County Voice

County Voice: March 2023

Tourism Team organise a familiarisation trip around the Vale of Clwyd

Last week a 'Familiarisation' trip was organised by the Council's Tourism Team, designed to highlight the best parts of the area with local tourism businesses so that they, in turn, can share the knowledge and encourage visitors to delve deeper into the local history, attractions, cafes and shops.

This trip concentrated on the Vale of Clwyd, an area that has recently benefited from new signage. Our tour guide Pete pointed out walks such as Lady Baggot’s drive along the Clywedog River on the way to Denbigh, and the reason they called it Lenten Pool in Denbigh was because before it was drained in the 19th century following a cholera epidemic, it would have been stocked with fish, which provided food for the townsfolk and garrison at Denbigh during Lent.

We then visited Denbigh Library. Roland, one of the librarians, chatted to the group about how Denbigh Library was originally built as a Town Hall by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Baron of Denbigh in 1572. Robert Dudley was a great favourite of Elizabeth I at the time and was also responsible for the building of Leicester's Church. Extensively remodelled in 1780, originally the building was a market hall and a courthouse and was then used as a town hall up to the second half of the 20th century. The building is now an extensive and well used public library, situated over three floors. Opening times can be found here.  

The group then walked up to Denbigh Castle via the link through at Broomhill Lane, enjoying a series of artwork along the way depicting poetry by Rhys Trimble - light fittings in the form of Broom Flowers as well as the Mabinogion story of Blodeuwedd who is known as the Goddess of Flowers who ran away to the forest, only to be tracked down by Gwydion a wizard who is enraged by her betrayal of his nephew. She is turned into an owl, to roam only at night, denied the rays of the sun she loved so much and destined to a solitary life. When you reach the top of the lane you will see a beautiful shield of flowers, turn back around the way you have just walked, and you will spot a beautiful owl taking flight.

The group then walked up to the Castle through Burgess Gate which was one of the two principal entrances into the walled town. Denbigh (“Dinbych” in Welsh, meaning small fortress) is one of the most historic towns in North Wales. The town is first mentioned in records in the years following the Norman Conquest when it became a border town guarding the approach to the Hiraethog Hills and Snowdonia. Denbigh was also probably the location of a fortified settlement during the Roman occupation and in the twelfth century, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the brother of Llewelyn, the last Prince of Wales, had his headquarters here. Edward I created the Lordship of Denbigh in 1282 which was granted to Henry de Lacy who authorised the building of Denbigh Castle to be built over the stronghold of Dafydd ap Gruffydd. The Castle's finest feature is its triple-towered Great Gatehouse bearing the unmistakable stamp of Master James of St George, the architect responsible for all of Edward I's major North Wales castles.

The group saw the remains of the unfinished Leicester’s Church.  A building started in 1578 with intentions of being the grandest of the period, designed for Protestant service and a potential replacement for St Hilary’s Chapel and possibly St Asaph Cathedral. It was only progressed as far as window height due to lack of finances and local opposition and was abandoned completely when Robert Dudley died in 1588. Elizabeth I was deeply affected by his death and kept his last letter to her by her bedside until her own death 15 years later.

The next stop on the trip was a fabulous lunch at the Translators' Tearoom café at St Asaph cathedral. The group took the opportunity to network with a talk about the rich and varied history of the cathedral. First built in the 13th century, but in the perilous ‘war path’ of the Welsh Princes and English Kings, little is known of how much damage the original building would have suffered. The Cathedral was remodelled in the 14th century using fine-grained yellowish sandstone quarried at Flint for the outer casing of the walls and for mullions and other carved work. Used as a stable by Owain Glyndwr in 1402 it has since become the beautiful building we see today.  It really does take your breath away and it is open 365 days of the year with an active choir who you may hear practising on your visit!  

The group then visited Rhuddlan Castle, another of Edward I's strongholds. He liked his castles to be on the coast in order to easily obtain supplies by sea if his campaigns against the Welsh were not going according to plan. But with Rhuddlan being inland, the plan was to use the river Clwyd instead. Edward conscripted hundreds of ditch-diggers to deepen and divert its course. Rhuddlan still looks like a castle that was worth moving a river for! Beginning in 1277 it was the first of the revolutionary concentric, or ‘walls within walls’, castles designed also by James of St George. You can still clearly make out the medieval grid layout of the streets in modern-day Rhuddlan.

The group then walked across to St Mary's Church which has been serving the people of Rhuddlan since 1301 as a place of prayer and worship, celebration and remembrance. It is a beautiful Church and well worth a visit, it was moved to this site by Edward I who it appears was very fond of moving things to suit his overall plans. Inside are many medieval drawings uncovered by previous renovations and are believed to be some of the earliest still in existence in Wales.

They finished the day with a visit to St Margaret's Church (also known as The Marble Church), Bodelwyddan. This decorated Gothic Style parish church with a 202 foot spire can be seen for miles in the lower Vale of Clwyd and is easily accessible from the A55 expressway.

The church was commissioned by Lady Margaret Willoughby de Broke from nearby Bodelwyddan Castle in memory of her husband, Henry Peyto-Verney, 16th Baron Willoughby de Broke. She laid the foundation stone on 24 July 1856 and the new church designed by John Gibson was consecrated by the Bishop of St Asaph on 23 August 1860 after construction at a cost of £60,000. The new parish of Bodelwyddan was created on 3 August 1860. Because of its lavish material and design it was nicknamed the 'Pearl of the Vale'.

The church contains fourteen varieties of marble including pillars made of Belgian Red marble, a nave entrance is made from Anglesey marble and shafts of Languedoc marble on bases of Purbeck marble. It also contains elaborate woodwork, and in the tower can be found windows of stained glass on the north and south sides, featuring Saint Margaret and Saint Kentigern.  If you look closely, you can see her and her husband's name carved into the roof as well as their faces, she obviously had much input with the design as well as being a beautiful memorial to her late husband.

They certainly packed a lot into the day in the Vale of Clwyd and if you would like to find out more about the area why not consider taking part in the free Ambassador course. The Council was the first to launch an online course of this kind in Wales. A series of online modules on a variety of themes relevant to the area including the Welsh language, communities, culture, history, sustainable tourism, cycling and walking. There are three levels of awards – bronze, silver and gold. Residents, volunteers and local community groups are particularly encouraged to become Ambassadors to learn more about the unique characteristics of the area. If you would like to find out more about the scheme or if you're interested in receiving our newsletters, please contact us.


No comments have been left for this article

Have your say...

Your name will be published alongside your comment but we will not publish your email address.

All comments will be reviewed by a moderator before being published.

Please ensure you complete all fields marked as mandatory.