Freesteel Blog » North Wales Bike Coast


North Wales Bike Coast and other things – Spring 2003

You should get round to exploring the closer places to home after you have seen other parts the world. Then you might appreciate it.

I have no idea what is the story behind this White ship at Llannerch-y-mor. But someone lives in it and it has been here for a long time since it has become a landmark you can use when canoeing in the Dee Estuary.

I’ve driven along North Wales many times to go diving in the Menai, Anglesey, or the Lleyn Peninsula. But you can’t say you’ve been through the points in between in a metal box rolling on tarmac, even if it has windows. That’s what I find. Even if you go to a place by car, you are not really there; you always leave something of yourself in the car wherever you’ve parked it (usually just outside the cafe so you don’t even need to traverse the points in town). Being without completely being is a waste of precious life minutes, even supposing you save the time of the journey.

We did this trip as slackers. The sustrans route number 5 goes from Chester to Holyhead along the coast. We started at Chester and followed up along the Dee estuary opposite the Wirral and entered the most appalling industrial wasteland that side of the Welsh border. On the other side is Ellsemere Port, a huge oil refinery. Heavy industry, like rats, tends to attract the same. You don’t get from the authorities: “Well, you folks here have had quite a lot of industrial poisoning these years, making things toxic, perhaps you’re suffering enough.” You do get: “Well, you folks are poor and need the jobs, and it’s smelling pretty bad here already, so a little more won’t make a difference.”

Luckily, or purposefully, this stuff’s on the sea so half the time it blows outwards and people don’t have to breath it. The other half the time it blows onshore and the people get fresh sea air, except for those inland. When there’s no wind, it settles. Water and soil do not migrate and dilute, unfortunately. However, since you get your potatoes imported from Israel if you go shopping in Tescos, you don’t have to eat it. The prevailing SW wind takes the fumes offshore, but brings it back over Liverpool where I live further up the coast, so it’s notnecessarily going to be someone else’s cancer.

Point of ayr lighthouse, nowhere near where we should have been had we stayed on the cycle path. But an astounding mud flat all the same.

Having failed to bring a map, and so sure that the cycle path followed the coast, we accidentally departed from its signage and got lost on the sands at the Point of Ayr. It was low tide and quite beautiful. The sun was low as well. You had to cycle just on the boundary between the dry sand and the damp sand to get any traction and not sink in. Further out, the ground was hard and severely ribbed, which made it too bumpy to cycle on. Eventually, this didn’t work because the consistency of the beach changed. We resorted to carrying our bikes for miles along sand dunes and were lucky to find a railway station with a train to take us home..

By the time we got round to the continuation, Becka had bought us new bikes. We cruised along the waterfront through the horrors of Rhyll and past Colwyn Bay, and into the more upmarket resort town of Llandudno straddling the isthmus between the mainland and The Great Orme. We booked into a guesthouse and went pedalling and then walking around and up the Orme. There are many ancient copper mines here. One day I will get a chance to see them because the guy running the guesthouse is chairman of the Great Orme Exploration Society. It would be easy to fall in love with this place; it has an air of Celtic magic like the west coast of Ireland. The Kashmir goats which roam down into the streets enhance the effect. But the tea shop on the far end of the Orme was one of the worse I have ever been to. Microwaved tea and stale cakes contrast well with the pebble dash exterior.The council is trying to get rid of this place and I didn’t sign the petition calling for it to remain. I feel bad about that, but there’s no reason it can’t be nice.

The sustrans route 5 suffers a break at one point when it merges with the A55, an extraordinarily fast and busy road which is bringing in massive wealth into this part of Wales, as well as all the “Home Cooked” cheap microwavable frozen dinners from the factories near London necessary for the tourist pubs to make a profit on their lunches when they can’t be bothered to hire anyone who can cook.

Unattributed statue beside the train station in Prestatyn. I thought it was pretty neat and wish I knew more.

We survived and managed to follow the trail inland up some very narrow lanes until we reached Bangor and found its newly renovated pier. People should go there. There are famous piers all along the south coast of England which Londoners can go to, but the Welsh piers of exactly the same era are forgotten and in many ways more striking in the views they give. Some of the piers are not for tourists. They have conveyor belts and are for delivering concrete gravel onto ships.

