Welsh Rock (in Birmingham)

Birmingham Town Hall from Chamberlain Square – cut from Anglesey stone

Welsh Rock – travelling between Birmingham and Anglesey

Rain streams down the carriage windows. The train smells of damp, fusty overcoats and sticky lattes. The doors stutter open and commuters spill out venting their frustration on broken umbrellas and stubborn zips. Welcome to Birmingham New Street, the sign reads.

A turquoise train squeals to a halt on the opposite platform. We’re seven minutes late so I don’t usually see this one. ‘Holyhead’ blinks on its electronic display. This train will take almost four hours to make its way along the Welsh coast. Sadly, the announcement is automated. We don’t get to hear the world’s longest place name – Llanfair PG for short – attempted in a Brummie accent.

Hazy peaks of Snowdonia

I could jump aboard and leave the world of spreadsheets and emails far behind. I could loosen my tie, hang up my jacket and kick off my shoes in the dunes. I’d lie in the hot sand gazing at the hazy peaks of Snowdonia. I’d run into the sea kicking and splashing. In childhood memories the sun is always shining, even during the wettest summer in memory.

I duck my head into my collar and dash for the office. The downpour becomes a deluge and rivers of rainwater rush along the kerb. My socks are soaked through and my trousers plastered to my legs. I duck beneath the huge pillars of the Town Hall watching needles of rain dash against the marble. I step inside and order coffee, tilting the chairs against a table to form a clotheshorse. My notes are damp and wavy at the edges like a clamshell. I phone Tracey and tell her we all need a break and I know just the place.

Penmon Priory

We follow a lane striped down the middle with turf and busy with sprinting rabbits. Our chalet lies in half an acre of pasture and wildflowers, hemmed in by brambles and outbuildings. After tea we pick our way through bracken and curious cows to the ancient stones of Penmon Priory. We pass an abandoned quarry tucked away almost unnoticed beyond hedgerows and gorse. Once, the sound of tools must have rung out across the waters, but now there is only the cry of seagulls.

Back at the chalet we sit on the porch sipping wine under the stars. The lights on a tanker shimmer far out in Liverpool Bay. Tracey fetches a book left among the leaflets for visitors. It’s self-published, dog-eared and brimming with local stories.

‘You never said anything,’ she says.

She hands me the book, pointing at a paragraph framed with a smudge of jam.

Penmon, where the stone was cut

‘Because I didn’t know,’ I say.

Menai Bridge

We learn the quarries down by the Priory supplied stone for the Menai Bridge and the rebuilding of bomb-ravaged Manchester and Liverpool. Anglesey Marble was shipped by sea and canal to build Birmingham Town Hall in 1834. All those coffees I’d had and meetings I’d attended there and I’d no idea.

‘Well you won’t need to take any Welsh rock home,’ Tracey says, ‘We’ve got plenty.’


About richlakin

I write about things that interest me
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