A UK Coastal Trip – St Ives

Moving around England’s tip, Cornwall’s north coast is a high drama of high, angry cliffs separated by gentle, crescent-shaped coves of soft sand. The complete range, & more, of the blue palette colours the hugeness of sky and the vastly distant ocean. Both are disrupted by the force of white weather. Clouds build and isolate as cotton wool is spread across the heavens by high winds. The ocean is blown up by the same winds into a ferocious bombardment, throwing itself upon beach, rocks or harbour wall in line upon line of snarling white beasts attempting to break down the land’s resistance.

The beach fleurons, bitten out of the cliffs are magnificent, particularly at low tide when their true dramatic beauty can be truely appreciated. Most are inaccessible on foot although some can be reached by scrambling down cliff paths. The more accessible ones have been taken over by fishing or farming or mining communities who use the ocean as their main livelihood or as an essential means of transporting goods, produce or materials.

Porthmeor Beach, St Ives

St Ives is such a vibrant town with its narrow alleys and lanes that all focus on the harbour.

The high tide lashes up against the encircling stone jetties. As it recedes, the town’s beaches merge outside the harbour walls. Holidaymakers enjoy the range of artesan shops, the pasties, the pubs & bars & restaurants or just wandering the streets at tourist pace. Where’s Wally? Nah, Meet Marky, in pic below!

A sign of the holidaymakers life today is the number of Status Dogs they bring with them. They yap & bark and tangle around legs & paws & feet. These posing, sniffing, prancing bundles of shag pile rug demand a great deal of attention and require lots of care & protection. Maybe St Ivez is a particularly hazardous place. I’ve seen them put in knitted wool tunics, in wheeled carts pulled behind bicycles, carried in the arms of owners, pushed along in buggies, placed in a material basket under the table in a restaurant, sitting on pub seats, peeking out of a coat pocket. A dog should be treated like a dog, not like a four legged, shaggy Tamagotchi.

Portreath

Porthtowan

Most of St Agnes is up on the cliff tops but if you maneuver you way down to the beach and the old, now sea-destroyed harbour, a dramatic cove awaits you. Sandwiched between sharp, steep cliffs with the nibbled coastline stretching away, the white breakers crash down on the rattling pebbles. A few sturdy souls brave the water …..with no wet suits! Up on the top, minute figures stand at the edge along the coastal path, gazing down at us from a great height.

Surfing and family fun at Perranporth.

Surfing at Fistral Beach, Newquay

A UK Coastal Trip – Mousehole

Carrying on down towards the west, the first village on the coast is Mullion Cove. Sea mist had descended and the harbour and beach were hidden in a grey wash. A single boat had been left high, the only object with clear, sharp features.

Portleven is an energetic little place although parking is not easy, especially when wedding guests seemed to hog most of the available places. The local gig crew were out on the water, small, designer huts were set up with wares for visiting tourists and a farmers’ market was in session.

The hugely impressive & privstely owned St Michael’s Mount is linked to Marazion by a stone causeway. At high tide this is completely covered by water and a boat ferries visitors across. At mid to low tide it is possible to walk over. The best images of both places are afforded from the middle point.

Penzance is a pretty ordinary place. The boat to the Sicilly Isles operates from the small working harbour.

The art deco Jubilee Pool fills up at high tide so folk can swim in the cold waters all day long, irrespective of where the tide is. High tide comes right up to the sea wall and so it is impossible to describe the beach here.

Newlyn harbour is a large working dock where fishing boats unload their catch, overlooked by old workers’ cottages and owners’ dwellings.

Mousehole is a lovely fishing village, full of character, with small, narrow streets that steepen down to the harbour as the main focal point. Today the ocean was knocking at the harbour walls, throwing its strength against the stone and sending huge plumes of angry spray up & over to cover the cars parked on the jetty behind. And, yes, Hugh, we found the cafe!

The beach at Porthcurno is truely dramatic. Sliding down a steep, rope-railinged, pitted path its magnificence is revealed at the bottom. Glorious, soft sands are pinched by grey slabs of huge sharks’ teeth rocks on one side and the rising heights of towering, blue/black/grey cliffs topped by the silhouetted fences of Minack open-air Theatre on the other. In between the roar of surf crashes out all noise and a lone surfer-dude challenges the power of the ocean in front of a handful of spectators sitting along the beach.

I’ll leave you with the end of a passing shower at Sennen Cove. It just goes to show there is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

I’m not going to spend time on Landsend. Just to say it is categorised as a theme park and costs £7 to park!!!!!

A UK Coastal Trip – Falmouth

Several ferries across the estuary of the River Fal, keep the historic village of St Mawes and the historic town of Falmouth connected. The King Harry chain link car ferry rattles across just up from the mouth, whilst the St Mawes passenger ferry runs between the two harbours, aided by several water taxis. Henry VIII built a fort on each bank to protect the south coast from the French.

Falmouth itself has two distinct parts. The historic old town reflects Georgian wealth and Victorian charm. Looking up at the upper stories of the high streets is a clear indication how affluent this place was in the past. The buildings are dual aspect. Business is done from the front facing the street whilst goods are bought in by boat at the rear facing the water. On Customs House Quay the imposing offices of officials, the harbourmaster and merchants overlook their demain.

The pier has a certain Victorian charm & elegance to it amongst the yachts and trawlers and even warships. Like a bus ferminal, several ferries and boat trips collect and drop of their passengers from its iron superstructure.

West out of Falmouth runs the resort part of the town where a cliff road, lined with elegant homes and apartment bocks, runs above soft-sanded beach, although you only see it properly at low tide, when sharp rocks appear to cut off access to the sea.

Swanpool anf Maenporth are two more sandy beaches that are easily accessible to families.

Porthallow has a grey, coarse beach semi-circled by homes and fishing paraphernalia.

Porthoustock has a similar coarse beach. It is a working village with part of the cliff knocked through to provide access to a quarry. A digger loads stone onto a large vessel.

Coverack is a large, friendly village spread along the cliffs that line the bay. The car park is at one end and it is a gentle walk down and up the road with comfortable dwellings and gardens on the land side, with view over the beach on the other. Sharks teeth rocks run out from the sea wall with soft sand only exposed at low tide.

Some fishing still goes on, alongside water activities for visitors.

The small cafe at the top is open through the summer and serves the most amazing pizzas and toasted sandwiches. It is a friendly place. Sitting at a table in the sun with two local ladies, they tell the story of the Night of the Giant Hailstones when stones the size of fists were thrown at the village, destroying sheds & conservatories and causing outbuildings, cars and the road to slide into the sea. A friendly place with a strong sense of community.

A UK Coastal Trip – St Mawes

Now, Cornwall is renowned for its narrow lanes and high sided hedges. On this trip I discovered what this means in reality. On a map these villages are linked by white lines & B roads that criss cross the area between larger towns in a random, haphazard pattern that is the product of land & mine ownership rather than any logical arrangement of farmers’ fields.

Portmellon

The roads fall into two distinct categories. The B roads may have faded white lines in the middle at certain places and tend to have enough room for vehicles to pass – in places. Tourists, lorries, buses mostly use these roads. Most of the roads (huh) fall into the next category. They are syphon shaped in that at the junction they seem wide and open enough for two vehicles to pass comfortably but within a few metres the sides, now 3 metre high hedges, have squeezed in to within centimetre or two of your mirrors. The hedges are weapons of this hellish game of Mario carts. Not only do they breathe down on you from a great height, they also hide large rocks behind their cover of pretty, green vegetation. It looks like you can squeeze in to the foliage to make some room but if you do this there is a squeaking sound of metal bending. Miles are done on these lanes, accompagnied by prayers that nothing will come up the other way and making mental notes of each potential passing place.

Gorran Haven

When (not if) it does, there is then the Drivers Standoff. Two cars face off, engines tick over, drivers stare & snarl through gritted teeth calculating where the passing place behind is, waiting for the first to break. One breaks. That one practices, again, their wing mirror reversing technique, which, I have to say, I got pretty good at, particularly when I came head to head with the local bus who in no way was going to reverse and gently kept me company as I made room in a gateway 100 metres behind. The other driver breathes a sigh of relief and follows the sharply zigzagging vehicle in front, whistling happily. It’ll be their turn next.

East Portholland

West Portholland

Fingers tighten on the wheel and conversation becomes tense as the journey progress. A few miles takes 30 minutes of slow 2nd gear driving and the Passing Dance occurs at least a couple of times on the way, wether you’re the passer or the passee. The relief of reaching your destination is enormous. Aaaarhhhh. Take the photo and repeat.

