Friday, 21 July 2017

Deganwy Castle, Conwy Valley

Another trip with my sister and nephew while they were visiting from New York, and another place I've wanted to go for a long time, but haven't until now. We took the opportunity of a beautifully sunny afternoon to explore the meagre ruins of Deganwy Castle on the Vardre. (The word 'Vardre' apparently comes from the Welsh term for a settlement, 'maerdref'.) The English castle of Conwy is still very impressive on the other side of the river, but Deganwy castle has been reduced to just a few scraps of wall and ditch.

I had always thought that Conwy was the English castle and Deganwy, the Welsh. What I hadn't realised until now was that it was built by the Anglo-Normans and strengthened by the Welsh, before being razed by the Welsh under the threat of English invasion. A very comprehensive history and walking guide to the area can be found in pdf form here, and makes a fascinating read.

It's a very easy walk up to the base of the two hills that the castle spanned. Access is via a footpath leading from Gannock Park road in Deganwy, where the road loops in a circle. The hills themselves are the hard remains of volcanic plugs, like a miniature version of the hill upon which Edinburgh Castle is built.

Looking back along the footpath towards the houses of Deganwy, you can see how close this site is to civilisation.

The smaller of the two hills has an impressive remnant of wall built up against it. An interesting video of a one person's 3D imagining of how the castle looked can be seen here.

A still from the youtube video shows a rather impressive structure.

A remnant of wall between the two hills. Most of the remains aren't much larger than this. (My son has been edited out of this one.)

There's something rather beautiful about this tilted piece of wall half covered by grass, like a shipwreck emerging from the sand.

One of the taller pieces of wall, with a hole all the way through, and the Great Orme and Llandudno in the background. It looks like a lone sentry left behind to guard the pass between the hills.

 This is a rather impressive ditch at the north of the site between the two hills.

 A view back down towards Deganwy and the river Conwy, with the town of Conwy in the distance.

The path up the side of the larger, western, hill (with my son rather crudely edited out of the foreground.) This is a relatively easy, gentle climb up a good mud path.

This is the first shot of something of a panorama, looking up the river Conwy, with a view of some of the flatter land at the base of the hill, and other rocky tumps in the background.

From the larger, Western hill, Conwy is in the background at the left, with Deganwy and the Deganwy Docks, now redeveloped and rather pretentiously named the 'Quay,' in the foreground.

The panorama continues, looking over towards the Conwy marina, the Morfa beach, and towards Conwy Mountain (site of an impressive Iron Age hillfort).

In the far background to the right you can see the flatness of Anglesey, and Puffin Island. This castle commanded an incredible view. You can also see little in the foreground. Next time I'll take a carrier bag and clean up a bit.

Again, my son is crudely edited out of this. But what an amazing view they had from this place, over to the Great Orme and Llandudno. In some ways it seems a better location than Conwy. Perhaps Conwy was better for trade but as a watchtower Deganwy is hard to beat.

Looking from the top of the larger western hill towards the smaller eastern hill.

Some more tumbled pieces of wall, and the smaller hill beyond. Building this castle must have taken a lot of hard work, but razing it couldn't have been easy either.

We found a surprise on the top of the larger hill - what appears to be a small quarry. There are suggestions it was used to store water while the castle was in use, since there's no natural water source up there. The video linked to above shows it as being covered with a wooden structure. Unfortunately there's a lot of rubbish left in the dip. It also smells strongly of sheep, and I suspect they use it as shelter in bad weather.

To the rear of the quarry is a small, shallow cave. Tall enough to stand up in, but not quite deep enough to be exciting. The dung points to it being a favourite place for sheep to shelter.

Looking out over wall remnants on the larger hill, towards the estuary and the Great Orme.

The castle seems to be built of a rather lovely yellowish stone, which must have made it look impressive when complete. It must have glowed gold in the sunset.

The colour of the stones has a very seaside feel to it, especially combined with the beautiful blue sea and sky beyond.

The slope is precipitous, and makes a great natural defence.

This curved piece of wall, probably the remains of a tower, is one of the few pieces left that really give you an idea of the structure that was once here.

Looking back from the larger hill and toward the smaller. There's an easy natural path up the larger hill, but the other one is a steep climb.

A little bit of wall built into the rock as you descend from the larger hill.

Another piece of fallen masonry that looks like a wrecked ship in the sand.

Climbing the smaller hill was a breathtaking experience, quite literally. Perhaps there's an easier way somewhere, but this involved a very steep climb through bracken. Hardly any remains were visible up here.

That ditch between the hills is very visible from this position.

A last view of the castle, that solitary pillar of stonework with its little square hole. This was a lovely walk and a fun place to explore, and I look forward to taking the rest of the family.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Llyn Dulyn, Conwy Valley

It was a beautiful summer's day for a walk up to Dulyn. This mysterious little lake is a place I've been wanting to go for years. There's a legend that even the ravens won't fly across its dark waters.

I'd always wanted to walk up the valley from Pen y Gaer, my local mountain, but as it turned out my first approach was from a different angle; driving up to Llyn Eigiau and walking from there instead. My plane-mad nephew was with us, and we were hoping to see the propeller left behind from the wreck of a WWII Douglas aeroplane which lies on the edge of the lake.

