I loathe the Aberystwyth railway line

By | Category: Travel rumblings
no wonder I can't concentrate with views like this

no wonder I can’t concentrate with views like this

I travel the line from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury about once a month and I hate it. It wasn’t too bad in the winter when my early morning and late night journeys were shrouded in darkness. But now in summer, its light and I can see the hills, the valleys, the views across the fields and the estuary and it’s horrible.

It’s horrible because it is stopping me working. Instead of plugging in my laptop  (Arriva Trains Wales provide powerpoints at the tables) and writing stories of knowledge and interest, I am staring out the window at the sights. Even the allotments as we leave Welshpool seem beautifully manicured and colourful!

The new born foals and lambs fleeing from the trackside attract my gaze as does the indifference of the cows. It was on this line earlier this year that the driver stopped his train to get down to the trackside and return a lamb, which had managed to get through the fencing and onto the track, to its bleating mother. In summer the students from the university in Aberystwyth might have gone away for the summer but the backpackers, the walkers and the day-trippers clog the trains with their oversized bags, chatter and headphones churning a monotonous air-stabbing sound devoid of any melody.

Today there is a white goat that has managed to climb onto the roof of a small hut and it sprawled there, gazing as we passed, seemingly more concerned with enjoying the sunshine. Unlike the free range chickens that weren’t in their runs today preferring the shade.

one of the osprey's in mid-Wales

one of the osprey’s in mid-Wales

This is buzzard, red kite and osprey country so train passengers sometimes gaze at tree tops and passing telegraph poles to see if anything is there. Usually there aren’t but it doesn’t stop me looking either. There’s a better chance when we get closer to Dovey Junction.

The murals painted on the walls of the station in Newtown still catch the eye although I must have seen them dozens of times just as I have seen the towering Victorian pile called Pryce Jones which was once an important department store for mid-Walians. Today it’s a Tesco’s, a Lidl and a Morrison’s that greet the passenger’s chance looks; architecturally nondescript in comparison. Even the houses that you pass repay a look. Large ones, Victorian ones, modern ones with fancy conservatories, ones possessing huge static caravans and traditional farmhouses make more interesting viewing than modern shoebox estates where to swing the proverbial cat would require dwarf varieties only.

There are those relics of the early part of the twentieth century – mock Tudor houses – that serve to remind that not far from Newtown is Gregynog the splendid home of the two sisters, Misses Davies, who endowed so many places with their gifts including the French impressionist collection at the National Museum in Cardiff. When I stayed at Gregynog I hobnobbed with such literary luminaries as Angela Carter and Emyr Humphries whilstt sharing a room with an August John and a Velasquez. The works of art, not the men.  I wonder whether those hills over which I drove are today covered with those white windmills that hover over seemingly every hill and mountain in Wales.

In the old days, drivers slowed to pass a tennis racket type contraction allowing them to pass onto the next section of the line. With some doubling of the track in plan for when the service becomes hourly next year we still pull to a halt at the house with the wooden verandas and the plastic children’s swings to await the up train before we can venture on the single track for the run to Machynlleth or Mach as locals and lazy people call it.

farm building

farm buildings down below on almost empty pasture land

Even the people are interesting. There is the guard who used to be an army bandsman who stops to discuss an upcoming concert with a passenger. And that’s another problem. The passengers are too damned convivial. They talk to each other. How am I supposed to get any work done?   There’s the lady from the university who seems to know a lot about drones and international politics and the farmers who were at the Royal Welsh show discussing knowledgeably the winner of best of breed. Where else would you get two such conversations that seem to reflect completely different times; one which could have been from almost any time in the rich Welsh past and the other that seems to herald a different future. There’s the seat overflowing lady who tucks into one of those healthy salad meals in a plastic container whilst ordering a coffee with three sugars and a chocolate bar for afters. A mother buys her daughter a drink whilst stressing to the trolley seller that she doesn’t want anything fizzy or sugary but then buys her crisps.

The valleys widen as we get to Machynlleth in preparation for the estuary. Despite the winter rains which cause so much damage, the rivers are looking pathetically shallow in places. Even the Japanese Knotwood and the Himalayan Balsam that is in flower in at the moment looks pleasant despite the panic and concern it raises.

At Mach (yes, I am lazy as well) the trains divide or merge depending on which way you are travelling. The front heads off to Aberystwyth (or Aber as everyone knows it) whilst the last couple of coaches head off to Harlech. It should go to Pwllheli and the holiday resorts up there but after the storms they are still, at work on repairing and rebuilding the track. It doesn’t stop dozens of people joining the train and heading over, suitcases or rucksacks in hand, to enjoy their week at the seaside or the dose of culture at Portmeirion. The voices aren’t Welsh but Brummy or Scouse. Except within earshot of me where they are deep Somerset. I thought they had lots of attractive scenery down there. Why have they come here to disturb me?

As we pull into Dovey Junction, the nesting plinths come into view and I strain my neck to get a view of the birds majestically atop their poles searching for any moving animal that might upset their domain. And provide dinner! Other passengers do likewise- or at least those in the know. Across the wide estuary a train is glimpsed as it meanders its way around the shoreline before heading north to the seaside towns of Towyn, Barmouth and Harlech. The estuary water is flat with barely a ripple. A few sailing boats find it difficult to find any wind and their sails wallow in pity. Its low tide and you feel that you could walk across the mudflats but safe as it looks, somewhere there are unforgiving sands. Most of the time it is just the sheep that are here but these sheep gorge on salt fed grasses making their meat prized.

welcomed by the steam of Prince of Wales as we arrived in Aber

welcomed by the steam of Prince of Wales as we arrived in Aber…

The first large clutter of caravans, tents and static mobile homes come into sight. Borth must be near. A few homes are still available but most have large or posh cars parked outside, all seemingly possessed of very recent registration plates. What is that attracts them when it seems they must have money to go wherever they please?

It’s the last leg of the journey now. Aber is no more than seven or eight minutes away but the couple opposite doze off oblivious to the fact that we are so close. I can’t slumber – I have work to do – or at least to think about! But we have to pass a magnificent garden on the right hand side first. The train drivers cannot be garden lovers as they always goes too fast and I never see all that I could. I don’t know who owns it; I don’t know its name – it’s just the house and gardens below the line but someone spends a lot of time and effort to make it attractive.

Cardigan Bay coastline

…and back to Cardigan Bay

Llanbadarn Fawr will soon rear up, the National Library standing proud as a castle on its hill and the new housing lying in its lea almost subservient to their grander neighbour. The Devils Bridge railway line will come alongside. Too late today to be escorted into Aber by the steam engine’s smokey chimney and waving passengers. They’ve already arrived and dozens are walking to the car park oblivious to the odd smut on the faces or clothes

Is it only me that is trying to work? Is it just me that isn’t dressed in a silly hat, ugly shorts and talking of adventures past? I am alone it seems, completely alone to gaze, admire and to concentrate. Is it any wonder that I hate this line.

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