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:

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.


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.

Benches 9 and 10: Tan Y Plas

Our first two-fer. And a location that you wouldn’t know was there if you weren’t on foot. You can stick your cars for this kind of caper. If you don’t pound the streets, then you don’t get the treats.

Benches 9 and 10. Location:

A little context first. Tan Y Plas is at the junction of Regent Street and Hall Street. The pedestrian access is on Hall Street, but I’ve used the different name in the post title in part to differentiate it from Bench 3, which is at the other end of Hall Street. The benches nestle in the vee of the junction. A neat use of a dab of land that would otherwise have gone to scrub.

I’m not sure at all what Tan Y Plas means. I assumed at first that it was Something Place. This kind of name you might well give to a cul-de-sac. Tan Y Plas is a development of one-bedroom flats for residents aged 55 or over. The fine print on the website of the organisation that sorts out applications for rentals and the like says that pet-wise, you can move in with a cat but that – somewhat ominously – that they are “not to be replaced”. A further bit of googling took me to a Welsh-English translation site. I tried a few to be on the safe side.

Tan Y Plas translates literally as “until the mansion”. Now, that sounds to me a touch Methodist. And given that these are accommodations for older and retired folk, this (on the very wobbly assumption that the translation is accurate and actually references the Welsh), takes on a fresh meaning. Somewhere to wait out your years until, well, you know. The great hereafter. And like the King James version says (and why would you waste your time with any other sort of Bible?), “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you”. That’s John 14:2, in case you need it, and the only mention of a mansion in the favoured reference work of hotel rooms worldwide.

I’ not sure I care what Tan Y Plas really means. I’ve found my own meaning, it fits, and that’ll do very nicely.

All coquettish-like.

So, Benches 9 and 10. Tan Y Plas has a bit of hard standing to one side of the flats, and something of a chicane of a path that leads, somewhat unpromisingly, into a seating area screened off on two sides by tall hedges. Secluded. Out of the way. Private. It is, however, directly accessible from the footpath, so it’s kinda next to the flats rather than a strict part of the garden. In other words, it’s a public amenity, and that’s why we’re here. That said, I daresay that it was intended as a little bit of outdoors for the folk in the flats. Somewhere to sit out, maybe have a smoke, have a think about their cat.

It’s a damp Sunday morning in November when I’m here. Sunny now, but it’s been raining on and off for most of the last week. Underfoot, there’s a mulch of autumnal leaf-fall and discarded rubbish. You can tell something about public seating by the way its users treat it. I’d guess there’s two main sorts of regulars. In the day – and maybe not that often at this time of year – flat-dwellers from the Tan Y Plas development. At night? That’s when the others come.

Do you see the beast? Have you got it in your sights?

As Ray Mears is to animal spoor, so the urban wanderer is to hedge litter. Soft drinks bottles, sandwich containers, fag ends. Cans that once held pop, a discarded Fosters lager empty, a carrier bag like the skin shed by a ghost.

Signs and sigils, all.

There’s no excuse for it, not really. Take your rubbish with you.

Nope, there’s no bin, but there doesn’t need to be. There’s plenty of bins on the way home whichever way you might go from here. I didn’t think to check, but communal buildings like this usually have a lidded Biffa-style baby skip to hand. There’s options, though. And beyond that, your pockets.

Needs a womble.

I’d hope that in the drier and warmer months that the residents – and/or any warden of whatever kinda maintenance and gardening arrangement might be operational with the housing association-style landlords – keep an eye on things. Daresay there’s someone who likes to tut and sweep up. Who maybe misses having a back garden of their own and doesn’t really mind pottering about with their big gloves on with picking up a little bit of rubbish.

The view from Bench 9, back to Tan Y Plas.

And besides, the benches bear signs that someone’s at least watchful enough to ask for repairs. More than one of the wooden slats has been replaced, and relatively recently too.

Concrete legs, this pair of benches have. A once over with some durable paint wouldn’t go amiss, but that’s probably a job for Spring.

One of the benches is bigger than the other: the smaller of the two has had the part of the seating and the backrest that would otherwise have overhung trimmed off. Maybe the wall that butts up to this bench post-dates it, and the bench got lopped off at both ends for the sake of symmetry. Maybe there was a work crew with a job sheet, trying to do the best they could with what they had.

The view from Bench 10. No murders done in that house whatsoever.
Nevertheless, a view of Panorama Walk, which is up on the hillside opposite.

Still, this is a place you can sit out. If you want to see such things, there’s a view of the traffic on the main road. A comforting reminder, maybe, that if you’re retired that you don’t have to rush around any more. If you sit back, behind that big, old, and slightly spooky house, there’s the mountains.

