Denbighshire in North East Wales delivers an amazing number of experiences for such a compact and easily accessible area. Stunning countryside, bustling market towns, two of Britain’s best-known seaside resorts and many centuries of rich heritage combine to make Denbighshire a destination with a difference.
The small market town of Corwen sits at the foot of the Berwyn Mountains at the Western end of the Dee Valley which is part of the Clwydian Range & Dee Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and sits by the River Dee. Corwen has punched above its weight for many centuries. Occupying a strategic spot, it’s been visited in turn by sixth century saints, invading and defending armies, cattle drovers and Victorian coach passengers. So this “Crossroads to Wales” has had plenty of practice in welcoming travellers. Nowadays they come for the food and drink, as they have just launched a successful food festival, and a sense of history and to explore one of Britain’s loveliest protected landscapes.
The hillfort Caer Drewyn is one of the best preserved Iron Age hillforts in Wales. With a variety of walks which accesses the natural beauty of the area, Corwen achieved Walkers and Welcome status in 2012 with the development of a successful walking festival held at the end of August. It has many walks in the vicinity including Coed Pen y Pigyn which gives unrivalled views of the town. The North Berwyn Way, which climbs the wild mountains between Corwen and Llangollen, is a bit more of a challenge.
Corwen is well known for its strong association with Owain Glyndwr, one of Wales’ most renowned heroes, with Corwen and its surrounding area being his ancestral homeland and the is only a couple of miles from where Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr proclaimed himself Prince of Wales in 1400 and a statue of him stands proudly in the town square. Nearby there are two Cadw properties Rug Chapel and Llangar Church which are well worth a visit or some of the interesting historic buildings such, the Owain Glyndwr Hotel, the Church of Saints Mael and Sulien and Corwen Manor which was originally a workhouse. Opposite Corwen Manor you will find the volunteer led Corwen Museum. You can also catch a steam train in Corwen and travel back in time along the Dee to Llangollen.
Rhug Estate to the west of Corwen runs a very successful organic food shop and restaurant and is also the venue for the “Cneifio Corwen Shears” lamb shearing competition which takes place each year at the end of July.
Denbigh’s mighty 13th century castle sits above one of the largest and strongest set of town walls in Wales and was once the great walled garrison of Edward I ruthlessly built on top of an ancient Welsh fortress. It survived attacks by Owain Glyndwr in 1400, the Earl of Pembroke during the Wars of the Roses, and Cromwell during the Civil War. Dinbych in Welsh means “little fortress” and the remains of the historic Denbigh Castle dominate the skyline of the town. Denbigh became a powerhouse of Renaissance Wales. In the late 16th century it was at the centre of the campaign by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, to make himself the most powerful man in the country. Later a series of magnificent mansions spread down Vale Street.
The town, which prospered during Tudor times when the market place grew outside the town walls, today still has 200 listed buildings. The older parts of the town have close knit narrow streets, some grand medieval merchants’ houses and many terraced houses, which retain the sense of the medieval town plan.
Today it’s a bit easier to get in. Borrow the keys to the town walls from Denbigh Library and go exploring, and enjoy views of the Clwydian Range while you’re at it. Other things to check out include Burgess Gate (the main entrance to the old town), Leicester’s Church, the bustling high street and Denbigh’s array of exciting activities throughout the year, from a monthly people’s market and a Denbigh Plum Festival to a fireworks display from the castle walls.
This, together with our blend of natural geographic gifts and rich legacy of historic buildings, makes Denbigh something of a ‘hidden gem’ for the visitor. Here you’ll find the warmest of welcomes and a generosity of spirit that makes every visitor feel right at home, and you’ll have an authentically Welsh experience. A great base for walking, a cultural centre and a thriving hub where the shops and café’s are still refreshingly independent.
Llangollen has long been one of Wales’s most popular inland resorts – and no wonder. Its setting, guarded by mountains and the ruins of 13th century Castell Dinas Brân, is uniquely picturesque. You could easily find yourself on a canal boat or riding a steam train. And with plenty of shops, pubs, restaurants and cafés to explore as well, you might very well be tempted to make a day of it.
