It's funny how specific objects trigger complex memories. I changed trains in Chester station today on the way to Bangor University for an evening event and I saw the sign pictured in the header of this post. I'm not sure when I first saw it, probably in 1965 when we had a school trip to London. A long steam driven train journey followed by a bus tour and a visit to the top of the Shell Building, then the tallest in London if not the UK. But it might have been one of the many times we took the branch line from Mold before it was hit by the Beeching Axe. You can't really read it but it is the best I could find on the web. It says London 179 miles on line one, then on line two 85 miles to Holyhead. Neither the sign or its surrounds have changed much in over half a century and the station is still much as I remember.
Chester was our nearest city, over the border in England and the only place with a Cinema when I was growing up. The last bus home left before the end of most films so you faced a choice which normally ended up with an 11 mile walk back if you couldn't hitch a lift. It is one of the longest garrisoned towns in Britain and was a legionary fort in Roman times. It is larger than the norm, and the speculation is that it was to be the base for a planned invasion of Ireland. It was at the heart of Anglo-Norman interaction with the various Welsh princedoms and is a border town in all senses of the word.
By the time I was 18 it was the transition point to go back to University, often lugging more books than I could really carry. That journey also involved a change at Warrington Bank Quay memorable for the smell of the soap factory. I bought a coffee and sandwich at Costa's (that is new) and then settled bank for a sentimental journey along the Welsh Coast.
We passed the site of the old Shotton Steel works and the De Havilland Factory. We were taken around both on school trips to be shown their apprentice schemes in case we failed to make it to University. That source of employment for skilled labour is now one although the factory now makes wings for the airbus. It is also the stepping out point for by 60@60 walk around Wales and the train follows the path up the Dee Estuary. I plan to start that in February on the tenth anniversary of my Father's death with the intent of reaching Moelfre ten days later for my the tenth anniversary of my Mother's death with many a memory and tribute between the two. The estuary path is bleak and in February beautiful in consequence with views to the Wirral and beyond.
By the time we turned the corner and headed west along the coast we were nearing Prestatyn which will see the end of 60@60 as I come back north along Offa's Dyke. Prestatyn is a bleak place but has a faded gentility to it. It is followed by the brashness of Rhyl full of memories of sand blown winter walks and sand strewn sandwiches that had to be protected from marauding seagulls. One of my favourite pictures of my daughter has her perched on the car in a sea shore car park wrapped up against the winter cold at the age of one or so. I really should not have stepped back to take that photo, but I did manage to catch her as she was picked up by the wind ...
From there the scenery becomes less flat as you approach Colwyn Bay, remembered as the last stage before we got to Llandudno every Wednesday evening and Sunday during the summer to go sailing. The train only gets as far as Llandudno junction before it crosses the bridge to a station by the Castle. A truly awesome entry as the walls loom over you. I used that station from time to time when I came back from University to help my parents launch or recover the small cruiser that replaced our two dinghies. My main memory of that is mud and small inflatables having to be rowed through a tide race!
Conwy of course used to have the best fish and chip shop in the world and was a favourite castle and shore line walk for us as children and for my children in turn. The town was saved from an ugly bridge by the fact it was a three way marginal seat so it got the investment to put the new A55 in a tunnel. That road itself pioneered new engineering techniques to stabilise the slate mountains near Penmaenmawr that terrified Victorian travellers. I could see the Carneddau to my left and Aber, home of the last true Prince of Wales. Then shortly after I arrived in Bangor.
That too has many memories, mostly painful in recent years with two death certificates and funerals within ten days of each other. I hadn't been back for a long time but then thanks the Welsh Audit Office I returned to give a talk and from that we are developing a significant relationship with the University that may see me return frequently to what is a key part of my own history. I used to go there a lot with my father when he was a Vet as he was linked with the University projects and then in 1975 I went there as President of the Student Christian Movement with an interesting confrontation with Welsh Calvinists. But that is a story for another day.