Driving down the coast to the beautiful beaches of North Wales is a memory that many Liverpudlians remember fondly, football broadcaster Bryn Law recalls a time when the perfect summer holiday was only an hour’s drive away.
Born in Liverpool and raised in North Wales, Bryn’s broadcast career began as reporter in Barrow. At that time,his hair was brown. In 1998 transferred to Sky and he’s played for them ever since. He has a wife,two daughters and a dog. His hair is now white.
February 11th, 2015
My first trip in an aeroplane took me away on my first foreign holiday in the summer of 1976 but the up, up and away was not the norm.
In fact, that was the only time we ever flew away on a family summer holiday. The Costa Brava was a one off, two weeks of unbroken sunshine and a hotel swimming pool. There was usually a lot more rain and the paddling pools on proms had no deep end or diving board. For us, the car was king and Wales was usually where it was at, northwest Wales to be precise, Land of my Mother, and her father and mother, my grandparents, or Taid and Nain in the language that was their first.
They lived in a little village on a mountainside amidst the slate quarries of Bethesda. From the top of the mountain, you could see the sea and that’s where we headed when there was time to be filled.
We used to drive from Liverpool, jamming bags, cases and toys into the boot of the green Renault 12, the blue Renault 4 or the brown Datsun, RKF 689T. How is it I can remember registration plates and phone numbers we had nearly 40 years ago? I had an indifferent relationship with cars, as a lad I loved to line up traffic jams of my Dinky and Matchbox vehicles across the carpet of my bedroom, apparently I could recognise all the makes and models at an early age. There was less love when I actually got in one. I suffered badly from being car sick. No sooner had the back door been closed behind me and I felt ill. So many long journeys were extended by a pull-over and a leap out. I grew to dread the long drives.
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ALL MEMORIES GREAT AND SMALL
Wales was one of those. We’d leave Liverpool, through the Mersey tunnel, Runcorn, Chester then across the border onto the A55. It’s been upgraded to a dual carriageway now, then it was a single track affair that slinked along the coast, passing through Prestatyn, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, Conway and then up to Bangor before we headed off into the hills above.
Sometimes, bags unpacked and base established in my grandparents’ tiny terrace, we’d retrace our steps, go for a day out in Llandudno, with its Victorian pier and the Punch and Judy man on the prom. There were donkeys on the beach as well – mine once stood on the foot of the youth leading it. He hobbled as we trotted. Then, Llandudno hadn’t changed for a 100 years. I return from time to time and it still hasn’t. The cable car up the Great Orme’s still an exhilarating experience, the arcades still steal my money at the end of the pier.
Rhyl was a less frequent ‘day out’, too far really, especially in my Taid’s blue Hillman Imp. So, once, we stayed a few days, in a flat on the front. I learnt to ride a bike at the little track on the prom, working up from three wheels to two in the space of a few days, under the watchful eye of my white-haired Taid. He’d overseen my Mum making the same wobbly journey around that little track many years before.
Turning right at the bottom of their mountain more generally meant heading for Llanfairfechan, a less-well known resort on that stretch of coast. The beach was stony until the tide went a long way out, so most often we’d play crazy golf, or paddle in the paddling pool, or lose pocket money on the push a penny machine in the amusement arcade next to the fire station.
Turning left towards Bangor and beyond meant a different sort of experience, we’d cross the Menai Straits and head off to the wilder beaches of Anglesey. Benllech and Cable Way are the two I remember most clearly, Cable Bay with its steep, stone steps down to the sand, not easily negotiated with buckets, spades, towels, mats, Action Man, a ball, a picnic and the obligatory windbreak. Wilder still was Penmon Point, the most easterly tip of Anglesey and somewhere I remember rock-pooling in wellies and cagoule, whilst a wind whipped across us, probably in August then. Stick it out though, the sight of the sun setting between the lighthouse and Puffin Island is a little secret sensation.
THE GREEN GREEN GRASS OF HOME
Of course, we weren’t the only little Liverpudlians enjoying afternoons on the beach in North Wales, there were hordes heading over the border throughout the summer holidays as more and more people got cars and I remember schoolmates talking about trips to ‘Clanduddno’ and ‘Abersock’. I felt a little smug as I knew how to pronounce these place names properly and say sandwich and good morning and thank you in Welsh. I felt a very strong pull towards Wales, more Welsh than English to be honest, a lone Taff in playground home internationals.
We travelled on the 16th and the following day I sat in a sand dune with my little transistor radio and listened to commentary of Wales
Things changed when I actually made a permanent move over the border at the end of the 70’s. New job for Dad so we were near Wrexham now, and I’d soon swapped supporting the European Champions for the local club, even though they were 2nd division.
A better job meant more money and a bigger drive, so a caravan appeared. One of its first trips, pulled by a white Renault 18, AMA 208W, was to the Llyn peninsula and Black Rock sands near Porthmadog. It was a Bank Holiday weekend in May 1980, I can tell you the exact date because it has its place in history. We travelled on the 16th and the following day I sat in a sand dune with my little transistor radio and listened to commentary of Wales, my team, beating England 4-1 at Wrexham’s ground. It was hot and the sun was shining but I know where I should have been.
A HIGH TIDE AND HELP AT HAND
That’s my only memory from that trip but I have more from return visits I’ve made as an adult. I took my own family there for our first holiday, some 20 years later, staying in a static caravan this time. One of the novelties at Black Rock is that you can drive onto the beach. On the last day, I packed the boot of the company car, on lease and going back the next day, as a final treat, my wife asked if she could have a drive on the sand? It’s great fun to get up a bit of speed on the wide stretches of compacted sand, hard under the tyres but there are things you have to watch out for, like soft patches. Particularly closer to the incoming tide. Which is where she directed us, ‘Don’t slow down!’, I implored as she did just that. And the car ground to a halt, wheels sinking. Subsequent wheel spinning served only to dig us in a little further. The tide brought the sea closer.
A small child was rescued from the back seat and I began to wonder how I was going to explain away the loss of my company car
We huddled together and looked forlornly at the stricken vehicle, waves lapping ever closer.
It was a 4×4 that saved the day, locals probably, used to passing a few hours on a Sunday towing daft tourists off the beach before their cars disappear.
It hasn’t put me off, I’m still up for a drive to the seaside whenever the opportunity arises and the last day trip took us across the Menai Bridge and to a new beach on the west side of the island, Llanddwyn, fantastic it was too. A vast expanse of sand, backed by dunes and a forest and with a view across the straits to Snowdon, you can fly as far as you want – there’s no better sight in the world.
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