Two Castles and a Kayak

I was invited the other weekend to go kayaking in Llanberis, a small town just on the western edge of Snowdonia National Park.  It wasn’t until the Sunday afternoon, so with no other plans booked in that weekend, I decided to make it into a little overnight road trip, finishing up Sunday lunchtime in Llanberis for a kayak with friends.

A Unesco sites that I had been meaning to visit, but was just a bit too far for a day trip, were 2 of the 4 world heritage castles on the west coast, in the county of Gwynedd; Conwy and Caernarfon. I had visited Beaumaris previously over on Anglesey and the 4th, Harlech is a lot further south, but Conwy and Caenarfon are only about 35 minutes apart, so seemed doable in the same day.

It’s super easy to get to Conwy from where I live and I didn’t even need to use my maps to get me there and 90 minutes later I was parked up at the main long stay carpark.  It sits behind the castle walls, easily signposted and payment is by app or card, so no fumbling for money needed!

Conwy Castle is an incredibly well preserved Medieval fortress, over 700 years old. Built by Edward I, Edward Longshanks to his friends, Edward was born in England, but was intent on conquering Wales. The four castles along the coast with their imposing walls, were all part of his successful takeover plan and sent out a very strong message to the Welsh that he meant business!

I have to say, Conwy Castle is one of the most impressive castles I have visited, for sheer size and how it has retained its features. You really do feel transported back in time as you explore the many chambers, climb the spiral staircases up to the towers and walk along the high walls. The views of the Conwy Suspension Bridge over the River Conwy and Snowdonia’s mountainous skyline in the distance, is spectacular, I can’t think of a more perfect location for a castle.

Having been to Conwy before, I just had a short walk along the harbour, and sat and had my packed lunch, watching the tourists queue up to visit the ‘smallest house in Britain’ while a vicious seagull attempt to eat a families bag of chips, quite entertaining really. Then I took the long way back to the carpark, via the main high street for a bit of window shopping, before heading down the coast, to Castle no. 2.

Just over half an hour later, I was pulling into the carpark down by the waterfront, staring back up to the imposing castle walls in the town of Caenarfon. Although the building of this castle started the same year as Conwy, this castle took over 40 years to completion, compared to Conwy’s quick 7 year build.

It’s an ideal spot if you’re going to build a castle, as it sits at the tip of a peninsula, edged by the Menai Strait and River Seiont, affording great views and lots of protection.

Unlike its neighbour in Conwy, Canaerfon isn’t in as good a state of repair inside, but the walls and main structure are still none the less impressive. Much of the interior hasn’t survived that well and some of the buildings weren’t ever fully finished. That said, I preferred this castle to Conwy, it takes a little more effort to get too, and was nowhere near as busy, and for me that gave it its charm. There is still lots to explore here though, spiral staircases to climb and outstanding views from the top, as well as a museum inside too. Part of the castle was in the process of being renovated during my visit, leaving a few spots out of bounds, but all us visitors got a free guidebook as compensation instead.

Highlights for me included, the dark atmospheric passages taking you through the basement and up the Well Tower, the narrow stone spiral staircases winding you up to the 2nd floor for epic but windy views from the Chamberlain Tower and a surprising single stone glass window.

Once done, I took a short walk through the town centre, but as we are still in Covid times and with some places still closed and restrictions in place, I decided to power on and head to my final destination for the day, Bangor.

I only knew of Bangor from my University days, as they used to have a school of Podiatry there, but I knew absolutely nothing else. The reason I chose it as a place to stay the night was it’s a University town, so I knew there was a good chance of there being some affordable hotel options as well as probably some plant based food for sale somewhere, and it was only a 20 minute drive from my meeting spot the next day.

But I was pleasantly surprised, once checked in I headed to Yugen coffee house, to pick up an oat latte and some vegan cheesecake, then headed to the coastline located a nice bench and then just sat and took in the breathtaking views, of the Menai Straits and Anglesey to the front and Snowdonia behind.

After a quick check of maps on my phone, I could see what looked like a pier, stretching almost all the way to Anglesey, so I continued to walk south, until I arrived at a place I had no idea existed, Garth Pier. A Grade II listed Victorian Pier, there are 2 colourful Kiosks to welcome you, and a small fee to enter. Then its a lovely walk right out across the Menai Straits, with local crafts, ice cream and art work being sold, as well as a coffee shop right at the top. I had just filled up on coffee, so I just sat on a bench completely taken in with the surrounding views of the Welsh landscape, texting family and friends about this new (to me) discovery and recommending it to everyone.

