RSPB Conwy Nature Reserve, Llandudno Junction, Conwy, Wales


Stand on the reserve and you can see 4,000 years of human history that stems from the Conwy valley's importance as a 'highway', first by boat, later by train and more recently by road.

4,000 years in one view

Most of the west bank of the Conwy is in the Snowdonia National Park. The land here has been worked for more than 4,000 years: Stone Age quarries produced axes for export, early Celts lived in roundhouses and grew crops and livestock in field systems with terraced cultivation, burying their dead in cromlech chambers that remain in today's landscape.

After the Roman invasion of modern-day England, the Celtic tribes kept the Romans at bay for several years, using their knowledge of the hills to sabotage the Roman forces and undertake guerrilla warfare. The Romans' superior technology and organisation eventually won through and they took over the Celtic forts, such as Pen-y-gaer, which guard the Roman road through the hills to Anglesey.

After the Romans left, the land returned to the local tribes until after the Normans conquered England. Then this area became the 'Checkpoint Charlie' of Wales – Celtic Wales on the west bank and lands ruled by English lords on the east. There were plenty of skirmishes, with castles built, occupied and knocked down, and battles fought on the shoreline that reputedly made the River Conwy run red with blood.

Canada geese Branta canadensis, with young with snowdonia mountains in the distance, Conwy RSPB Reserve

A tale of two castles

From the reserve, you can look north to two castles: on the east bank is the Vardre, fortified from Roman times until its abandonment and destruction by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales, in 1263. On the west bank is the impressive Conwy Castle, one of eight huge fortresses built by English king, Edward I when he conquered Wales.

Built between 1283 and 1289, the castle and the town were built with 6-foot thick town walls to keep the Welsh out. At £15,000 (about £9 million today), it was the most expensive of the 'iron ring' of castles built by Edward.

The village to the south, Glan Conwy, has been a settlement for at least 1500 years. Llansanffraid Glan Conwy means 'Church of St Ffraid on the bank of the River Conwy'. The parish was founded, according to legend, when St. Bridget (Ffraid in Welsh) sailed from Ireland on a green turf and landed here - a tale which probably stems from the arrival of Irish Christians in the 5th century.

Glan Conwy was a busy port in the Georgian era with ships commuting to Chester and Bristol, carrying flour from the mill, fruit from the farms, timber and slates from the upper Valley and iron from the furnace at Bodnant. Until the railway line was built, Glan Conwy was a shipbuilding village, with ships that went as far as Australia, and a row of warehouses along the wharf where the A470 now lies.

RSPB Conwy Nature Reserve, Llandudno Junction, Conwy, Wales. View from hide.  21st July 2009