The villages are very similar. Usually at the bottom of a wooded hill where a brook meets the sea. A cluster of converted fishermen’s cottages clutter around a small beach that is totally covered at high tide, revealing stone, pebbles and sand, in places, as the tide goes out. There’s usually a chapel to look after the souls of lost and past fisherfolk. Many have also been converted. Modern, more expensive homes hover around the edges of the cove in prime positions, with huge open windows bringing the view indoors while keeping the owners, not sure if these are first or second ones, away from the elements, the history, the visitors.

Portloe

Portscaro

St Mawes

A UK Coastal Trip – Mevagissy

From Polperro it is a short drive to the Boddinick Ferry, of the chain link variety, which crosses the River Fowey to the historic town of the same name. On the north bank Polruan faces Fowey.

On the south bank Fowey faces Polruan.

Linking the two are numerous water taxis, the Polruan Ferry for passengers and the car ferry further up the river. Fowey is built in narrow climbing streets that create a winding maze lined with what feels like 100s of bakeries selling thousands of pasties or an equal number of parlours selling Cornish icecreams, craft retailers & the necessary seafaring gear for city dwellers. Needless to say that every seat or step, houses the bottom of a visitor with their mouth around a pasty or their tongue licking out, lizard style, at a creamy ice.

Polkerris is a small village down a narrow lane with a pub on the beach.

Par Sands beach is a wide dune-backed beach with soft sands and a large free carpark. In the far distance, what look like farm buildings crowd around an an old wharf but other that an ugly sight it does not impinge on family fun amongst the dunes.

Charlestown, a few miles further along the coast, is the harbour setting for all those tv episodes of sexy Aiden Turner playing Poldark. A private harbour, it has been turned into an historic setting, cobbled and stoned, with wharves & jetties. It certainly has the feel of past seafaring adventures even if the cafe umbrellas, pub tables & icecream stalls take some of the gloss away. A good place to visit to get a feel of Drake and sailing the Spanish Main.

And then Mevagissy. Two harbours, enveloped by clawing walls, ooze history around their wharves and merchants’ houses. Yes, it gets its shares of visitors. But by the evening they have left, the fish & chip shops emptied, the pubs have quietened down and a calmness falls over the moorings and the cobbled streets.

A UK Coastal Trip – Polperro

Torpoint’s chain link car ferry across the Tamar marks my leaving of Plymouth and heralds my arrival in Cornwall.

Come with me as I travel along Cornwall’s south coast to Landsend and back up its northern face to Padstow. The first day provides the full Cornish fayre of beach settlements.

The first two are raw Cornwall where high tide swallows any beach and low tide reveals angles of cheese-grater rocks mixed with sea-smoothed slabs of rocks, stones and pebbles.The only road into Portwrinkle runs below whitewashed bungalows and comfortable homes. At the end of the road a gnarled, circular stone wall, created from rocks & stones from the beach, provides a refuge to a couple of lonely, open boats that are just waiting for the tide to lift them up to higher spirits. In both directions sharp files of rocks await any careless sailor or fisherman.

There is little to welcome tthe seaside-seeking family here. Only those whose idea of fun is a battering from the elements. The same us true of Downderry.

At low tide the fullness of emerald slime-covered rocks, squelches of brown seaweed and snags of multi-sized pebbles & stones is fully revealed. The saving grace is a thriving & friendly local community which offers everyone, visitors & locals alike, sausage, bacon & egg rolls and a cuppa for £3 from the village hall.

Then there is Looe. A magical name but I missed out on any magic in its narrow streets. I’m not sure what it was: maybe the crowds of visitors with their packs of unnecessary designer-dogs, maybe the car parks that seem to dominate the drag alongside the slimey estuary, maybe the lack of a quaint harbour or a old centre, maybe the newish developments along the river banks. Maybe it was just the weather.

And then Polperro saved the day. A walk from the out-of-village car park, down narrow, squeezing lanes leads down to the harbour where history oozes out of every crack. I’ll leave you with fudge-box perfect images of a real Cornish coastal experience.

A UK Coastal Trip – Plymouth

I am off on the last leg of my coastal trip around England and Wales. My aim is to use two centres to visit all the coastal settlements of any size in Cornwall, which, you may be surprised to discover, I have never really explore before. But first I have to continue from where I finished in South Devon last time.

Travelling down on the A303, a magnificent road scenically, brought back happy memories of youthful nautical adventures and years of cricket tours to Dorset. Breaking the journey at Buckfast Abbey Hotel seemed a good idea with the peace of the lavendar garden contrasting with the roar of traffic. Maybe be slightly too much, especially when dinner was taken in a rather basic monks’ refectory with me almost the youngest amongst the other grey-haired guests.

I hit the coast at Hope Cove – a lovely, rather ordinary place, surrounded by glorious landscapes. It felt like a tight, local community lived here throughout the year. There is evidence of some history in the rock walls that create an ancient harbour and also of facilities and activities that litter the beach.

It is a short drive to Bigbury-on-Sea. Here, the small resort protect a real nugget. Burgh Island is connected to the mainland by a beach causeway that is gradually exposed as the tide recedes and completely covered either side of high tide. Guests to the art deco hotel, a luxury, unique establishment where rooms start at£450 a night, are transported at the latter time on the sea tractor. I’m not sure if famous guests like Noel Coward and Churchill took the same route. There is a pub next door that serves the rest of us pints and shorts before being herded into the cave on wheels to be returned to the mainland.

And then to Plymouth. The Hoe, Drake, Hen nights, the castle, shopping, partying. Much of the seafront has been moulded into permanent features that will last into the next millenium. The beach has become concrete layers & strips of a beach cake – hard surfaces facing the westerly weather. Even the lido laughs at any attempt to soften its 20’s lines.

The sky greys roll in and drip precipitation onto the party wharfs of the Barbican. Sensible people would wear a coat ……but not a party girl, in Plymouth (or anywhere else for that matter). As the beer tents drip, the skirts get shorter and the dresses get to queeze onto Barbies of assorted sizes from new XXL to XS.

Discovering some of the delights of the southern Shropshire hills

You know what it’s like when you look at a map of an area you’re new to and certain names jump out at you as places you want to visit. The southern Shropshire hills has loads of them, too many to fit in on one road trip. I had to miss places like The Bog & Bridges. But I did visit some gems startng with Much Wenlock. Yep a real place.

It’s delightful village with a couple of narrow streets, spoking from an even smaller market square, that crowd in a variety of small shops selling food, clothes, tools, even an ececclesiastical outfitters.

Many of the gravestones of the parish church have been removed to create a large grassed area with mature redwoods, where village events take place. This backs on to the ruins of the priory which is open to the public -at a small price.

Church Stretton is on the Shrewsbury road. As its name suggests it has a peaceful graveyard around the church and a Commonwealth cemetery at the edge of town.

It has a small, attractive centre with buildings that date from Stuart times.

The Shropshire countryside can best be seen from one of the many ridges/hills that separate the numerous valleys that crisscross the landscape. The Long Mynd runs north to south. From the ridge the whole county is displayed in front of you for miles and miles.

Entertainment is provided by six ladies who are training their pooches in scenting & obedience – hilarious times. Not sure who was training who..

The narrow trackhish road along the ridge runs past purple sprouting heathers and fronzy brackens that line a patchwork of wheat harvested fields, nibbling sheeps and fresh meadows. Open sky and vibrant greens hit the senses. Great for walking and, Traffords, cycling.

I’ll lleave you with the charmingly, quaint Bishops Castle. No sign of either except a shop or pub or two.

Coalbrookdale – the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

The Coalbrookdale Museums tell the fascinating story of how the local methods of iron production developed over the centuries to enable the large scale manufacture of metal tools, machinery & vehicles used in every aspect of domestic and business life all over the world. It was here that attempts to produce iron in large quatities were tried & tested and the first Darby blast furnace was constructed in 1709.

The railway was built through the factory buildings at a later date. Iron production involves the firing of prepared amounts of linestone, iron ore & coke (semi-burnt coal) in a furnace at exceptionally high temperatures of 1,000+ degrees centigrade, high enough to melt the ore. The resulting melted pig iron flows from the bottom of the furnace and is cooled in sand moulds.

This is the original furnace. Imagine it twice the height. Two men, working in 12 hour shifts, would have continuously filled the furnace from the top with the three elements, thus keeping the furnace going 24 hours a day and 7 days a week because if it went out & cooled down the furnace would crack. Another man was responsible for letting the pig iron flow from the hole in the bottom into an arrangement of channels that reminded folk of a litter of piglets feeding from the udders of their mother.

