The rough and the smooth of the North Wales coast

I have to share these two images from Criccieth. They both capture a moment on the jetty. Last night the local girls & boys came out to play. This morning a lone angler was trying his luck in the dawn peace.

Today was a day with a lot of smooth and a bit of rough thrown in towards the end. I popped into Caernarfon on my way along the north coast of the mainland – well worth a return visit. An historic walled town on the Menai Straits, it overlooks the coast of the island of Anglesey a few hundred metres away. Its narrow streets and many arched gates match the huge defensive tower that faces out to sea.

Now I have a problem. I thought when I discovered Bangor pier that I had found my new, favourite pier. It is really hard to find. Any signs for the pier abandon you in the middle of town with no direction to go in. Sleuthing my way through the towns streets I eventually find the pier at the end of a series of residential streets. Coming around a corner it takes your breathe away with its elegant turrets and weathered boardwalk. It is 1/3 mile long, almost touching Anglesey. At low tide the whole Strait is dry with only a narrow channel of water at the far end to allow sea—going vessels through.

‘So what’s the problem?’ you ask. Well Llandudno is the problem. What a gem of a place this is and what a magnificently glorious pier struts its stuff out into the line between the blues of sea and sky.

Both are magnificent. I thought that when I found Colwyn Bay Pier that there would be a third competing for the accolade of THE pier of North Wales. Well no. I drove along and around the promenade at least three times until I spotted something:

I stopped and asked two local guys who confirmed that I had guessed right. This was all that remains of the famous pier. Last year, 2018, it collapsed after years of neglect and the council had to remove all the wreckage except for this monument to past glories.

I stopped at other places on my way around the coast – Deganwy, Rhos-on-Sea where the clouds gathered to keep me on my toes

Rhyl had some photo opportunities. It is amazing how a low tide transforms all these places. A high tide and you think ‘oh, there’s a few nice buildings’. A low tide adds colour and atmosphere and scale and turns it into a completely different place. Look at these two images. The boys, especially, are so absorbed in messing around in the sand & water.

Prestatyn

So now to the bit of rough. It’s not rough if you like static caravans. Towyn is my idea of caravan hell. I’m going to design a computer game entitled ‘Escape To wyn’ (clever title, eh?). I have to explain that along here the coast is hogged by the inhabitants of Towyn. Towyn consists of acre upon acre upon acre of blocks of static caravans. A maze of grid-ironed routes tangle themselves around these between high pre-cast concrete walls only disrupted by the occasional entrance to a ‘park’ or a ‘camp’ or by an arcade of arcades or a speakered line of ‘factory shops’.

I eventually emerge unscathed and risk a cuppa tea at the bijou seafront refreshment stall on the edge of this nightmare.

The day ends on a high though. The last place on this part of the coast before you each England, is called Talacre. It doesn’t look much on the map – a load of camping and caravanning symbols and, yes, you have to go through both. Make the effort. Take the walk from the pub, through the car park, across the rough ground and through the gap in the dunes. There is hardly anyone there but these images show why this is one of my favourite beaches.

Awe and Wonder on the Snowdonia coast

Although this project is about coastal settlements, the great thing is that I have to drive through some wonderful country to reach each one. And today was the best. Further up the coast from Aberyswyth is Barmouth. I head there through the wonders of Snowdonia National Park. Roof down, sun up high, music on…..hair flowing (maybe not!). Forests, woods, farmland, streams, rivers, bridges, moor, marshland, lakes, hills, distant mountains. Then to arrive at wonderful beaches backed by dunes. What else can this man ask for?

Barmouth sounds quite ordinary. I think it mostly is. The west coast main line crosses the river on a wonderful Victorian gantry of a bridge.

Here I came across the harbour in the early morning. Not a lot is going on. There is no evidence of the passenger ferry over the estuary to Fairbourne – surely we are in high season. It is July. The main beach of soft sand and low dunes and the car park and small fun fair is on the other side of town.

Along the coast there a numerous small settlements, identified from a distance by a church tower/spire, usually surrounded by bungalows and static caravans. Spaced out between them are clusters upon clusters of holiday caravan parks. Were do all these holidaymakers come from? And where do they spend their time?

The next large settlement is Harlech with its huge castle ruins looking out over the coast, keeping am English eye over its Welsh inhabitants. Funny how they both play cricket in the same test team now. This was going to be my favourite beach, long, soft-sanded dunes, almost empty; but I doubt on to see so many similar ones that it is impossible to pick one above another.

