Sunday, 30 May 2010

Advance notice of forthcoming trips

There are a number of trips I have coming up this year which I thought I would mention in passing.

In the late summer I will be on a cruise to the Mediterranean on the MV Discovery. I've been on this ship three times before and I've advised lots of people who have seen some of my YouTube videos filmed on the ship to take up the opportunity to book a holiday with them.

The itinerary for this trip is: sail from Harwich, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Almeria (Spain) and Nice in the south of France from where we fly back.

I'm back for only 4 days before I have to go to Liverpool for a few days for a conference.

Pencilled in to the diary but not yet with a fixed date is a return to North Wales. The Welsh Highland Railway extension has just opened and the cable car on the Great Orme in Llandudno is now back in operation so I want to pay a visit to both.

There will be various business trips to London coming up soon and dates are being sorted. We are also toying with the idea of using the opportunity of a London visit to do a short trip down to Cornwall. Again, nothing about this in the diary yet.

And tomorrow, I am off to the Northumberland County Fayre at Corbridge. I'll report back on that shortly.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is one of London's icons and is a must-see when visiting the capital. I filmed the above video in November 2009. We didn't go to the exhibition about the bridge or see the bridge opened. It costs £7 to go into the exhibition which also gives you access to the high level walkways. Fortunately crossing the bridge on the main deck is free!

It is possible to get the dates and times of bridge openings, which seem quite regular, at

Back in November when I walked over the bridge, I was with friends who had a sharp in take of breath when they saw the entry prices at varous places we wanted to visit on both sides of the Thames. The result is we had quite and interesting walking tour and took plenty of photos from the outside. So it is possible to do a central London tour on a budget. (We saw the Tower of London and St Paul's Cathedral from the outside as well. Both, I felt, had relatively expensive admission charges.) I'll write more about the walking tour we did sometime soon.

Tower Bridge Nov 09 5

Tower Bridge Nov 09 9

Tower Bridge Nov 09 18

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The London Eye

London Eye April 2008

Wales is not the only place outside the North East of England I visit regularly. I am in London often twice a month, often for quite significant periods, so I have accumulated lots of diary notes, photos and videos of places to visit. So I thought I would start my London posts with what I believe is the country's most popular visitor attraction: the London Eye.

I've been on once and that was back in September 2005. I guess it's time I went on again. Anyway, the following silent movie was shot by my on a very small compact camera which I now regard as rather primitive. Nevertheless, the video I filmed is my second most popular video on YouTube. As I write this, I can report it has had over 150,000 viewings.

This is me on the same trip:

London Eye Sept 05 no 16

It takes about half an hour to go full circle. Don't worry if you suffer from vertigo (which I don't). Sufferers I understand have no problem on the London Eye. Depending on time of day and the season, the longest part could be the queue to get on board. Mind you, even at busy times, the queues move quickly.

The London Eye is on the South Bank, next to Westminster Bridge and just along from the Tate Modern so take a trip on it as part of a central London day out. And expect some great views of Westminster.

London Eye Sept 05 no 18

Great view of the Thames (this one looking east):

London Eye Sept 05 no 20

London Eye Sept 05 no 10

Good view of Buckingham Palace:

London City Sept 05 no 7

This one includes BT Tower and Centrepoint:

London City Sept 05 no 4

Conwy Castle and town walls

Conwy Castle Jul 06 no 1

Conwy town on the North Wales coast is dominated by the castle built by Edward I, the English king who finally conquered Wales in the 13th century. Conwy is worth a visit for the castle alone as it is substantially intact though the internal buildings are now just walls. In addition, the walls of the town are largely still standing and much of their length is accessible.

If you visit the castle and have no problem with heights, go to the top of the tallest towers and enjoy a fantastic view over Conwt Bay.

Conwy Castle Jul 06 no 30

Walls only for the internal buildings of Conwy Castle as the photos above and below show. However, the rooms in the towers are all intact.

Conwy Castle Jul 06 no 26

Conwy Castle Jul 06 no 13

The photo above was taken on the road into Conwy from Llandudno Junction. It shows how the castle dominates the town (and initially provided the town with the reason for its existence).

Conwy town walls Jul 06 no 7

Conwy's town walls are still largely standing and parts are open to visitors. A walk around them gives a good view of the town.

The following photo is of the wall on the western side of the town.

Conwy town walls Jul 06 no 1

Conwy Castle July 06 no 42 JW

The above photo was taken the last time I walked the walls (July 2006) though it's not the last time I was in Conwy (which was just a week ago). Behind my head, the wall joins the Castle.

And here's the video I shot on the same day.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Aug 07 no 58

My last visit to Caernarfon Castle was actually in August 2007 when these photos and the video were taken. This is one of the most substantial, intact castles in the UK and I strongly recommend visiting it.

