The wooded scenery of the beautiful Dee valley surrounds this small town overlooked by the Berwyn Mountains. It was here that the foundations of the first Welsh National Eisteddfod were laid in 1789, when the first public event was held at the Owain Glyndwr Hotel. This is the heart of Glyndwr (Owen Glendower) country. His estates were nearby, and a groove in the lintel of the church door was supposedly made by a dagger flung by him in a fit of rage.
The ancient market town contains many buildings of historical interest. Denbigh Castle, built by the Earl of Lincoln in 1282, featured in many battles during the conflicts between England and .Wales. It was finally ruined by Parliamentary troops in 1660, but eight towers and the gatehouse still stand. Leicester’s Folly is the ruined wall of an unfinished church begun in 1579 by Dudley, Earl of Leicester, to replace St Asaph’s as the cathedral after the Reformation. Below the castle once stood the cottage where H M Stanley the explorer was born. He was born John Rowlands in 1841, of a poor family. When his father died Stanley went to the workhouse at St Asaph from where he ran away to sea. He eventually went to New Orleans where he was befriended and adopted by a merchant called Henry Stanley, from whom Rowlands took his name. Stanley became an American citizen and was sent by the editor of the New York Herald to find David Livingstone in Africa. It was he who pronounced the immortal greeting ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume.’ Stanley later returned to England and became an MP.
Llangollen, a small town on the River Dee, was once a slate-quarrying centre, but the beautiful vale has been scarcely touched by industrial development and is famous as the setting of the International Music Eisteddfod, held here each summer since 1947, when music of every kind is performed.
Valle Crucis Abbey was founded in 1201 by Madog ap Gruffydd, Prince of Powys, and most of the remains date from that period. The 14th century stone bridge that spans the river is acclaimed as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales. Llangollen attracted considerable attention in the 18th century, when two aristocratic Irishwomen, Lady Eleanor Butler and the Honourable Sarah Ponsonby, set up a curious but lively home at Plas Newydd, Llangollen. Among the many society guests of the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ were Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Southey and the Duke of Wellington. Llangollen Station, in the town centre, is a restored Great Western station complete with locomotives and rolling stock; trains run to Fford Junction during the summer months. The Canal Exhibition Centre uses models, murals and films to tell the story of Britain’s great canal era; it is possible to take a trip on a horse-drawn passenger boat.
The majestic ruins of Rhuddlan Castle lie on a mound above the banks of the River Clwyd. Begun in 1277 by Edward I, the castle was built on a diamond plan, and the remains of towers, gatehouses and 9ft-thick curtain walls can be seen. A Royalist stronghold in the Civil War, the castle was slighted by the Roundheads after it surrendered to them in 1648. Bodrhddan Hall, 1 and a half miles east, stands in fine grounds and contains armour, furniture and notable pictures.
With three miles of sandy beaches and a good sunshine record, Rhyl has become the most popular resort on the North Wales coast. It offers numerous leisure facilities, with funfair, boating lake, amusement park, roller-skating rink, cycle track, bandstands and indoor swimming pool. There are two theatres and a golf links, and pleasant gardens include the Botanical Gardens, and Royal Floral Hall with subtropical plants.
An unusual feature of this old market town on a hill in the fertile Clwyd valley is the curfew bell, which has been rung every night at 8 pm since the 11th century. The town has some interesting old buildings, including ruins of a 13th-century castle round which a fortified town grew up. In the 19th century a Gothic castle was grafted on to the original building and has been turned into a hotel. Evenings of medieval banqueting and entertainment are now held here. A bank is now housed in the early 15th century courthouse and prison in the square. Also here is the Maen Huail stone, on which King Arthur is said to have beheaded Huail, a rival in love.
Surprisingly and despite competition ‘ from Rhuddlan and Denbigh, St Asaph is a cathedral city, with the smallest cathedral in the country and one of the oldest in Wales. Henry Morton Stanley, the reporter and African explorer was born in Denbigh, but spent his early years in a workhouse in St Asaph.
Valle Crucis Abbey
The existing buildings of Valle Crucis Abbey, set below the famous 1500ft Horseshoe Pass two miles north west of Llangollen, date mainly from the 13th century. It was founded in 1201 by Madog ap Gruffydd, Prince of Powys, for Cistercian monks. A good deal of the church survives, including the west front, restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott; four windows – one rose and three Early English in style – surmount an elaborately carved doorway. The remains of the monastic buildings, lying to the south and at one time used as a farmhouse, include a Chapter House with fine vaulting. The abbey’s name means ‘Vale of the Cross’ ,referring to Eliseg’ s pillar, which was erected in 603.