Finally, all my plant based dreams came true and my bet on Bangor being vegan friendly paid off, the first fully plant based restaurant in Wales happened to be a 5 minute walk from the pier. Called Voltaire although they were fully booked, they were happy to let me have some take-out, so with one of their signature burgers and fries bagged up, I hotfooted it back to my hotel, and tucked in, it’s pretty much a whole reason in itself to return.

The next morning, feeling refreshed, I took the short drive to Llanberis and found myself a nice free parking spot by the lake. I arrived an hour early, so did a loop of the town, remembering the places I had visited previously, investigated the lake we would soon be sailing on, and watched admiringly the sweaty, tired looking hikers who were returning from Snowdon’s summit, which I had done a year earlier.

After a hearty breakfast with my fellow kayaker’s at Pete’s Eats we headed down to Snowdonia Watersports and got our kit. For £25 we got full kit hire and 2 hours out on the lake, you also get access to indoor changing rooms, a locker and hot showers, so absolutely worth it.

Of course I fell in, whilst the others gracefully climbed into their kayaks, but I regained my composure and tried again with my second attempt being successful, all while keeping my hair dry!

Then we were off, for a glorious, peaceful sail around the lake, with incredible 360 views of the lakeside steam train, the welsh mountains and the sun reflecting off the rippling water. It was a perfect sunny Sunday afternoon.

Once back on dry land and warmed up with a hot shower, we all headed back to Petes Eats for a hot drink, then it was time to load up another podcast for the drive and head back home to have that kind of deep rejuvenating sleep you can only have after a full day out in nature. Wonderful.

Heysham Coastal Walk

After leaving Sunderland Point we headed back towards Overton, took a left and about 15 minutes later we were pulling into the main carpark in the neighbouring Lancashire coastal town of Heysham.

Needing a bit of a pick me up, we made our first port of call the popular Curiosity Corner Cafe  right on the main high street. It was ‘cash only’ on the day we visited, luckily it’s only a short jog back to the carpark, if like me you needed to go hunt for some spare change. I don’t think this was a permanent thing though, but bring some money just in case.  It’s dog friendly with bowls of water available for your furry friends and so we sat outside with a couple of nice coffees and planned our next move, picking up a free courgette as we left, from their veg box out front.

Once refreshed we followed the sign to St Peter’s Church, an incredibly old building, with parts of it dating as far back at the 8th century, with evidence that there may have been a previous church on the site even before then. The graveyard outside makes for an interesting wander, and the wild coastal views were spectacular.

Next to the church is Glebe Garden, a small neglected space of woodland, carefully tended and brought back to life by the locals. There are statues, memorial seats, tiny fairies and toadstools hidden all around giving the place a peaceful, magical feel, as well as beautiful flowers including the red rose of Lancashire of course.

Next it was back up the path and to the Saxon St Patrick’s chapel, now a ruin, it stands above St Peter’s Church, overlooking Morecambe Bay. Although the building dates back from around the 8th century, there has been activity at this site a lot longer than that, there are some incredibly cool graves cut into the rock which have been excavated and are estimated to be about 1300 year old!

From there, there’s a footpath that takes you along the coast line with parts of it leading down to little patches of beach. So we headed off with our excited furry companion for a windy but stunning coastal walk, with the ferry terminal in the distance preparing for the next trip over to the Isle of Man.

This whole coastal area is actually a free National Trust site, and absolutely deserves it, there is a lot of history around here for those interested, and the national trust website has a trail walk you can download if you really want to immerse yourself. Instead of walking back the way we came, we took a detour through Rectory Woods, a sort of walled garden with stone steps and plenty of distractions and smells for the dog.

It was then a short walk back to the centre of town, past the Heritage Centre, to Tracy’s Homemade Pies & Cakes, who do a good selection of dairy free treats and I picked up some cake to take back home, would be rude not too!

By then, the fresh air was taking its toll, feeling tired, we all bundled back into the car and slowly made our way back home, and although it was only an hour away, it really felt like we have travelled a lot further to this lesser known Lancashire beauty spot.

