Steve Goodier, reports from Llandudno – Queen of the Welsh resorts.
It’s a funny thing, but I can’t recall a time when I haven’t visited Llandudno. From very early childhood my parents took my sister and I there for summers days out when we would stroll along the front, eat ice cream and spend time on the pier. In later years my wife and I would often drive to the summit of The Great Orme to eat fish and chips on our way back from a day on the Snowdonia Mountains. And when our children were born we took them there too.
There is something relaxing and very romantic about following the curve of the bay and promenade towards The Great Orme and the pier and imagining you were back in Victorian times as you visualise what it must have looked like with the ladies in long flowing dresses holding sun parasols and the men dressed in their best suits.
And it is really down to both the Victorians and the Edwardians that Llandudno gained its reputation as a premier seaside resort. Much of the elegant seafront architecture that graces the promenade today dates from those times and during this fast development period the town became known as ‘Queen of the Welsh Resorts’. The late author Ivor Wynne Jones chose this title and pre-fixed it with ‘Llandudno’ for his superb 1973 book which was completely revised in 2002.
Although it looks older, most of what you see today on and around the promenade was conceived, designed and purpose built from 1846 onwards by surveyors, architects and planners working for Lord Mostyn and his successors.
And there is still much of the Victorian era about modern day Llandudno. It is not your typical seaside resort – instead it falls in to the categories of ‘traditional’ and ‘elegant’. Llandudno Bay forms the backdrop to the sweeping Victorian Promenade and a beach of sand, but mostly shingle and rock, runs for just on two miles between the headlands of The Great Orme and The Little Orme. The road that follows the bay is collectively known as ‘The Parade’ (and ‘Colwyn Road’ nearer to the Little Orme) but there is a different name for each block on it and it is on and around these parades and crescents that many of Llandudno’s hotels are built.
Modern day Llandudno is a bustling and thriving town that has a good selection of shops, cafés, pubs and takeaways that are located along Mostyn Street (which runs behind the promenade) with some on Mostyn Broadway and Mostyn Avenue. For shoppers there is plenty of scope and many are the family that leave dad and the kids on the beach while mum goes off for a bit of ‘retail therapy’ nearby.
In 1994 The North Wales Theatre, Arena and Conference Centre was built. It is located near the centre of the promenade on Penrhyn Crescent and hosts ballets, concerts, theatre productions, circuses, ice shows and pantomimes. It was extended in 2006 and re-named Venue Cymru.
As a nod to its influential past, Llandudno hosts a Victorian Carnival on The May Bank Holiday Weekend. A fun fair takes over Mostyn Street while the promenade, Madoc Street and Gloddaeth Street form part of a daily ‘Mid-Day Carnival Parade’. And there is even a Festival of Transport held on The Bodafon Farm Fields.
In recent years a ‘Town Trail’ has been developed which starts at the library. The walk has been carefully planned to give people the chance to look at Llandudno from a historic perspective. Fifteen information boards have been placed in strategic locations and each has a circular map on it and detailed information on nearby places of interest.
The modern town of Llandudno encompasses several nearby villages and towns including Craig-y-Don, Llanrhos, Penhryn Bay and Deganwy and takes its name from the ancient parish of St. Tudno.
For the present day visitor the main attractions will always be that lovely Victorian promenade, the Great Orme and the stunning pier. We have already looked at the promenade but what of the Great Orme?
This wonderful up-thrust of rock rises to 207 metres and has a car park and summit hotel on top. Just driving up here to take in the views of Anglesey, the nearby coast and the mountains of Snowdonia is well worth the trip. And the awesome Marine Drive around the lower reaches of ‘The Orme’ is an absorbing and beautiful motoring experience. But you can walk up too, use the historic tramway or take a ride on the cable car. However you reach the topmost inches, make sure you do, it is one of the highlights of a visit to this wonderful location.
And let’s not forget the Little Orme. True, it has not been as commercially developed as its bigger brother, but you can walk to the top and the views are just as stunning. Rising to 141 metres with part of it being a nature reserve, it offers a great place for a picnic or to watch birds from.
Both the Great and Little Orme have sheer limestone cliffs and offer a real ‘wow’ factor to any visit to Llandudno.
Then there is the pier. Built in 1878 it is classed as Grade 11 Listed building. The pier was extended in 1884 and became 700 metres long – making it the longest pier in Wales. It is a quintessential pier, which both adults and children love to walk along exploring its amusement arcades, fairground rides, cafés and bars. Fishermen love it too, and many visitors stop to watch them and see what they catch.
Near the pier entrance in the summer you will find the famous Professor Codman’s Punch and Judy show which was established in 1860 and still draws the crowds in today.
Near the base of the Great Orme (and above the pier) you will find Happy Valley which was a former quarry which Lord Mostyn gave as a gift to the town in 1887 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The area was landscaped with pretty gardens, miniature golf courses, a putting green and the ever-popular open air theatre which I have fond memories of being taken to as a child by my parents.
And we can’t leave Llandudno without mentioning Lewis Caroll and his timeless children’s book, ‘Alice in Wonderland’. What’s the connection? Well, the real life Alice Liddell, who Caroll based literary Alice on, holidayed with her family at their holiday home, Penmorfa, near the towns West Shore. She made her first visit to the resort in 1861 aged eight and, although it has never been proved one way or the other if Lewis Caroll ever met Alice Liddell in Llandudno, he certainly became a great friend to her and it is believed by many that it was Alice’s adventures in the town which inspired Caroll to write his famous book when she recounted them to him. Llandudno is also reputed to be much of the inspiration behind the sequel: ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’.
The Walrus and The Carpenter both feature in this second book and are actually two large rocks that sit prominently on Llandudno’s West Shore. There is even a modern day ‘Alice Town Trail’ where you can follow the history of Alice in the town with an easily downloaded mobile app.
Of all the memories I could recount of Llandudno visits I have chosen one that always comes to mind – even though it is probably not the nicest (at least to start with). As a youngster I sat eating an ice cream on the Pier one sunny day when a seagull decided to do what seagulls sometimes do all over my head and shirt. It was smelly and filthy and I howled in tears as my mum did her best to clean me. Then out of nowhere a man we had never seen before came over and handed me a fresh ice cream he had bought for me… which just sums up the kindness of the local Llandudno folk to boot.