Heritage is keeping traditions alive in Llandudno
PUBLISHED: 17:01 13 June 2011 | UPDATED: 21:34 20 February 2013
Preparations are underway for a big anniversary in Llandudno this summer Words by Paul Mackenzie Pictures by John Cocks
Theres plenty of history in Llandudno and heritage will be at the centre of a major celebration in the town this summer. Graham Heritage, that is. He is the new coxswain of the towns lifeboat which this year marks the 150th anniversary of its first launch.
And Graham, who became coxswain in March, is continuing a proud tradition of service with the RNLI - his father, Dennis, was a member of the Llandudno crew and two of his sons have also volunteered.
The station is right in the centre of town and I used to see the lifeboat going out when I was at school, Graham said. My father had a boat on the Conwy, too, so I grew up around water. I knew I wanted to join the crew but I wanted to get my plumbing apprenticeship first.
Graham joined the crew in 1986 and has been involved in scores of rescues in the bay and in the waters around the Great Orme, contributing to the estimated 550 lives that have been saved by crews from Llandudno since the RNLI station opened in 1861. The station is unique in the UK in being sited inland, meaning the boats can launch from the west or north shore.
Generations of locals have volunteered to ensure the boat is always ready when people are in trouble in the sea. Graham is one of about 30 volunteer crew members and he added: When my dad went out into the darkness that was it, there was no word from him until he came home but these days communications are so good. We have scanners at home so our families can listen in while were out if they want to.
We have been out in force tens, proper storms, and when a big black wave smashes over you it does sometimes make you think. We have had a few pretty scary jobs but we all have complete confidence in the training we are given and the boats we have.
The lifeboat crew are called out to a range of emergencies - to rescue people cut off by the tide, to deal with boats which have capsized or suffered mechanical problems and to pluck struggling wind surfers or kayakers from the water.
We deal with quite a few people who fall off the cliffs as well, Graham added. And the boats were called out to are not just pleasure craft, we cover the shipping lane for the Mersey too. Weve also been called out to look for missing aircraft. When the pager goes, you just never know what its going be.
It can be quite harrowing work - every time you pick up someone who has been caught by the tide and is up to their chest in water it crosses your mind that if we were there a few minutes later, it would have been too late. It does touch you quite a bit but the adrenalin and the feeling after is quite amazing.
And the volunteers who take to the water are supported by an on-shore team which includes Alan Sharp who is originally from the Wirral. Alan, now the Llandudno crews press officer, lived for many years in Kelsall where he was chairman of the RNLI fundraising branch for 13 years.
Alan was based at RAF Valley during his National Service and has had a lifelong interest in the sea. But thats not the case for everyone who volunteers to help, he said. Most people have very little prior knowledge of the sea when they sign up and they are given training in everything.
Volunteering is a big commitment and is very time consuming but it has always been done here, as in many other seaside towns and villages, many people just get drawn to it.
You name it, we probably have one in the crew, theres a caf manager, plumbing and heating engineer, a teacher, a postman, a student. Its nothing to do with public recognition, but it nice to be a part of something very satisfying and we are all very proud to have reached the 150 year milestone.
The anniversary will be marked with a series of events, including a 1500 metre sea swim and a Lifeboat Day held on Llandudno Promenade, the scene of many rescues, in July.
And theres a growing sense of camaraderie in-land too, as the new Friends of Happy Valley group staged its first meeting last month. It has an idyllic sounding name and Tessa Wildermoth, the clerk at Llandudno Town Council, said there are numerous benefits to forming the group.
Friends groups are a great way of giving local people more involvement and a sense of ownership, she said. Its also an opportunity to meet other people and to enjoy the social side of getting involved.
There are already two friends groups in Llandudno - at Queens Park and West Shore - proving that the town was ahead of David Cameron and his Big Society idea. But friends groups have been criticised by some who see them as a councils way of side-stepping their responsibilities. Ive heard that argument, Tessa said. But the fact is that local people are often best placed to know what needs to be done and can often react more quickly than a council.
The Happy Valley gardens stand to the west of the town and reach up the Great Orme, the limestone headland which noses into the Irish Sea. The gardens are criss-crossed by paths and offer breath-taking views over the town, the bay and further afield.
The land teems with tourists today but long before the first holiday-makers came, this was one of the busiest sites in North Wales. The Great Orme was the site of one of the biggest prehistoric mines in the world where more than 30,000 bone tools have been found in the mine shafts and where ancient man learned to turn malachite into copper.
The mines are now a popular attraction for the hordes of visitors to Llandudno who ride the tram or take to the air in the cable cars to the crest of the headland.
Where it is: Llandudno stands on the North Wales coast on the north of the Conwy estuary. The railway station is near the centre of town and if you rely on a sat nav, LL30 2PE should take you to Mostyn Street where you'll find the town's Tourist Information Centre.
Where to park: There are pay and display car parks around the town centre and many tourist attractions have their own car park.
What to do: Llandudno grew as a holiday resort after the coming of the railway in the mid-1800s and has been known as the Queen of the Welsh Resorts pretty much ever since. As a result, there's no shortage of things to around the town. Taking the tramway up the Great Orme is a must, as are visits to the pier and the town's museum.