We left Bangor at 2pm. I don’t know, but I was in a hurry for something. Maybe it was for one of those trips to Denmark I’ve just been making. I’m not going by plane, but instead passing through the points in between by train to Harwich, ferry to Esbjerg, and trainto Copenhavn. They all smoke in Denmark.

I stayed in a couple of hotels, and managed to get a bike the second time round, so I could be independent. The bike paths are wider than bus lanes and are on both sides of the roads, separated by curbs from the pedestrian pavement and the car carriageway. You get extra help when you come to a junction and all the cars give way to you. They never know: it might be a lawyer or a doctor who is on that bike who can give them serious trouble if they get run over.

Scrumptious Danish

What I really want to talk about is Underwater Rugby. I heard about this game a long time ago when I started getting used to Underwater Hockey, and my mind just boggled. There are 20-30 listed clubs in Denmark alone, and I got someone to sort out which ones were in the city, and wrote to a couple. The Underwater Rugby season stops in the summer (too many other people want to use the pools), so I was lucky. The pool I went to was beside the big sports stadium. Inside it was like a Roman bath house with marble columns and steep amphitheatre down to the clear water. It was like the museum I went to the last time I was in the city which had an infinite number of Roman statues.

The beauty of Rhyll. There was a new roller coaster being put up beside this exhibit on the sea front. If I designed a seedy whore house I’d want to put this sign above it. All too often they just put up loads of red neon which is just unoriginal. After all, the cheaper and more desperate they are, the better the service, and this is what you’d have to advertise. .

Why does Denmark have so much Roman stuff? They were never conquered by Rome. In fact, they and the German tribes were the barbarians who beat the Romans off. The Romans instead took a left turn, crossed the Channel, and beat up the people in Britain, swarming far north until they got kicked back by the Scots. The Nordic and Germanic tribes (in which I would include the Danes) persisted after the Roman empire collapsed and, in 1066, invaded Britain and displaced the population. Six hundred years later these same people went forth from their home in Britain and conquered North America. After waves and waves of German and North European immigration came into the ruling classes and brought their diet of Hamburgers and Frankfurters (sometimes known as Hot Dogs, for no apparent reason) they built a nation with the most powerful mechanized military complex in the world. Dare I do business with these teutonic people?

Well, Underwater Rugby has spread across limited parts of the world. The global distribution of sports and games encapsulates some serious socio-historical raw data. So while Britain may have given the world (more specifically the countries in its victimized empire) a game as stupid and lazy as Cricket, the Germans gave us Underwater Rugby, a game that has spread in 30 years in a belt throughout parts of Eastern Europe from Norway down to Turkey and, strangely, has a presence in Columbia. There’s a whole federation of world championships,and all that jazz, and people have written their own history books about it. It’s a purely a grass-roots non-corporate affair with no prestige and no money to be made from it. Yet it happens and gets organized. It’s probably despised by all right-thinking swimming pool owners and life guards as well. Maybe this is why it’s not played in England; it looks too new and dangerous on paper, and the paper pusher’s word is law in this country. If you ignore it and apply your own common sense, then you have broken the law, and that’s a bad thing in itself.

Parked cars and lamp posts are some of the obstacles you have you get around if you are a British cycle path.

So I got into the pool building, which was closed, somehow. One of the players came round to where I was standing and invited me over. He was extraordinarily friendly and encouraging, which I guess you have to be if you have such a scary game to sell. This was a mixed game evening. It would have spoilt the fun if it had just been men, as they don’t look so sexy when sprawled like a warrior mermaid in the metal goal basket at the bottom of the pool.

But I get ahead of myself.

I had brought my mask and snorkel. I hoped to borrow fins. Lucky I didn’t bring my own which I use for playing underwater hockey because they are too long and would have been ripped off. Short crappy fins are better. Everyone also seemed to be wearing masks that were held on by five straps that went to the back of the head to form a cradle, instead of the one rubber band that I had. Oh dear, I thought. You can also get a codpiece to save you from the injury of someone swimming head first into your balls.

