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Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Road and more road

My Worst Journeys. An occasional series

This is Tryfan in North Wales. In 1955, on leave from the RAF I spent time near Tryfan rock-climbing. A main road, the A5, passes by and I intended to hitch-hike 140 miles back to Bradford. I knew the drill, had hitch-hiked to London for a couple of holidays.

I reached the northern coast road quite quickly and turned east to pass through (preferably bypass) the resort towns Llanfairfechan, Conway and Colwyn Bay en route to Chester. A sunny summer day, lots of traffic.

You may stand forlorn at the roadside, cocking your thumb. I prefer to walk since it provides an impression of progress. But the more you walk the more you have to walk. You see a significant junction or a roundabout some way ahead and you must get to the far side, otherwise you may stop a car that's turning off. That morning and early afternoon I passed many junctions and roundabouts.

How far did I walk? It's a blur. At the worst bit the main road met an estuary and I traversed a network of unproductive suburban roads. I departed Wales, entering the land of Transport Deprivation. I knew myself to be cursed, a modern-day Walking Dutchman. I ran out of intellectual resources, unable to think constructively, unable to hold the unremitting labour at bay. My target was meaningless, the road led nowhere and I lacked identity.

A smallish pick-up stopped and I luxuriated on sacks that contained the remains of slaughtered chickens. But only for a few miles. Thereafter the processes that compile memories broke down completely and I have no idea what happened that evening. A train perhaps?

Years later I drove that road but uneasily. Rhyl is Hell, see my long short-story, The Little Black Book.


  1. From my Welsh boundary walk journal - My 2011:

    The front at Rhyl was dreadful. Blaring amusement arcades and the sickly overpowering stench of food deep fried in rancid oil which seemed to hit you in warm wafts. I couldn't, bear to go into any of the cafes.

  2. Checking the story, The Little Black Book, I find I wasn't as hard on Rhyl as I'd imagined. Or rather the dispiriting details - other than these two initial paras - were scattered thinly over the first thousand words and couldn't easily be copy-pasted. Never mind, Rhyl's true hellishness, mainly to do with its relentlessly repetitive architecture, does still exist and I must remind myself the short story was fiction, not an attempt at a guidebook.

    Rhyl’s streets unite to form wide grids; at full stretch houses at the other side of a grid seem toylike, indistinct. A well-ordered town, then, but not strong on variety. Nor is Rhyl a true resort. At the centre the sea seems distant, reduced to a utility, mainly ignored.

    It was mid-November and Reger’s twenty-minute morning walk took in the promenade simply because its white railings and beach steps identified it as somewhere else. Otherwise he’d have done better running on the spot. Out on the promenade the wind was a torment.

  3. I always wore uniform when hitchhiking when I was in the army. It made all the difference to getting a lift. Fortunately a motorcycle soon put such behind me, but folk then always seemed happy to help a serviceman. I suppose most had been through it, one way or another.

  4. Avus: When convenient, yes. But I wouldn't have gone climbing in my best blue. Passers-by might have imagined preparations for a right-wing coup.