Holiday resorts on a sandy shore beyond the Dee estuary
Industrial Deeside offers little in the way of bathing beaches; even if there were no factories, the treacherous mudbanks and swirling currents of the Dee estuary would make swimming uninviting and dangerous. There are, however, ruined castles that tell of the turbulent past of this traditional invasion route between England and Wales, while Point of Ayr marks the eastern end of the busy holiday coast of North Wales.
Brash and breezy, Rhyl offers every kind of amusement and attraction, from bingo to windsurfing. The 3 miles of sand offer safe bathing, provided swimmers do not venture too close to the mouth of the Clwyd near the western end of the beach, especially when the tide is going out. Tidal currents scour deep channels parallel to the shore between sandbanks, so it is wise to stay close to the beach.
Foryd Harbour is the oldest part of the seafront, and provides moorings for yachts and fishing-trip boats. The town’s pier has gone, and the old open-air swimming pool is now a fishing lake, stocked with sea trout; but there is an indoor heated swimming pool in the Sports Centre, and a surfing pool in the promenade Suncentre. Other attractions include a rink for roller-skating and skateboarding, paddling and boating pools, the Butterfly Jungle and Ocean World, and a rooftop monorail in the Suncentre. Sailing dinghies, rowing boats, pedaloes and sail-boards can be hired on the Marine Lake, close to the harbour.
Rhyl’s promenade runs all the way to Prestatyn where it joins up with a newer stretch of coast defences, providing a continuous walk of more than 5 miles along the shore.
Prestatyn’s beaches divide into three main areas. On Ffrith Beach to the west, near the boundary with Rhyl, steep dunes overlook the low stone sea-wall and the ranks of wooden groynes, or breakwaters, which stabilise the broad sweep of sand. A large amusement park includes a motor-boat pool, and tracks for go-karts and motorcycles.
Central Beach has the Nova with its restaurant, bars and indoor heated swimming pool and sun lounge, and ballroom and summer shows. The public can use the pool, where swimming lessons for children are available. Further east, Barkby Beach is backed by large holiday-village complexes. Pontin’s Prestatyn Sands village has its own indoor heated swimming pool.
There is a nature trail over hillsides to the south of the town, where the Offa’s Dyke Path to South Wales begins. Energetic walkers who prefer to stay within arm’s length of the sea can follow the sea-wall to its end by the slipway outside the Grand Hotel, and then continue along the shore all the way to the beginning of the Dee estuary, by the old lighthouse of Point of Ayr. There are bracing walks over the hills inland from the town, towards Gwaensygor and Trelawnyd.
Talacre is a place of holiday camps and caravan sites, but the shore itself is guarded by a range of steep and wild sand-dunes. At the eastern end, near the Point of Ayr lighthouse, there are open views across the broad Dee estuary to the Wirral and Hilbre Island, and further along the shore to the Point of Ayr colliery, whose workings run out under the estuary for almost a mile. This pit, one of two working mines left in the whole of North Wales, is the site of investigations into the making of oil from coal.
As the silting-up of the Dee robbed places such as Chester and Parkgate of their shipping trade, Mostyn became the last harbour in the estuary that sea-going ships could reach. Now occasional coasters call at this tiny harbour, close to the site where the old iron works has been replaced by modern small factories and workshops.
A mile and a half to the south-east is the dock at Llannerch-y-mor, where a former cruise liner has been permanently moored as a shopping and amusement centre, called the Fun Ship. Near by is a craft centre.
This small town overlooking the Dee estuary was best known in the Middle Ages for St Winefride and her well. Legend says that Winefride was beheaded by a rejected suitor, but healed and brought back to life by her uncle, St Beuno, in the 7th century. A well which sprang up on the site was said to have miraculous healing powers, and pilgrims came from far and wide to visit the spot; they included Henry V in 1416. The chapel and crypt were built soon afterwards by the Countess of Derby. The well, one of the traditional Seven Wonders of Wales, is a quarter of a mile north of the town centre, on the road to Greenfield.