This was a relatively easy circular walk of about five miles from the car park near Eigiau, around the shoulder of the mountain and along the left side of the valley of which Dulyn sits at the head, but there are significantly difficult bits for those who tire easily or are unsteady on their feet. In places the climb can be tiring, and the descent to Dulyn at the end is quite steep. An interesting account of a much more ambitious walk, with a lot of archaeological detail, can be found here.

The initial track from the stile at the car park near Eigiau is rocky but pretty flat.

You can see the broken dam at Eigiau in the distance - it's a way from the car park. I've blogged about it previously here.

It's a beautiful, incredible landscape here, a world of fractured rocks and enormous boulders left behind by glaciers and the ravages of time.

Just off the path are the ruins of a sheepfold. There are a lot of these scattered over the mountains.

In places the rocks seem to be growing out of the ground. You can see the track we walked up on the right.

That sheepfold from above, looking a bit more coherent.

Eigiau in the distance. It looks like a diminishing puddle with the space to the right where the reservoir would have filled the depression.

I'm not sure what's gone on here, with the mown patches. Perhaps aliens?

Looking back to 'my' home mountains, Pen y Gadair and Pen y Gaer.

Standing stone? Waymarker? Big gate post? This isn't marked on the map as a standing stone, but it is, nevertheless, a stone which is standing.

At times this landscape looks like something out of Lord of the Rings.

Honestly, the geology around here is just awe inspiring. Imagine this stuff being laid down over time in layers, and ending up at this angle.

The first glimpse of Dulyn in the distance, dark and mysterious.

This really could be from Lord of the Rings...

As you reach Melynllyn (Yellow Lake), the little lake right next to Dulyn (which in its turn means Black Lake) you come across a wonderful little ruin of a hone stone mill, next to the abandoned workings of a hone quarry. When you look this up on the net, results are dominated by a hone quarry in Virginia, USA. Hone stone a particular type of stone used for sharpening blades - as whetstones and so on - and doesn't seem to be very common. This quarry started out as a slate quarry in the mid nineteenth century, then the hone vein was discovered, and work continued until 1907.

The inside of the hone mill with a miscellaneous child for scale, and some abandoned machinery.

I don't know if this is a perfectly fallen wall, or a rather uneven floor.

There follows a photoslew of parts of the hone mill.

 Where the wheel would have sat.

 I was intrigued by the angle of the stones here.

 I assume this was connected to the water wheel.

So, just behind the mill was Melynllyn, another reservoir. It seems such an enormous shame that almost all of the little lakes up in the mountains are dammed and show such obvious signs of human intervention.

You can't see the dam in this photo, but it's at the right hand end. Melynllyn is a much more open, less brooding lake than Dulyn.

And then we had a wonderful treat. On the steep and awkward climb down from Melynllyn to Dulyn we caught sight of a number of Carneddau ponies grazing on the grass below. There were some stallions, but they were mostly what appeared to be pregnant mares with yearling foals. It's wonderful to see these wild and rare horses (rare because there are few of them, but quite commonly sighted around here.)

We could also see the Dulyn bothy down below, looking as if it had a patchwork roof.

This is a wonderful little place where you can stay overnight if you need shelter on the mountain.

The view down the valley from here was pretty special, too. I love the way the river runs like stitching through the land, and that little stand of pine trees there has always fascinated me.

Coming down the slope to Dulyn you see the little house on the edge which is a pump house or pipe house - I can't remember exactly what the sign said. As it turned out, the lake was so full that the propeller on the shore wasn't visible. My husband thought he could just see it under the water.

 The lake looks a little more open here, but the cliffs are still dark and brooding, and it's easy to imagine that Douglas crashing into them.

The waters are so black, the lake's well named. It would be fascinating, but scary, I think, to swim across the lake to the cliffs on the other side.

The weir where the water flows from the lake. To get across to the little pump house you have to walk through the water at the top, which was relatively deep on this trip because of how much rain we've had recently.

The bothy isn't very far from the lake, and looks like it would be a beautiful place to wake up in in the morning.

It's an idyllic little cottage in such a beautiful location at the head of the valley. It's interesting to imagine these places when they were so much more full of life and industry than now.

 Inside the main room in the bothy.

A bleak but impressive view.

The sleeping room is basic, but at least weatherproof, with a little vent through directly behind the stove in the other room.

Another sheep fold right by the river from Dulyn. Now we're on our walk back, coming along the bottom of the valley that we walked the side of to get to Dulyn.

I'm not sure if these are more sheepfolds or part of the settlements that are supposed to be dotted about these slopes.

I really expected this clump of pines to be associated with the ruin of a house. There's some kind of ruin there, but it didn't look like a house. It's an unusual clump of trees. It intrigued me. Anyway, it was a mysterious, peaceful little spot with different grass to the rest of the hillside.

 Another small ruin. Sheepfolds or settlement?

 After a while of walking, trudging through a few marshes, a little way below the actual footpath, we came to a small dam, and started back across the valley to meet the track we had taken on the way out.

Along this route, set in another landscape reminscent of fantasy fiction, were the ruins of a couple of houses.

The stone lintel about a beautifully rectangular doorway. I don't know if these houses were permanently occupied or just hafods for summer use, but these little valleys in the side of the Conwy Valley must have been full of so much life a few hundred years ago.

It was a pleasant, rewarding walk. A fireman's lift was needed for one of the children towards the end. Little legs get tired. But a wonderful way to spend a day.