Back to Work!
My feet valued our Christmas break in a northern Wales holiday cottage, as did the Victory Walker and Support Team: we made one New Year’s resolution, namely to finish the Victory Walk.
During our ‘feet up time’ we worked on a plan that will see me walk the Wales Coast Path. Since 2012 the country has had a continuous path of 870 miles around its entire coast, from the River Dee at Chester to the River Severn at Chepstow. As I’m not walking around Anglesey my mileage is expected to be about 750 miles.
Although called the Wales Coast Path, it is in fact seven long distance paths that have been linked together. I returned to the North Wales path and have since started walking the Llyn Peninsula path. Unlike Scotland that required me to navigate through 66 OS maps, Wales looks slightly easier with a mere 18 OS maps and a bonus of 6 guide books!
Our first week back on the road returning to a routine has taken some adjustment. Overall, the weather has been fine and that helped our ‘shake-down’ week immensely. I’ve eased my feet back into the task, hoping that the recent rest will avoid any further setbacks. The feet worked, but the brain didn’t; I made some stupid navigational errors – all because I wasn’t concentrating.
The nature of the walk has been split into two definite sections – industry and tourism. I began by completing my walk along the River Dee banks where I saw how Deeside’s power station at Connah’s Quay dominates the skyline. Nearby, Tata Steel works, much reduced from its former British Steel heyday was also evident. Airbus is a large local employer whose factory manufactures wings for its aircraft range, which are then moved to France and Germany for final assembly.
At Mostyn docks further down the Dee, major works were undertaken to build special terminals and berths to handle these vast shipments overseas. With the navigable channel requiring constant dredging, Airbus has now made alternative arrangements by introducing its own aircraft transporter, the Airbus A300 ‘Beluga’ plane. Meanwhile, Mostyn port has diversified and provides a service to the offshore wind industry which was very evident during this week’s trek.
Industrially, the reputation of Wales was built on metals, coal, slate and stone – all of which I’ve witnessed during my travels. Bagillt has an impressive iron dragon beacon, one of a number of different beacons created at the time the Welsh Coast Path opened. Nearby at Bettisfield, I caught sight of the colliery’s former engine house now looking rather sad for itself; the colliery closed in the 1930s.
At the Dee’s mouth, Ayr Point colliery suffered the same fate, although it did survive until 1996. The mine workings extended far out to sea, with miners toiling about 1,000 feet below sea level. Little remains at the site, though I did notice some bollards where cargo ships used to come alongside to transport the coal away. A wood carving of a miner with his pony struck me as being rather poignant.
Talacre lighthouse at Ayr Point was built to mark the start of the Dee estuary. It was here that I changed direction to begin walking towards the resorts of Prestatyn, Rhyl, Pensarn, Abergele and Colwyn Bay. Concrete sea defences protecting acre upon acre of static caravans is not my idea of enjoyable walking, but I can usually find something of interest. Before reaching Colwyn Bay I noticed a huge aggregates quarry towering above me, inland from the busy A55 dual carriageway. There was a complicated zig-zag conveyor belt system that brought the stone down the hillside, under the main road and straight down the jetty to be loaded onto ships.
Colwyn Bay was a pleasant lunch stop and as I walked out towards the Little Orme I noticed a plaque which stated that a secret BBC studio was built here in case of invasion during WWII, but was only discovered in 1996. Before climbing the steep slope of Little Orme where I’d some excellent views back up the coast, I came across the minute and well cared for St Trillo’s Chapel at Rhos-on-Sea.
I descended from Little Orme into Llandudno with its elegant houses along the sea front and Wales’ longest pier. I walked the pier, from where I’d good views out to the Great Orme headland and saw how the nearby Grand Hotel had been constructed on bare rock of the shoreline. Later during my ascent of the Great Orme, a magnificent towering limestone headland, thick mist and rain reduced visibility to nothing. Luckily the rain blew through before I reached Conwy Castle, one of many castles that I know I’ll be seeing in Wales! Down on the harbour front I spied a minute house which is said to be the smallest in Great Britain.
Before reaching Bangor I passed through Penmaenmawr with its enormous granite quarries dwarfing the miners’ cottages and beach below. I was transfixed by the engineering brilliance of routing not only a busy dual carriageway road and railway line, but also a cycle and footpath through and around the sheer rock face of Penmaen Mawr.
Continuing towards Bangor, slate began to feature. I came across old quarries and noticed slate fences constructed around properties and fields. Further on I saw my first slate milestone, with the town names and distances beautifully carved on its face. Bangor also has an elegant pier, the second longest in Wales, which reaches far out into the Menai Strait, giving me good views towards the Menai suspension bridge. Like the Conwy suspension bridge, the stunning Menai bridge was designed by Thomas Telford and links Anglesey to mainland Wales. Unsurprisingly another mighty castle was soon to appear on the horizon – Caernarfon – my finish line.
Although I’ve found the walking hard, my first week back on the road has been made considerably easier by the kind people who have helped us by providing home comforts and secure overnight parking. We thank them all.
See Photo Album No 60 – Back to Work