This edited article about Llandudno originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 964 published on 30 August 1980.
Along the North Wales coast during and after the last Ice Age, ancient man lived in rough caves, hunting animals for food. Then, in the sixth century, Saint Tudno, the son of Seithenyn, came to the area as a Welsh Christian missionary and built its first church.
The modern seaside town of Llandudno is named after that saint, and part of his church, dating back to the 7th century, remains today. In a town with so much history and tradition it is not difficult to capture some of the historic past.
Llandudno is in the north-west corner of Wales, on the Creuddyn Peninsula, and a total of one-and-a-half million people go each year for the sea breezes, the terraced gardens, and clifftop walks.
The North Wales town is famous for its miles of golden sands, the Victorian pier, towering cliffs, cable car and the Edwardian tramway that whisks holidaymakers to the top of the Great Orme, a huge limestone headland which rises to a height of 207 metres and dominates the resort.
Llandudno is built on a low-lying area, almost an isthmus, between the towering limestone cliffs of the Great Orme and its small brother, the Little Orme. It has two beaches, one to the north, the other to the west.
The fine sweep of the wide promenade and tree-lined streets give almost a continental flavour, and there are wide lawns on the West Shore promenade.
Llandudno is different from other British resorts in that it has been purpose-made. It was designed and built in the middle of last century – purely as a holiday town. So it has grown up free from the disfigurement of industrial workings; its prosperity is based, almost entirely, on the holiday traffic.
Back in 1845, only a copper-mining village existed, consisting of little groups of cottages, huddled on the face and at the foot of the Great Orme. The flat area between the two headlands was a place of sand and marsh, windswept and wild, and only a farm or two broke the skyline.
The Great Orme is made up of carboniferous limestone, laid down in shallow tropical seas about 300 million years ago, when Britain was almost completely covered by dense tropical swamps.
An engineer, called Owen Williams, visualised the area as a holiday town. He began surveying operations around 1845, and building started in 1854; by the turn of the century a complete resort had grown up.
The royal families of Europe came to sea-bathe at Llandudno. The town today is possibly the only example of a Victorian-planned seaside resort; the long sweeping crescent of hotels can be compared with the famous London crescents of the architect John Nash, who designed Regent’s Park in London and planned London’s famous Regent Street.
Owen Williams was taunted by many about his dream resort. He said in later years: “I was teased a lot for even suggesting such a wild scheme as a holiday town on the North Wales coast.” But he lived long enough to see it flourish.
Domes, spires and intricate antique iron-work are a feature of Llandudno. Its famous pier, from which steamers sailed to Blackpool, Southport, Liverpool and the Isle of Man in the great days of North Wales shipping, has ornamental iron corner brackets, a relic of leisurely and more flamboyant times. The onion-shaped dome is an unusual feature of the pier, which is a century old.
The best view of Llandudno can be obtained from the slopes of the Great Orme headland, which dominates the resort. The top of the massive limestone headland can be reached by taking one of the old tramway cars from Victoria Station, by riding on the cabinlift from the Happy Valley pleasure gardens, or by road. On a clear day the Isle of Man, 96 kilometres distant, is visible from the summit.
The name “Orme” means dragon or sea-monster in the old Norse language. In a slight fog the view of the headland from a distance seems just like that.
Lewis Carroll, the famous author of children’s books who lived from 1832 to 1898, frequently visited Llandudno. It was in this Welsh resort that, inspired by little Alice Liddell, he began writing his classic stories Alice In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking-Glass.
In Llandudno, the ancient place of Saint Tudno, a certain amount of the atmosphere of the last century still prevails, and a pleasant mixture of the old and the new is to be found.
Among the sights to be seen in Llandudno today is a famous museum of colourful dolls, some antique and priceless, from different periods and countries. Also the time-honoured holiday tradition of donkeys on the sands, Punch-and-Judy shows and family concert parties still prevails.
The aptly-named Happy Valley Open-Air Theatre is set in a small natural amphitheatre off the main Happy Valley pleasure grounds. This theatre can be traced back for 100 years, and is even said to be haunted by the phantom of an old-time actor.
Those simple-living miners who set up their homesteads on the coast between the two headlands a century-and-a-half ago would never have imagined for one moment that their section of the North Wales coastline would one day house a famous holiday town.
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