To keep the temperature up a huge water wheel powered two enormous bellows which blasted a continuous stream of hot air across the bottom of the furnace.

The original buildings that made up the iron works have been converted into a cafe and museum displays but the feel of the origial blast furnaces remains.

Blists Hill Victorian Town near Ironbridge is gorgeous

Well, maybe not gorgeous but still, pretty impressive, standing on the hillside above the gorge where the Severn cuts through the Shropshire hills. The village of Ironbridge is just that. A cluster of houses around the first cast iron bridge in the world, built in the late 18th century. In the early evening sun it looks particularly impressive.

Blists Hill Victorian Town has been created around two originall industries that existed here in Victorian times: the brick and tile works

and the iron works

It is here that men worked 12 hour shifts in the blast furnaces, pouring slag down to create blasts of hot air 24 hours a day firing molten iron at over 1,000 degrees centigrade.

The rest of the town was built up around these two industries to provide to visitors an idea of how hard life was for the workers at that time. It may look idyllic today but in those days it was hard.

I’m the only one talking; I’ve been sent to Coventry

Today was all about finishing my journey along one canal and beginning my next trip along another. The Oxford Canal joins the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction. These two are the oldest canals on the entire UK waterways system.

For a while they used to run parallel to each other but relations were not good between the two canal companies. The Coventry was built first and three years later the Oxford powered up to join it. But they couldn’t physically join as the Oxford was 9 inches higher and they were worried that their competitors would steal their water.

The Oxfird on the right had to build a last lock on their section to enable the two waterways to flow in unison. Here you can see the toll house in the middle, the lock-keeper’s house on the right and the pump house for the Coventry on the left.

Swopping canals, it is a short leg of seven bridges into Coventry Basin from here, passing through the town’s established Asian communities on one side

modern canal side housing, some of which incorporates past industrial structures

and monuments to past industrial giants. The only evidence of the first car production line in the UK that remains, the Daimler factory, is the pump room here.

Coventry Basin has been tarted up a bit but you can still feel, despite bringing surrounded by modern apartment blocks, the bargees at work, moving goods around warves and warehouses, especially coal destined for Oxford & London.

Another working day at Hillmorton Locks on the Oxford Canal

Just taking a couple of days out to complete my road trip on my last section of the Oxford Canal. I came across one gem of place on the northern fringe of Rugby which has several unique features. The flight of locks at Hillmorton consists of three pairs of locks separated by long pounds. Double the traffic can pass through, if neccesary passing in opposite directions, depending on the volume of boats.

This is the busiest flight of locks on the entire UK canal network. At 1230 the volunteer managing the top locks had passed 36 boats through, down its two lower cousins and I counted 12 more waiting to enter the small flight.

Part of the problem was the passage of a working boat through the flight. This in itself is not an issue. What held things up was the fact that the main boat was towing a support barge that had no engine. This meant that as the pair approached each of the three sets of locks, which could only hold one vessel, they had to use both locks. This meant turning up at the entrance, untieing the towrope, manually moving the towed barge into one lock and once in place, manouvering the tug barge into the other lock, passing through, reversing to connect to the towed one and moving on. Phew, I’m exhausted just describing it. Once takes a while, three takes a while longer. And when the water level in the middle pound is so low that the boats get stuck, it takes even longer still.

At the bottom lock there is a Book Exchange, a busy working boatyard, a good cafe and numerous canal-based industries, including a compost toilet manufacturer.

I leave you with this lovely lady. A volunteer at the bottom set of the flight, helping the casual user to open gates, release water and having to remind some of them to shut the door when they have finished.

Three Welsh beaches through the rain clouds

What a difference a day makes. The Mumbles looked glorious under blue skies. The journey to Pembrokeshire, via Rhossili, was carried out under grey, crying clouds. At least the rain stopped at Rhossili leaving a level of low mist to cover the peaks around arguably the best beach in Wales, if you have the legs to get down to it with or without your surf board. It was eerie and ghostly with swirling wisps of cloud revealing secrets to the remarkably high number of visitors, considering the weather.

The rain and drizzle continued through to Pembrokeshire. That righteous part of my clean living did me proud again with the skies clearing on arrival to to the prettiest converted barn imaginable overlooking Dinas Head and the village of Newport.

Having provided a glimpse of what’s on offer, the clouds drew in overnight. Wet weather could be heard on the skylights. In the morning, during a respite in the cloud-dumping sessions, I opened the back door. The glory of the silence that squashed against me was overwhelming, only disturbed by the bleeding of the occasional sheep in the neighbouring field.

The rain was not going to cease completely today and so it was out and at ’em, what ever the sky threw down. Newport is a lovely village with picturesque cottages, pubs, restaurants and unique, independant craft & tourist shops. Parrog beach runs along the side of the mouth of the River Nyfer. With the tide out it is like a wet snake, slithering through the muddy, sandy squelch of the estuary.

Crossing the river to the north, the road rises around to the golf club and down to the town beach on the opposite side.

Greys of clouds darken in the distance and approach relentlessly, waiting to dump their loads on the sands. Human activity continues unabated, providing endless entertainment for an appreciative audience – those attempting to remain upright on their new paddle boards, dog owners loosing control over their excited, pedigree, designer-dogs despite calls, whistles, treats and leads. Have a look at these atmospheric images:

I couldn’t resist this one. This little girl is anxiously waiting for her granddad who has been down to the sea with a bucket and spade in which to collect water especially for her and their sand castle-building efforts.

Mumbling on about The Mumbles on race day

So what does a day out in The Mumbles look like. It can be very energetic for some. For me it contains s lot of slow strolling from bench to bench along the front which are at least 10 metres apart, from the centre of town to the pier, a distance of 800 metres or so. During this time a lot of observation takes place, admiring the activity of others.

One is immediately hit by the rate of different activities along the promenade which stretches all the way from Swansea around to The Mumbles, all of 5 miles or so. It is divided into two lanes. One is depicted by two people holding hands – for lovers or more generally, pedestrians with the occasional panting jogger. The other sign has the symbol of a cyclist. Now, this term can vary between the hire-bikes ridden gently by those unused to demanding activities and those cycling sleek road bikes at ferocious speeds who are totally unable to stop if a two-legged user strays into the two-wheeled lane. Somehow, there are no collisions.

First things first – the first coffee of the day is always the best. In amongst the parked boats, most of which are tatty, dirty, scruffy and look like they would sink if they even got close to water, are several coffee shacks/vehicles. That took sun a good hour sitting and chatting to Joy, a senior local who sang the praises of her home town.

The next stop at the launching ramp, which passes for the town harbour, was for a similar period of time, watching the boats unloaded from trailers, getting rigged and setting off across the bay to the starting line up for a days racing. Sadly the wind was only whispering so it took a while to get over there.

Now these guys were really important and ready to spring into action. They were the Race Support Team. If a boat got into difficulty miles away on the other side of the bay, they would have to get straight back, with no wind to speak of, and the team would jump into action and sort out any problems. What a responsibility!

A lot of time was spent watching others engaged in busy activities. Fishing was the most energetic, as was watching the fishermen.

There was a lot of ice cream consumption taking place by people of all ages.

Gentle activities include family swimming, leisurely paddle-boarding, launchng private boats & dingies.

Up at the pier tea is of course essential.

But I am looking for a place to have a little dose. I have my eye on the benches at the end of the pier. The Mumbles has four RNLI lifeboat stations. Originally the local lifeboat was stored under the cliff but a proper building was built in 1866 around a ramp a few years after.

Two more stations and ramps were built at the end of the pier – the one on the left, now a host to a breeding colony of very noisy gulls, in 1922 and the other on the right in 2014.

I found a nice comfy bench and settled down for a nap. I was reassured that my security was taken care of by two new friends. I don’t know what my female pal was peeping at below.

Mumbling about in South Wales

The title of the blog and the first image might give you a clue about this road trip.

A large concrete block, with consonant-heavy words, short chomped hill-grass and a couple of rather manky mountain sheep with tattered fleeces give it away. I am on my way over to the west coast of Wales and breaking the journey for a day in The Mumbles.

Once across the southern-most bridge over the Severn and past Cardiff, it is a right turn up into the hills and valleys of the Rhondda and Wales’ industrial past.Along the top of the valleys the road passes through countless mining communities with relics of their industrial past, tall chimneys, lift machinery, foundry buildings, standing empty, usually dilapidated, but still proud above the strings of workers’ terraces that line the road and lasso up and down the hillsides. Even this aquaduct shouts out its heritage, built in 1827 to carry water to an iron works three miles away.

