The other weekend, I found myself back in Conwy. I had only ever been there once before, on a whistle-stop tour, in the winter a couple of years ago. I’m so glad I went back because there is more to this small, cute-looking town than its narrow, cobbled streets; uneven, old buildings; and castle. It has a long, interesting history. Just to whet your appetite, it has the smallest house in Britain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the first road suspension bridges in the world, and the oldest house in Wales. Not bad for a small Welsh town, is it?
To give you a bit of background, it was a monastic site called Aberconwy until the English seized it as part of Edward I’s plan to turn that region of Wales into a new English county.
This was one of 17 castles that were either built or refurbished while Edward I attempted to rule Wales. This castle was built from scratch in the 13th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the best examples of military architecture in Europe for the late 13th century and early 14th century. That’s not bad going, considering it only took them four years to build the castle and the town walls.
If you are an English Heritage member, like me, you will be pleased to discover that entry is half price or even for free. Just make sure you have your membership card with you. This is due to a mutual agreement between Cadw, Welsh Heritage, and English Heritage.
It might be a ruin, but there are plenty of towers to explore and lots of photos to take. The stairs in the towers are narrow and windy, and the stairwells are dark. Nonetheless, it’s worth making your way up to the top for the panoramic views.
The seagulls are most definitely the kings of the castle these days. There are lots of them, and they are bold as brass.
Having walked along the city walls of Dubrovnik and Chester, I am becoming a bit of an expert when it comes to wall-walking. When I arrived in Conwy, I had no idea there were town walls that I could walk along. As soon as I saw a sign for a wall walk, I got straight up there. The walls are quite extensive at just under a mile, circling the town. Apparently, there are 21 towers and 3 gatehouses, although I didn’t count them. I was too busy taking photos and videos of the wonderful panoramic views. This is a free activity that tourists have enjoyed since the 19th century. There have been a few alterations over the years, mainly due to the arrival of the railway.
I would definitely suggest doing the ‘Marine Walk’ because of the view across the water to Deganwy. There is a hill with two summits, which you can see in the photo above. What I didn’t realise at the time is that the walk is part of a 2-mile circular trail. This useful guide by Conwy Council will take you around the trail, and it has some interesting facts.
On the information board, it shows a viewpoint where you can apparently see both the castle and the Great Orme in Llandudno. I say ‘apparently’ because I couldn’t find it. I gave up after following the blue signs, which took me to a place where there was no view. I should have actually continued following the blue signs that mark the way because, according to the above guide, it is part of the circular town trail.
Conwy Suspension Bridge
This bridge, built by Thomas Telford, replaced the ferry to become the gateway to Conwy, and was one of the first suspension bridges in the world. It is an impressive sight, and worth walking along this historic bridge either before or after a visit to the castle. It is only a footbridge now, so you don’t have to worry about traffic. That means you can have a relaxing stroll along the bridge, and spend time taking photos.
Conwy has a long history of mussel fishing, which goes all the way back to medieval times. Interestingly, they only fish when there is a ‘r’ in the month. This might seem a little odd, but there is method in their madness. This break gives the mussels time to breed and recover, meaning it’s a sustainable way to fish for mussels. In addition, they hand-rake the mussels because it is gentler on the mussel beds and means they only collect larger mussels.
In the early days, the aim of mussel fishing was different. They were after pearls. Apparently, one of the pearls from Conwy is in the Crown Jewels.
As a vegetarian, I don’t eat seafood. If you do, this would be a great place to sample some mussels. If you fancy it, even without an ‘r’ in the month, you can buy a small net and have a go at catching your own mussels. I saw a few people doing just that.
This church predates the castle. It was the church of the Cistercian Abbey of St. Mary and All Saints in Aberconwy in the 12th century. It became the parish church of the new town during Edward I’s reign. Apparently, the churchyard might date back even further to the 8th century.
This townhouse dates back to the 16th century. It was the house of a Welsh merchant. Unfortunately, it was closing when I got there, so I didn’t go inside. I’ll have to save that for another time. Apparently, it’s the best example of an Elizabethan townhouse in Britain. You can buy a joint ticket for the castle and Plas Mawr. It’s worth it if you are going to visit both.
I did get in to see this 14th century townhouse, which is the oldest in Wales. This is the only surviving medieval merchant’s house in the town. It belongs to the National Trust, so it’s free if you are a member.
Apart from having the best surviving townhouses from different centuries, Conwy also has the smallest house in Britain, I was there on a Sunday afternoon, in the summer, and the weather was good. Perhaps that accounted for the long queue of people who patiently waited to see inside the smallest house in Britain. It’s the red end-of-terrace house, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that.
You can see most of the sights I have mentioned on this map:
If you are travelling by car, there is a long-stay car park behind the castle. I was surprised at how inexpensive it was. If you are using public transport, there is a train station, and plenty of buses from neighbouring towns, like Llandudno.
Have your say
Have you been to Conwy? If so, is there anything you would add?