I waxed lyrical recently about one of Edward I’s line of castles designed to keep the pesky Welsh in check, over in Beaumaris. Well, Conway has taken this to the next level and situated itself mostly inside its castle. This was one of Longshanks’ big ideas, and involved kicking out the monks of Aberconwy Abbey, forbidding the Welsh to enter and incentivising English settling in the walled town. Whether it had the long term effect the king intended is hard to tell – the town remains a stronghold of the Welsh language and, as a considerably touristy place, you’ll probably see a disproportionate amount of traditional Welsh costumery, at least in the summer. I don’t imagine Ed is turning in his grave particularly. The general effect of the fortifications on modern Conwy is actually a bit wonderful – Chester, York and Caernarfon are still on my to-visit list, so this is something unique for me: a town centre enclosed by medieval walls, loomed over by a dramatic castle, the broad Conwy estuary on the one hand, the Carneddau foothills of Mynydd y Dref rising at the back. It’s difficult to image a more picturesque spot for a town, especially when you consider your entry into Conwy. If you drive, then you can come in via the Sychnant Pass from the last vestiges of the Snowdonian mountains, or even better over Thomas Telford‘s suspension bridge. On the train it’s even more exciting: from the East you’ll enter via the tubular bridge over the Conway, then through a special portico in the town wall itself – the station is situated within the town centre. Maybe I’m easily pleased, but the idea of getting a train into a castle is pretty amazing.
That aside, Conwy is very much the tourist town – in fact, given the aforementioned features, it has been almost since tourists existed. Yet whether the walls themselves have had some sort of restraining function, or what, Conwy has not taken on any of the “kiss-me-quick” hat character of coastal neighbours like Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl or Prestatyn. There certainly are holiday and caravan parks in abundance close by, but the geographically limited nature of the town centre has resulted in a small but classy selection of shops and attractions. Rather than the wide, Victorian boulevards and piers of Llandudno, the town’s character is more reminiscent of Beaumaris: busy but quaint. The promenade is a small harbour-front, and our usual chips-for-lunch test was passed with flying colours overlooking houseboats, the castle and bridge, and numerous crab-fishing children. Looking back at the map now, I notice something that escaped our attention in the summer: the well-capitalised Smallest House In Great Britain. Seeing this on Street View immediately brought back floods of memories of a childhood visit here with some distant relatives and, appropriately enough, chips in the walled recess next to the Liverpool Arms. I imagine the descendants of the herring gulls that stalked us on that day were the ones bothering us for a spare chip this August. As if there’s any such thing.
To be honest, Conwy isn’t exactly a charity shop destination. We have two small outlets, Tenovus and St David’s Hospice. They’re both quite diddy, and without a great deal of yield. Or any great deals, come to that. But this town does really well on the tourism side of our quest and is thus worth a visit if you’re in the area. It could easily be combined with Llandudno, just around the corner, or a tour of the Gwynedd coast. I’d cheerfully recommend it though – sometimes a sunny day, a packet of chips, and a little harbour is all you need to be content.
Find: Conwy @ Google Maps
Get there: definitely worth taking the train – the Wales North Coast line runs from Chester or Bangor/Holyhead.
Consume with: Chips!
Visit: the castle has to be the prime attraction here.
Overall rating: three slippers