Newport, Wales

23 January 2020 – Newport, Wales.

Newport was an unusual place for me to visit. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) on, let alone high on, my ‘must go to’ list. However, it was good to get the opportunity to go there when the boss suggested we visit the data team at the ONS (Office of National Statistics), a government department we do some work with. They are ahead of us in a number of areas, so we wanted to see them in location and pick their brains. It was also a chance to spend some time out of the office together and for a bit of team bonding; i.e. sit in the pub over a glass of wine or two…

It was also a very good opportunity to take more photos out of the window as the train moved through the countryside. I have experimented with this in the past, and had recently decided to investigate this again as a possible photographic project.

This project was partly inspired by the recent purchase of the 1997 record by the Montreal based post-rock band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. There are different versions of the cover, and this one makes me think of long distance train travel, through somewhere sparse and empty. The accompanying music suits the image just fine, and sparseness in both image and music suits me just fine.

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I had the GX800 camera with a wide angle lens with me and took a number of photos out of the window as we traveled west towards Newport in South Wales in the early afternoon. This has been edited a bit in Lightroom, all of my photos are; but not by much, conversion to black and white, a bit of a crop and some tonal adjustments. I was pretty happy I managed to capture the spirit of the LP cover!

We arrived in Newport around 4:00, and after dumping bags and laptops at the Travelodge by the station we left for a walk to explore a little of the town, before an early dinner and couple of glasses of wine in the Wetherspoons over the road from the hotel. Newport is on the River Usk and we wandered down to the water front first. The river is not the most scenic, I am guessing it reasonably shallow and sand or mud based, and quite fast flowing. It was very brown. I can almost see why it has been cut off from the rest of the town by a busy, hard to cross road. More on those roads later.

The town is run down, it was a grey late afternoon, and it was not hard to feel a bit low and feel a bit for the people of Newport. We ate very early in an Indian restaurant at the far end of what I am guessing is the high street. We were the only people there.

Walking back to the pub next the hotel we passed too few people, too many closed shops and the pubs and restaurants that were open were pretty deserted. The pub was half full, mostly middle aged men drinking cheap pints. The three of us (metropolitan liberal elites from London) drank red wine. There was only three bottles on the shelf and we drank two of them, hopefully they had more hidden away else we depleted there stock. Not a lot of call for red wine in a Newport Wetherspoons?. It was not a joyous place, but neither was it a sad or miserable place. It was an early night.

We had arranged to meet at 8:30 for breakfast at the nearby McDonalds; no expense spared on a work trip! before grabbing a taxi for our day of meetings. I had had a poor sleep and had been awake since 4 or 5 am so got up at 6:45, had a shower and a coffee and wandered off out for a walk soon after it was light. It was grey, cold, dank, again.

I went back down to the river to have a look at the ruins of an old fort on the riverbank. The light seemed perfectly adequate for taking photos, especially at 1600 ISO, but it was difficult and a lot of the images I took were blurry. There was a lot of deletion.

I found a series of tunnels crossing under the busy main road between the town and the river, all meeting in a roundel in the middle, like a smaller version of the bear pit in Bristol; and not as well looked after. This little corner of Newport is just one big collection of roads.

There are some nice buildings in the centre, it was a wealthy river port town in its heyday and there was obviously some wealth here.

Crossing under another main road, this one separating the station from the town, I was soon walking up hill.

There is a tall tower looming over the station side of the town which I noticed when we arrived, I had 15 minutes left before meeting the guys so wanted to see what it was. I found it easily enough; there was nothing else that high!

It is part of the council buildings, and it is a pretty cool tower. It must have had some purpose, though I have no idea what it was, or is. Reading about it, I think it is just there to be a vanity tower, and it was certainly controversial when it was built with many residents not wanting it.

It was time to meet my work colleagues back at the hotel, looping around the other end of the central train station, and meeting another busy road.

I know Newport is not a tourist town, and it will unlikely ever be. It is very much a car town. Like Hastings there is a station and buses, maybe they don’t go where people want them to go so they drive. Everywhere. Leading to roads and roads, and more roads, and a pretty rubbish experience for walkers. Sad.

The work part of the day was pretty good, we had meetings with two different teams from the ONS, talking to them about data, data management and governance. It was far more interesting than it sounds here 🙂

I experimented with a few more photos out the train window on the way home, I think the monochrome look is much closer to the one I want, and I definitely want the focus to be on the window rather than the countryside. Weird as that sounds.

The top one is my favorite from the day as it has the unusual focus I want and some of the reflection from the lights inside the carriage to enhance the feel of rapid movement and a snap observation of the outside world.