This is the uniform we wear in Wales when embarking on a pilgrimage along the A470. To quote Wikipedia, ‘the 186 mile long road from Cardiff in the South to Llandudno on the North Coast’.
To quote the recent BBC Radio4 programme by Cerys Matthews on the Welsh M1 “the A470 is a Celtic Road and like the Celtic Knot, a symbol of infinity”. Anyone who has driven it knows exactly what that means.
When my eldest son decided to study at the most geographically awkward University possible – Bangor, North Wales – I knew it was time to fall back in love with the A470.
By the way, when I say Bangor is difficult to get to from Cardiff, I don’t mean in the sense of rickety rope bridges or negotiating river rapids on a wooden raft; although you can probably do that if you go via Aberystwyth.
There are many reasons why I love the A470; it is beautiful, diverse, historic and challenging; but above all it is a really good opportunity for a chat* (*travelling companion required). Let me explain.
The Beautiful Infrastructure Top Ten. The A470 has much of the best of what Wales has to offer:
- It meanders through 2 of our 3 National Parks – beautiful scenery overload TICK
- 21st Century City (Cardiff) to Medieval Market Towns (dozens) TICK
- Industrial Heritage. Coal, Iron, Metal Ore Mining, Quarrying – we’ve got it all TICK
- Religion. Chapels every 100 yards or so. Historic Abbeys etc TICK
- Nuclear Power Stations, Hydroelectric, Wind Turbines (on & offshore) TICK
- Farming, 9 million sheep, cows, chickens and all that stuff TICK
- Mountain Ranges, with ‘interesting’ mountain passes. TICK
- Rivers, Lakes and Trees. TICK
- Castles. More than you can shake a stick at. TICK
- Scenery. Did I mention it is astonishingly beautiful? TICK
A good opportunity to chat – The Green Desert.
Bits (most) of Mid Wales have been called the Green Desert. This can be because getting a phone signal, mobile broadband or even digital radio can be a bit challenging. Now, some people might consider this to be a problem.
Not me, I quite like the digital isolation. What it allows you to do is have a really good conversation with your travelling companion.
So who do you talk with?
When my kids were younger we didn’t go on holiday anywhere that was more than 2 hours away. I just couldn’t cope with 6 of us being locked in the car for any longer. So, I never thought I would be saying, “I look forward to 5 hour car journeys with my eldest son”. As it turns out he is a fine companion, this is how it works:
- 5 hours is a long time. So settle into a more relaxed mindset. There is no point rushing, on the road, or in conversation.
- Business can be sorted at the beginning or end. There is always some mobile phone signal around the A55 in the North, or South of Merthyr Tydfil. Anything important can be dealt with then (phone Mum!).
- Side by side is good. Being sat side by side in the car allows for the more interesting topics to be discussed. Floating an idea or touching on tricky issues can be done without entering dangerous eyeball to eyeball territory. This is why sitting across the table on the train is never as effective.
- Silence is acceptable. The length of the journey means that nobody is expecting 100% conversation. Picking up and putting down a topic, with episodes of silence in between is perfectly acceptable.
- The A470 does its bit. Did I mention it is really beautiful? Commenting on the wonders of Wales can provide a useful break in conversation if you need one.
- Sharing helps. Sharing the driving helps on both a practical and emotional level. There is a lot of trust required if you are prepared to let someone else drive. Particularly the case if you take the short cut through the mountain roads near Corris, on a dark and rainy November night.
The consequence of all this? Well I actually now look forward to a shared 5 hour A470 road trip with my son.
Does this work for every travelling companion?
Over the years I’ve travelled the A470 with many work colleagues. The things I’ve mentioned about my road trip with my son work just the same. It is an excellent opportunity to have a really good conversation. Get to know that person a bit better, talk about what makes each of you tick, and even discuss a bit of business.
Finally a confession. I do use the A49 via Hereford and Shrewsbury quite a lot, and the train. Sometimes, unfortunately, the need for speed overrides my desire for good conversation. Also, we don’t always wear the uniform pictured, sorry…..but I am thinking of asking the Welsh Assembly to pass a law.
So, what’s the PONT?
- The A470 is more than just a road through the middle of Wales.
- The opportunity for 5 hours of conversation with a family member, friend or colleague should be cherished and used.
- Agree beforehand who is going to drive the hilly bits if you take the shortcut through Corris.
Here’s the link to episode 1, 10th January 2014
As an extra treat for A470 enthusiasts, here’s a song that mentions the A470, The Size of Wales (same as New Jersey, USA apparently) by the Gaudy Orde. It is brilliant in many respects, thanks Jacob.