Porthmadoc is a terminus for the Ffestiniog (don’t know the spelling) Railway and the station/bridge acts as a barrier to the sea. Grim one side you can see sea in the far distance. From the other you can look up the valley and get a view to die for. People would travel 1000s of miles to get a view like that.

I’m going around the peninsula now. I will show you each largish village in turn, not, I hasten to add, the campsites or static caravan parks. First Criccieth

Pwllhewi

Llanbedrog

Abersoch, which I quite liked – a bustling, popular holiday village with bars & a bit of shopping

Aberdaron


And the best – Morfa Nefyn

Aberystwyth and beyond

This first day of the next leg of my coastal journey is full of sunshine and reaffirms for me that the UK is full of wonderful, magnificent, beautiful places. Today was full of them. I am in mid, moving into north, Wales. How about this for my first glimpse of these powerful headlands and those gloriously soft, sandy beaches, at least when the tide is out, in crescent shaped bays.

First stop Aberystwyth. Like many of these resort towns it mixes Victorian charm with some history, in this case castle ruins, and adds Kiss Me Quick hats & buckets & spades and loads of fish & chips. The pier is rather good; not long but nicely regal even if it is full of slot machines. In the background you might spy the vertical line of the track of the cliff railway. There are two beaches, separated by a headland where the castle ruins anchor the short pier to the land.

The evening light of dusk and the incoming tide give the same view a completely different feel. I prefer it.

Borth Sands stretches out in a wonderful coastal crescent. The low tide exposes the soft sand as the village hides behind the sea defences, spewing out beach-happy families to spend the day in the sun, layered in lotion, I hope.

From the desert dunes at the far end of the peninsula, across the slow-moving river, the village of Aberdyfi can be seen glistening in the sun.

It lives up to its potential when one takes the drive up one side of the estuary and down the other to explore Aberdyfi in more depth.

All in all, a great day and not a single disappointment. Good place for a holiday around here – family, beach, soft sand, hikers, hills, even a mountain close-by!

The Sunny Side of Oxford – the Cowley Road Carnival

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I rarely write about my home town but I thought that should end, especially when I have the wondrous Cowley Road Carnival on my doorstep. It seems this is the second largest street carnival after Notting Hill in the UK. So let’s take the day as it unfolds.

The street is shut to traffic first thing in the morning and local and visiting organisations set up their stalls and start to assemble. The Cowley Road area is home to a diverse, eclectic mix of families from all over the world. A harmonious community most of the time, families live and work and play alongside each other in schools, restaurants and places of worship. The Carnival happens every year in July and is a celebration of diversity and culture.

Local restaurants and visiting vendors set up their stalls, selling street food to the 30,000 who will join us for the day. Places in the parade are proudly taken by community and cultural groups and from mid morning they begin to assemble at their allocated postion. As well as folk in traditional costumes with a host of unfamiliar instruments, generations of family members lean against walls to give their support to their musicians and dancers. The Nepalese community are no exception.

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The grills get hot and start to sizzle their barbed aromas across the road. Food from everywhere you can imagine.IMG_2058a

The beat increases with huge sound systems winding up their sounds outside bars, pubs and restaurants. The atmosphere is good-natured. Crowds start to gather on each side of the road and local bands and groups as well as excited visitees start to limber up and tune in their drums and tambors and trumpets, waiting to move off.

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And then the parade begins its tortuous, tip toe shuffle up the road in a clangour and a clammer of bangs and clashes and sambas and salsas. Schools follow community groups who follow samba bands from home and abroad who follow street bands and local artists and businesses. Smiles on everyone’s faces.

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The end is reached 500 metres or so further on – St Mary & St John’s Churchyard. Here the participants collapse in the shade. Frequently groups join together in a jam sessions that brings together a new fusion of culture and sound.

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Back on the street food is consumed and crowds wander. Folk find places to chill – on a wall, in front of a stage and absorb the practised performances of dance and music or appreciate the impromptu expression of feeling and creativity.

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Most things come to a halt at 6.00pm. People accept it, however reluctantly. The street cleaning vehicles start their work very punctually, sweeping through the still packed streets. Everyone knows that if there’s no fuss it will be the same next year.

A homage to Lynmouth

I forget how divine this length of coast is. I spent the night at Minehead and drive to Porlock Weir, a delight in its own right.

I then drove up the hill out of the village and out onto the wide open spaces of Exmoor – a real ‘awe & wonder’ moment, a cry out loud celebration of all that is good about this world and about life – the sea on one side with lines of white horses snuffling the bays and headlands , the stretching moorland cut by deep valleys on the other. Free air above in a cloudless sky and the open road ahead with the roof down. If only I had hair to blow free in the breeze. I stop to overlook Lynmouth before driving down into the village.

