was not the first resident; the majority of those thousand or more souls in the parish in 1848 were employed in copper mines and there is evidence of mining on the Orme back to Bronze Age times. Llandudno today may, superficially, be very English in character, but its roots are as Welsh and as ancient as anywhere else in the Principality.


Perhaps we should have a word here about St. Tudno, for one of the features of Wales is that it positively abounds with figures like him, obscure Celtic saints who set up a hermitage in some improbably scenic location where, with a beard as long as your arm, they would praise God in their ancient tongue. Their names are in almost every place name, for the prefix ‘Llan’ (which literally means “enclosure”) signifies a church, (as all ancient churches were in enclosures), normally coupled with the name of the saint who once dwelt there, such as Llanbadarn, Llangurig, Llanilltud, Llangollen and, perhaps the most famous of all, Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch which, sadly, does not mean that it was the home of an impossibly long-named saint, but instead is a Victorian construction that translates as “The Church of St. Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave”.

Tudno seems to be pretty typical of these early Welsh saints, several more of whom we’ll encounter as we drive south. Little concrete is known about him but he is said to have been one of the seven sons of King Seithenyn, whose legendary kingdom Cantref y Gwaelod in Cardigan Bay was submerged by tidal activity. According to the theory, Tudno studied at St. Dunawd's college in the monastery of Bangor Iscoed, in order to make recompense for the drunken incompetence of his father, which had led to the loss of the kingdom under the waves. Seeking a place to live out the religious life, Tudno went to the great ancient limestone outcrop of the Great Orme. He lived initially as a hermit in a small coastal cave with difficult access known as Ogof Llech, and from this base he constructed a church which was replaced in the 12th century by a larger structure which still stands on the headland today. 

ST TUDNOSSt. Tudno’s Church

When we arrived in Llandudno, although the sky was grey, the rain had mostly cleared and the bay looked magnificent; the sweep of hotels with the Great Orme behind, then the tank grey Irish Sea with its ranks of wind turbines harvesting the gusts in the cloud. They are a new addition to the scene, an army of metal eco-warriors planted out to sea in the last decade, but I rather like them as they swish in the gloom, their blades cutting a never-ending circle in the sky.

It was in Llandudno that the road first taught us something. In the Radio 4 documentary the writer Mike Parker states that “The Welshness of the A470 lies in its paradox, in its pluralness... its ability to infuriate us.” With twists and turns aplenty later on, we'd expected this “Celtic knot” of a road to do just that later on, but it managed to succeed even before we'd driven down a metre of its tarmac. On the sea front we were confronted by a dilemma: which of the roads ending there was the one that we sought? “I bet Route 66 is better signposted than this,” declared Rob as we finally settled on the one that we thought it was and took photos there. Consulting his iPad moments later revealed that we'd got it wrong: the A470 was the next street along, the one that we'd just passed. A knot indeed, infuriating in its plurality. Yet we both liked it. A Welsh Route 66 the A470 may be, but first and foremost it is Welsh. Route 66 traverses a vast, boastful and confident nation; of course it would be well-signposted. Wales is none of those things. She has been subjected by her neighbour for far too long to be boastful and confident, and as for size, well Lorraine King describes it best in her A470 song: “A celebration of a nation you could fit into a postage stamp”. So, it was right that it should be an unheralded, hidden beginning. Yes, we both rather liked that.

llandudno-15_14485930247_oThe humble beginning/end to the Welsh M1

By either side of the (genuine) end/beginning of the A470 are monumental hotels as envisaged by Owen Williams in his original masterplan for the marshes. Inside in well-lit dining rooms sat the ranks of the retired, dining on roast beef or steak and chips, gazing out into the gloom beyond, hoping that it would clear completely so that they could have a stroll before bedtime. They are atmospheric places, those grand hotels with names like the Majestic or the Hydro, symbols of a bygone era inhabited by people like our grandparents who holidayed in groups where everyone followed the same itinerary, being picked up at a convenient spot by the Shearings coach and treated to the dubious delights of a garden centre en route. Us children of the Post-Modern Era where everything is about the individual who follows their own specially-tailored package struggle to see how they could endure, let alone enjoy such a holiday, but that was what they yearned for after weeks of hard toil in the factory, mine or office. Strolling hand-in-hand along the wide promenade with an excursion up the Orme to look forward to on the morrow; that was their idea of pleasure. The hotels that flank the end of the Welsh Route 66 are the Marine and the Imperial. We stood in front of the entrance of the latter, half-expecting Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple to emerge from the doors under its stained glass portico, ready to solve a murder on the pier, musing on the Wales of the holidaymaker that we were trying to go beyond and then got in the car and turned on the ignition. We were off! Two days and 178 miles later we would have discovered the very soul of Wales and be wiser men for it. Well... perhaps.

llandudno-imperial-hotel_14692272463_oRob at the Imperial Hotel

No comments:

Post a Comment