And if you’re a kid here at night, in those awkward years between the first tickle of puberty and being able to bluff your way on your own in a pub-style situation, then places like this are great too. Somewhere to go, somewhere to be, somewhere to bring someone.

If you can, though, take your rubbish with you when you go.

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

Bench 8: St Collen’s churchyard

A new bench. Brand spanking new. Box-fresh. Is that word usually hyphenated? I’ve got a tendency to be liberal with my use of hyphens. I blame the giddiness brought about by an all-too-rare (there I go again) spotting of un bench nouveau, as our Gallic chums almost certainly don’t say.

Bench 8. Location:

We’re in the churchyard. St Collen’s is Llangollen’s principal – parish, I daresay – church. From what I can tell, it’s at the High Church end of the Church in Wales’s ministry. There’s another – St John’s, on Abbey Road – but a wander down there is for another time. What I mean when I say High Church (and this is both subjective and half-remembered from a youth part-spent in church choirs) is that we’re getting toward the Roman Catholic end of things. Smells and bells. Fancy.

St Collen’s is in the middle of town. The church’s land is a stone and grass island between the A5 and the river, backing onto the creamy hulk of The Hand Hotel. For a lot of folk it’s a handy cut-through. That’s how I’ve got here today. I’m on my way to the Co-op, and the quickest way from my place to the supermarket is to nip through The Hand’s car park, across the churchyard, and out the other side, coming out on to the main road opposite Kelly’s Chippy.

Approaching from The Hand

And there she is. Bench 8. Are benches gendered, and if so, are they female, like ships seem to be? Sure. Why not? Bench 8 in all its glory. The first – if I remember right – bench of postmodern construction that I’ve come across in town. No wood and cast iron here, buddy. No stainless steel and Hammerite. Some kind of plastic; a polycarbonate, I’d wager. Doesn’t need repainting, and won’t rust. Might not biodegrade either, come to think of it, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A sturdy construction, and built to last, to the extent of being anchored at opposite corners as a protection against those who might add to their garden ornamentation through Commandment-troubling means. Let’s hope the bench stands by the church for the foreseeable.

A bench in a churchyard isn’t the most outrageous of installations, you might think. These are places of contemplation and of remembrance, as well as of hanging about waiting for the wedding photographer to get his precious lights just right. Of sly fags while the departed is being decanted from their hearse. Plus, they tend to be quiet spots for lunch, for having a bit of a ponder, for necking your cider (is that even a teenagerly thing any more, or has it gone the way of white dog poo and Spangles?) or simply for contemplating mortality.

However, this is the sole example of public seating to be had here. There’s a few low walls for pile-troubling perching, but this addition makes the place that little bit more welcoming. A bench is an invitation both to come and to stay, after all, and I daresay that in these days of aging congregations and dwindling church attendance levels, then a little bit of welcome is to be appreciated.

From the bench

I’m not a churchy fella, but St Collen’s seems to do its bit in outreach and community support terms, so that’s all good. Plus the newish vicar has a yen for music hall; his Twitter header at the time of writing has a pic of him with Ken Dodd, and you can’t say fairer than that. Mebbe he’s been instrumental in having this bench installed. Not Doddy. Dodd’s dead, baby, Dodd’s dead.

It’s entirely possible that the bench is a replacement for some long-gone predecessor. Whatever the reason for the bench’s genesis, though, I’m glad that it’s here.

It’s a lovely green spot. Folk get the cemetery treatment these days and appear to have done for some time, so the headstones hereabouts date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Tablets with brief family histories; children taken before their time, occupations and marital statuses recorded as being as important as the dates of death and of birth. Time and subsidence have made their effects felt. Headstones stand awkwardly, have been part-swallowed by the ground, have toppled. Tombs have slumped, their sides opened as though kicked out by the recalcitrant dead.

One memorial, though, is the undoubted star of the show. Llangollen’s most famous former residents, Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler, the somewhat euphemistically-named Ladies of Llangollen, rest nearby. Their monument, an impressive structure with railings and a sense of being well-cared for, is just over there. A clear view from where I’m sitting. Pleasingly, the three faces of the memorial detail not only the Misses Butler and Ponsonby, but also commemorate the life of Mary Carryl, a lifelong companion and maidservant to the Ladies. We’ll get in time to Plas Newydd, where the three lived, and doubtless there’ll be an opportunity to chat about them some more then.

Time to shift. The Co-op waits for no man. Autumn is in full effect. There’s a bit of a chill, and a coffee from the Costa machine will be a welcome supplement for the walk back.

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

Bench 7: Parade Street

Oh, there you are. It’s been a while. Consider this a partial return. A bit of limbering up as autumn turns to winter and as the hellscape of 2020 mutates into whatever feral thing 2021 may prove to be. We’ll need a sit down.

