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Conwy Town Walls (Conwy, Wales)

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Conwy town walls, dating from the 13th century.

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      14.09.2011 21:01
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      Together with the castle, one of the essential sights in Conwy

      ** Background **

      The small fishing port of Conwy in north Wales can boast some of the finest medieval structures remaining anywhere in the country. The most famous such attraction is undoubtedly its imposing castle, but the town's status as a finely preserved gem is enhanced by the retention of a just about complete circuit of stone walls dating from a similar period (the late 13th century). I would recommend that anyone visiting Conwy takes the time to see both from both above and below.

      ** The basics **

      Conwy being a rather small town, its walls are well under a mile in circumference, smaller than those of the obvious comparison, the walls of Chester. However, Conwy's walls are not in any way diminished by that, and in fact their very compactness can actually enhance their effect, as from many parts of the town you can see a substantial length of the walls. It also helps that on the west side the town rises appreciably, meaning that the corner tower here stands guard above in impressively brooding fashion.

      It is possible to walk around almost the entire outside of the walls, apart from short diversions where private land, railway tracks etc get in the way. From here you can imagine the effect that the combination of the walls and the castle itself must have had on the Welsh residents: many would surely have been cowed into total submission by such a vast fortification, and this was of course the aim of King Edward I of England, who was in the process of crushing Wales as an independent principality and bringing it entirely within his domain.

      You can also perambulate along considerable stretches of the inside edge of the walls, though here it is necessary to make a few more diversions as in some cases houses have been built hard up against the stone and residential cul-de-sacs have their blind ends protected not by the usual hedge or wire fence but by this enormous 700-year-old construction. It's actually worth taking a few minutes to walk up some of these smaller, quieter streets to see the wall still being primarily a wall, rather than as a bustling tourist attraction.

      ** Get on up **

      Fine as it is to admire Conwy's walls from ground level, as with the castle there really is no substitute for getting higher up. Fortunately it is possible to do this along a large percentage of the walls, as a walkway has been constructed for most of the circuit's length. You can't go all the way around the loop - one of the reasons for this is that one side of the defence actually consists of Conwy Harbour, and the walls run right down to the shore! - but you can stroll around most of them, and this is highly recommended.

      You should probably be reasonably fit if you want to do the full walk, as although the walkway is reasonably wide and has decent railings, it's a fairly steep climb up to the top corner of the town, and the steps up to the walkway in the first place are steeper still! It's not particularly even underfoot, though I never felt at any risk of falling, and you should certainly not attempt the wall walk unless you are wearing sensible footwear - nothing specialist is needed, however, and a comfortable pair of trainers with decent tread will be fine. It might be a different story in slippery conditions, though!

      The views from the walls are outstanding. Although you don't get quite as high up as you do in the castle's towers, from a few hundred yards along the wall walkway the views of the castle are the best available anywhere in the town. You will need to be a little bit imaginative with how you frame your photos if you want a true medieval atmosphere, however, as in several places - not least in the south next to the castle itself - there are sizeable car parks, which does rather spoil the illusion that you are still in the 1290s!

      ** Practicalities **

      There is no charge for entry to the walls, and they are open every day. There are plenty of entrances, my favourites being close to the castle and off Berry Street, in the north close to the harbour. Under-16s should be accompanied by an adult for safety reasons, and although the Cadw site says that (in line with its other properties) assistance dogs are permitted, I'm not entirely sure I'd be comfortable taking any sort of dog up there. In theory smoking is banned, at least if the Cadw website is to be believed, but nobody seems to have told the locals!

      Getting to Conwy is straightforward: if you are driving, then the A55 North Wales Expressway takes you almost to the town: get off across the Conwy estuary in Llandudno Junction and take the A546 then A547 across the water, which will bring you into Conwy right next to the castle; the largest car park in the town is a little way along the B5106 Llanrwst Road, left just beyong the castle. By public transport, Conwy does have a station, but a better bet in good weather is to go to the larger Llandudno Junction station and walk the mile or so across the estuary, offering a fine vista of town, castle, harbour and - eventually - walls.

      ** Verdict **

      I really can't imagine anybody visiting Conwy and not spending some time around the walls. The hemmed-in feel of the old town is fascinating, and to see it packed in from above gives another perspective that it's impossible to find anywhere else. The sense of history is almost overwhelming at times, and as you walk around - especially up on the walkway - you can imagine vividly what it might have been like when Conwy was a heavily fortified enemy (to the Welsh) imposition rather than, as it is now, a beloved and integral part of one of the finest small towns in the country.

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