Above the mining villages the road rises to the Brecon Beacons with parades of wind farms behind, their upper rotations hidden by haze and whispers of cloud. On the edge of a ‘long and winding road’, overlooking the valley communities, stands a rather sad, lonely single ice cream van selling coffee, icecream and home-made Welsh cakes (well we are in Wales!). It still gets customers – some more interested in the surrounding grass than the ice cream.

Following the head of the valleys eventually brings us down to Swansea and, by folowing the coastline, to The Mumbles, the guardian of the wonderful Gower coastline. Down to the Bay, looking left and right, respectivrly, along to Swansea and to the two RNLI lifeboat stations at the end of the pier.

Here’s a close up, with the lighthouse behind on the headland.

More about The Mumbles, tomorrow.

A UK Coastal Trip – IoW Cowes

There is still enough righteousness in my tank for the sun to blaze one last day as I complete my circular tour around the coast of the Isle of Wight. The beach up to Cowes hinges at Gurnard. This small village has a line of tall, rather grand beach huts set along the esplanade. There are few people about even though the weather is ideal for time on the beach. Maybe this is due to the fact that the tide is coming in below the promenade, leaving a reducing amount of sand & pebbles to set the beach furniture on; will its a bit coarse to edit on. Only when school ends do the youngsters come down to mess about on surf boards and inflatables.

The pebbly beach, full of creams & tans & lattes like a caramel cream, chocolate chip ice cream, runs up to Cowes with the wide promenade keeping it company all the way. You know you’re in the town when you are welcomed by the Yacht Club with its crescent of small canon that signal the start of races.

Next to the club a crescent provides parking for cars and a dropping off point for coaches, overlooked by some classy houses and hotels.

As the coaches spill their loads onto the pavements, fragile lines of slow-moving visitors move off into the narrow passages of the old town, all pedestrianised to facilitate the payment of dosh in the many cafes and tat shops.

Around the edge of the old centre, lining the waters edge, are numerous boat yards hosting stands of pretty impressive luxury boats and racing yachts – Cowes’ main preoccupation & industry. Chandlers and boat suppliers display traditional goods and services amongst the tourist glitz.

The chain ferry links the affluence of Cowes with the industry of its poorer brother, East Cowes, on the other side of the estuary. Smaller and less glamourous than big brother, East Cowes has been a centre for industry and ship building for centuries. In 1696 Nye’s Yard built a 32-gun battleship. During WWI 33 destroyers and at least 2 submarines were built in the town’s yards. The coastline here is way less impressive & glitzy than over the water. The open area behind the high tide beach is for family fun and recreation. Maybe this working town has done its bit in building up an industrial past. The propeller of HMS Cavalier stands close to the site of the Rope Works, in front of old workers’ houses..

Thank you sun and thanks to IoW. Has been a great few days.

A UK Coastal Trip – IoW Yarmouth

Well, I must have done something right sometime in the past cause the sun shone and shone and shone today. And when the sun shines every image looks amazing although I have to say that I visited some pretty attractive places and beaches.

I started at Ventnor. I’d forgotten what a nice place Ventnor is, especially in that early morning light. I used to bring parties of children here in my early days as a teacher. The pier was still there then, before it was demolished in the 1990s following a fire. The site is still marked. But it is a lovely, calm resort with an air of respectability and prosperity.

I then drove through the Overcliff. This stretches all the way along the coast. For a while it is wooded on its upper slopes sprinkling shadow and shade below. The lower road is closed due to cliff slip, the process of land slumping down into the sea forming clumps of rocks in front of a receding coast line.

Emerging from the shade of the woods the road runs parallel to the coast with open country and farmland on both sides. Cow parsley conducts the swaying fields of young barley and wheat. Marked footpaths set off to the cliffs and chines, steep gullies, cut down to the rough beaches. Brook Cline is one such.

Freshwater is a quiet resort where the road and coastal path sink down to the sea and then rise up again. It must have been popular with the Victorians judging from the age of the housing.

Alum Bay provides the most spectacular view of the beach and the Needles Lighthouse. Of course I went down in the chair lift, and up!

Totland and Colway are very similar, clutched on the coast in a narrow stretch of land, especially at high tide but connected by a sleepy, wild esplanade.

My favourite place of the day was Victoria Fort at Norton. Away from the visitors it is an old deserted battery that was originally built in the time of Henry VII, facing Hurst Castle on the opposite side of the Solent, to protect us from the French. It was further developed at the start of the Napoleonic Wars for the same purpose. It’s even got a slowly disintegrating military pier. It is a peaceful place, calm and settled with a little cafe providing snacks & drinks from one of the battery houses.

I’ll leave you with some images of the charming port of Yarmouth, the site of another of Henry VII’s forts facing out to sea. It has a pleasure pier for unloading visitors from the mainland and next door a terminal for their vehicles as well.

A UK Coastal Trip – IoW Sandown

The sun is due to shine floor a few days, so to celebrate I’m going to foreign climes to add the Isle of Wight to my coastal adventures. Still its goodbye to Portsmouth and a photogenic passage down The Solent.

And it’s hi to Fishbourne, looking a bit llike a Constable painting.

Ryde is just along the coast. Like so many British seaside towns it basks in a former glory. The pier welcomed holiday-makers from the mainland and transferred them to the flesh pots of the town (or the lobster & crab pots). Rusting rails and tracks must have carried several trains at the same time. Today it acts as a terminal for the passenger ferry from the mainland and the end of the pier acts as a car park. It is a novel feeling to drive along the wooden planks to the tatty space at the end.

I rather lliked Seaview. A quaint Edwardian resort town facing over the Solent. It has a calm atmosphere set off by a front with well maintained houses and bars around the Yacht Club. With the tide in, the rocks are prominent providing coral-like sculptures before the smoother saves are exposed with the receding water.

St Helen’s is in a prime location at the end of a popular beach for water sports.

Then we are into the Blackpools of the south coast. First is Sandown.

Then there is Shanklin, with Sandown’s pier in the background, a bit like an older, bigger brother looking over it.

A day of metal work in the north west

Well, if Morecombe and Blackpool were the cheese yesterday, then I saw three lots of chalk to balance them out and they all centered around constructions of metal. The first on my journey down to Liverpool was at Saint Anne’s on the Sea, namely St Annes Pier built in Victorian times. I haven’t worked these tides out. Based on past experience I thought the tide would be in during the morning. Well, as you can see when I arrived at nine or so it was well and truly out. The pier is looking a bit worse for wear and it is reassuring with the presence of a couple of vans and a couple of guys and the sound of Maxwell with his hammer coming from inside means it is getting some TLC and will be returned to its former glory. Even in this dilapidated state it has a certain charm.

A guy on a tractor was giving the beach an early morning sweep. The impression that he was preparing the dressage course was further enhanced by the rider in the distance down by the shore.

Further down the coast is Southport. This has real character as an old, Victorian resort. What used to be the seaside promenade, complete with ornate teraces, glass-covered frontages and wide, leafy boulevard-style streets is now several hundred metres from the sea, positioned above reclaimed land covered in superstores and fast food restaurants.

The Victorian pier links the two. It starts up by the old promenade and emerges onto the beach between the multiplex & 10 pin bowling alley on one side and McDonalds & Pizza Express on the other. Pedestrians can climb up wide steps onto the pier here. Once there, you realise that this is the half-way point. Although there are rails set into the wooden planks, the two little trains that chug up and down run on wheels. Shame. The tides confuse me again – high tide right up to the sea wall!

Corby is another journey down the coast. On Corby beach is the piece de reresistance (French spelling not good) – an Antony Gormley installation entitled Another Place. 100 life-sized sculpures are placed on the beach, facing out to sea. There seem to be three lines over several kilometres. As the tide moves in and out so figures are covered and exposed. From a distance it is hard to tell which is human and which is metal. The ones here are all metal. Confusing tides again, though as I expected – going out.

Chalk or cheese in the north west

The day started in Grange-over-Sands, a picturesque place on one side of the estuary of the River Kent. The railway runs along the coast and through the town. I drove to the opposite bank to Arnside, another pretty place where the railway crosses the muddy expanse of the river. A pier was built here to allow boats to unload their cargoes as their progress upstream was then blocked. The scenery remained outstanding even if the weather proved disappointing.

I’ve not a lot to say about Morecombe other than the tide was in. The most prominent feature of the town is the exceptionally sturdy sea wall that doubles as a wide promenade. I don’t know if this is the chalk or the cheese but it’s certainly different. The statue of Eric Morecambe was the best thing.

