Not last week, but the week before …
Monday we travelled. By the time we’d checked in and had dinner and got to the bar it was half-time. Given we were in Wales it was the Wales match that was on the TV in the bar; I could have found the other lounge but opted for when-in-Rome over Anglo-anguish. It wasn’t crowded. Wales were already 2-0 up and there were only a couple of quietly committed Welshmen, concentrating conversationally on the game, still fearing the worst every time the Russians got the ball into the Welsh half until that third goal. But truth be told, the Russians were as bad as England in the second half against Finland. At breakfast, Danny, the man in the Arsenal shirt at our table who’d watched the goal-less England bore draw with Slovakia averred I’d chosen well.
Tuesday morning to the Llangollen Railway, a 10 mile trip each way up and down the line. On the journey everywhere a riot of greens; saw an angler up to his tits in the River Dee and some alpacas in a field. Sight, sound and smell of a steam train in motion still gets me every time. Loco was resplendent restored Great Western Railway mixed traffic ‘Prairie’ tank engine 5199 (one not copped back in the day, though I might have seen it as a wreck in the Barry scrapyard), turned out in classic early British Railways black livery.
Only had time for a 5-minute dash around the fiction upstairs in the modestly fronted Cafe and Books on the main street in Llangollen. Manages to be both a vast emporium and a rabbit warren at the same time; an old cinema building, the upstairs packed with 100,00 or so second-hand books. Bought Jack Trevor Story’s splendidly titled Screwtape lettuce for a very reasonable £1.25.
In the afternoon a situationist dérive through Chester, or, in laymen’s terms, basically, aimlessly wandering about Chester without a map, until we bought a map and found the wall. I like a good ruin, so the ruined red sandstone bits each end of the city’s oldest church – St John the Baptist church – appealed. Weeds by any other name so impressive on a ruin.
So … the wall, the river, the half-timbered black and white of the Rows. Does anyone dare call it a shopping experience? – probably. Had the best chai latte of my life in an Alice themed teashop. Three times I was tempted by a gorgeous trippy-hued paisley patterned shirt in the window of a boutique upstairs in the Rows, and three times I demurred. You’ll only regret it if you don’t said A.; and yes, indeed I do regret it. ‘Leave’ campaigners on the street, and a bunch of school kids holding shields being enthusiastically taken through their Roman legion paces in the amphitheatre.
Wednesday was Blaenau Ffestiniog and Rheilffordd Ffestiniog, the Ffestiniog Railway, 13½ scenic miles to Portmadog and then over the platform onto the revived Welsh Highland Railway, which only dating its original short life from 1922, for the 25 miles to Caernarfon. Cramped but fun. They may be considerably smaller than standard gauge railways – 1′ 11½” – but given the power needed to negotiate these gradients these are no toys. So many trees! Bit of drama on the Welsh Highland when the (fascinating for rail fans) Beyer-Garrett loco had problems along the way. Camera was saying low battery so – sparing the juice – the above is the best I got (typically, camera magically revived once in Caernarfon).
I once had a boss who did volunteer labour on the Ffestiniog Railway Deviation Project (finished 1982); always made me laugh.
Briefly in Caernarfon, one of those ice creams (so hard to decide …) and a stroll down to the promenade. The town square road-less, all varieties of slate and nicely patterned cobbles but with traffic still allowed; seemed to work, if disturbing ar first. ‘Leave’ campaigners a presence again. What would David Lloyd George have thought? Where have his like gone nowadays? What have the pigeons been eating? Was it a paint protest or just a blue ice cream not as satisfying as hoped?
Thursday to the seaside and then deep into the heart of Snowdonia (or Betws-y-Coed anyway). At Llandrillo yn Rhos, more prosaically Rhos-on-Sea – great beach without all the holiday nonsense – a brief stop to see the tiny 6th century Capel Sant Trillo. Atheist I may be, but I can still dig little shrines like this. I’m a bit of a fan of coastal wind farms too, makes me think I’m in a science fiction movie:
Promenading with The Hatter and another ice cream in Llandudno, we suspected vengeful local vandals had messed with the pedestrian direction signs. 45° at a crossroads to the toilets? Turned out it was sort of right.
And so through the spectacular Llanberis Pass and Snowdonia in all its glory. Lots of ‘Leave’ signs in the farmers’ fields. Again, so many trees. At Betws-y-Coed the public – 20p – toilet seats were of built-in cold polished igneous rock. We walked up to the Thomas Telford bridge (didn’t he get around?) and along the river. So soon this peace after the turbulence downstream.
Don’t know what has caused this patterning on the water on the other side of the bridge, but I could watch the changes a long time:
Llanberis Lake Railway, another narrow gauge remnant of the slate industry, is a charming little scenic run of about an hour there and back along one side of Llyn Padarn, with great views of the mountains in the distance and more mundanely the tourist steamers on the lake. The train starts off going the opposite way you’d expect, away from the lake, a short journey away from the terminus that is not the end of the line, to the end of the line where the loco runs round to the front of the train. A joker in the carriage – at least I think he was joking – made a good job of convincing travelling companions that the short journey back to the main station was all that was on offer, was the whole trip.
Friday was the journey home. Early but not too early before the Referendum result was definite. The title of this piece is Sunny Wales in Welsh. The dispositions occupying seats 21 and 22 on the coach were far from that, though if the result was being talked about I didn’t hear anything. No triumphalism among the Leavers, of whom I’m pretty sure there were plenty enough.
Yes, it was a coach holiday, just a short one. Actually the coach was quite long, but you know what I mean. No, we were not the youngest on the bus, and that’s without researching it too deeply. A liberation not to be the driver and worrying where to park! Mind, you get some very odd people on these charabancs, but some surprising ones too (a pro-Corbyn 70+ ex-union rep showed me her selfie with Owen Jones at a TUC Conference). You also get to recognise among the coaching demographic – impossible not to become apparent as you wander around the usual stops – what is probably a finite variety of archetypal oldie ways of being, which can be confusing when saying Hi to people on the street who turn out to be strangers, not on our bus at all.
Three days in Wales. Sunny, not a drop of rain. Jumpers packed and never worn, rain gear redundant. No-one believed us back in Stony.
I leave you with a view of puzzling blue from the Llechwedd Slate Caverns car park, and that first train, again: