Llandudno Alice in Wonderland tour
Ever been shown around town by a white rabbit? Or sang songs on the prom with a madman in a top hat? I’m willing to bet a broken silver pocket watch that you haven’t. But if the thought of it appeals then get yourself down to the North Wales coast where Llandudno is celebrating its Lewis Carroll connections with a brand new Llandudno Alice in Wonderland tour.…
Once upon a time outside a library far far away..
“Oh you have fallen like Alice! You poor souls. Welcome to Wonderland.” says a colourful guy in a hat.
“Stop this nonsense, we need to go,” says a giant bunny, pointing to his watch.
From the moment they appear outside the prosaic Tourist Information centre opposite Marks and Spencers, at the start of the Down the Rabbit Hole tour this batty pair make us smile. Not content with sitting flat on a page in a dusty old book, the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit get stuck in to real life; leading the crowd of assembled families and tourists a merry dance down the high street. They pause to ask passers-by directions to fictional places, they lead us across the zebra crossing, exclaiming “Alas, this zebra has been run over!”
The Mad Hatter leads an impromptu ensemble sing song of ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside’ on the prom (check out the Instagram video) while the White Rabbit gets the old ladies and the toddlers high kicking. Then the duo stop in awe at our first sight of the Great Orme, before slightly freaking out.
“There it is, the Jabberwocky, sitting in the water. Aarrgh!”
History by osmosis
But it’s not all sunshine songs and entertaining role play. The aim of the tour is to enlighten people about the history of this pretty Victorian town, and specifically its connections with Lewis Caroll; the author of Alice in Wonderland. We stop outside St George’s Hotel on the seafront to hear how Carroll wrote part of the story there, and at St Tudno Hotel where Alice Liddell (the muse and inspiration for the fictional Alice) stayed before her family built a holiday home in the area. “Alice Liddle was eight when she came with her family to Llandudno in 1861,” explains the Mad Hatter, before the White Rabbit waves a watch at him. We proceed on, to hear about the bandstand in Happy Valley and the floral clock near the ornate pier. And all the time the pair bicker, jest and spat like a mercurial madman and his time challenged pet.
The business of promoting Wonderland
Our Down The Rabbit Hole tour is a cross between a blue badge tour, a panto and stand up comedy. It is written and produced by local businessman Simon Burrows. At first sight this appears to be a family business; Simon’s son is one of the actors and his wife hands out leaflets as we walk. But the tours come under the umbrella of a Community Interest Company formed by Simon and his business partner Barry Mortlock to promote everything Alice in Llandudno.
The company has bought up the contents of the museum that once existed in the town, and is currently producing a smartphone e-tour, which will launch next April. There are other more traditional ideas; a patch of lawn near Happy Valley will become a family croquet lawn, and Simon hopes more hotels will follow the St Tudno in offering Alice themed afternoon teas. A series of wooden sculptures are dotted around the town to complete the Alice offering, with new ones popping up all the time. I’d call them life size, but in Wonderland life size is a relative term.
Simon is confident that tourists will come as word spreads about the new initiatives, “There are seventy countries who recognise and have an interest in Alice,” he explains. And it’s all very timely, “2015 is the 150th anniversary of the book being published, so we’re very much working towards that.”
Tours like this work for parents and kids
From the Night Watchman in Rothenburg ob der Tauber to the torturer in Blackpool tower, my family has been led around various European towns and attractions by guides in character. As a parent it is a welcome relief from doing everything yourself. It saves you from having to quickly digest information in a guide book or museum and then interpret it to a toddler, tween or teen. And the kids are engaged and entertained. If the actor is any good.
How do you judge that?
My personal rule of thumb is that they have to stay in character at all times, whatever happens. I try to catch the White Rabbit out by asking him about Facebook. He tells me he has heard it is useful but they haven’t yet got broadband in Wonderland. Anyway, it would take up too much time, as he’s already late. His giant pocket watch shows it’s six o clock. He hurries off in a tizzy, even though it’s been six o clock since we started the tour. And it will still be six o clock next week. In some senses, the rabbit’s watch is a metaphor for Llandudno; a land where the clock stopped in the Victorian tourist heyday. A peaceful wonderland of trams, tea rooms and end of the pier fun.
It’s time we were gone
We leave the bandstand behind and stride up towards The Great Orme. Our new friends stop briefly to perform The Jabberwocky, and then resume their tour guide duties, cheerfully pushing strollers and helping old ladies. At the top of the hill, in the weak afternoon sunshine, we look down on the bay. A strip of land that will forever be timeless stretches out before us, with the north and west shores flanking it either side as if through a looking glass.
An Alice of our own
“The end is here, and a new Wonderland awaits you out there,” says the Hatter, gesturing away from Llandudno, in the direction of home.
As the duo take a bow, I look around for Hannah, who is almost the same age as Alice Liddell was when she first came to Llandudno. But my daughter has left us far behind. Her hair flies out behind her as she skips down the hill towards the proposed croquet lawn and the heart of this Victorian Wonderland. It’s almost like she has grown taller in the hour we have spent touring the town. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might say.
Down the Rabbit Hole tours run every weekend at 12pm and 2.30.
Book your place through Llandudno Tourist Information, which is in the town library. People of all ages are welcome, as long as you are capable and willing to walk for an hour.
But don’t be late. You don’t want to upstage the bunny.
Disclosure Note: Our visit to Llandudno was arranged by Visit Wales. The experience, opinions and views expressed are as ever, entirely our own.