Chester 2010 – Day 3

Today is a fine sunny day and we are making it our first train day. Our rover tickets are valid after 9 am and the first available train – the Holyhead train – leaves at 9:25, so we have a leisurely start.

We have learnt the value of having a hotel within easy walking distance of a main station. It takes only a few minutes to walk along City Road to Chester railway station.

City Bar
I rather like this building, with its mysterious black balcony, sleepily facing the morning sun

On the way, we kept a lookout for breakfast. Near the station there was a pub open and already serving beer at 8:30 in the morning. They offered breakfast but the place smelt of urine so we did not tarry.

On the station is a small coffee shop called Caféxpress where we bought heated breakfast baps and coffee.

A little after 9 we went through the barrier onto the platform. This is a popular train and there were already plenty of people waiting. These shuttles usually consist of only two carriages (or sometimes just one), so there is a certain amount of competition for seats.

The Holyhead train, busy as usual
The Holyhead train, busy as usual

We got a pair of seats at a table. The seats on the other side of the table were reserved from Chester but the occupants did not turn up, leaving us with comfortable leg room.

Many of our fellow passengers are young people with rucksacks, presumably heading for Snowdonia to go hiking and perhaps climbing. This is good to see. These islands contain many areas of beauty and it is only if people admire and enjoy them that they, and the wildlife to which they are home, will be preserved.

Llandudno Junction's platform inviting us to green distances
Llandudno Junction’s platform inviting us to green distances

The train carries us through green countryside with impressive views of the estuary and then the sea. The sky is summer blue with a light scattering of white cloud. It is an archetypal British summer day.


We changed trains at Llandudno Junction and took the 10:33 to Blaenau Ffestiniog. This too is a route with spectacular views of estuary, river and green hills, dotted with cattle, and scattered with farms and hamlets.


The train strikes resolutely uphill and on occasions passes through tunnels in the steepening environment. We stop at little stations that are served only on request. The river is left behind and we enter a landscape of hills, valleys and rocky outcrops.

Blaenau feels like the roof of the world
Blaenau feels like the roof of the world

We stop at Betws y Coed and then press on up the slope. It is green country pierced here and there by brown or grey rocks. Sheep graze and cows chew the cud in the shade of a copse.

A long-legged insect flies fretfully up and down the carriage, bumping against the strip lights. Eventually it comes close enough for me to catch it in my cupped hands. I thought it was a crane fly but it isn’t. Maybe it is a small species of dragonfly.

The steam train at Blaenau
The steam train at Blaenau

We are in a tunnel so I keep the insect in my hands wondering whether it will bite me. It doesn’t, and when we emerge from the tunnel I try to release it through the narrow window. It clings to my hands and my bracelets, seemingly reluctant to choose liberty. Perhaps it is the wind of our movement that perturbs it. A little gentle persuasion and at last it is gone.

Monument to the slate industry on which Blaenau Ffestiniog was founded
Monument to the slate industry on which Blaenau Ffestiniog was founded

At last we reach the end of the line at what feels like the roof of the world. Slate mountains tower above us but over all there is the blue sky and its ermine fringes of white cloud. We walk up the main street, lined with shops and “coffi2 places but we know where we are heading: to DeNiro’s cafe for a return visit and an early lunch. We are recognized and greeted, which is always nice.

Blaenau nestles among rocky hills
Blaenau nestles among rocky hills

In Blaenau there is a small (one room) museum to the vanished slate industry. It consists mainly of photos, posters and similar documents from times past and a few implements and souvenir objects. An elderly curator showed us around and added details about the slate industry, obviously from personal memory. Admission is free (donations invited) but photography is not allowed, although in fact, there is little that is photogenic. Up in the hills is the Llechwedd Slate Cavernes but as I have never visited this site, I cannot say how interesting it is.

We took the bus to Porthmadog. I made a toilet break here and emerged to find Tigger already calling from the door of a bus whose driver she had persuaded to wait for me. So, with barely time to draw breath, we were off again.

A brief visit to Pwllheli
A brief visit to Pwllheli

This bus took us to Pwllheli, where we managed a couple of photos and a brief coffee break before crossing the road to the station, a little single-track terminus. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit Pwllheli harbour which is probably the town’s most picturesque feature.

Aboard the train again with our trusty map
Aboard the train again with our trusty map

So, trusty map in hand, we boarded the two-carriage train and set off once more. The bus ride into Pwllheli had shown some pretty views but the countryside seen from the train was even better, showing hills, green fields populated by various breeds of cattle and then the sea.

Barmouth is overlooked by a steep-sided hill
Barmouth is overlooked by a steep-sided hill

We left the train at Barmouth, having carefully checked that there is a later train to take us back, by whatever stages may be necessary, to Chester.

A pretty town with a certain old-world charm
A pretty town with a certain old-world charm

This was my third visit to Barmouth though Tigger had been here before. Both my previous visits were short and this was the first chance to get an impression of the town as a whole. Barmouth (or Abermaw) is very impressive. It is a pretty town still with a certain old­world charm, an extensive harbour and a long sandy beach. The town is overlooked by a steep-sided hill on which there are also houses.

There are also houses on the hill
There are also houses on the hill

We had our evening meal in the Isis Pizzeria near the harbour and then made our way slowly back to the station.

