Bench 11: River Woods

About seven months ago I started going for an additional walk or two a day. Not far, not really. Not much more than around the block. But the steps all add up. Seven-ish in the morning and then again at lunchtime, which for me is between one and two. Maybe half an hour, forty minutes each time out. That’s about four thousand steps a time, sometimes a little less. That supposed target daily of ten thousand steps thus remains tantalizingly out of reach.

Then again, the ten thousand steps assertion is – as we all know by now – a bit of an invention. Something developed as a marketing gimmick by the Yamasa Corporation in Japan, who’d invented a wearable pedometer as a cash-in on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The device was called Manpo-Kei, which translates into English as “ten thousand step meter”. And there we have it. A Yamasa scientist, among other innovations, was the first to identify and specify the distinctive chemical attributes of umami as a flavour: the company developed an umami flavouring additive (monosodium glutamate derived from dried seaweed) which is still sold as Yamasa Flave.

So, big up the Yamasa Corporation. and yah boo sucks to the notion of ten thousand steps a day. That’s not to say that walking isn’t good for you as a form of low-impact and free (if you discount time and shoe leather) exercise that can be done by just about anyone. Recent research by the University of Sheffield indicates that three brisk ten-minute walks per day (which for me comes to about five thousand steps in total) is more than sufficient to make a positive contribution to a healthy lifestyle. You can read the research here.

The point of all of this is that I’m out on one of my little walks. And there’s been that nagging voice reminding me that I get to go past all kinds of handy sit-down opportunities, and that I’ve been neglecting their blogging potential. And so here we are. Bench 11.

Bench 11: https://what3words.com/willpower.hack.afford

The river Dee runs west to east through Llangollen. Here, the river also acts as a guide to other modes of transportation: the main roads in and out of town on either side, the canal, the heritage railway line. And the path that takes you by the bench.

The path itself is – depending which way you come at it – either an extension of the walkway through Victoria Park from the town centre or else a useful cut-through from Park Avenue to the town along the river via the same park. To one side, the water. To the other, the heft of Aldi and Home Bargains beyond, plus their ample car parking. There’s pedestrian access to the shops from the path, and a series of desire lines down to the water’s edge.

Signs at intervals assert the need to have a licence if you want to fish here. Not that many do, but sometimes there’s fishing to be seen of the up-to-chest-in-waterproofs kind ongoing. Most often, though, it’s ducks, a heron or two, and weekenders on adventure breaks being guided down the Dee in one of an assortment of floaty craft.

What passes for a welcome.

The bench itself is an uncompromising thing. Tubular steel construction, a smattering of graffiti. Its relative obscurity makes this place good for contemplation, drinking from the bottle, furtive petting. Then again, you could just get a sandwich and some Fanta from Home Bargains and watch the water flow by.

Today’s a cold, bright, January Monday. Clear skies and still cold enough in places for there to be frost where direct sunlight hasn’t driven the rime off. One of those days when you wish you had sunglasses with you so that you didn’t have to squint. The fella on the tills in Aldi was saying to the customer ahead of me in the queue that they couldn’t read their screen because of the glare, and that it was hot where he was sitting. Low sun, big windows. They’ll get you every time.

The urge to make our mark on the world.

There’s a bit of a walk along the water to other fishing spots, plus there’s an awkward hexagonal sewage system access point. You could bring some chairs, set up a disposable barbecue, make yourself a picnic if you fancied. There’s a bit of litter about. Crisp packets, a flat wax paper pyramid: all-day breakfast on white bread. No excuse, lads. Sometimes here there’s clusters of kids in school uniform: one of those hang-out spots. Somewhere to tell tall tales after school. There’s often a gaggle or two of children hereabouts first thing, most often towards summer. A local thing is being out early, hitting the big shops when they open, having a breakfast of Oreo wannabes away from parental eyes.

I root in my bag for a drink.

A coffee would have been preferable, but Aldi’s knockoff vitamin water (apple and raspberry since you ask, a drink as red as Hammer stage blood) will have to do. There’s not much doing, which is the way it should be. The heritage railway doesn’t run on Mondays at this time of year: if it did there’d be the occasional train.

Weekends would also bring helmeted and Go-Proed kayakers, or else river bugs full of hen do folk. You’d get a wave, and you’d raise your flat red not-quite-pop by way of recognition. The alternative is that you’d watch, impassive, like Boorman mountain people with a hankering for the soft veal of city folk. Stare them downstream, so that they’d have a banjo impression for the pub tonight.

Naa.

There’s the white crest of the pavilion where they hold the International Eisteddfod in the years when there’s no pandemic raging. Word is that it’s back for 2022 after two years fallow. We’ll see. The town could probably do with it. Llangollen is a summer town, after all, and it needs summer dollars. It ticks over with round-the-year tourism but that’s about it. Another dry season, and maybe locals’ thoughts will turn to the rich red meat paddling itself down the river.

At least if there’s reason to be hunting man-flesh there’ll be a sturdy place to rest while you’re skinning your kill.

There’s more of this kind of thing here in book form.

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