Further down the coast I came across the marvelously named Knott End on Sea on the north side of another estuary, that of the River Wyre. A pretty ordinary place, the one one thing it has going for it is the ferry that links it with Fleetwood, that from a distance seems to have historic landmarks in the form of docks, barracks and a lighthouse.

When I arrived the tide was in, licking right up to the shoreline. An hour later the sea had disappeared into the far distance leaving stodgy, sticky mounds of muddy, silty sands with winding channels and standing pools. This a characteristic of this coastline. It is very shallow out to sea so when the tide goes out it vanishes very fast and when it turns it comes in equally swifty. This can prove extremely hazardous for anyone venturing out onto the sands/mud.

And then there’s Blackpool. The capital of England’s Pierland – after all its got three.

Many see Blackpool as THE place for a seaside holiday. A holiday heaven. I’m not going to express an opinion. I’m going to leave you with images of the resort from Cleveleys in the north down to the Pleasure Beach to the south and let you make your mind up. The coastline is pretty uniform this whole distance – vast sea defences extend the whole way, acting as a promenade and a cycle way, a tram line runs parrallel to this with a the coast road beside it. Then the resort proper starts, fronted by hotels, B&Bs, guest houses, bars, restaurants (every 4th one seems to be a fish & chip shop), arcades, casinos.

So is it Blackpool that is the chalk or the cheese? It’s all very different.

A UK Coastal Tour – Barrow-on-Furness

A sandwich of two grey, cold parts with a filling of warmer, clear blue skies in the middle helped to make moody & atmospheric images, whatever the subject matter. I spent the day driving down the Cubrian coast nibbling the edge of the Lake District – always there, always gloomy, always menacing and threatening to hide my scenes in a multi-greyed blanket; yet always there to awe & wonder at its beauty of shape and colour and texture and feel. Kept me company all day.

First stop Whitehaven, although it was more Grey/Blackhaven. The inner harbour houses the marina with sea defences that look sturdy enough. Around the edges a wide, stoned, quay fronts converted merchants houses, warehouses and terraces of workers’ cottages, many with painted windows and doors to add to their grandisement.

The outter harbour protects the inner harbour and provides all the technology like markers and lights.

Over the railway and along the beach at Nethertown, I discovered not a town but a wonderful beach community of shacks and sheds, all inhabited.

Sellafield Power Station appears from the gloom, dripping menace along the coast.

The sun begins to break through in Seascale.

The beach at Haverigg is best seen in this light with soft-sanded dunes anchored in tall grasses which hide the village.

Roa Island is reached by a causeway. By now the tide is almost out and the huge expanse of soft, treacherous sand is fully exposed. Markers indicate where spits and banks are a danger. Ruins of Piel Castle are marooned off shore with no way of reaching them except by a local ferry in summer season.

The surprise of Barrow-on-Furness is that once through the industry, the ship building sheds and the grids of workers’ housing there is a long, stony beach for family enjoyment, lined by a wide grassy space and a short backdrop of ordinary housing.

St Cuthbert’s Church at Aldingham finishes the day well as grey clouds start to move in again.

A UK Coastal Tour – Maryport

Yayyyy. On the road again. My first road trip for nearly two years. My coastal project was getting rather lost so what better way to celebrate the easing of restrictions than to get in the car and head north. I decided to drive straight to the top and then pootle down the coast dropping into every coastal settlement on the way. North of Wigan I started to get that hit of adrenaline. Lancaster came and went ad the Lakes started to form on my right. A heavy, damp sky squahed down on the rising moors, hiding their high lines and promise. But then, as I leave the motorway, patches of blue appear. Yes, real sailor’s trousers. The ruler-straight road runs across open countryside with frolicking lambs, lazy cows and untidy, working farms.

First stop is Skinburness, on the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea. I approach the village from inland. Then flip out over to appreciate its sturdy sea wall.

It merges seamlessly into Silloth, a few miles down the coast. It feels like something out of the past with freshly painted frescos on tall, rendered buildings advertising hotels and coffee lounges and pubs. Sounds grand but feels old. That impression is enhanced by the fact that the bumps and dips of the main streets are cobbled. Still it has a charm.

Allonby is a cluster of pale, sea-worn terraces. Low sand dunes, anchored by grasses, divide the beach region from the humans.

The town of Maryport is an ordinary, working fishing port. Some new development has taken place around the harbour itself which has a special character of its own. New apartments rub shoulders with operating fishing boats and the fish merchants and there is evidence of past industrial activity in the form of sheds and machinery.

The largest town up here is Workington. The River Derwent meets the Irish Sea here. There are beaches but none you can really get to. The view to the Lakes is awesome.

The final stop for the day is Harrington. Another normal place with evidence of past glories in the remains of sea-weathered timbers and rusting hooks and brackets on the old pier that defends the village from the sea and overlooks the bays and headlands that spread up and down the coast.

Tewkesbury in between the showers

Cutting between the terraces of Tewkesbury’s medieval and Georgian buildings, dark alleys (30 or so remain from the original 90) lead down to the river banks of the Severn and the Avon. It was here, at the confluence of the two, that Tewesbury Abbey was consecrated in 1171. It flourished, dominating the town’s skyline, until The Reformation when King Henry VIII sold it to the town for £453.

The alleys cut down from the main street and the numerous churches. Small, medieval & Tudor cottages would have housed boatmen and their families whilst the merchants and traders inhabited the grander properties away from the rivers. Large mills had been situated on the banks over centuries, both for ease of bringing in raw materials and sending out finished products and, of course, using its flow as a source of power. Few are still in operation and while some remain unused and in a delapidated state, others have been converted into residential accommodation and apartments.

Ludlow – ‘Probably the loveliest town in England’

Ludlow needs a page all on its own. The moment one crosses the old town bridge over the Wye, you are travelling back in history. This is the capital of BluePlaqueLand. Every other house seems to display such a plaque, with information about local and national characters, families and events dating back over 500 years: this building burnt down and was rebuilt in the Civil War; this is the town house of Charles Wesley’s wife’s family whom he married in 1749; this dates back to the 13th century and was used as the town prison, the hospital….. and on it goes. John Bentamin describes it as ‘ probably the loveliest town in England’. I cannot disagree.

Ludlow Bridge was built over the River Teme in the 15th century. It required some modifications in the 18th centuries. The Domesday Book records a mill here and over the centuries numerous weirs have between constructed to power cloth and corn mills. After 1600 these are converted into manufacturing paper, lace, leather and brass. After 1850 the mills gradually ceased production and have been converted into residential properties.

Once over the bridge, the full magnificence of this medieval town can be seen. The south gate is straight ahead.

The Buttercross stands at the top of the hill overlooking the elegance of the streets before it. Built in 1746 it was originally a, yes, butter market. Between it and the castle is the open market place, lined with wonderfully presented Georgian proprties.

In a prime, defensive position above the river, Ludlow Castle was built in Norman times to hold back the Welsh. It was extended and became Crown property in 1461 and remained such for 350 years. It was abandoned in 1689 and quickly fell into ruin. Since 1811 the castle has been owned by the Earls of Powys who halted the decay and opened the castle to the public.

The glory of Ludlow is the lanes and streets of Georgian buildings, with a few medieval and some Tudor-style half-timbered properties mixed in (over 500 are listed), that spread down the hill from the security of the castle, the trading of the market square down to the industry of the river. Owned by prosperous wool and cloth merchants and traders, these terraces are grand and elegant, and beautifully maintained. And it’s not just one street. Every street leaving down the hill in a grid pattern is lined with attractive, gob-smacking quality.

If you have not yet sampled the delights of Ludlow, you must put it onto your ‘must visit’ list. Not only is there this amazing collection of historic buildings and architecture (we tried, but we could not find a single duff building in the whole place), there is also a market every day of the week, numerous festivals throughout the year and it has a reputation for good food and fine dining. Even the van in the square did excellent bacon and Cheddar rolls for £2.50 – what is not too like?

Hereford in the rain

Hmmmm. Grey, water-sodden skies never show off a place in the best of lights and the city of Hereford on a wet, dull Saturday afternoon is no exception. So I’ll try to share its good side despite what the weather threw at it.

The cathedral hosts the old part of town, down to the old Wye bridge at the bottom of, yes, Bridge Street. Theres’s enough around here to spark the dampest interest. And it’s dry inside!

Maybe a blue sky would create a better impression!! The images would at least bring more cheer!

