After a beautiful walk around Bodnant Gardens, we headed back up to Conwy, which is a lovely old walled town, with a castle dating back to Edward I’s reign in the 13th century, a bustling quay and a multitude of coffee shops and eateries for the hungry tourist. The quayside is also home to the smallest house in Britain so that’s worth a quick glance.
Conwy is also home to two National Trust properties, one of which is the only bridge on my list. Conwy Suspension Bridge is particularly striking in that some of the suspending chains connect directly into the old castle so anyone crossing into the town is met with the imposing sight of the fortress looming above. The bridge was the work of the revolutionary engineer Thomas Telford who was simultaneously overseeing the construction of the Menai suspension bridge between Anglesey and the mainland. It was built in 1826 and immediately made life easier for visitors to Conwy who had previously had to rely on ferry transport – or a long detour – to reach the town. The towers of the bridge were built to look like castellated gateways and were once stained to match the colour of the nearby castle. Unfortunately, views of the bridge are now slightly spoilt by the two-lane road bridge – built in the 1950s to improve access – on one side and the railway bridge on the other.
The last car passed over the suspension bridge in 1958 and today it is only open to pedestrians. Fortunately, you no longer have to pay a toll; in the 1890s, it would have cost one old penny (1d) for a pedestrian to pass over, although this doubled to 2d if you had a barrow, bicycle or horse with you, and if the horse was pulling anything the cost went up again. Unlike the Dartford Crossing, though, you only had to pay once, with the toll covering the return journey too. In a nice touch, the Trust issues visitors to the Toll House with a ticket to indicate they have paid their 1d and you can then use this to get into Aberconwy House in the town.
I was also interested to read in the guidebook that each item of mail was also charged a penny to cross the bridge and between 1826 and 1836 the Conwy and Menai suspension bridges raised £101,708 from postage charges alone!
The Toll House on the opposite side of the bridge from the castle is open to visitors and displays four rooms as they would have been when David and Maria Williams were living there in 1891 with their four children. They had to be on hand to collect the tolls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but David still found time to grow produce so he could feed his family and supplement their income by selling spare vegetables to the toll payers. The vegetable garden has apparently been recreated but unfortunately we didn’t notice it, which is perhaps easily done as the imposing bridge and castle in the opposite direction do tend to grab your attention.
Highlights: Up close and personal with a feat of engineering
Purchase(s): Guidebook (also covers Aberconwy House)