Situated opposite Deganwy, on the south bank of the Conwy estuary, Conwy has in recent times returned to something of its former self with the completion of the tunnel that carries the A5 under the estuary. No longer harassed by heavy traffic, the town is a delight to wander around, its small streets steeped in history and the whole place dominated by another of Edward I’s great castles. The ruins of what was one of the most picturesque of the many Welsh fortresses remain eye-catching to this day.


 Conwy Castle is situated on a rock that overlooks the River Conwy and its estuary, from which it commands wonderful views of the whole area. Begun in 1283, the castle’s construction was largely finished by the autumn of 1287 and, compared with some of Edward’s castles, Conwy is of a relatively simple design, which relies on its position rather than anything else to provide a defence against attack. The town was walled at the same time and today the Town Walls still encircle the vast majority of Conwy, stretching for three quarters of a mile and including 22 towers and three gateways. The castle was also built to be a suitable royal residence and was used twice by Edward I: once on his way to Caernarfon where his son, the first English Prince of Wales was born; and again in 1294, when trying to put down the rebellion of Madoc ap Llewelyn. 


Now a World Heritage Site, the castle not only offers visitors spectacular views from its battlements, but also the huge curtain walls and eight massive round towers are still a stirring sight. In 1399, Richard II stayed at the Castle before being lured out and ambushed by the Earl of Northumberland’s men on behalf of Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke of Lancaster, who later became Henry IV. Conwy attracted the attention of Owain Glyndwr during his rebellion, and his men burnt it to the ground. As with other castles further east, Conwy was embroiled in the Civil War. A Conwy man, John Williams, became Archbishop of York and, as a Royalist, sought refuge in his home town. Repairing the crumbling fortifications at his own expense, Archbishop Williams finally changed sides after shabby treatment by Royalist leaders and helped the Parliamentary forces lay siege to the town and castle, which eventually fell to them in late 1646


 now defunct fortress, and slate and coal extracted from the surrounding area were shipped up and down the coast from Conwy. Later, the town fathers approached Thomas Telford, who planned a causeway and bridge, as Conwy’s trade and links grew with the outside world. Built in 1826, the elegant Suspension Bridge replaced the ferry that previously had been the only means of crossing the river so close to its estuary. The Toll House (NT) has been restored and furnished as it would have been over a century ago. This suspension road bridge,

 its design sympathetic to its surroundings, was soon followed by the construction of the railway. By the side of Telford’s bridge stands the Robert Stephenson designed tubular Conwy Rail Bridge of 1846. Both builders breached the town walls in styles that complemented the town’s architecture and the two structures are still admired today. Bridges, however, are not the only architectural gems Conwy has to offer. Plas Mawr (CADW), an Elizabethan town house on the High Street, is one of the best preserved buildings in Britain from that period.


 Built for the influential merchant Robert Wynn between 1576 and 1585, the house has an interesting stone fa├žade and over 50 windows. Plas Mawr (the name means Great Hall) is particularly noted for its fine and elaborate plasterwork, seen to striking effect in the decorated ceilings and friezes and in the glorious overmantel in the hall. The authentic period atmosphere is further enhanced by furnishings based on an inventory of the contents in 1665. 


The house came into the possession of the Mostyn family during the 18th century, and in 1991 was given to the nation by Lord Mostyn. Close by is Aberconwy House (NT), a delightful medieval merchant’s home that dates from the 14th century. The rooms have been decorated and furnished to reflect various periods in the house’s history. Occupying part of the site of a 12th century Cistercian Abbey, founded by Llwelyn the Great in 1199 and then moved to Maenan by Edward I, is the Parish Church of St Mary and All Saints. Some interesting features still remain from that time though there have been many additions over the centuries.


 The 15th-century rood screen is particularly fine. This was the burial place of the Princes of Gwynedd, and Llwelyn himself. It is not surprising that the town and the surrounding area have strong links with the sea and Conwy also has a traditional mermaid story. Washed ashore by a violent storm in Conwy Bay, a mermaid begged the local fishermen who found her to carry her back to the sea 


 The fishermen refused and, before she died, the mermaid cursed the people of the town, swearing that they would always be poor. In the 5th century, Conwy suffered a fish famine that caused many to avow that the curse was fulfilled. St Brigid is connected to another fish famine story. Walking by the riverside carrying some rushes, she threw the rushes upon the water. A few days later the rushes had turned into fish and ever since they have been known as sparlings or, in Welsh, brwyniaid – both meaning rush-like. Fishermen still land their catches, on the quayside and from here pleasure boat trips set sail. 


Nearby can be found what is claimed to be Britain’s Smallest House, measuring 10 by 6 feet. It seems that its last tenant was a fisherman who was 6ft 6in tall – he was presumably also a contortionist! Conwy was once a famous pearl fishing centre, and had a thriving mussel industry, whose history is told in the Conwy Mussel Centre, open daily from mid-May to September. 


The Conway River Festival takes place every year in August, and is the premier yachting occasion for the whole of the Irish Sea. Around Conwy ROWEN 4 miles S of Conwy off the B5106 A Parish Church of St Celynin C Maen-y-Bardd C Caer Bach E Parc Mawr J Tal-y-fan From this very pretty, quiet village a track, which was once a Roman road, skirts by the foot of Tal-y-fan, which reaches 2,000 feet at its peak. Roughly six miles in length, the path passes by Maen-y-Bardd, a Neolithic burial chamber, and eventually drops down towards the coast at Aber. Another, circular walk of about five miles, one of several in the Conwy Valley devised by Active Snowdonia, passes many impressive cromlechs and standing stones. The route also takes in Caer Bach, where there are traces of a Neolithic settlement, the wonderfully unspoilt 14thcentury Parish Church of St Celynin and the Woodlands Trust’s Parc Mawr woods.