Tom and I had arranged an all night run into Wales. After our experience to Meriden in May, we had taken a fancy to ‘all-nighters’, and given a moderate evening, we felt assured of a good run. Anticipation is said to be better than realisation, but in this instance, realisation exceeded our wildest hopes, and we are no mean critics of scenery. All afternoon, torrents of rain fell, and I began to think of a night mud-plugging, but at tea time it eased off, and at 6.20, when I ‘kicked off’, the sun was shining and the sky clear. I crashed through Atherton and over the Leigh setts to Lowton, where a smoother bylane led me to Winwick, and the excellent main road to the sordid streets of Warrington.
The famous ‘bottle-neck’ is something of a problem on Saturday night for cyclists, but I got through all right, and soon I was joining Tom at that little canal bridge over the Chester road. He had doffed his sweater, so I did likewise, then he filled my pocket with sultanas from a huge box, and then we sailed away towards Chester at 8pm. We took things easily, walking the hills that pulled. Daresbury and Sutton Weaver fell behind, the broad main street of Frodsham, Helsby, with its jagged landmark a mass of colour, the climb up Dunham Hill, and then the little farmhouse at Mickle Trafford for supper at 8.50. At 9.40, we were on the road again, the last four miles to Chester, and the narrow, ancient streets being traversed in the gathering dark.
Crossing the Dee, we joined that weary six mile stretch to Broughton, increasing our pace to get it over. The great trees of Hawarden park overshadowed the road, which, climbing, brought us out of the saddle. The village was all but asleep when we entered, stopping a moment to view the quaint little lockup, and ascertain the route, then rushing downhill on the Birkenhead road, we came to Queensferry. The town was crowded when we passed through to Connahs Quay, where, feeling the chill of night, we added some clothing, and lit our lamps, for it was already 30 minutes after time! The tide was out on the Dee, leaving it a broad stretch of sandbanks, between which the water gleamed. The sky was light – a transparent light, the wisps of black clouds forming islands in the sea of vastness incalculable, while over in the west, was a bright streak. Yet it was nearly midnight! Another industrial looking town hove in view, and a black silhouetted ruin proclaimed Flint, a few moments of streets, and the silent road again. Across the river were the low hills of the Wirral, below which some lighthouse periodically flashed its warning across the treacherous sands.
There was plenty to see, plenty to think about, and the miles rolled away into oblivion. Bagillt, then Greenfield, and later, as we neared Mostyn, a red glare, and the hissing of steam, betrayed the proximity of some furnaces. Then some funnel would send a shower of sparks, the sky would suddenly light up, a dull explosion, the clanging of metal… we pushed into Mostyn, climbed a wall, and looked across the railway at this hive of industry. Issuing from two immense furnaces, were two steady streams of molten metal, which ran along troughs and plunged into a couple of bogies on the railway line, at times sending our showers of red hot metal. Everything around was intensely bright, and the furnaces gave out of a blow hole in the side, a solid sheet of flame. We sat watching this for about ten minutes, until the nearest was damped down, the metal ceased running and an engine backed to the bogy, coupled it up, and bore it away. We watched the halo of sparks and light, until they disappeared from sight, then jumping down, we made off. From Ffynnongroyw, we drew inland, and the scenery improved as we neared the hills, coming at length to Gronant, where we missed the road, and wandered on an avenue with a terribly stony surface. It improved a little later, however, and a rabbit got into the ring of light made by Tom’s lamp. For a little way it ran before us, not knowing which way to go, but the light was too weak, and it got away.
A little later we joined the main road, and entered Prestatyn. A policeman put us right, and soon we were on a narrow, hilly winding road which took us through Meliden to Rhuddlan. We stayed a moment on the bridge over the river Clwyd, looking into the water, and noting the ivy-clad round towers of the historical castle. The moon had just appeared from behind the hills, but bright though it was, it was robbed of half its glories by the lightness of the night. Now we were feeling just a little bit sleepy, and increased our speed to drive it away, and to get across that dreary, marshy waste, Morfa Rhuddlan. There is some interest in it, however, for in the year 795, a great battle was fought here between the Saxon invaders, and the Cymric populace. It was more of a massacre than a battle, for the Saxons drove the Welshmen into the sea, and over 10,000 of them perished. This gave rise to the plaintive national air; ‘Morfa Rhuddlan’. Over the very ground that we rode, men had fought, and hundreds died. Soon we entered Abergele, where a chara party, unloading noisily, disturbed the peaceful quiet of the night, then we came to a great, medieval-looking gateway, and the walls of Gwrych Castle kept us company. It is known as Abergele Castle, and though built in the style of Edward I (about 1290), is quite modern.