1952. The year the rains came, the East and West Lyn rivers roared off the moors bringing boulders & earth & trees and taking cars & vans & sheds on a dreadful journey of devastation through the village. 34 people died in the resulting chaos.

I forget how charming the village now is, both up the two rivers to the moors and downstream to the sea. It’s Victorian splendour has been recaptured from its wrought iron balconies to the Rhenish Tower.

The waterpowered Cliff Railway toils up & down, filling its top water tanks after each journey linking Lynmouth with its high neighbour on the cliffs


I have to leave you with two bathing places on the Kennet & Avon Canal which I included on my way home. The first is on the River Avon, not the canal itself, at Bathampton, by the tall bridge.

The other is at Clavendon Pumping Station. To get to it you have to walk down a narrow track, over the canal bridge, over the pedestrian gate across the main line to Bath and into the meadows where the Avon smoothes over a weir. Both places are glorious in weather like this, even if the locals have claimed them already. There is space for all.

From Watchet to Porlock Weir

Two days of hot, sunny weather is forecasted so the routine goes out the window and out comes the camera. I have two legs I want to complete – past of the coast in Somerset/Devon and a small section of the Kennet & Avon Canal. They are in the same direction so I decide to do the former first and complete most of it today leaving the other for the way home.

So I head for Steart on a peninsula, west of Barnstable, sticking out into the Bristol Channel. There’s not a lot here.

It’s not called Steart Marshes for nothing even if some small settlements hug any firm land they can find. Sheep and cattle graze the lush grasses, rushes line the vast expanse of clinging mud and large pebbles form an impossibly hard beach to manoeuvre. Hartland Point Power Station is the main, man-made feature on this part of the coast.

The first real settlement is Watchet. A delightful harbour town which is also on the West Somerset Railway line. You can almost feel the history ooze its way out of the Flag stones around the harbour.

 

Blue Anchor is a long, wide strip of pebbles backed by a road, backed by a line of static caravans. Each end is stapled to the ground by a group of more permanent detached houses.

Dunster Beach is the coast side of Dunster Castle and of Dunster medieval village. There is a refreshment van and then a wide strip of parked cars and vans with their owners sitting out on camping chairs devouring the Sun or the Mail. The other end consists of a never-ending crescent of large, almost bungalow-sized beach huts which line the heart of the bay.

Minehead had its glory days in Victorian times when it’s rather remote location only allowed the wealthy to make the journey to its glam hotels and bathing huts. When the railway arrived the hoy poloy were able to holiday here. This was exaggerated further when Butlins established a holiday camp here in the 50s, which now has an almost permanent presence in the town, swamping any history the harbour might try to show off.

Porlock Weir is delightful. A fishing and trading centre for the Porlock Estate, the harbour still provides shelter for private boats while the bars and hotels refresh the crews and the more up-market souvenir shops like Exeter Glass satisfy the shopping visitors.

3 days and 3 nights in Chicago

You’ve not heard from me for a while. In fact I’m back. I simply had no time to write my blog while in Chicago. I was so busy exploring a whole new side to this city. So, I’ll put a jumble of images together for you to try to encapsulate what a fantastic place this is – in terms of music, food, experiences & history:

An evening at the home of Blues – Kingston Mines. Every night, 365 days of the year, two bands alternate on two stages, each for three sets of 40 minutes.

A visit to Garfield Conservatory. It’s free.

I’m told the weather gets warm/hot. Go to the beach. Lifeguards are included if you fancy a dip.

Exploring, on foot, Downtown and images around the famous elevated ‘L’ (elevated!!) Loop.

Exploring the local neighbourhood at night after a wonderful meal in Chicago’s own Beatnick Restaurant

How about these two? The second one is a diner.

If you do come to Chicago you must do the Segway Tour. Not only do you visit tourist hotspots like Soldier Field Football Stadium, Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, but you duo it on a Segway which is so much fun. I have to say taking a photograph on the phone with one hand, whilst balancing the machine at their same time,is a real feat.

 

Another high spot, in two meanings of the word, is brunch on the 95th floor of the Hancock Tower. Not only a fantastic meal but a fantastic view up the lake.

And that’s not to mention the Supermarket Wine & Food Tasting, the Puerto Rican meal, the numerous bars, the creamed corn to go with the pork ribs, the Blind Barber in the old Meatpackers’ District (you walk through an actual barber shop, through a narrow door and into a bar, a very trendy bar at the back; you can get an actual hair cut too!!) and the subterranean lands under the river bridges.