Daughter Of Conwy – Episode 01

Beneath the ancient walls of Conwy Castle a battered paddle steamer, jauntily painted in red and white but clearly well past the first flush of youth, swayed gently on the tide.

“Well?” The young woman clutching a faded and much-mended bonnet to her head looked up anxiously as a weather-beaten man in his sixties emerged from the depths of the engine room, wiping streaks of sweat and dirt from his face with a large handkerchief.

“Now, Merlyn, bach, don’t you be worrying.” Owain Griffiths took the mug of tea from his granddaughter and sat on one of the seats set out on the deck of the paddle steamer. “Didn’t I tell you she was a good boat in her heart? The Daughter Of Conwy has a few years left in her yet.”

Merlyn bit her lip.

“But will she start?”

“Of course.” Owain’s blue eyes beamed with confidence, although he could not quite smooth the faint crease of anxiety across his brow. “Just a few more adjustments and we’ll be ready. Why don’t you start handing out those handbills and finding us some customers?”

“If you are certain,” she replied slowly.

For all they had managed to be cheerful in front of the rest of the family at breakfast, both she and Owain were all too well aware how much was riding on this one last gamble.

If they couldn’t make this first voyage there would soon be no money to pay for the coal to run the paddle steamer, let alone the rent to keep a roof over their heads at the end of the week.

Owain finished his tea with a flourish.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he remarked gently, preparing to go down below once more. “You find her some customers, Merlyn, and I promise you the Daughter Of Conwy will prove herself the best paddle steamer this side of the Mississippi River in America. Just you see, we’ll be having the Queen and Prince Albert begging to sail along the Conwy Valley before the year is out.”

Merlyn grinned.

“Well, I can’t promise you royalty, Taid, but I’ll make sure the boat is full, whatever it takes. So you’d better get that engine running as fast as you can.”

Merlyn leaped off on to the wooden jetty and hastened towards the top hats and delicate parasols of visitors strolling slowly beneath the castle walls, doing her best to ignore the tight knot in her belly. Everyone had agreed that the idea was madness. Who on earth would want to travel halfway up the Conwy Valley in a rackety old paddle steamer, when there was a perfectly good road on either side and plenty of carriages and horses for hire?

But Taid had been so confident that this would be the saving of them, and they couldn’t just sit and wait for the completion of Mr Stevenson’s new railway bridge, which would finish off the shipping business the Griffithses had built up so carefully over generations. It was the railway bridge that would put them all in the workhouse if they didn’t do something.

So off Owain had gone one day, taking with him the savings he and Nain had put away to keep them out of the workhouse in their old age, and he’d come chugging back along the North Wales coast from Liverpool in the tattered remains of the pleasure-boat Primrose Lady. Half the population of Conwy had come out to stare as he passed, spray shooting over the huge circular paddles in myriad tiny rainbows against the setting sun.

An utter waste of time and money, had been the loudly voiced opinion in the public houses in Conwy town. But Owain Griffiths had proved them all wrong. For months he’d worked on the worn-out steamer, stripping down the engines, repairing the slats of the paddles and sprucing up the bows and the railings with a lick of paint. At the end of it the Primrose Lady had disappeared, and the Daughter Of Conwy had emerged, as good – or at least as good as could be expected for such an old lady – as new.

Stay one step ahead, was Taid’s motto, learned over 60 years of seeing change after change on the Conwy River. Stay one step ahead, and don’t wait for disaster – or the workhouse – to overtake you. Merlyn pulled a sheaf of handbills from her pocket with renewed determination and set off back along the jetty towards the shore.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.