Caernarfon Aug 07 no 56

The castle exists because the Welsh were invaded and occupied by the English in the 13th century under Edward I, who was also responsible for a chain of castles along the North Wales coast including Conwy and Beaumaris (on the outskirts of Menai Bridge on Anglesey). It occupies a site previously used by the Romans as a fortress, It's easy to understand why the site was chosen as it overlooks the strategic Menai Strait (Beaumaris overlooks the other end).

Edward II, son and heir of Edward I, was born in the castle and was created the first Prince of Wales. Since then, the castle has been used on a numbe rof occasions for teh ceremonial investiture of the Prince of Wales, the latest in 1969.

If you visit the castle, you will find it is also home to the Royal Welch Fusilier Museums which explains the wars in which the regiment has been involved. If you like uniforms, you'll like this museum.

Caernarfon Aug 07 no 41

The above photo is of inside the Castle. Below is the video I shot on the same day. It's one of my old, low resolution ones.

And finally, the Caernarfon Boroughs was the constituency of David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister from half way through the First World War until 1922. There is a statue of him in the square next to the Castle.


Menai Suspension Bridge

Menai Bridge May 10 33

The Menai Suspension Bridge was the first to span the Menai Strait and join Anglesey to mainland Wales. Completed in 1826, it was one of the marvels of its day. It still stands as a statement to the abilities of the engineer who built it, Thomas Telford. It is definitely work a visit when in North Wales.

Menai Bridge May 10 1

Park in Menai Bridge (the town on the Anglesey side of the bridge) and take a walk over. A good location to see it is from the waterside in Menai Bridge itself. Another good spot we found to photograph it is from the road between Menai Bridge and Britannia Bridge (see photo below). The latter is about 30 years younger than the Menai Bridge and was designed by the great Victorian engineer Robert Stephenson to carry both road and rail.

Britannia Bridge, Anglesey May 10

Conwy Marina and the Mulberry pub

Conwy Marina May 10 4

Another one of the locations I visited last weekend was Conwy Marina. I'm not into ships, boats or anything particularly maritine though if you like modern marinas, this is the place for you. It has been built in the last two decades. Before then, I understand, the whole place was a wasteland.

Conwy Marina May 10 2

Mulberry pub, Conwy May 10 1

The reason for our visit was the Mulberry pub, right in the heart of the marina. It's a pleasant enough place. We just went for a short drink after the trip to St Celynin's Church. It has an outside seating area and given the sunny weather on Sunday, that was very enjoyable. The pub does lunches as well but I can't comment on them as we didn't eat there. If you feel the urge to bring the car, there's plenty of parking.

Mulberry pub, Conwy May 10 2

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Eating in Penmaenmawr - the Bistro

I ate at the Bistro in Pantyrafon on Bangor Road in Penmaenmawr on Sunday evening. Unusually for me I didn't take the camera so I have no photos. I understand from Brian and Enfys, with whom we were staying, that the Bistro was opened last year and they were keen that we try it.

Decor was quite twee inside. The menu was not extensive but I was well satisfied with the quality. However watch out for a couple of points. There is no price against any of the starters. Prices are against the main courses and initially look quite steep. But - the price of the main course includes any starter and any desert so the final price is quite competitive for a three course meal. The second point to note is that the main courses all contained meat. However, for the vegetarians (and there was one in our party) the problem was solved by asking for the salmon ardennes without bacon. (He is a vegetarian who eats fish.) I had the same dish with bacon and can recommend it.

The staff generally were quite helpful and chatty, especially when I asked them to put Tom Jones back on instead of the music they had put on!

There's no parking outside the restaurant but there is a car park less than a minute's walk away behind Penmaenmawr Library (bottom of Fernbrook Road). If you are staying in Penmaenmawr however, it's central so walk there instead.

The restaurant is licensed and wine prices are typical for that type of establishment.

Recommendation: definitely worth a visit.

St Celynin's Church and Healing Well

St Celynin Conwy May 10 4

This was one of the locations I visited over the weekend whilst in North Wales. Friends I was staying with called St Celynin's Church "The Old Church", for good reason. I've done a bit of hunting around for information on the internet and found it is also called the Old Church of Llangelynin. The building dates from either the 12th or 13th centuries (sources I read differ on this) and is likely to have replaced a wooden church on the same site. The porch was added in the 15th century.

St Celynin Conwy May 10 7

The church is in a remote location above the Conwy Valley and is about 6km south of Conwy town. The nearest settlement is Henryd. If you are driving, you will have to park about 100m away. Walk over the stile and follow the contour of the hill around to the right. Cross another stile at the top and you are looking down on the church.

