Roaming around Ruthin, North Wales (with audio)
PUBLISHED: 17:33 01 April 2010 | UPDATED: 16:54 20 February 2013
Ruthin is a beautiful town, but not the sort of place to step out of line, as Paul Mackenzie reports Narration by Sandbach and District Talking Newspaper
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That man's weeing through the window.' In a town as beautiful and interesting as Ruthin, the four-year-old's observation was a surprising outburst.
'What man?' asked his mother urgently, her eyes scanning the seven unusual windows on the roof of the Myddelton Arms for the guilty man.
'That man there,' said the boy, pointing at a figure about half way up the ornate clock tower in St Peter's Square. The man, who was about three feet tall and carved in stone, was indeed standing in a slightly suspicious pose near a window with a single missing pane.
The boy ran eagerly to check his theory but was disappointed to report back: 'Aw, no he's not. He's just standing, looking at something.'
He'd do well not to wee through the window for if history has taught us anything, it is not to step out of line in Ruthin. There are grim reminders of how miscreants have met their end here all around the otherwise idyllic town square.
Drag your eyes away from the beautiful views, fascinating architecture - which isn't all as old as it looks - and the many interesting shops and you'll find some ghoulish relics.
Just outside Barclays Bank, is Maen Huail, a large stone on which King Arthur beheaded Huail for winking at Guinevere.
And down the hill is Ruthin Gaol, now a popular tourist attraction but in its day a feared and fearsome prison. Visitors who pass through the high walls today can sample the forbidding atmosphere where thousands were imprisoned between 1654 and 1916 when the last residents were transferred to cells in Shrewsbury.
And poking out of the eaves of the Old Court House across St Peter's Square, and possibly the thing that caught our man's eye as he reached for his zip, are the remains of a gibbet where a Franciscan monk was hanged. Fr Charles Mahoney was shipwrecked on the Welsh coast in August 1679 when Catholicism was equated with treason and was hanged, drawn, and quartered.
The court house building, which went up in 1401 and is now a branch of NatWest Bank, had cells in the basement and is one of the town's most impressive medieval buildings and one of the few to survive a devastating surprise attack by Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr.
In the early 15th century Glyndwr made his first strike for an independent Wales and burned down much of the town - legend has it that just a few buildings were left standing.
The red stone castle on the hill withstood that assault and it held out and during a Civil War attack by Parliamentary forces. But Oliver Cromwell's men came back a couple of years later and he ordered the castle to be destroyed after a three month siege in the mid-1600s. The remains have now been incorporated into a luxury hotel.
The castle was built on the orders of Edward I after he had defeated the Welsh and established English control of the area. A series of Welsh rebellions had convinced him that a network of heavily fortified castles was needed to subdue the natives.
Ruthin's colourful history is revealed on a series of green plaques displayed on buildings around the town which serve two purposes. They give an insight into the heritage of the town and they give a handy excuse for a breather on the way up the steep streets.
The town grew around a hill in the Vale of Clwyd, with older parts of town on top of the hill and newer buildings nearer the river. Its elevated position means there are some impressive views across the Welsh countryside. It also means there are some steep streets but the climb is made worthwhile by the delightful timbered buildings, interesting shops and fascinating history.
The 13th century St Peter's Church is a particularly fine building and stands behind some magnificent elaborate 18th century gates just off the square. The church was built by John de Gray, whose father Reginald had built the castle and it has an oak-panelled roof which is reputed to have been given by Henry VII. And in the shadow of the church spire are 12 alms houses which were established 1590 by Dr Gabriel Goodman, for 40 years the Dean of Westminster.
Another doctor whose work affected the town was Beeching, who swinging cuts to the rail network meant the closure after 100 years of Ruthin's station. The site of the station is now occupied by the impressive Ruthin Craft Centre which originally opened in 1982 but was rebuilt and reopened, at a cost of 4.3million, in 2008.
The centre includes a gallery, with regularly changing exhibitions, eight studios where visitors can watch artists at work, a tourist information centre, and a restaurant.
Need to know
The name Ruthin comes from the Welsh words rhudd (red) and din (fort), and refers to the colour of the red sandstone which the town is built on and from which the castle was constructed in the 1200s
In 1574 Dr Gabriel Goodman re-founded Ruthin School which had been originally founded in 1284 and is one of the oldest public schools in the UK
Ruthin, Rhuthun in Welsh, has more listed buildings than any other market town in North Wales and in the 18th century was reputed to have 52 pubs, one for every week of the year. There are now nearer 12 town centre pubs
Sir Henry Haydn Jones MP, slate quarry owner and owner of the Talyllyn Railway was brought up in the town and is immortalised as Sir Handel, owner of the Skarloey Railway in Rev W Awdry's Railway Series Ruthin is twinned with Brieg, Brittany
Actors Rhys and Llyr Ifans, John Lennon's first wife Cynthia and son Julian, and Formula One racing driver Tom Pryce have all lived in Ruthin
For more information contact Ruthin Tourist Information centre on 01824 703992.
Where is it?: Ruthin stands at the meeting of the A494 and A525 in Denbighshire, about 10 miles west of Wrexham. Type LL15 1AA into your satnav to find St Peter's Square.
Where to park?: There are long and short stay pay and display car parks around the town and some on-street parking is available too. There is also a large free car cark at the craft centre.
What to do?: Admire the architecture, soak up the history, visit the craft centre and go to gaol.