The town is part of an iconic landscape. All around you is the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, one of just five in Wales, the small town of Llangollen on the River Dee packs a lot in. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site stretches for 11 spectacular miles from Shropshire to the Horseshoe Falls, taking in Llangollen Wharf along the way. If you’ve ever fancied a ride in a canal boat pulled by a horse, the Llangollen Canal is the place to try it.
With more events than you can fit on a calendar; and renowned for Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod with competitors from more than 50 countries, there’s no shortage of things to occupy you for a whole weekend or longer. Plenty of places to stay, from cottages to campsites; and loads of great cafés, bars and restaurants to keep you fed and watered.
The town’s top attraction, Llangollen Railway Station is now beautifully restored and complete with vintage Brief Encounter-style tea rooms it extended to Corwen. If trains are your thing, don’t miss the chance to see classic steam locomotives in all their glory. And since Llangollen is one huge outdoor adventure playground, they also fish the Dee, canoe the rapids and walk the wide open spaces.
Llangollen has an annual walking festival each May Day Bank Holiday weekend where you can walk and talk with local guides taking you on short, medium and long walks which for example take you to the ruins of 13th century Castell Dinas Bran on the hillside above Llangollen. Tourists have been drawn here since Georgian times. And some even ended up living here which you can experience at the home of the Ladies of Llangollen, Plas Newydd, which is situated above the town.
Just outside Llangollen you can drive over the Horseshoe Pass to experience the scenic views or if you are feeling inclined take the cycle challenge. On the way you can visit Elisegs Pillar and the ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey which was founded by Cisterian monks in 1201.
Prestatyn has been one of the most famous seaside resorts in North Wales since the trains first arrived in 1848. Holiday-makers poured in from the smoke-filled cities of Victorian Britain to take the fresh Welsh air and follow the craze for sea bathing. They’re still doing much the same today. After all, a magnificent promenade with three separate beaches and four miles of golden sand never goes out of fashion. But there’s a lot more to Prestatyn than seagulls and sandcastles. The town is tucked between the sea and the wild flowers and ancient woodland of Prestatyn Hillside. And it ends with a view that’s breathtaking in more ways than one.
Prestatyn was originally a Roman settlement and is the gateway to the North Wales coastal area, and the most easterly of the North Wales coastal resorts and was the first town in Wales to be awarded ‘Walkers are Welcome’ status, it’s no surprise that walking is serious business in Prestatyn. Whether you’re arriving on foot or just starting your journey, the walking here is seriously good whichever way you approach it. The North Wales Path begins its 60 mile journey west to Bangor here, and Offa’s Dyke Path begins its 177 mile journey to Chepstow here too. Take the easy Coastal Path, or slightly more tricky Offa’s Dyke Path, the start (or end) of which is marked with exceptional views across the coast and Irish Sea and towards Snowdonia at Gwaenysgor viewpoint. Each route can be divided into smaller sections to be tackled in just a few hours, or you can keep walking if the mood takes you.
Alternatively for a quick walking fix, try one of the many shorter circular and linear routes around the town. Gronant Dunes lies between Prestatyn and Talacre beaches and is the largest area of unspoiled sand dunes on the North Wales coast. A Local Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation all in one, this protected coastal habitat is home to rare plant and animal species including sea holly, brown hares, skylarks and the elusive sand lizzard. Gronant is probably best known as the home of Britain’s largest – and Wales’ only – colony of little tern, which can be seen from a viewing platform just off the Wales Coast Path.
Visiting St Asaph
St Asaph has a population of about 3,000 and is situated on the banks of two rivers and was right on the war-path of the medieval Welsh Princes and English Kings. It’s been an important place since the middle of the sixth century when a Scottish priest, Saint Kentigern, founded a monastery here. The original cathedral was built in about 1239, but was burnt by Edward I, rebuilt, and burnt again by Owain Glyndwr in 1402. Thanks to the stoic determination of local stonemasons and some thorough remodelling by Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott, it survived the ravages of fire and history. Today, visitors can admire North Wales’ only medieval canopied stalls and the display of early editions of the first Welsh Bible and Prayer Book by Bishop William Morgan, who was largely responsible for the survival of the Welsh language but St Asaph also has strong associations with words and music and is home to the annual, week long North Wales International Music Festival. The natural river setting of St Asaph Common and Roe Plas is very popular with walkers and families.
