Thursday, March 1st 2018

The first day of meteorological spring, but with temperatures falling as low as -11C (12F) in parts of the UK, winter was not giving up easily. Now we had another storm rolling in from the Atlantic, Storm Emma, which joined forces with the ‘Beast from the East’ from Siberia to bring about further widespread snowfall and temperatures that dropped as low as -16C (3F) last night. Fortunately for us here on this North-East stretch of the coast of Wales we were not as badly hit as much of the rest of Britain, but those of us that live up here had a family ‘do’ planned in London tomorrow that we didn’t want to miss. The plan had been to drive down there today, but reports of just how bad the weather and road conditions were in the Midlands caused a rethink and we decided to take the train instead.

Friday, March 2nd 2018

I travel this route every few weeks to visit family, so not an ‘everyday trail’ it’s a fairly frequent increasingly familiar one, but seen through the seasons, I never tire of the amazing scenery along the way. Beginning on the north-east coast of Wales across and travelling down through the West Midlands to the south-east of England, the railway slices through no less than 10 counties, so I anticipated this journey would be a great opportunity to see the pattern of snow cross-country between here and there. It was bitterly cold with a strong wind blowing in off the sea this morning, but we’d had no further overnight snow here, so everything crossed we set off to nearby Colwyn Bay railway station to catch the 09.47 Virgin Holyhead to London direct train. It was on perfect time.

0948-Porth Eirias

The train we would be boarding had started at Holyhead in the north of Anglesey, crossed the Menai Strait into Gwynedd (formerly Caernarvonshire) then into Conwy County where we got on at Colwyn Bay station.  For the next forty minutes or so the railway line sticks closely to the coastline and unfolds not only glorious scenery but also presents a picture of the wider geography and gives glimpses of several significant landmarks. Minutes after leaving the station we were passing our newest landmark building, Porth Eirias on Colwyn Bay. The tide was high, the sea rushing in wildly  and despite the proximity of all that salt, snow coated the Promenade and grass verges.

View to the Little Orme from the Viaduct

A bit further on waves were crashing over the sea wall, flooding the Promenade and the road alongside. This stretch of road will probably be closed off if it hasn’t been already – the sea spray often holds stones & pebbles delivered at force that could easily break a windscreen or cause injury to a person!

Stormy Irish Sea splashing over the wall

Ten minutes later we’re approaching Rhyl, crossing over the river/afon Clwyd in full flood. This tidal river flows mainly through Denbighshire and forms the border between Denbighshire and Conwy County here at its mouth.

River/afon Clwyd flows into the Irish Sea at Rhyl

Next to the mouth of the river is Marine Lake, a 12 hectare man-made recreational lake. This is the only salt water lake in North Wales.

Snow surrounds Marine Lake, Rhyl

We stop at Rhyl station, then six minutes later we are passing the dunes at Talacre, an important ecological area for a number of reason, not least of which is for its protected population of Natterjack Toads. They also serve as protection for a colony of not-so-rare holiday homes. There is still only a light covering of snow.

Taking photographs through the window of a moving train is a hit-and-miss affair. No time for focusing, just point, shoot and hope for the best! I rather like the effect of this view through a tree  which wouldn’t be a view at all when it has leaves. You may have noticed I leave marks & highlights on or caused by reflections from the glass of the carriage windows: this is deliberate as a reminder that I was on a train!

We stop again at Prestatyn then cross into Flintshire and pass the alien-looking Point of Ayr Gas Terminal.

Still following the coastline the next stop is the county town of Flint.

Here is the wild, flat coastline of the Dee Estuary, where receding tides expose vast mud flats that attract huge numbers of wading birds. Not exactly a place you’d expect to see a beached ship! Undoubtedly the most curious local landmark this is the Duke of Lancaster, at Llanerch-y-Mor on the River Dee, near Mostyn Docks. It has been re-purposed several times since it ‘landed’ here in 1979, but has been abandoned long since.  

The dry powdery snow didn’t settle as a uniform blanket like wetter snow does. It settled into hollows and against furrows and ridges and was caught in drifts along hedges and banks accentuating every contour of the landscape. Usually full of birds, there wasn’t a single one to be seen today, hardly surprising!

Sheep, looking a rather grubby white against the brilliance of the snow were doing their best to graze on the snow-covered salt-marshes. The raised bank between the sea and the sheep field gives some protection and is also the line of the Wales Coast Path.

