Review 2005

Alistair Myles

Having lived so close to North Wales for so many years but never mustered the time or inclination to make a proper foray over the border, one of my highlights of 2005 has to be going on a trip to Llandudno. It might not sound much, and it's certainly no epic voyage through hundreds of miles of unrelenting countryside, but it was something I'd always longed to do, figuring it was about as far as I could get into Wales by train, have some hours to explore, and still get back home within the day.

After an unprepossessing start picking my way through the rather grimy out-of-season detritus of such coastal high spots as Flint and Rhyl, the scenery suddenly opened out as the mountains of Snowdonia rose in the far distance and the huge open promenades of Colwyn Bay and Llandudno hoved into view. I'd expected both places to be pretty much deserted given the weather (bitterly cold, but brilliantly sunny) and the time of year, but no - they were bustling with shoppers and moochers and loads and loads of pensioners. All the same there was enough open space to feel properly alone and undisturbed, as I found when I got into Llandudno itself and marvelled at the row upon row of hotels and guest houses, none of which seemed to have any residents inside.

I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with the few hours I had at my disposal, preferring to let my feet take me wherever they wanted and so avoid having too much of a pre-ordained plan of action. So I trekked down the pier and back again, consulted the giant war memorial, searched in vain for a decent bit of lunch, and browsed the generously positioned town maps for inspiration. All the while, however, my attention kept being drawn to the giant outline of the Great Orme: a huge outcrop of cliffs and hills towering above the town and dramatically jutting out into the Irish Sea.

I knew the view from the top would be amazing, but both the tram and cable car service to take you there were closed.

So in the end I just started walking. And I walked all the way up to the top, past warrens of houses cut into the rock at a multitude of auspicious angles, past the dry ski slope and toboggan run, past herds of mountain goats scrabbling their own way up the Orme, emerging to find one of the most fantastic, jaw-dropping panoramas I'd ever seen.

There was something about being up there, with so many miles of openness all around and having accomplished such a climb, that helped turn the hour or so I spent loitering atop this titanic prominent into one of the most magical moments of the year. Sure, it was freezing cold and blowing a gale, but it'd been ages since I'd felt so out of the rituals and routines of normal existence, and so far from the clatter and confusion of the everyday. The light was such that I could see far far inland, as well as right out over the sea towards Anglesey - destination on a fair few family holidays - and back in the other direction towards Formby and Southport. For a time there was nobody else up there, and when the wind dropped there was a kind of silence so profound and unbroken as to be almost unsettling.

I just could not believe that within 48 hours all of this would have been substituted for an office and a crappy computer screen a few inches in front of my nose. The contrast was almost too much to bear.

Anyhow, the trip turned out to be everything I'd expected and way way more. It reminded me of how important it is to make the effort to see the kind of country that lies out of sight just round the corner. And it supplied me with a host of images and emotions I can, if I dig deep enough, still return to in those moments when I feel I'll never be able to escape my present less-than-happy circumstances ever again.

Alistair Myles writes Visions Before Midnight

For an introduction and list of contributors to Review 2005, follow this link.

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