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.


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.

Chasing the Dragon

Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 May 2017 – Anglesey, Wales.

Way back in June 2012, I finished my travels in SE Asia and arrived in the UK to support my Kiwi friend Malcolm Law as he, along with Englishman, Tom, set a record time in completing the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path. I wrote a bit about it here.

Since 2012 Malcolm has also completed an epic run in New Zealand, and is now on a third massive adventure. “Chasing the Dragon”, running the 1400 km Wales Coast Path AND the 285 km Offas Dyke Walkway back to back; almost circumnavigating Wales. Mal is doing this epic feat with Welsh Kiwi, James. They aim to complete this madness in 26 days’, knocking 13 days off the fastest known time; raising funds and awareness for the MIND charity in the UK and the Mental Health Foundation in NZ. The guys started when I was in Spain and this was the first weekend I had free since we got back. Naturally they were about as far from London as it was possible to be and still be in Wales. Right up in Anglesey in the north west. I was looking forward to the drive.

I left when I woke up, I have been really tired the past couple of weeks and wanted to wake naturally rather than setting an alarm for silly o’clock. It is a long drive; and it took a long time, six and half hours to Menai Bridge. I had arranged to contact the team when I arrived in Anglesey, but couldn’t get hold of anyone. I carried on driving around the coast to see if I could spot them anywhere and could not find runners, nor get hold of anyone on the phone. I eventually found a car park where I  had mobile reception and data and finally got some clues as to where they were, but more importantly where they would definitely be at 7:30 PM, in a couple of hours time.

On Wednesday when I decided to do this trip I checked for accommodation around Menai Bridge and seeing as there was so many rooms going free I did not bother to book anything, thinking I would sort out when I arrived. A bit of mistake…. When I looked on the internet in the car park, there appeared to be none left, anywhere in northern Wales apparently. I had a rather miserable phone conversation with El, thinking I was going to be driving back to London tonight, but gem that she is; she found me a room in a pub in Menai Bridge. A bedroom in a hotel above, not a room in the pub. Whew.

With my evening secured I headed off to LLanddona Beach to await Mal and James. I got there pretty early, so took a stroll up the very deserted and very wind blown beach. I liked it. Sand under the feet, the smell of the sea and the bloody cold wind.

Mal’s wife Sally, arrived at the carpark around 7:30; it was great to catch up with some news on the run so far and about friends at home. I popped back down to the beach just before Mal and James arrived and it was great to see Mal looking strong and well.

Mal and James had been running / walking for over 12 hours, so it was a quick catch up before they were whipped off by Sal to their accommodation in Bangor and I was off to my pub room in Menai Bridge.

I was staying in the Bulkeley Arms, a popular pub – seemingly with rugby players. I dumped my bag into my very small room and headed out for some food. The Bulkeley does not do food on a Saturday night so I found another pub that did, cannot remember it’s name, but I can say the food was really good and I liked the vibe as well, I stayed for a couple of pints. It seemed rude not too. Heading back to my room, I found that it is directly above the PA in the bar below and I reckon the music was louder up here than it was down there. To their credit they did say the music would be off at 12:00 and by 12:05 it was dead quiet. I still had a lousy sleep…

I was up early, breakfast was not being served until 9:30, way too late for me, I was out by 7:00. First stop was a quick photo of the hotel, even though i had a lousy sleep I quite liked the Bulkeley and I quite liked Menai Bridge, and I hadn’t even been for a walk around yet.

Next stop was a quick photo of the Auckland Arms, just because. Auckland. My home town.

When I drove down into the town of Menai Bridge yesterday afternoon I was stunned by the view, the grade 1 listed bridge finished in 1826 is a beautiful thing. I didn’t think I had the time yesterday to stop and take photos so I was quite keen for a drive / walk around this morning.

It is a lovely bridge!

I did not find anywhere open early for breakfast so I headed out of Menai Bridge along the lovely coast road to the next town Beaumaris. I stopped for a bottle of water and to fill the car at a gas station and was told about a diner in town that would be open for breakfast. It wasn’t, but the convenience store next door was; and they sold coffee and bacon rolls. Perfecto!

I took a walk around Beaumaris and liked it even more than Menai Bridge, a very attractive, (read tourist filled) town, with stunning views over mainland north Wales and the foothills of Snowdonia National Park.

Beaumaris also had a castle. I think I could move here ! I didn’t have time to explore it, plus nothing is open at 8:30 on a Sunday, but Anglesey and north Wales is somewhere I am definitely coming back to.

I took a punt on where I would find Mal and James at around 9:00 am, and headed further along the coast to Penmon.

I drove up to the ancient abbey and was just starting to have a look around when they popped out from the far side of the abbey.

I drove back down to Penmon Beach, quickly put my running shoes on, and soon enough they appeared around another bend in the road.

There was a very strong head wind along this stretch and it was not exactly warm either, but I had a very enjoyable 45 minute walk/slow jog with Mal and James, it was good to catch up and show a little bit of support for their amazing efforts. If had more time, I would have really enjoyed spending a few days with them on this journey, in this beautiful part of Britain.

However I had to drive back to London, it was a friend’s birthday this afternoon and I had 5 to 6 hours drive ahead of me. I left the boys to run into the distance and walked back to the car.

I caught up with them briefly again as they entered Menai Bridge and had a quick refuel stop, and then it was back to London for me.

I chose to drive home the slower route via the A5 and through Snowdonia, the traffic was frustrating at times, but it is a beautiful drive, though I only stopped once to take this photo. I will be back here too! Wow!

Soon enough I was back in England (I know, taking photos while driving is bad), and eventually back on dual carriage ways and manage to make some good time back home.

I loved north Wales, I will be back up there too. Beautiful part of the country and a really friendly vibe too.