I went to Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye markets and I bought……

The Welsh Marches refers to these counties of England that border Wales, in particular Herefordshire and Shropshire. This is not to say that armies marched to fight over the border. In this context ‘marches’ means the line or edge of a border. At times the River Wye itself marks the change between the two countries although the landscape varies very little. A patchwork of fields folds over rolling hills to the uplands in the far distance. Bright yellow rape chequer-board it with recently seeded chocolate earth, scruffy fields of winter wheat which have just started to poke nervous crops up into the chilling weather and cropped, velvet-green, hedge lined acres of fluffy-white sheep families

Ross-on-Wye prospered in late Tudor times when it became a trading centre for cloth merchants and sheep farmers. The present Market House was built between 1650/54 and replaced the original trading hall built in the 12th century when King Stephen granted the town permission to hold a weekly market.

Arranged around the market at the top of the hill the church and Prospect Gardens overlook, the prosperous properties around the open churchyard, the old walls and the town spreading down the hill to the river.

The ribbons of more modern, 20th century shop fronts do a good job of hiding some of the elegant facades that exist on some of the Goergian buildings. Street level frontages give a totally different impression to that of the upper stories.

Ledbury’s past prosperity is reflected in the buildings that line either side of the wide, main street. Again the town’s wealth originates in the wool trade initially and then expanded with the arrival of aristocratic landowners. The Market House was built for the trading of cloth and wool in 1617.

Overlooked by the needle-sharp steeple of the imposing town church, which has an unusual feature in that the spire stands unattached to its main body, Ledbury’s many black & white, timber-framed buildings encourage the visitor to explore the lanes and alleys hidden behind.

In the backstreet alleys will be found old weavers’ cottages, larger proprties for merchants and local pubs & shops. Small independents pull in the visitor with bright window displays of goods and artefacts. Pubs, hotels and cafes and restaurants provide a range of refreshments in normal times. Ledbury is a great place for a stop off.

Mr Foster went to Gloucester…and so did I

Dr Foster went to Gloucester in 1844. At least that is when the nursery rhyme was written. Today’s day started with a long, downpour of freezing rain. By the time we dropped in on Gloucester, on our way to the Welsh Borders, our first proper stay-away for over a year, the clouds had parted to create enough blue sky to make a pair of sailor’s trousers. True to the saying, they pulled in their shadows, bubbled into cotton wool pillows and released the sun, drying up any lingering puddles that we might fall into.

Gloucester Cathedral, opened in 1089, is part of a medieval core, surrounded by narrow lanes and walkways.

Generations of Dr Foster’s family could have walked these streets if they had returned at any point in the previous five centuries. Many were linked to posts held in the cathedral – the Bishop’s house with the wisteria over the wrought iron gate.

The approaches to the cathedral widen out into more traditional shopping streets with street-level shops hiding beneath tall, 19th century facades. Scaffolding is attached to many of these premises which lead to the city centre and the major shopping precincts.

Gloucester Quays is a vibrant, redeveloped dockland area full of history with shops, bars & restaurants that pull locals and visitors alike. Warehouses have been converted into apartments and cranes and historic vessels litter the wharves and quayside.

A traditional ‘boat builder and rigger’ still operates along the Main Channel. One of two dry docks has ‘Gladys’, a traditional bulk carrier, rising from blocks arranged on the dusty floor with fresh paint and varnish to impress onlookers.

A UK Coastal Tour – Clevedon

It is like the world is opening again. I went out on the road again – two road trips in as many days. The sun shone form a blue sky, the trees were starting to shimmer with a vague outline of verdant green. Chilly but invigorating, as urban and winter grey give way to blue horizons of seaside sands. With lockdowns and travel bans inhibiting, nay, squashing, any wanderlust for so long, it is such a relief to release myself into this world again. And so many places to visit and people to meet and projects to complete. Get on young man! Get on!!

These two trips were all about my existing project and the next project when it is complete. I have two sections of my Coastal Trip to complete – Cornwall (in September) and West Coast of England (in May/June, I hope). There are a few places that I have visited which I don’t feel I’ve done justice. I have combined these with my next project on seaside piers where I missed them altogether because they were around a corner or off the beaten day-tripper track.

So on the first trip to the west I combined Clevedon with Weston-Super-Mare. How had I missed the Victorian wonder in the former and the glorious ruin in the latter?

Clevedon Pier is anchored to a rock on the seafront. Built in 1869 it was an embarkation point for paddle steamers bringing day trippers from South Wales. It was described by Sir John Betjeman as ‘the most beautiful pier in England’. Certainly it has a certain elegance to it. Impressive as the pier was, it was nothing compared with the dozen or so sea swimmers launching themselves into the surf from the rocks and, I emphasise, not in wetsuits. I felt cold just watching them, especially as most were wearing gloves in the water.

I know how I missed Birnbeck Pier in Weston-Super-Mare. From the main drag through this resort town there is no indication that there is anything except local housing beyond the headland. However, walking around the cliff this rusting, almost Dickensian relic stretches out from Anchor Head to a small rocky island where the remains of a RNLI station seems to be the only recognisable building standing amongst dusty ruins. The pier opened in 1867 as a boarding point for paddle steamers operating in the Bristol Channel. It was closed to the public in 1994 and now stands derelict, slowly rusting away into the sea with only ghosts to walk its tangled walkways, its rubbled streets and stare out of its gaping windows and empty doorways.

Weymouth Pier Bandstand can easily be lost along the wide front of this resort. Built in1938/9 it was designed with the bandstand itself extending out to sea from a two-storey building on shore. It seated 2,400 people but only a quarter of the audience were under shelter as the centre of the bandstand was open to the elements. It hosted dances, concerts, wrestling, roller skating and the Miss Weymouth Bathing Beauty Contests. The shore building was redesigned in the 1960s. By the 1980s the seaward end required major repair which proved to be too expensive and so it was demolished in 1986 leaving the ‘limpet’ end as a restaurant, an amusement arcade and a gift shop on the ground floor.

Weymouth Stone Pier is tucked around the corner on the south side of the old harbour, in itself a reminder of the importance played by this port. Merchants’ houses, old chandlers’ buildings, warehouses line the quayside on both sides, linked by the technology of the lifting bascule bridge and the historic Row Boat Ferry, operating since the 16th century and manned by a charming, weather-beaten boatman who is happy to pass the time of day with anyone passing. The Pier was constructed at the entrance to the harbour in the 18th century. It was originally a simple breakwater of loose boulders which was then extended. A buoy marked the the seaward end. Following storm damage it was rebuilt in 1824, then extended in 1876 and again in the 1910s, the latter with a tower at the end to accommodate a navigational light.

Avonmouth to Bristol and more about the Floating Harbour

Bristol, as a port for the export of woolen cloth and the import of Bordeaux wine, dates back about 1,000 years. It grew up six miles or so up the estuary of the River Avon from where it meets the River Severn and from there – the rest of the world. It developed at the most downstream point of the river where it could still be easily crossed and where ocean-going vessels could be carried upstream to the centre of town on the tidal current in the river. Ships would sail up the Bristol Channel and the Severn before turning up the Avon.

The tidal range of the rivers around here is the second largest in the world. Even in the centre of Bristol the tide can rise and fall as much as 12 metres and this occurs twice a day.

The advantage of carrying vessels on the tide into the centre of town was offset by the fact that as the tide goes out, they can be left floundering helplessly in the mud in harbour or marooned on the river.

By 1760 these problems intensified for the larger ships of the day. On each tide the river became very crowded with so many ships trying to reach or leave Bristol. On the monthly neap tides the river lacked adequate water and vesels were unable to move, stuck in port or at the mouth of the Avon for two weeks or so. At low tide all the large ships went aground, crowded together, with the real danger of fire spreading uncontrollably throughout the harbour.

Vessels started to go elsewhere and the town was losing trade. Merchants came up with the idea of damming the river and making the harbour non-tidal. The tidal river was diverted (here, to the right) and a huge lock constructed at the entrance to the harbour.

Boats could now enter and remain floating at all times. The Floating Harbour opened in 1809 and Bristol became a hugely flourishing trading centre until it closed to commercial traffic in 1975. The Victorian manufacturing heritage can clearly be seen, including the old tobacco factory.

Throughout the 20th century Avonmouth took over the role of the major port in the area. Commercial shipping was built larger and larger and a new breed of cruise-liners emerged which could no longer negotiate the meanders of the river.

Indeed, when the SS Great Britain, the iron-built luxury ocean liner that changed history, was launched in 1863, not only did it become stuck on the river on its journey out of port, but the lock walls had to be dismantled to get it through.

The idea of a bridge over the Avon Gorge was first muted in 1753. Brunel came up with plans. These were revised and eventually built after his death. This temple to Victorian engineering opened in 1864.