St Celynin Conwy May 10 13

The graveyard is walled but in the left hand corner as you enter is the "Healing Well" or "Holy Well". This is a walled rectangular pool. I'm not sure of its healing powers now but we did find quite a few newt tadpoles swimming in it.

St Celynin Conwy May 10 1

The church itself is still in use though only a handfull of services a year are conducted there.

St Celynin Conwy May 10 9

And just to prove I was there:

St Celynin Conwy May 10 17

And here's the video I shot on my compact camera:

Penmaenmawr town centre

Gladstone statue, Penmaenmawr May 10 1

One of the people who popularised Penmaenmawr as a holiday destination in the early days of rail travel in the 19th century was William Ewart Gladstone, four times Britain's Prime Minister. He first come to the town in 1855. After he died in 1898, townspeople paid for a statue in his memory which was erected towards the town of Paradise Road. This is a good starting point to explore the town centre (or to walk down the bank to the beach.

Gladstone statue, Penmaenmawr May 10 3

One point to note - the statue now in place is not the original. Someone did a smash and grab job on it in the early 1970s and as far as I am aware, it was never recovered. The replica which is on the plinth now was installed in the early 1970s.

To the left of this picture is the shopping centre called Pantyrafon. Over the past decade it has been substantially renovated but has retained its Victorian character.

Pantyrafon, Penmaenmawr May 10

Above - Pantyrafon. This was taken at the junciton of Paradise Road and Bangor Road (the latter was once the main Chester to Holyhead road but it has now been replaced by the A55 Expressway. Turn right at this junction instead of towards Pantyrafon and follow Bangor Road until you get to the restored New York Cottages (see below) which front the main road. You can't get into them but they make a good stop off for a couple of minutes for photos.

New York Cottages Penmaenmawr May 10

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Penmaenmawr: mountains, views, wild horses and stone circles

Though I live on Tyneside in North East England, there are two other places in the UK I visit on a regular basis: North Wales and London. Both are places where I used to work though I never actually "moved" from Tyneside. So, my opening post of this blog is about one of those two places: North Wales.

I've only just got back from Wales. When down there I stay in a town called Penmaenmawr. It overlooks the A55 Expressway, the main road from Chester to Holyhead. It is just to the west of Conwy and is surrounded by mountains. It even has a railway station though I think only one train a day stops there. The railways first brought appreciable numbers of tourists in the later Victorian period to what was otherwise a quarrying town. The quarry still exists but tourism is something of a shadow of what it used to be. Nevertheless, the town has had at least one famous regular tourist visitor who left his mark, or at least his statue. Victorian Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone's statue was paid for by public subscription and erected in 1898, after this dominant figure of Victorian British politics died (can you imagine people in 21st century Britain subscribing to a statue of a modern politician!?)

Though Penmaenmawr's number of visitors is not what it was decades ago, in some respects, that adds to the attraction of the place. You will not be jostling with other tourists in the town.

This is a town to visit if you like stunning scenery. The town spreads up the lower reaches of the surrounding hills. Go up to the top of the town and have amazing views out to Anglesey and Puffin Island towards the west, Conwy Bay and the Irish Sea to the North and the Great Orme at Llandudno to the east. If you go high enough up into the hills, on a clear day you can see the Isle of Man. And if you fail to see the Isle of Man, you may see the wild horses that live up here instead.

For the walkers amongst you, use Penmaenmawr as a base and head for the hills. If you visit the town, you will understand why I return to it so often.

The one significant drawback is the A55 Expressway itself. The original route for the main North Wales route was through the town itself, along Bangor Road. The building of the road has removed the heavy traffic from the town. The resulting Expressway however demolished the Edwardian promenade and has sliced a concrete and tarmac scar between the town and the beach. You can see it from the pictures below I took from the hilltop overlooking the town.


In the above picture, you can get an idea of the views available to people taking a walk in the surrounding hills. In the distance is Llandudno. However, note the Expressway dividing the beach from the town (there is a subway through to the beach).

Penmaenmawr Expressway

This photo gives a better view of the Expressway. It's the one blot on the landscape though building it has ensured the centre of the town is not destroyed by thousands of vehicles rumbling through each day. If anything, it has made for a peaceful town centre.

Don't let the Expressway put you off the beach however. The road is shielded and so you can barely hear the noise of traffic once you are on the sand. The following video gives some idea of the beach at low tide.

Penmaenmawr wild horses

Look out for the wild horses whilst walking on the hills. You can also see them in the following video. Note also the hill and mountain scenery in this video. Also included is the Druid's Circle, a circle of stones laid down in the second millennium BC.

I've plenty more photos of Penmaenmawr, including loads from my trip over the weekend just gone which I haven't sorted yet. I'll try to post them up soon.