Sunderland Point – tides, slavery and a muddy causeway.

Feeling tired, but still wanting a little adventure, I asked mum and her Borrow My Doggy Sam if they would like to visit an area of my home county Lancashire that I hadn’t really explored. Turns out they had both been before, Sam when he was a puppy & mum over 30 years ago, so they were both keen to re-visit. The area I fancied was along the coast, south of Morecambe, south west of Lancaster, starting at Sunderland Point, then driving up to Heysham.

Sunderland Point is a small hamlet overlooking the River Lune, and can be accessed by one single track road from the neighbouring village of Overton. But you can’t just turn up any time, when it’s high tide the road becomes flooded, so this little Lancashire peninsula becomes cut off from the mainland twice a day. We set off early, taking junction 34 off the M6 and using the A68 Bay Gateway which neither of us had used before, as its only been open since 2016, before turning off towards Overton. It must have been around 10.30am when we arrived, and although the single track road was clear, it was still muddy in patches and made for a fun drive over.

 

As soon as you get to the other side, there is a small parking area, with a helpful HIGH WATER LINE sign as well as a lifebuoy, in case I guess you are too late back and the tide has come in, good to know! A little higher up on the ground above the water line, are some public toilets, a map and a little history of this fascinating patch of Lancashire.

There are approximately 35 houses here, with just 3 main streets, and other than some farmland, there are no schools or businesses here, so whether you need to drive to the mainland for work, school or your groceries, its all entirely dependant on the tides, it wouldn’t do for me, but I can understand the appeal.

But other than the excitement of driving along the single track causeway and the beautiful windswept views on arrival,  there’s a lot more here to make it worth your while.

First of all there is a footpath to take you around the tip of the peninsula, it’s about 3 miles, so short enough that you can take your time, drink in those views and still get back  to your car with plenty of time before the tide returns. We took a right turn between the houses and headed west, following the sign post for Sambo’s Grave.

We walked down the footpath, between some farm land across to the other side, once you get there, take the well maintained path to your left, leading you to the grave site.

This is were the slave history comes in, this seemingly unspoilt, quiet, remote part of Lancashire, was actually an important and busy port that formed part of the Slavery Triangle and was used to import cotton, sugar as well as enslaved Africans. This was in the early 1700’s and the area thrived until the Port of Lancaster opened up, becoming the 4th biggest port in the country.  (For a more comprehensive timeline, the Open Learn website has a great article to read). But back to Sambo, he was a young African boy, taken from Africa to the West Indies as a slave, then travelled with his master in 1736 over to Sunderland Point, where he became ill and died on arrival. I was pleased to see such an important but often hidden part of our UK history remembered here, with the grave being well take care of by the local residents.

Next to the grave is a stone chamber, which I initially thought had something to do with Sambo, but its actually an art installation by Chris Drury and features a camera obscura to observe the skyline of Morecambe Bay. Or if you are a small dog, it features a little ledge to climb on and you observe the view that way instead.

IMG_6021

We then continued our walk along the shoreline around the tip of the peninsula, its a bit tricky in parts, as you negotiate large rocks, some still slippy from the recent high tide, as well as large pieces of driftwood and other things that usually spend half their day under the water. There is a tonne of wildlife too, I’m not too familiar on my birds, but mum was better informed and pointed out some curlews and a heron.

The path understandably becomes hard to follow in places, as it is often submerged, but you can walk right around the edge, before you find yourself coming back towards the houses again. We came across a few other walkers, and we all checked in with each other, ‘yes, you can walk all the way around’ as well as ‘yes, you should have plenty of time to get back to your car before the tide comes in’. That didn’t stop me checking the time every few minutes as well as keeping an eye on the direction of the water, mum and Sam seemed less bothered than me though, but then they had both been here before.

As we approached civilisation and our car again, I slowed down, wanting to take in the windswept views for one last time, as I wasn’t sure if or when I would ever return, the landscape was truly stunning and peaceful, the complete opposite I presume from when it was a busy slave port 300 years earlier.

We grabbed some wild blackberries to eat and curious about house prices, I took note of a house for sale (it was £235.000). Then I wandered out, as close to the water as possible without getting too muddy, to take a few last photos before I drove us back across the causeway and quite literally back to dry land.