Rhuddlan has a long and distinguished history, stretching back to about 7,000 BC. This strategic spot beside a ford of the River Clwyd, just three miles from the sea, has been a flash-point in Welsh history since 795AD because whoever held this ford, controlled the easiest invasion route to and from the heartland of North Wales. It may be a very long time since the Welsh were brutally defeated by the Saxons but the lament “Morfa Rhuddlan” is still sung to this day. It might once have been a symbol of oppression. But these days Rhuddlan is very proud of its castle.
Between 1077 and 1277, there were frequent changes of control between the Welsh and English with the medieval township of Edward 1 beginning around 1278. It was when Edward 1 built his new castle that a new town north of his fortress was established. Its original grid pattern of streets – the present High Street, crossed by Castle Street, Church Street, Parliament Street, Gwindy Street and Cross Street, still form the heart of modern Rhuddlan and part of its ditched defences are still visible between Vicarage Lane and Kerfoot Avenue.
The castle also played a role in Welsh history: it was here that a new system of English government was established over much of Wales by the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 – a settlement that lasted until the Act of Union in 1536.
The stone bridge across the river Clwyd was first built in 1358 and subsequently improved in 1595. The quay to the north of the bridge was used by coastal shipping until the opening of the Chester to Holyhead railway in 1848 which involved the construction of a railway bridge across the Clwyd estuary which prevented taller vessels from navigating the river further upstream to Rhuddlan.
The beautiful town is also great for outdoor walks and adventures with public footpaths allowing visitors to get great photo opportunities and take a piece of Denbighshire with them.
Nearby is Bodrhyddan Hall which is still the home of Lord Langford and is open to the public in the summer months. It is well worth a visit, including an Egyptian mummy in the entrance all along with many battle artefacts as well as a fine porcelain collection
Rhyl is the quintessential British seaside resort. For generations it’s been the place to come if you fancy the sand between your toes, the breeze in your hair and a great big ice cream in your hand. We wouldn’t blame you if you just wanted to hire a deck chair and hit the beach – or dip your toes in the Drift Park’s famous paddling pool. But Rhyl’s not just for sunbathers and sandcastle builders. There are lots of walkers and cyclists too. That’s because two epic routes pass through here: the 870-mile Wales Coast Path and 372-mile National Cycle Route 5.
The area now known as Rhyl was listed in the Domesday Book 1086 as the settlement of Bren which was scattered amongst sand hills and salt marshes. The Rhuddlan Marsh Embankment Act of 1794 enabled the land to be drained and with the subsequent Enclosure Act of 1813, reclaimed marsh land became available for sale, and Rhyl began to develop one of the newly popular seaside resorts.
The first hotel in Rhyl, the Royal, was built in 1825 and by 1829 a regular steampacket service was running between the town and Liverpool. The town grew steadily through the mid and late 19th Century, particularly in response to the opening of the Stephenson’s railway from Chester to Holyhead in 1848. In 1853there were just 604 houses in the town and by 1881 there were 1,300 houses and shops and a population of 6,028. By 1893, Rhyl was the largest settlement in the former county of Flintshire and the distinctive grid form of the town centre was complete by 1912.
Much of central Rhyl is still as it was constructed during the 19th century, and the sea front activities, though much changed, are still focussed on the tourist trade Rhyl. Whether you like active holidays of the sun and fun variety, or prefer to admire the scenery from a bike or a park bench, this part of the world has something for all ages, all year round. It’s little wonder that the seaside town of Rhyl is so popular with visitors. Rhyl is a great base for exploring coast and country, but with miles of big sandy beaches and so much to see and do, they’re excellent destinations in their own right.
Rhyl has no fewer than four sandy beaches to choose from, so there’s plenty do. Paddle in the sea, fly a kite, or build a sand castle. Or give your sense of adventure a workout and try something new; our big open shorelines are perfect for windsurfing, kitesurfing, paddleboarding and more. Sounds too much like hard work? Watching the world go by from the comfort of a deck chair also comes highly recommended.