Barmouth Harbour
Barmouth Harbour

The train was 10 minutes late but we were told that if necessary the connecting train would be held pending our arrival. In the end, I think we probably made up for the delay. At Machynlleth we changed to a train to Shrewsbury where we would change again for our final destination, Chester.

Evening sunlight at Machynlleth
Evening sunlight at Machynlleth

Today, June 21st, is the longest day. As our second train of the evening carries us through the green countryside, the shadows are beginning to lengthen, areas of golden evening sunlight alternating with shaded regions, throwing the texture of the land into relief. Sheep are still grazing on the hillsides, sometimes scampering away from the train. The sky is a duller blue and the lower clouds are taking on a duskier hue.


We reached Shrewsbury to find the Holyhead train waiting a few yards along the same platform and station staff urging us to hurry aboard. If they had managed to keep to timetable, such haste would not be required. Three more stops and we were finally back in Chester with a half moon riding high in a hazy sky.

A half moon riding high in the hazy sky
A half moon riding high in the hazy sky

This was something of a whirlwind tour day, though we did renew our acquaintance with Blaenau Ffestiniog and see more of the intriguing town of Barmouth than on previous visits. This suggests that it might be worth staying there for a few days and getting to know it and the area better.

At anchor in Barmouth
At anchor in Barmouth

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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6 Responses to Chester 2010 – Day 3

  1. Reluctant Blogger says:

    You were so near to Aberystwyth at Mach. You could have taken a small detour.

    It looks, from your photos, as if you had fabulous weather for your trip.

    Chester was always where I went to shop when I lived in Aber – not food shopping but anything else. There are no real shops in Aber so people who live there make regular forays to civilisation for goods – some choose Shrewsbury, Cardiff, Carmarthen. I always preferred Chester. Although it was always horribly busy.

    • SilverTiger says:

      We shall no doubt get to Aberystwyth eventually. There are so many places to visit, so little time in which to do so!

      The weather was exceptionally good, yes. In fact, we are sure something must have gone wrong with it as we usually have wind and rain when we travel!

      We didn’t really try shopping in Chester (or anywhere else, actually) though I have to admit (just between you, me and the gatepost) that we like shops and spend time exploring them🙂 Chester certainly seems a very lively place and of course, visually you could ask for nothing more. Through the generations, the citizens of Chester have endowed it with great beauty and I am pleased to say that that tradition seems to be continuing.

  2. BFG says:

    Ah, Barmouth. In 1973 the locals weren’t too welcoming, being mostly octogenarian and demonstrating a distinct dislike for The English.

    I still don’t speak Welsh (although I did study it for a while) but back then there was no need to, since it was pretty obvious that every other word spat at us was invective… And yes, I still like the Welsh in spite of that (that and the fact that we discovered one Sunday what a dry county was :))

    We occasionally watch Rick Steves’ European travelogues on PBS here in Los Angeles and he included a stint down the mine at Llechwedd – if you don’t mind being underground, it looks to be an interesting trip.

    • SilverTiger says:

      I visited Wales often as a child and went to school in a Welsh village for one term, so it has been interesting going back more recently. Neither then nor now did I meet any racial antagonism, perhaps then because I was a child and now because I think to see a pleasing new confidence in the Welsh nation and a justifiable pride in being Welsh.

      My other trump card is Tigger who likes to talk to people, and once she starts on them with that mischievous glint in her eye and then shows she knows as much about their town as they do, they are won over.

      I haven’t seriously attempted to learn Welsh but have made an effort to get to grips with the pronunciation of words as this is useful for asking for directions or listening to announcements. I like to hear people speaking Welsh and sincerely hope that the reported decline in the number of speakers can be reversed or at least halted. The way the imperialist English set out to destroy the native languages of these islands and elsewhere was truly wicked and I hope more than token restoration can be achieved.

      • BFG says:

        Understood and agreed about the imperialism – it happens here in the US too (the latest imperialism is to have a state try to pass a law that says English is the official language of the state when the majority of residents actually speak Spanish or some other language).

        Back in the 1970s Welsh Nationalism was pretty strong (you may recall a spoof advert on a comedy show that showed a roaring fire with a voice over that said: Come home to a real fire. Buy a country cottage in Wales…”) so the reaction wasn’t totally unexpected.

        • SilverTiger says:

          I have some sympathy for the legislators you mention. In the UK we have a lot of problems too arising from ill-advised “multi-culturalism”. The outgoing Labour government, perhaps with good intentions, appeased separatist factions too deeply and for too long. As a result we now have a fearfully long and steep hill to climb to restore order.

          The same has happened in other European countries where, as a result, the tide is turning in a pretty radical way, such as in bans on wearing the burqa and covering the face in public. If people had taken the sensible course sooner, this – and all the hostility it engenders – would not have been necessary.

          If people are going to emigrate to a country then they must accept to abide by its language, its law and its cultural norms. I don’t say that because I am some sort of fascist – I hope it is clear that I am not – but because where this does not happen conflict ultimately ensues to the disadvantage of all, including the immigrants themselves. Not to do so makes them a community apart with all the problems and resentments that that causes. I am not speaking theoretically: it has happened here.

          If you go to the Netherlands as a tourist, you can get around perfectly well speaking English because nearly everyone speaks excellent English. However, if you go there to live, you are obliged to attend classes and learn Dutch. I think that the appropriate analogue of that law should be in force in every country.

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