Leaving Cheltenham railway station with its newly enlarged car park, almost empty whether through Covid-19 or high charges I’m not sure; it doesn’t take long to observe the great divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in our sceptred and struggling isle.
Passing beautiful villages in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, the river Avon lined with small cruisers, sweeps towards Tewkesbury in the early morning mist. The magnificent tower of the Abbey glows golden in the rising sun. Further on I spot what looks like an Elizabethan timbered Manor House surrounded by pastures. There’s an avenue of majestic trees leading to nowhere, but impressive none the less. Smaller, but equally grand houses, peep out from manicured lawns and tastefully arranged woodland.
In no time at all this rural idyll is replaced by a growing development of high-rise flats, which are so close to the railway line that they must be quaking. Rows of diggers, lorries and trucks continue to gouge deep foundations out of the earth where more flats are being constructed.
Then as if to mock the builders there are two towering apartment blocks totally smothered in scaffolding. This is the Grenfell Tower legacy. On 14 June 2017 a 24-storey block of flats in London, named Grenfell Towers, caught fire and 72 people lost their lives. Countless other people lost everything and were made homeless. The way the fire was able to spread so rapidly and with such devastating consequences was due entirely to the shocking commercial decision to use inferior but cheaper cladding to face that and many other tall buildings. As a result, unsuspecting homeowners across the UK are now saddled with the cost of removing and replacing it. Hence the scaffolding on many tall buildings.
Beyond Birmingham and travelling through Staffordshire the effects of the current Coronavirus pandemic are obvious in the empty car parks and deserted shopping centres that are a feature of every reasonably-sized town in the country.
On the train social distancing is obvious too, with alternate seats vacant and the few brave travellers all sporting masks in every shade and pattern.
The UK has just entered its second period of restrictions to protect the Economy, the NHS and the people in that order.
Businesses are allowed to open but workers are advised to stay at home. Schools, colleges and universities are open, and the seasonal colds and flu that affect the majority of students as the autumn chill and rain replaces the heat of summer, strike fear into every teacher’s heart.
Everyone with symptoms is advised to get tested for Covid-19, but with typical British incompetence, it is almost impossible to get a test anywhere near to home.
Travelling through Shropshire now, the countryside is beautiful with miles of farmland, reservoirs, rivers and woods. It seems much less densely populated than other areas. However, the fields are torn apart by the motorways and dual carriageways that are almost deserted today. Travelling is very restricted due to the virus.
Entering Shrewsbury station there are more people lining the platforms. It looks like the set of a very low-budget horror film, with everyone wearing masks.
The small grubby trains of Transport for Wales soon block my view. I can’t help mentally comparing them with the sleek and spotless high-speed trains in other European countries I have visited. I do wonder if we are leaving the European Union because we simply can’t compete with many of the members on any level.
Once we are out of the EU, our government will be able to spout their rhetoric about being ‘world beating’, as we lag further and further behind. We will be left with our grotesque class system, abhorrent inequality, inadequate housing supply, struggling health system, divisive school system, hopeless and horrendously expensive transport system, crumbling roads and pavements, totally out of touch toffs in power and collapsing infrastructure.
Coming into Chester there is a Royal Mail depot with crimson red vans of various sizes manoeuvring around the yard before heading out on the road. This reminds me of all the posties who have kept on working throughout the pandemic. Along with all the emergency services, shopkeepers and care workers; these people who are amongst the lowest paid workers in the country, have kept things ticking over with some semblance of normality.
It makes me wonder why council teams couldn’t keep working to repair roads and pavements while there was little traffic and few pedestrians out and about. They would have been out in the open air and could have worked safely.
Into Wales now and passing Rhyl there are hundreds of static homes near the sea. Some are on holiday parks. They go on and on to Prestatyn. The trainline follows the coast and the views are spectacular. From here to Colwyn Bay, all along the horizon, there’s a wind farm with row upon row of majestic wind vanes.
As we leave Colwyn Bay there are some lovely big houses followed by smart farms with healthy looking cattle and sheep. And, suddenly the walls of a vast castle looms over the line. It is the magnificent Conwy Castle.
The industrial park at Llandudno Junction looks very busy with parked cars. Here in North Wales there is no sign of the lockdown that is affecting the South due to high numbers infected with the virus.
The coastline is gorgeous from here on and it is lovely to see rows of neatly tended allotments facing the sea.
The farms get more and more idyllic as we travel slowly round the North Wales coastline on the way to Bangor. The sheep and cows grazing in the fields of lush grass have no idea how lucky they are as their pasture slopes gently to the sea.
Ty Coes is a request stop and the guard comes round to ask if anyone wants to get off. Very quaint and rural! No-one does. Rosneigr is very boggy land with ducks enjoying the peace.
Then the lush, level land starts to get rockier, with boulders and bumps covered in gorse. And, in no time at all the train arrives in Holyhead. Many of the photos below were taken from the train so I apologise for the poor quality, But they do give a flavour of the beauty of the North Wales coast.