As we climbed we got fine views of the sea immediately below us. Then we dropped slightly to Llandulas, only to climb again until we stopped for lunch opposite the main gateway, a fine, massive, castellated structure. Upon a wall we sat eating bread and butter and fruit. The transparent sky changed near the horizon to a deep hued blue, a light blue – indeed it embodied every shade of blue, ending on the horizon in a black line. The sea reflected the same shades, showing near the shores in light and not-so-light, the shallows, whilst it rippled with only the merest sign of movement. By straining our ears we could just catch the sound of wavelets breaking on the shore, a ‘man’ was stood by the water, and ‘he’ seemed to behave in an uncanny way. First ‘he’ would stoop, then jump up, then run a few feet, turning back again, yet ‘he’ did not seem to leave the same spot. ‘He’ at last turned out to be a stump driven into the earth! When we found this out, we decided that it was a few hours in bed that we needed! On the black line that marked the horizon, a light would flash three times, an interval, and again three times. A little to the right we located another. Our map gave us the West Rhyl Buoy, and the North West Patch Buoy. Repacking our saddlebags, we started again, uphill for three quarters of a mile to Penmaenrhos, where we stopped, and Tom led me through a gateway, from where we had an amazing view of Rhos Bay, Colwyn Bay and Little Orme’s Head, spread below us like a huge map. It was almost 3am by now, and light, but not broad daylight – better than daylight. That glorious sky and equally wonderful sea, the half circle of golden sands, the green hillside with cottages and villas, nestling beneath the lichen-covered outcrop of rock – Old Colwyn.
The hills behind rose a thousand feet, but were more like downs than mountains or moorlands. Right across the bay was the more modern, more orderly, less charming, Colwyn Bay, with its long promenade and railway. Behind the resort, the low cliffs of Little Orme rose from the blue-white waters, the headland making a most effective backing. The whole view was one of wonderful peace, marred in no way by human habitation. A railway engine could be seen crossing the bay by the shore, its long line of carriages looking for all the world like a child’s toy. We found a seat on the rocky outcrop, and enjoyed the view at leisure. At last we tore ourselves away, and rushing downhill, we reached Old Colwyn, then a bumpy ten minutes of tram-car lines brought us to Colwyn Bay. At Rhos-on-Sea, we joined the Conway road. At these fork roads, I had a camping holiday in 1920. Then all around was green fields, but now, only four years later, the whole district including the very field itself, has been transformed into a big garden city, and is threatening old Bryn Euryn itself. Our road ran in a valley from here, and after some searching, we found the cave, which, four years ago (whilst on summer camp with the Bolton Boys Brigade) a party of us had explored at 2.30 in the morning. That first night at camp feeling! We were only an hour later now! A little later the great mass of Penmaenmawr mountain rose before us, with the lesser Conway Mountain below it, then the sandy river Conway. A few moments brought us to the cross roads, and we turned off for Llanrwst. The next 30 miles stand on record as the finest 30 miles I have ever traversed.
Daylight had fully come now, and our sleepiness had worn off. There was far too much to see to be tired out or weary. We had only traversed a few yards when a halt was called to look around. Across the river, the walled town of Conway, with its fine picturesque Edwardian castle stood sentinel, a proud guardian of the coast. To me, it seemed the famous outpost yet, that it was over 600 years old, garrisoned and prepared, always ready, for they were troublous times then, when man never knew enemy from friend. Again the soldiers paced the walls or horsemen in gleaming armour forded the river to demand entrance at the gates, or rough half-savage hillmen made their approach. From here, the first King Edward overawed the turbulent Welsh. Here, Glyndwr hurled his mighty forces fruitlessly against the English. The wars of the Roses penetrated to Conway, for was not the castle held for the Lancastrians against York? Then proud Royalist takes possession, to be hurled off by stalwart Parlimentarian, only to return again. So, through the Pageant of War, the time honoured ruins have passed, to spend their old age in British peace, though today the steps echo with the tramp of many feet, and the crumbling walls and towers resound as of old, for no more shall bloody battle rage around its crowded walls, or kingly tournament hold sway within, or its cells hold chained wretches and breathe tragedy. Could these massive weather-worn towers speak, what stories would they tell! Of war incarnate, savage cruelty, pathos, joy and merriment, yes, every human – and inhuman – emotion have those ruins witnessed. But still, as 600 years ago, as 10,000 years ago, the river runs by the rocky base, and rough mountains overlook it:
‘For man may come, and man may go, But I go on for ever:’-