The large docks in Avonmouth were opened in 1903 and handles copious amounts of raw materials, manufactured exports including motor vehicles and a growing amount of cruise traffic.

The Floating Harbour in Bristol

In the late 17th century, Bristol was a major port, hampered in its development by its high tidal range. Positioned on the west voast of England, facing Africa and the new world of the Americas as it did, it should have been used a lot more than it was. In world trade terms it was losing out to Liverpool because the tidal range along the River Avon was, and still is, as much as 12 metres and at low tide it was little more than a silted stream. Large trading vessels spent much of their time in port stuck in the muddy bottom of the docks, unable to move.

A group of local merchants got together to fund the creation of the Floating Harbour. In 1802 work began. The flow of the tidal river was diverted to the south around the edge of Bristol in a new channel, the  New Cut. Two locks were then constructed.

These maintained a constant high level and the Floating Harbour opened in 1809. The largest of ocean-going vessels could now spend their whole time in port, floating alongside the wharf-covered quayside.

The new harbour meant that raw materials and the ‘new’ goods from the New World could be brought directly into the centre of the city. New factories emerged – Cadburys produced their chocolates alongside the neighbouring tobacco factory of WD & HO Wills and trade increased to and from Africa.

Today the whole area is a lively, cosmopolitan area of clubs and bars and eateries mixed up with museums and archaeological artifacts reflecting a rich trading and sea-going history, glitzy apartment blocks and a thriving nightscene.

A UK Coastal Trip – Colwyn Bay

Colwyn Bay

Colwyn Bay has been attracting visitors since the Victorian era. The seafront, a spacious stretch of sand, backed by a three-mile promenade to Rhos-on-Sea, has been transformed with the reconstruction of a whole new beach and the development at Porth Eirias with many sea and leisure facilities to attract locals and holiday-makers alike. It is hard to differentiate the modern sculptures on the front from a real person taking in the views out to sea.

Finding Colwyn Bay Pier proved to be a difficult task. I was unaware that it had fallen into disrepair to such an extent that it was decided to replace it. In 2019 it was dismantled and the ground prepared for a new, short pier. I found it eventually!

Towyn & Kinmel Bay

You enter Towyn and Kinmel Bay at your own risk or at least with an effective sat nat. They merge together to create acre upon acre of caravan park in a vast grid. In amongst the tall-fenced/walled lanes Mario would enjoy negotiating this maze in his computer game. Once through the zig-zag of right-angled blocks, the driver emerges at a rather shabby, pebble of a beach with a car park and a couple of huts, closed, advertising teas and ice creams.

Rhyl

Elegant terraces of Victorian buildings stand well back from the sea front. A large beach of soft sand is kept in place by groynes up and down the coast.

Sturdy sea defences protect the town forming a promenade beside the coast road, rides, attractions, the bowls club, the Marine Lake, the slide pool, the aquarium and the Pavilion Theatre. Great family fun all round.

Prestatyn

The beach continues along the coast from Rhyl in an almost seamless run of soft sands with rock or timber groynes to prevent coastal erosion. Originally a small fishing settlement, the railways bought Victorian    holidaymakers to the long beach, clean seas and promenade entertainers. The resort continued to develop when Fred Pontin opened his first holiday camp in 1946. The town still attracts families looking for seaside holidays and fun. Nature lovers looking for a quieter spot can explore the Gronant Dunes to the east

Talacre

The small village of Talacre with its few hundred souls is almost completely consumed by holiday homes and the Talacre Beach Resort. The beach is close by, along with a car park for day trippers, and is wonderful for family fun at the seaside & messing about in the large dunes, which also provide shelter when the winds get up. The lighthouse, 17th century, and off-shore wind turbines provide backdrop for squealing children and lazing adults. A good beach to visit.

So, that is it. This is the last coastal settlement in Wales before Deeside, The Wirral, ‘Ferry ‘cross the Mersey’, Liverpool and the rest of the English Coast in the north west. All of that I had hoped to be doing now ….but hey, will have to wait for another day, when I can get to travel more freely.

I will see you then.

A UK Coastal Trip – Llandudno

Llanfairfechan

This charming town lies off the North Wales Highway. Under the railway line, the wide, open promenade runs along the coast lined by picturesque Victorian houses.

Penmaenmaur

An old quarrying town, it is now noted for spectacular mountain & coastal walks. The old Edwardian promenade was lost in the process of building the A55 along the coast.

Llandudno

The white-painted terraces, ornate hotels & tea rooms glisten in the sun. Known as the Queen of the Welsh Resorts, this ever-popular seaside town is a rich hive of history and memories. A mining settlement turned thriving tourist hotspot, it is famous for its Victorian architecture and stunning scenery. The present pier opened in 1877.

Penrhyn Bay

This small farming community grew from the 1850s with the quarrying of local limestone. The town had its own  narrow gauge railway. This all closed in 1936 and the town expanded to become a desirable suburb of Llandudno.

 

Rhos-on-Sea (Llandrillo-yn-Rhos)

The long, flat seafront walkway to Colwyn Bay runs along the top of the sandy beach, taking in Rhos-on-Sea’s breakwater and pretty harbour. Equipment for kayaking, surfing & other seaside activities stands at the edge, ready for use.

A UK Coastal Trip – Beaumaris

Benllech

This is a popular holiday destination with its gently shelving clean, soft sand. A café guards the ramp. There are public houses & hotels, camping & caravan sites and several B&Bs.

Red Wharf Bay

Red Wharf is bordered by salt marshes and sand dunes, a nature reserve attracting lots of bird life. The village, with its three restaurants, is virtually at the water’s edge.

Beaumaris

This is a gem of an historic walled town with narrow, cobbled streets and arched gateways through high walls. In 1295, Edward I, having conquered Wales, commissioned the building of Beaumaris Castle as part of a chain of fortifications around the North Wales coast and the town became the main commercial centre of Anglesey. The pier opened in 1846, a masonry jetty on wooden & concrete pilings and a busy base for yachts and pleasure vessels of all kinds. Backing onto the walls, elegant Victorian terraces face across the water to Snowdonia.

 

The Swellies

This is the stretch of the Menai Strait between the Britannia and Menai Bridges. Its shoals and rocks cause whirlpools and surges as a result of the tides washing around Anglesey.

Menai Bridge

Menai Bridge is a small town that overlooks the Menai Strait by the Menai Suspension Bridge, built in 1826 by Thomas Telford to take road traffic to/from the mainland.

Bangor

Bangor is the oldest city in Wales and one of the UK’s smallest. Its religious roots go back to the 6th century. It is a lively place with a good shopping scene, a university and lots of leisure facilities. Tourism grew with the building of the road that runs through the town to the bridge over the Strait, in 1826. The pier opened in 1896 for use by pleasure steamers from Liverpool.

A UK Coastal Trip – Amlwch Port

Cemaes

A picturesque village sits on two small bays where boats and fishing vessels moor in front of terraces of painted houses. The shack in the car park takes the parking fee and serves tea & bacon rolls.

Bull Bay

A low, grass-covered bump of cliff overlooks the small bay. A few houses with empty-looking windows gaze at the gently-lapping waters, unflustered by any human activity.

Amlwch Port

In the 18th century the port serves what used to be the world’s largest copper mine. In its day the metal was used for covering the bottom of ships and in the making of coins of the realm. At one point it was the second largest town in Wales. But industry declined and gradually tourism took its place. Now the inner harbour has a museum dedicated to mining and the outer one houses a modern fishing fleet.

Moetfre

A low outcrop with a few parking spaces and a café, looks over the small beach of this picturesque former fishing village, with old fishermen’s cottages fronting the bay.

Treath Bychan

This small rocky beach, at least at high tide, has a sitting audience of caravans on the land behind. A few houses, the sailing club and a toilet block are situated by the sands.

A UK Coastal Trip – Holyhead

Anglesea

Britannia Bridge is the southern crossing to the island of Anglesey across the Menai Strait. In 1845 work began on a tubular bridge of wrought iron, rectangular, box-section spans for carrying rail traffic to link London to Holyhead. Following a fire in 1970 the bridge was redesigned and two decks were built on the original piers to carry rail and road traffic.

Once across, the road cuts across emptying rivers and the south western corner of the island. Most human habitation is away from the shoreline, leaving large wild areas, such as the glorious beaches and woodlands of Newborough Warren & Ynys Llanddwyn.

Aberffraw

 

Rhosneigr

This is a largish village with caravan sites, camp sites, holiday homes and pubs, hotels and cafes. Out of season the place has its own atmosphere. The metal lines on the sailing boats drawn up on the beach, ring harmoniously in the tugging wind. Out at sea, wind & kite surfers snap their sails before soaring off over the spilling waves, taking control of the elements to get that full adrenaline rush.

