Conwy, north Wales (review published 2015)

As claims to fame go, it’s not very big. In fact, measuring just 72 inches wide by 122 inches high, it’s the smallest in the UK.
The smallest house, that is.
The downstairs of this bright red North Wales building has a bench seat, table and chair, fireplace and coal bunker.
Upstairs – reached by a ladder – there’s just enough room for a single bed and a bedside cabinet.
It begs the question: who would build such a small house?
The story goes that the row of houses was built in two sections, one from north to south and the other from south to north. But the two sections didn’t meet as planned, leaving the smallest of gaps.
The last person to live there was a fisherman called Robert Jones, who happened to be 6ft 3ins tall. Before Mr Jones, an elderly couple somehow managed to cosy up in the cramped conditions.
Mr Jones was forced to move out in 1900 when the council deemed the house unfit for human habitation. It was saved when the editor of the local rag, Roger Dawson, spotted its potential.
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The Smallest House, Conwy
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He placed a notice in The Times asking if anyone knew of a smaller house anywhere in Britain. Other contenders came forward but none measured up to the one on Conwy’s quayside.
So the council called off the bulldozers, the house became a tourist attraction and for many years now it has been recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Most days, a woman in traditional Welsh dress welcomes visitors and she gave our appropriately named daughter Cerys Megan a matching hat to wear as they posed for a picture.
The house stands next to Conwy’s impressive town walls, constructed between 1283 and 1287, which are among the best in Europe and have been given World Heritage Site status.
Almost a mile round, the walls have 21 towers and three gatehouses and are a great vantage point for the town’s narrow, cobbled streets, which are chock-full of historic buildings.
There’s the 14th century Aberconwy House, which is believed to be the oldest townhouse in Wales, and Plas Mawr, said to be the best surviving townhouse of the Elizabethan period in Britain.
Of course, the town walls were built at the same time as the mighty Conwy Castle, which stands on a rocky outcrop commanding the crossing point of the Conwy Estuary.
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Conwy Castle Conwy travel feature by Adrian Caffery 2015Conwy Castle
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The castle was a key part of the ‘iron ring’ of fortresses built by the English king Edward I in the 13th century to contain his unruly Welsh subjects in their heartland of Snowdonia.
Today, it’s still possible to explore the king’s chambers, as well as walk a complete circuit of the castle’s curtain walls and make the exhilarating climb up six of its eight towers.
The turrets atop three of these towers are not for the faint-hearted but I managed to negotiate the winding steps even with a four-year-old in tow and carrying a baby in a sling.
Our home for the weekend was Marine View, a five-star, three-bedroom, first floor apartment at Conwy Marina, a gorgeous new development that includes a convenience store and a large pub/restaurant.
Breakfast on the balcony was a joy, with wonderful views across the boats in the marina to the other side of the estuary. The marina is just a short walk to a sandy beach and a golf club, too.
Drive under the estuary (the entrance to the tunnel is near the marina) and you’re in San Francisco. Well, Llandudno which, believe it or not, is Britain’s answer to the American city.
The Victorian seaside town is home to one of the world’s last surviving cable-operated tramways running on public roads, the most well-known of those being in San Francisco.
The Llandudno tramway is a funicular system controlled by a team of winchmen and attendants and has been taking passengers up to the summit of the Great Orme headland since 1902.
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Great Orme, Llandudno
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The line comprises two sections – as one tram goes up, the other goes down and they meet midway – and whilst the upper line runs on its own right of way, the lower line shares the streets with cars.
At the Halfway Station, passengers have to change trams but can take the opportunity to explore the Orme’s Bronze Age copper mines, its Iron Age fort, its Stone Age remains and the 6th century St Tudno’s Church.
The trams used to carry coffins to the Halfway Station for burial at St Tudno’s but there was no concession for grief – mourners were charged full fare, plus 2s 6d (12.5p) for the coffin.
The Halfway Station houses the winding gear, which you can view as you walk through to resume your journey on one of a second pair of trams. It also has an exhibition on the history of the tramway.
Once at the summit, I recommend you visit the nature reserve’s visitor centre then find a picnic spot and take in the views while any kids you may have wear themselves out on the outdoor playground.
Alternatively, you can have a meal at the Summit Complex’s restaurant, a drink or two in its bar, play a round on its crazy golf course or even have your picture taken whilst wearing Victorian-era garb.
Our short break concluded with a trip to the National Trust’s Bodnant Garden, 15 minutes south of Conwy by car, which has an amazing plant collection but is most well known for its rhododrendrons.

Stunning 10 acre stretch of Bodnant Garden is to open for the first time in more than 130 years

Bodnant Garden
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There are great views of the Conwy Valley from the Italianate terraces, which feature buttressed walls and pergolas, reflected in all their glory in huge lily ponds.
The formal then gives way to the informal as you take paths down to The Dell – a different world where a stream flows below a canopy of towering trees and you can stand over the waterfall.
This year, for the first time, visitors are able to explore one of the oldest and wildest parts of the gardens following the creation of a circular, riverside walkway and bridge.
Unfortunately, our visit was too late in the year to appreciate Bodnant’s famous Laburnum Arch. Planted in 1880, it’s a 180ft long, 8ft high avenue that flowers from late May.
Maybe next time because we’ll be returning to Conwy. For somewhere with such a ‘‘small’’ claim to fame, it certainly made an enormous impression on us.
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Travel file
  • Admission to The Smallest House is 50p for children and £1 for adults. It’s open from 10am to 4pm in spring and autumn and later in the summer. Call 01492 593484 or click www.thesmallesthouse.co.uk
  • Conwy Castle is open all year, 9.30am to 5pm in high season. Admission is £6.75 for adults and £5.10 for children and seniors. Ring 01492 592358 or visit www.cadw.wales.gov.uk
  • Great Orme Tramway is open March to late-October. Trams run every 20 minutes, seven days a week, between 10am and 6pm (5pm March and October). Return tickets: adults £6; children (3-16) £4.20. Call 01492 577877 or see www.greatormetramway.co.uk
  • Bodnant Gardens is open all year. Admission is £10.50 for adults and £5.25 for children (half price in winter). Ring 01492 650460 or visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden
  • Prices for a week’s stay at Marine View at Conwy Marina range from £415 to £895. Call 01492 582492 or click www.northwalesholidaycottages.co.uk

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Published report here

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