The narrow valley.this road follows down to the coast was one of the earliest sites of the Industrial Revolution, but it is now largely green and overgrown. On a hill to the right of the junction of this road with the coast road are the ruins of Basingwerk Abbey, founded in the 12th century. By the 15th century, its guests stayed in such numbers that meals, accompanied by fine wines, were served in two sittings, but the monks themselves were only allowed to speak to one another in a special room.
The Grange Cavern Military Museum, housed in underground limestone quarry workings off the main road in Holywell, has a collection of more than 40 lorries, jeeps, motor-cycles and armoured cars. Nearby is a heated indoor swimming pool and children’s playground.
This stretch of coast is difficult and dangerous for boating, with its strong currents and shifting sandbanks, and impossible for swimming, with its muddy foreshore. Walkers and bird-watchers, however, can enjoy the miles of mud-flats and saltings reached by crossing the bridge at the site of Bagillt’s old railway station on the still-busy main line.
Flint’s castle has a unique place in history: the first of Edward I’s chain of castles in North Wales, it was set on the edge of the sea so that it could be kept supplied by water, and the keep is detached from the rest of the fortifications and surrounded by its own defensive ditch. It was at Flint Castle that Shakespeare portrays Richard II as being trapped by the usurper Bolingbroke and forced to surrender as his prisoner though historians now believe the surrender took place in Conwy Castle. Today the dock and channel are silted up, and the castle is ruined and crowded in by the railway and later buildings. A market is held every Friday.
The advance of the sands along the Dee estuary, silting up port after port and shifting the centres of the coastal trade from Chester to the sea, can be measured by the rise and fall of each of the harbours along this section of coast. After Chester became unreachable by seagoing vessels, it was the turn of Connah’s Quay, named after the 18th-century landlord of the local inn. But the sands blocked the harbour there too, and though it is just possible for shallow-draught boats to reach the jetty on high tides, the trade vanished long ago, first to Flint and then to Mostyn. There is an indoor heated swimming pool in the Civic Centre, and the sports centre at the High School is open to the public outside school hours and during the holidays.
Queensferry marks the point at which the broad estuary of the Dee narrows down into the canalised section which was dredged in a vain attempt to keep the port of Chester open to shipping. There is a leisure centre with a large ice-skating rink, sports halls and a children’s playground.
Near by are the ruins of Ewloe Castle, a Welsh fortress probably built by Prince Llywelyn the Last in the 13th century, and the Norman fortress of Hawarden, twice besieged during the Civil War. The nearby 18th-century Hawarden Castle was for 59 years the home of William Gladstone, Britain’s long-serving Liberal Prime Minister during Victorian times.
Parkgate took over the packet trade with Ireland from Chester during the 18th century, and its promenade still has a fishing-village quality about it. The old harbour wall now overlooks acres of salt-marsh, covered by sea only at the highest tides, instead of the waters of the Dee. The marshes are feeding grounds for countless birds, and there are fine views across the estuary to the mountains of North Wales.
Nearby Neston, now a dormitory suburb for Merseyside, was the birthplace of Nelson’s mistress. Lady Hamilton. The 19th-century parish church is notable for its stained-glass windows by Edward Burne-Jones.
Travellers who follow the A540 from Chester to West Kirby down the western edge of the Wirral will miss much of Heswall if they stay on the main road. The older part of the village lies at a lower level, closer to the estuary, with picturesquely winding streets, some inviting pubs and a craft centre.
Heswall has no promenade as such: instead several lanes lead down to the foreshore, each one ending in a car park from which the miles of saltings which edge the estuary can be explored. At the northern end are sewage works, but beyond lies an uninterrupted 4 mile walk along the foreshore to West Kirby. It follows the line of an old railway, now the Wirral Country Park.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Bodrhyddan Hall, 4 miles SE of Rhyl. 17th-century manor and gardens. Some afternoons in summer.
Ness Gardens, 2 miles S of Neston. University of Liverpool Botanic Gardens. Daily.
Rhuddlan Castle, 3 miles S of Rhyl. Medieval remains. Daily.