Next stop . . .  Heysham . . .

 

New Brighton – street art, coffee & a pirate ship

My friend had read about a new art gallery that had opened over in New Brighton, as well as a cool street art walk spread all around the Victoria Quarter, so one Saturday morning we headed through the tunnel and over to the ‘other side of the Mersey’.

There is a ton of free parking all around the area, and we easily found a space just off Victoria Parade, right in the heart of the action. There are guided art walks run by the Oakland Gallery, situated in the centre of the Victoria Quarter and they are currently running twice a month, check their instagram for more details. But we decided to do a self guided tour, so we could wander and window shop at our usual leisurely place.

The street art and the Oakland Gallery are part of the regeneration project of the area, and with both local and world wide street artists involved, this is just the beginning, more art and exhibits are being planned, it all sounded pretty exciting.

A7BFEDB3-1C43-4C0E-A937-D25F58E5C8AE_1_201_a

The actual gallery didn’t open till 12.00, but outside the front door they had some maps of the street art to take for free, so we grabbed one and headed off on our own self guided tour.

Some of my favourites were a couple by Dotmaster an artist from the other Brighton.

Fanakapan, a London based graffiti artist has done an incredible 3D helium balloon, that really has to be seen in real life to be appreciated, the shadows, the reflections, the creases, the shine, a photograph really doesn’t do it justice, it’s just insane!

36723F02-0423-4DF3-B0E3-19E517B49E06_1_201_a

As well as this, ‘Unsung Heroes’ a tribute to the local lifeguards by the Australian artist Smug One, we both just loved this one, and what a piece of art to have in your neighbourhood.

IMG_4186.jpg

We probably took just over an hour to explore all the art, and with still a little time to kill before the gallery opened at 12, we headed a couple of streets down to the beach for a sandy stroll and to find a place for lunch later.

There is a 3/4 mile stretch of beach at this part of the Wirral peninsula, along with the Perch Rock lighthouse, the Grade II listed Perch Rock Fort, and the entertainment centre Marine Point, which comes complete with cinema, shops, a theatre and restaurants. If you feel like you want to do more than just dip your toes in the water, then there are a whole bunch of various water-sports on offer, such as canoeing, jet skiing, snorkelling and a water park, complete with an inflatable assault course. So basically, what I am saying is, you could probably spend a full day here even without the art trail.

As we were just filling time till the gallery opened, I tip toed out into the water, then whilst shaking the sand from my sandals, we explored the fort (from the outside, as its currently closed, a Covid thing I think). My friend spotted a van floating in the water, I thought she was joking at first, but no, there it was, after a chat with locals, it appears somebody couldn’t be bothered to walk the extra 10 steps from the street parking to the beach and parked up on the sand. Unfortunately, they didn’t realise it was almost time for high tide, and by the time they were heading back, the van was already floating away.

After spending time staring at and gossiping with the locals about the sinking van, it was pretty much 12PM and time to head back to Victoria Road and to the Oakland Gallery. Opened only last year (2020) its a real highlight of the regeneration of the neighbourhood and will no doubt bring in a whole different set of visitors to the area, to those maybe heading to the beach or the water-park. The gallery is championing both local and international artists and whilst we visited, the main artist in residence was London based Insa who’s collection called Body Work, included prints, paintings, a rug, a surfboard, motorcycle and the star of the show, a 1968 Lincoln Continental MK3 car.

The gallery itself is really welcoming and although I enjoy art, and galleries, I often feel out of my depth and a novice really. But the staff were really helpful and friendly, talking us through some of the designs and intentions behind the work, and really made an effort to make it feel inclusive.

Next door is Rockport Records sitting above its connected diner and bar, its a great little find, full of records and posters, I had to remind myself that I no longer own a record player and resisted the temptation to buy anything, but did see a poster of the Nirvana tour I had tickets too, back in 1994.

Finally, with our stomachs rumbling, we headed back towards the beach, down Victoria Parade, to the Driftwood Cafe where they had delicious coffee and a vegan sandwich option. We sat outside, for some great people watching, saw some lifeguards possibly heading to the pier to start the rescue mission for the white van and made our plans to return to New Brighton for further adventures, its most certainly a place with a bright future, and I’ve been recommending it to friends ever since.

3779A20E-C6FD-4152-ADE2-605B1E786A0F