So, the game begins, after a little bit of warming up and playing with the small beach ball that is filled with salt water so it sinks. You can hold it in one hand and throw it about an arm’s length. The goal is like a metal laundery basket at each end bolted to the bottom of the pool. The pool itself was a little deep, 4.9 metres, which my friend told me was 1.5 metres deeper than the one they normally used. I needed to swim back to the surface almost as soon as I got down.

Neat geometric shore defences, called Concrete Units, from the sign which said: “Do not stand on the concrete units”. There must be a better name for them.

Straightaway, at the beginning of the game, this woman swims down and sits in the basket, blocking it with her backside and holding on with both hands. Another of her team is right next to her to help guard the basket. The opposing team (the white team who wear white swimming trunks, have white caps and no black arm bands on their wrists) get the ball and stream towards them, and bury them in bodies. I’m up on the surface watching this, thinking, “This can’t be happening. Someone’s going to get hurt.”

But they don’t because bodies are quite slippery underwater. You haven’t got gravity to throw people through the air and against hard surfaces. In fact, the whole pile of people is entirely weightless and just floats away from the person who is at the bottom once someone else gets the ball.

I did succeed a couple of times to get hold of the ball, and just held on with both hands as I got battered around and my mask slipped off. When you’ve had enough you can let it go and no one is allowed to tackle you without the ball. Luckily I knew which way was up and could get to the surface for air. It was exhausting. They had quite a lot of players for the evening when there are only supposed to be six people in the water per team at a time. So the rest of the team sat on the side as substitutes. They let me stay in the water the whole game as a seventh person because I wouldn’t make much of a difference. I felt like a weakling because I could only dive down and hold my breath sufficiently once every five minutes, and then had to rest. There were five people on each team out of the water waiting to circulate in as replacements. I thought this was because I had come on a popular night, but I read in the rules that this is standard for a real tournament. People recover their oxygen levels on the side where they spend almost half their time.

I pushed myself to make more and more dives to the bottom which got shorter and shorter until I got leg cramps.

I am enthusiastic. I want to do it again. Unfortunately, all their invitations for me to come along to the next session were to no avail since I’m now back home in England again where they don’t play.

Llandudno pier from the Great Orme. The lump just above the clouds is the Little Orme.

Climbing, Canoeing, Ski-ing and Caving (Exerpts from a practical book of instruction.)

A Practical Guide to Caving

Another way to make sure of finding the way out is to leave a trail of candle stubs (lighted) of Scotchline arrows (they glow in the dark) at crucial junctions of passages where you could make a mistake. String is not very practicable, and don’t use chalk, paint or soot marks as they ruin a cave’s beauty.

Crawling, Climbing and Canal-Wading

Becka inspects an shaft entrance disguised as a barbeque on the Great Orme .

Crawling is one of the main features of caves. They may be semi-stooping-type crawls, or flat-out ones — like between the legs of a chair. Key points are: never, never use your knees unless as a past possible resort (some cavers have had to “retire” because of Housemaid’s Knee); prefer instead the forearm and outside of a thigh and lower leg, of the front support position, walking on hands and feet and resting at intervals; and don’t wear too many sweaters in tight caves — they could jam you by wrinking into a bulky layer. You can practise the main positions by crawling under your bed. Generally, hands should always go in front of the head in a narrow tube. Members of a group should keep close together in crawls. And encouragement from one another is a real help in tight places.
Climbing in caves needs care. Usually the climbing pitches are short, but it is still easy to slip. Therefore use a nylon climbing rope for protection in caves containing abrupt steps, too short for a ladder and yet high enough to be risky. Don’t use the rope simply as a handline, however. It should be used according to the principles of top-roping on an outcrop: with one man belayed at the top, paying it out as a colleague climbs. This “lifeline” man can be protected on his way down by passing the rope through a sling and karabiner (running belay) at the top of the pitch, while a friend handles it after descending previously — from the bottom. The rock climbing problems are generally simple, and have been outlined in the rock climbing chapters.
Canal-Wading is uncomfortable, but necessary. Rather than waste time trying to keep dry by doing desperate traverses along the walls, plunge in and splash “carefully” along the waterways (after first checking in the guide-book or with other sources that there are no hidden holes. Rubber dinghies are seldom used for this kind of progress, only for certain subterrainean lakes. Wading along a waist deep canal soon convinces one of the importance of woollen Long Johns, woollen bathing trunks, and wool vest next to the skin. After some minutes you begin to warm up.

