Walking the Scratch That Itches

Some walks are dominated by one special feature: a summit; a lake; a particular building; a certain aspect of the rural or urban or wild landscape that stays in the mind.

Other walks have evenly spread events of attention and interest, a constellation of impressions rather than one stellar moment.

The first time I walked the North Wales Coastal Path westwards from Flint Castle I was expecting the latter. I was wrong.


Approaching the bulky hulk

The walk is flat and easy underfoot, punctuated by occasional pieces of sculpture and decaying moorings, with the broadening estuary of the Dee a constant companion on your right hand side. The path hugs the river for a few miles with barely a sign of a village. The map tells you that the first community of any size will be Mostyn.

Then, a good mile short of Mostyn, you see a ship on the horizon, not out at sea but with its nose butting into the shoreline ahead. It has to be a pretty big ship to be such a dominant image from this distance.

And a pretty big ship it turns out to be. At a small dock area called Llanerch-y-Mor lies the rusting bulk of the Duke of Lancaster, one of the last passenger steamers to be built. In its day it carried 1200 passengers and over 200 vehicles, and had 400 sleeping berths. It makes a bizarre and thoroughly impressive spectacle in this bleak and featureless environment.


Steaming down the footpath

It was abandoned here in 1979 and has been the subject of a slow grapple between the owner and the local council. About 20 years ago a move was made to turn it into a “Fun Ship”. Ambitious plans were drawn up and famous graffiti artists were brought in to decorate the sides, including internationally known names like Kiwie, Dan Kitchener, Dale Grimshaw, Snub23 and Spacehop.

A lot of excellent graffiti was completed, making for an even more fascinating visual impact. However, the wider project failed and the rust and dilapidation continued…much to the “Ruin Lust” delight of wanderers like me.


Reaching out from the rust

There are many more details and photographs here: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/explorers-huge-abandoned-ship-welsh-11403118

The Duke of Lancaster became one of the great ‘unknown’ sights in the UK, with its own Facebook page and a small but dedicated band of admirers.

On my best visit on a sunny day I had only managed to get photos of the port side of the vessel, so I went back last month to get close to the other side. That stunning view from afar was different this time. This time a grim, grey battleship held the horizon.

In an act of officious vandalism the ship has been painted black, either by the owner or by the local authority. Apparently this was done in February 2017.

Graffiti occupies a contested place in our culture. The Duke of Lancaster gets painted over, whilst a new Banksy graffito on the wall of the Barbican (a comment on their exhibition of the New York graffiti artist Basquiat) gets preserved under an imperishable glass panel. Who is the vandal now? Is it just market value that has made Banksy part of the art establishment?


Lichen tags by unknown algae and fungi

Humans have scratched the surface of their environment since the earliest stages of our evolution. It is one of the most fundamental means of expression open to the powerless, especially the young powerless.

Shame on the hand behind the blanking, blanding black paint brush that has tarred the Duke of Lancaster!

Ted x


  1. Recondite erudition from Wem’s greatest living poet. I felt the presence of T.S. Eliot at your shoulder, eminence grise of the North Wales Coastal Path. Or am I thinking of Harry Secombe?
    No matter, thank you for the photographic feast to accompany your deathless prose.
    Season’s Greetings, Ted. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. What a terrifying thought!


  2. Wow! Something else I’m amazed I’ve never heard of… And it’s not exactly easy to miss. Great post, Ted. It must have cost quite a lot of time and money to paint an object of that size black.


  3. Shame it didn’t get to be a ‘fun ship’. It hasn’t got the population to make it a viable project I guess – unlike ‘Thekla’ – a great venue in Bristol. There’s a Vivian Stanshall link to Thekla.


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