With so much to do and lots of great places to stay, Rhyl is pretty much made for holidays. And there’s always something going on. The recently open SC2 is a water park offering both indoor and outdoor water play for all ages and abilities. With breath-taking flume rides, beach style paddling, slides for all ages and themed cafes. It also has Ninja Tag an indoor multi levelled assault course.
Catch a live show at Rhyl’s sea-front Pavilion theatre, with a pre-show dinner at 1891 or watch the latest blockbusters and more at Rhyl’s Vue Cinema. Look out for a varied programme of events of all kinds, with highlights including Rhyl’s annual Air Show, where you can join thousands of visitors on the seafront and be amazed by the awesome sight of dramatic displays by the stars of British aviation.
Pont y Ddraig (Welsh for Dragon’s Bridge) on Rhyl’s brand new harbour development gives anyone on foot, on a bike, in a wheelchair or a pram, the chance to admire harbour and seaside views, and to enjoy the coast without the traffic. This iconic bridge is the last link in a 15 mile cycling route which enters the county of Denbighshire, and is part of both the National Cycle Network Route 5 and the Wales Coastal Path. Opened by Paralympic cyclist Mark Colbourne MBE in 2013, the bridge quite literally closes the gap in the coastal route; that is, when it’s not opened vertically to allow boats into the harbour. And, as if the bridge weren’t impressive enough by day, the whole thing lights up after dark. The harbour has excellent facilities for seafarers, with new harbour-side facilities café and bike hub from landlubbers.
There is something magical about Ruthin. It’s something to do with the way all the streets seem to lead back to hilltop St Peter’s Square – surely one of Britain’s loveliest places. Something to do with the iconic buildings that break the skyline as you move around the town: the battlements of Ruthin Castle, the tower of Ruthin Gaol, the spire of St Peter’s Church. Something about the sudden spectacular views of surrounding countryside.
The name Ruthin comes from the Welsh words ‘rhudd’ (red) and ‘din’ (fort) and refers to the colour of the red sandstone which forms the geological basis of the area and from which the castle was built as a strategic lookout over the River Clwyd in 1277 to 1284.
Ruthin has a lively and interesting history – which has provided a rich architectural heritage and there are around 200 listed buildings in the Ruthin area, with the majority being in the town itself. Take a trip through the seven ages of Nantclwyd y Dre, Wales’s oldest dated timbered town house. The house was started in 1435 and has been added to, updated and upgraded throughout the centuries. Nantclwyd y Dre has been beautifully restored to demonstrate the changing fashions and the lives of its residents. Visitors can observe a colony of Lesser Horseshoe bats in the attic rooms via ‘bat cam’, participate in a quiz and use interactive media screens to learn more about the house and its inhabitants and visit the fully restored Lord’s Garden. The town is heaven for historians, with plenty more to get excited about. Once reputed to have ‘a pub for every week of the year’, these days Ruthin has fewer taverns.
Ruthin isn’t just an architectural time capsule. In April 2019 Ruthin was awarded Coach-Friendly Status by the Confederation of Passenger Transport. Ruthin offers clear signage for visiting coaches, facilities for tour groups and suitable parking provision. It’s a real market town that’s still buzzing in the 21st century.
Writer and former National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins describes the town as “the most charming small town in Wales”. From the water meadows of Cae Ddol to the architecture of the oldest timbered town house in Wales to the strikingly contemporary award-winning craft centre to the shops, pubs and restaurants the market town really has something for every taste.
There are still plenty of places to grab a bite if you’d like someone else to cook, and a multi-award-winning delicatessen packed with wonderful ingredients if you fancy being the chef. Centred around St Peter’s Square, the town has many other notable features including a Victorian clock tower, the 14th Century Parish Church of St Peter, and 15th Century Old Court House; the location of Ruthin’s original gaol before its more famous successor came along. Clwyd Street meanwhile leads down to the imposing Ruthin Gaol now a fascinating visitor experience and home to the County Archives. In the opposite direction descending the hill on Market Street and near the roundabout of Station Road you will find Ruthin Craft Centre which is Wales’ premier centre for the applied arts with on-site Artist Studio’s to explore including the popular ‘Artist Stories’ Residency series as well as world class exhibitions. There is also a café which is the perfect place to take time to relax and enjoy a freshly brewed coffee or cup of tea.