The Church of Stop Shopping

Bangor Pier at the end of the ride. This goes out into the Menai Straits and you can look along it to see the bridges. This is a cool stretch of water which I enjoy diving in.

I can’t keep up with things, so I skip around.This is not a blog, although there are blogging elements to it.I was moved by the Stop Shopping tour down in Liverpool town centreyesterday. After a showing of the different ways artistshave reclaimed this engineered shopping culture, the audiencewent to do a dance in the local up-market branch ofJohn Lewis’s, a shop I have been into many times.

The dance was simple, and was as follows.Go stand before a product on the shelf.Reach out for it as if to take it. Hold your hand thereas long as you like, then fold your arms as if toreconsider your purchase. Reach out for the product asecond time, then hold your face and turn your headaway as if in despair. Repeat this ritual for 15 minutes.

We went through the doors separately.I almost didn’t have the guts and walked around the roomseveral times before I tried doing it over some scarvesby the door which cost seventeen pounds fifty.I never touched them, so I don’t know how soft they were.Rev Billy was in the middle of the room doing the dance overa stack of designer sunglasses. I began. My hand was shaking. Some people were asked to leave. I could see two women doing the dance towards some hats. They had their backs to me and to the room so they were focussed. I chickened after less than 5 minutes when the guards were looking at me too much, and floated out the door into the relief that was the public space of the street. Had this been a mall, we would have still been on enemy territory. And it is enemy territory, like the grounds of a factory farm once you enter it without the proper frame of mind of a carefully bounded employee or shopper relationship.

What the shop keepers, like employers, fear most is organization. If anything looks like organization, which there wasn’t in this case since it was mere synchronicity rather than some elaborate shoplifting plan, they call in the police.

I haven’t felt so much fear in a shop since a time about ten years ago when a friend got me to help her buy a computer in Dixons, and they tried to sell her insurance for the computer worth one third the value of the kit. This was the first time I’d seen it and I stepped in and questioned the sales assistant what this was all about, since given that all products are already under a guarentee, it didn’t look like a good deal. Instantly, everyone ganged up on me as they continued the high pressure sales on my friend and told me I was misinformed. I probably lost the argument and she bought the insurance. Later, many of the shops, including Dixons, were taken to court and prosecuted for the misselling of these policies which were nothing but a fat cash rip-off with a large commission to the shop employees to bribe them into participation in this fraud.

The lesson is follow your gut instincts about what sounds right. When your instincts give you fear of that which you should not have fear, question and challenge them to find out to who’s benefit they are there and why they are there. Many of these so-called freedoms to shop are based on a a flat out lie which you do not sense until you just barely press against the boundaries. We are as free as trained dogs who are let off the leash in the park and don’t run away because we have no other home and would not know how to find food since all our lives it has been supplied from a tin. Even dogs who are beaten return to their masters. It is the only choice we have or will see if we don’t actually go out and look for ourselves, and do that which we are told is illegal and ridiculous.


  • Found this small place in LLandudno. Sometimes you can tell that people got in there really early when they reserved their web domains.
  • Gratuitous Llandudno web site
  • Sustrans The provider of the cycle track signage.
  • Kayak to Hilbre Island A mention of the ship at Llannerch-y-mor used as a landmark to paddle across the Dee Estuary.
  • UV-Sport International hub for Underwater Rugby. I recommend checking out the movie clips to get an idea, though the structure of play doesn’t make sense to one who has not experienced it.
  • Rev Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Who was on tour round Britain this week.
  • One of the other shopping jammers on tour who had to remove their corporate parody video from their website because of an FBI investigation. May there be many more like it.
  • Whirl;-Mart An easy act of resistance which gives you a ddivine experience. This is similar to the television resistance where you watch the TV during news time, say between 6 and 6:30, in your own living room, but with the TV turned off. Do this and you will experience enlightenment.

Julian Todd 14/5/2003.