Monday, October 6, 2014

Westward to Wales

The next stop on our journey was Llandudno in Northern Wales, the once fashionable seaside resort during the Victorian era. The town was mostly built beginning around 1850 by the Mostyn family, who still own much of the town. It is due to the Mostyns that Llandudno still retains the Victorian aesthetic of its origins. The family still owns most of the town and actively work to preserve and conserve the town. The Promenade is one of Britain's handsomest walkways with coastal views around the crescent bay and a pier jutting 2,295 feet into the bay at the base of the Great Orme. As well as being on a crescent shaped bay, Llandudno is between giant headlands of the Great  Orme and Little Orme, named by the Vikings who thought they resembled sea serpents when shrouded in mist.

To get to the top of the Great Orme, a cable car tramway still runs up to the summit. The tramway operates by a funicular system controlled by a team of winchman and attendants. Each car balances the other as one goes up and the other is on its way down. The first paying passengers rode the tram on July 31, 1902. The top of the Great Orme affords the most spectacular views of Wales, the sea, and surrounding towns, as well as the most prominent resident - sheep.  There are farms and houses on the Orme, and a 12th century little church. St. Tudno's church was built on the site of a 6th century Christian site and dedicated to the memory of St. Tudno, who was one of seven sons of King Seithenyn whose legendary kingdom in Cardigan Bay was submerged.

Nearby to Llandudno is Conwy, which is a world heritage UNESCO site because of its castle and almost intact city walls. The castle, town walls and enclosed street plan of Conwy was planned and built by Edward I in the 1200s as a crucial garrison town for the king's campaigns against Welsh rebels. Revived in the Victorian era by the expansion of the railways and roadways connecting North Wales to England's industrial heartland, British tourists followed to appreciate the stunning beauty of this tiny town and it's massive castle.

Conwy Castle was built between 1283 and 1287 for King Edward I after he conquered the last native Prince of Wales, Llwelyn ap Gruffudd. The castle was never taken by any kind of assault, as it was nearly impossible to do so because it was protected by a massive ditch, one entrance thought two gates, and protection of outer and inner wards. Kept ready for the King with rooms designated for him, only three kings ever visited and no king ever lived there.

Within Conwy were two houses worth a visit:

Aberconwy House is the town's only medieval house still standing and was completed during the 14th century in the half-timbered English style. The house saw many owners, from the Tudor merchant  to the 18th century sea captain to the temperance hotel owner at the end of the 19th century.

Plas Mawr (Great Hall) is probably the best preserved Elizabethan town house in Britain. A wealth trader Robert Wynn built it between 1576 and 1585 and showcased his wealth with ornate plasterwork in most of the rooms, two indoor closets and a walk-in closet. He even constructed his own tower!

Despite forbidding weather forecasts, we were intrepid travelers full of American optimism. We captured the periods of sun and blue sky and fell in love with Wales.

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