A Day in…Wrexham
One reason they might come this year is because it is the Wrexham Year of Culture and has a whole year of events planned. Included in that is the fact that this year in August the National Eisteddfod will be held here. This university town has more than just culture. As a shopping hub it has had a 25% increase in retail space through the construction of an award-winning shopping centre “Eagles Meadow.”
And then that fantastic monument to engineering, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, has been accorded UNESCO World Heritage Site. If your arrive by car – and this could be the best idea if you want to see Pontcysyllte, Chirk Castle or Erddig – then there are numerous, well signed car parks throughout the town with charges around 50p-£2 for up to two hours. Indoor parking is available at Eagles Meadow but costs slightly more.Wrexham has several covered attractive arcades which are unusual in a modern day. Apart from the usual high street stores (the usual suspects along with numerous independents), which line the streets, every day is a market day in Wrexham. There are three covered markets, which are open daily (Mon-Sat) and an additional market held each Monday (outdoors) in Queens Square. So the town is a hive of shopping activity on most days. The markets alone could fulfil most needs of the visitor. Make sure you pay a visit to the specialised “Butchers market”. From furniture to fashion, you’ll find it in Wrexham. And enough coffee and tea shops for you to rest your feet and talk over what you’ve bought! As you approach the town, St Giles Church is a visible landmark on the horizon. Built in the early 1500s, not only is it beautiful to behold, but the interior is decorated by many medieval carvings and monuments. You’ll also see rare paintings, including the rare “Doom Painting” of the Last Judgement, which was painted in the early 16th century. The new, local museum in Hope Street displays their collection better than the old one and gives an interesting view on life in the marches caught right in the thick of disputes between the English and the Welsh.
The new fact that I learned on my visit, was that Wrexham was the home town of Elihu Yale (1649 -1721) Here, he made his fortune before returning to America and becoming the benefactor of the world renowned Yale University. His grave (which he inscribed himself!) can be found next to the steeple. For such a benefactor, it seems quite modest recording none of his achievements and showing no signs of his wealth. Yet he will forever be known as one of the top American universities. Just imagine if it had been called Wrexham University!
One of the other Wrexham sons is Since William Low (1814-1886), who formed the Channel Tunnel Company and drew up the first realistic plans for a tunnel under the channel (in a house he designed and built himself in 1864) it seems somehow ironic that Wrexham has lost most of its direct London services..
There are lots of things to see and do just outside the town. I’ve already mentioned the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site but you can’t afford to miss this feat of engineering. The aqueduct towers over the landscape. It seems so peculiar seeing a narrow boat passing by tens of feet above you.
The National Trust has two properties nearby to Wrexham: Errdig and Chirk Castle. Erddig, an 18th century country house owned by the National Trust, offers an unusual insight into the life of the servants – not just the grand folks who lived upstairs! The garden and landscaped park can be explored by foot, bicycle or even horse and carriage. Chirk Castle, built in 1310, is an accumulation of 700 years of history which can be explored, and a walk around the award winning gardens (where well-behaved dogs on leads are welcomed!) are a must. The kids will love meeting medieval guards, taking a tour of the dungeon and tower and the opportunity to try on armour and be a guard themselves!The National Eisteddfod of Wales Festival, one of the largest annual cultural events in the Europe is to be hosted in Wrexham between 30 July and 6 August 2011 (it is a travelling festival, alternating between North and South Wales each year). Attracting 160,000 visitors, there are enough things to do and see for all the family, with a wide range of music, culture and visual arts. But remember it is largely in Welsh. The guides and stewards are quite happy to help; the stallholders all speak English as well but Welsh is what you will hear and in all manner of dialects. Broad American, Spanish sounding (from South American) and French are not unusual as people come from all over the world to remember their heritage and genealogy. You don’t need Welsh to enjoy the singing the art or, many would tell you, the melodic poetry. For a town of its size, it might seem odd that Wrexham has two train stations. Wrexham Central is a small unmanned station which is situated within one of the town’s retail parks. It links Wrexham with Merseyside with the Merseyrail Bidston service. The main Wrexham General is a few minutes’ walk out of town and lies on the Holyhead-Birmingham New Street (via Shrewsbury) or Cardiff lines as well as the Wrexham Central – Bidston line.
If you do come by rail, use the buses as well so you can see the countryside outside the town. It’s the countryside that emphasises how appealing Wrexham can be as a base.