Four Mile Bridge to Holy Island

Off Anglesey’s western edge, with an area of just 15 square miles, is Holy Island, with its own coastline, notched with tiny coves, sweeping bays and dramatic headlands. Four Mile Bridge dates from 1530 and takes a small lane over the narrow Cymyran Strait which, at either end, opens up into the Irish Sea. A few houses cluster around the crossing. Real excitement is caused by the activities of the Police Diving Team, who are practicing procedures in the shallow waters at the shore’s edge, watched by a single local with a whimsical expression on his face.

Rhoscolyn

A narrow, wiggle of a lane ends at a wide, beach of lovely, soft sand. Building activity is taking place with a lot of work going on renovating/constructing some smart homes.

Treddur

A popular holiday spot, the local waters are good for sea fishing, scuba diving, sailing and some of the best kayaking in the world. It has two golf courses and a couple of hotels.

Holyhead

Holyhead has a character all of its own. Everyone seems to pass through the town on their way elsewhere. Millions of passengers and thousands of vehicles pass through the ferry port each year, across the Irish Sea to Ireland. A port of some kind has been here since Roman times due to its position on the western extremity of the UK. In 1845, an Act of Parliament was passed to enable the construction of a new port. A railway station was opened in 1851 with a direct link to London.

The town centre is built around St. Cybi’s Church, which is built inside the three-walled Roman fort. In a rather shabby high street, £1 shops rub shoulders with pubs offering karaoke nights and fast food outlets. There seems little renovation going on or any effort to revitalise the shopping opportunities in the middle of town. The port and ferry services, with associated shipping businesses, provide most employment opportunities.

Cruise ships do visit. The old jetty, originally used to unload alumina for the now defunct processing plant, is wide enough for coaches to travel down to collect and deliver passengers to the town and on local tours.

A UK Coastal Trip – Caernarfon

Pwllheli

Pwllheli has a long association with the sea. Wines from the continent were landed here and the coast was a haven for smugglers and pirates. It used to be one of the main fishing and ship-building centres in North Wales with nearly 30 ships in production at any one time. With the arrival of the railways it developed into a tourist centre with a sandy beach beside the harbour and a shingle one along the promenade.

Llanbedrog

At the end of narrow lanes lies a large National Trust car park. It is a short walk through shady woods to this popular beach. A smart NT café/restaurant marks your arrival at the soft sands that spread down to the sea. A line of beach huts on one side and a couple of old fishermen’s cottages on the other, stand back in the shade provided by tall trees, unwilling to go out into the full glare of the sun.

Abersoch

Originally a fishing port, Abersoch is now a popular, and rather fashionable,  resort and sailing & water sports’ centre, with fine beaches and a sheltered harbour. This is a bustling village with a good selection of bars, cafes, restaurants and a busy bistro life plus a choice of accommodation and attractions including pony trekking, boat trips and a crafts centre. Lanes lead from the centre to the peaceful harbour and around to the beach of lovely, soft sand, backed by grass-tufted dunes and a line of beach huts.

Aberdaron

Formerly a fishing village, it developed into a shipbuilding centre and a port for exporting limestone, lead, jasper & manganese from the local mines and quarries. The mining collapsed after WWII and the village developed into a holiday resort. Situated on the seashore, St Hywyn’s Church has served this once small community for centuries. Now it sits amongst white-washed properties on the edge of the village.

Porthdinllaen & Morfa Nefyn

These two settlements share the beach, facing each other along the crescent of sand. Porthinllaen is an old fishing village, owned by the National Trust, with a popular pub and the lifeboat station. Morfa Nefyn is quite a lot larger. A single-track road leads through suburban housing, down to beach properties and a manned, beach-warden’s hut.

Dinas Dinlle

Dinas Dinlle is a popular beach. The coast road runs along its upper shore of small pebbles which soon gives way to a vast expanse of firm, golden sand. A café, a large car park and a cluster of houses pin one end. Two slipways provide easy access to the sea. Iron Age remains can be found here. Ornithologists are attracted by its bird populations and anglers by its exceptional bass fishing.

Caernarfon

This walled town with the magnificent Caernarfon Castle, overlooks a small, neat harbour and the Menai Strait. Begun in 1283 by Edward I, Caernarfon was constructed not only as a military stronghold but also as a seat of    government and a royal palace. It was designed to echo the walls of Constantinople, the imperial power of Rome and the dream castle of Welsh myth and legend. Standing at the mouth of the River Seiont, the fortress, with its unique polygonal towers, intimidating battlements and colour banded masonry, dominates the walled town, also founded by the English king. Three centuries later, the ascent of the Tudors to the English throne eased hostilities between the English and the Welsh, resulting in Caernarfon Castle falling into a state of disrepair.

Despite this, the town has flourished, leading to its status as a   major tourist centre and seat of Gwynedd Council, with a thriving harbour and marina. It is home, both within the medieval walls and in the wider suburban areas outside, to numerous guest houses, inns and pubs, hotels, restaurants and shops, making it a popular destination for tourists, holidaymakers and water-sports enthusiasts.

A UK Coastal Trip – Criccieth

Tywyn

A long crescent of beach is divided by a series of regular groynes spread in front of hard sea defences, all constructed to protect bungalows, cafes and blocks of low apartments from the ravages of the weather and erosion.. At the far end is a caravan park.

Fairbourne

This strip of low houses at the mouth of the River Mawddach is losing its battle with the sea. As sea levels rise, it has been identified for locals as an area for ‘managed retreat’.

The crossing point for vehicular traffic is further up the estuary than the rail crossing.

Barmouth

On the other bank of the River Mawddach lies Barmouth. Now a resort town, it grew up around shipbuilding, evidence of which can be seen around the harbour. On the far side of the headland, hotels and guesthouses have grown up fronting onto the sandy beach along with a car park and a collection of seaside amusements with a small funfair.

Llanaber

Just out of the small village the road climbs to open fields, revealing a magnificent view along the coast, even though it is dominated by a carpet of caravans.

Llandanwg

Narrow lanes head over the railway, past caravans and bungalows to soft sands. Harlech Castle overseas a similar route across the golf club, along a wooden walkway through dunes to the beach.

 Portmadog

Situated at the top of a wide channel where two rivers join the sea, this resort town was a vital, busy shipping port for the international slate trade, brought down from Blaenau Ffestiniog on the narrow railway that still operates today. With accommodation, craft shops and restaurants it is an excellent centre from which to explore inland and the coast.

Black Rock Sands

Criccieth

The town developed into an attractive seaside resort from 1868. Its beach has a tranquil atmosphere, lacking an abundance of amusements or arcades. It is perfect for peaceful walks or messing about in the water around the jetty. The castle, prominent on the headland, was taken by Welsh forces in 1404, its walls torn down and set alight, leaving the ruins you see today.

A UK Coastal Trip – Aberystwyth

New Quay

The town was once important for fishing and shipbuilding, with wooden boats being built on the local beaches. The miles of secluded coves around New Quay provided ideal hiding places in the less salubrious, but probably more profitable, trade of smuggling spirits and tobacco. The Pier was built after 1834 and, in 1839, a small stone lighthouse, 30 feet high, was built at its end. A severe storm in 1859 damaged the pier and washed the lighthouse away.

Towards the end of the century, as shipbuilding died out, tourism gradually filled the void with visitors arriving by steamer from Liverpool and Bristol. The earliest motorised bus system was set up by Great Western Railways who established a line from Aberystwyth to Carmarthen in 1860. The buses served to connect local communities to the railway and horse-drawn versions brought visitors from the stations at Aberystwyth and Llandysul in the 1890’s. In the summer, New Quay becomes a bustling and vibrant holiday resort aided by the growth of the caravan industry in areas around the town. The hillside to the north of the town is covered with lines of brightly-painted houses in the shape of a cruise liner.

Aberaeron

The pretty town of Aberaeron developed from a small fishing village in the 1800’s. The Rev Alban Gwynne designed the harbour to hold back the River Aeron, creating calm waters, today used mostly by recreational craft. At the time there was also a thriving shipbuilding industry when dockyards built both sail and steam vessels. Many of the houses that we see today stem from this time and were built in the Regency style. Many occupants, being seafaring men who travelled the world during the Victorian age, often named their houses after far-off exotic places. it is a popular resort with numerous hotels and restaurants for visiting tourists along with many other attractions. A wooden pedestrian bridge crosses the estuary upstream.