Sheep on snow-covered salt-marshes

At Connah’s Key there are two power stations – I think this is the Deeside Power Station as the other one only has four chimneys. Don’t take that as gospel though, my sense of what’s north and south is not always reliable, especially when travelling at speed.

Another iconic landmark is the Flintshire Bridge, it is the largest asymmetric cable-stayed bridge in the whole of Britain and when seen properly is elegant and impressive, not at all like my hasty photograph. The bridge spans the Dee Estuary, linking Flint and Connah’s Quay to the shore north of the River Dee at the southern end of the Wirral Peninsula. It carries part of the A548 road and is known locally as ‘the bridge to nowhere’. 

At 10.30 we were at Chester. This is a lovely old station with some fascinating features, but today for some reason I was drawn to photograph the old iconic red phone box. A lot of people got on here, so we probably weren’t the only ones not wanting to risk the drive. Some would be leaving the train at Crewe, a major hub station, to get connections to Manchester and other parts of the country.

1030-Chester Station

As you will have worked out, we were now in England and already in county number 4, Cheshire of course as we’d just left Chester and travelling towards Crewe. Not so much snow here, just a light scattering but enough to highlight the textures and patterns of the fields.

10:41 – Cheshire

From here on there are some great views of sections of our nationwide network of canals, in parts paralleled along their route by the railway line. It gets a bit confusing up here as there are several waterways that join into one another, but I think this is probably part of the Shropshire Union Canal that runs between Chester and Crewe. Still not a lot of snow evident, but the surface of the water is clearly frozen.

Frozen canal

10:54 – We arrived at Crewe station where a lot of people did indeed ‘de-board’.

10:59 – Cheshire

From Crewe the train doesn’t stop again until we get to Milton Keynes, so I’m not altogether sure which way we went, but possibly towards Stafford, which is straight down going directly south. From there the line goes off at what looks like a 45° angle in a straight line directly to London. There are other permutations, but all end up in the same place and we pass through county number 5 – Staffordshire.

11:04 – More frozen water

I have noticed this yellow brick building almost every time I travel this way and I’d love to know what it is! I thought it might be a crematorium as it has that really tall chimney, but this is the best photograph I’ve managed and it clearly isn’t. It has that odd bunker-looking building on this side of it and the plain white van has some kind of aerial on top of it, so I’m more intrigued than ever now. If anyone knows or has a clue, please let me know!

11:05 – Mystery building

Now in the West Midlands it became clear we’d made a sensible decision in deciding not to drive. There was a significant amount more snow and cloudy skies warned more was imminent.

The next county, number 6, is Warwickshire, where we pass through Rugby station.

11:12 – Reed-fringed pond frozen around the edges

Then we cut across the south-west corner of Northamptonshire,county number 7, the county in which I was born and grew up. More canal views here – now the Grand Union Canal and I believe we pass close by Stoke Bruerne, home of the Canal Museum. Barges weren’t moving, probably frozen in place!

11:15 – Barges frozen in place

11:54 – It’s snowing

Another canal view.

11:55- Barge on canal in the snow

From Northamptonshire we cross into Buckinghamshire, county number 8 and one of the five Home Counties that surround Greater London.

Approaching Milton Keynes you see can a church tower on the horizon. I’ve no idea where it is, but it’s big and I wonder if it could be the cathedral-like St Paul’s Church at Bedford.

12:00 – Big church on the horizon

12:03 – We arrive at Milton Keynes, the final stop before London Euston station. An announcement informs us we are 12 minutes behind schedule.

It was snowing heavily now and there wasn’t much to see as the weather closed in and obliterated much of the landscape, so no more photographs today. Parts of the remaining 40 minute journey are usually scenic – from Buckinghamshire we cross briefly into another of the home counties, Hertfordshire, county number 9, and pick up the Grand Union Canal again, passing through the towns of  Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead. Then we are soon into Greater London, county number 10, passing by the iconic Wembley Stadium shortly before arriving safely and not too far off schedule into London Euston station. 

From here I was on my own to make my way across town to Surrey in the south-west. We’d already been warned that train services in that direction had been affected by snow and stormy weather, and indeed arriving via the Underground at Vauxhall to pick up the overground train to Surbiton, I saw several trains were delayed or cancelled. Buying my ticket I was told the station would close at 8pm tonight! It was freezing cold here and snowing, but lucky for me, I got more or less straight onto a train that had been delayed by 20 minutes and reached my destination in good time. Later on in the day many people were stranded in the City or had to find other ways home.

Thanks be to the Travel Gods!