And it’s that need for perching places that has been recognised by the local deities. Or maybe by some council bod, who – having got fed up with the spare bit of public seating cluttering up the yard at the back of the town hall building, as noted last year – decided to get the Public Amenities (Reposing and Recumbent) subcommittee quorate so that something could be done.

And something done there has been. Bench 7, ladies and gentlemen.

Bench 7: location

Back in use! Back on the mean streets of Llangollen, and somewhere useful as well! Being directly opposite the town’s (well, only, really) main bus stop, and in being around the corner of the town hall building from Bench 5, multiple functions are immediately signified. Tourist and shopper overspill from Castle Street. Somewhere to ponder the vanilla dribble down the cone from your ice cream from the kiosk at the junction. A place to wait for the Number Five to Wrexham, away from the teeming masses in and near the bus stop itself. Or maybe there’s pressing town council business afoot, and this offers the appointee a socially-distanced place to wait before being summoned into the halls of local power. Then again, it could simply be that someone in authority who works not too far away has got fed up having to stand while they vape.

Whatever’s triggered this, it could be the single best thing that 2020’s offered the town.

I like the bench. I mean, look at it. Wooden and weathered, the Thorley Walters of benches. I appreciate that no-one thought to sponge it down after siting it in place, let alone give it a coat of paint. That would only draw attention to it in ways unbecoming. Passing itself off as a new bench rather than one that’s been repurposed, re-sited, or simply replaced. It’s entirely possible that it’s been returned to its rightful home after time way for repair (though none’s immediately noticeable). Whatever the reason for its taking away and its recommissioning, it’s all good. Benches are made to be sat upon, and that’s what I’ve been doing.

Note my coffee perched next to the street name.

This is another early-ish Sunday morning walk. I’ve been on a minor mission. My quest: sweet mint jelly. Don’t ask. But, Stan’s didn’t have any, and neither did the Co-Op. I’ll try the town’s two delis (what we lack in public transport infrastructure we more than make up for with artisan chutney retailers) later.

I’ve ended up buying some slightly pricey piccalilli, a packet of Halloween-themed Jaffa Cake bars, and a coffee. The Jaffa Cakes are “Fruity Blackcurrant” flavour. A scan of the ingredients shows that this equates to 5% blackcurrant juice. Ribena cake, basically. All good. The coffee’s from the service-yourself Costa machine in the Co-Op. I like those machines. Always have. The instructions on the screen, the ritual and the sequence of doubling up on cups for insulation and health and safety, the barcoded receipt you get to scan into the self-service till. It’s like living in the future. Anyway, transactions completed and purchases made without talking to anyone in the little supermarket, I’ve got something to sip on while pondering benches. Too early for a cake bar though.

Above the bench, a window. And on the sill, a scratched sigil. Hannah +. I can’t make out the rest. Maybe you can. It looks like there’s something there, though. Perhaps the area after the plus sign is for us to try the combination you and Hannah for size. Though Hannah comes first; you’d always be second in that relationship.

Hannah was here.

Hannah might be a schoolkid, whiling away time before the bus home. A give-no-fucks person of pensionable age, scribing their name into the stone as a mark of possession, of identity, of reclaiming the streets. Maybe Hannah’s currently a bloke, trying out new names for fit.

All part of the power of a decent bench. Places to think, and places to be thought about. It’s OK to leave your mark. I’d go so far as to say that it’s preferable. Make your statement. Be more Hannah, people. Embrace your inner Hannah, and be free.

So, I’m on my benches bullshit again, it seems. No promises this time, but we’ll see how it goes. Already I’ve got my eye on another newbie. A fresh entrant into the sit-down world that I’ve seen only a few streets away. I’ll take it steady over the darkening months, though try to get back into some kinda groove as far as these little excursions into the nearby are concerned.

To paraphrase Paul Newman’s character Fast Eddie Felson at the end of The Color of Money, if the benches kick my ass I’ll pick myself up and let them kick me again. And if I don’t whip ’em now, I’ll whip ’em next month. And if not then then the month after that. What makes me so sure? Hey – I’m back.

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

Bench 6: Parade Street

I’m struggling with this a little. Last time out, when I did that blog about benches in Louth – which eventually got collated into this book – I had a way in. A set of personal connections. There was a conceptual map that held it together as a project (at least as far as I was concerned; your mileage might vary) that gave it some cohesion over and above the whole set-in-the-same-place thing.

Bench 6. Location:

In other words, geography isn’t enough by itself.

And maybe neither is history. With Louth, I had my own history, a personal past to play with, so that there were both geographic and historical vectors working together; the personal history of self and the wider history of record and of context articulating with place. Here I don’t have that.

I can look stuff up. The building opposite is the police station, for example, built around 1870, and which at one time at least housed both a court and a coroner’s office. It’s still staffed for at least some of the day, which is pretty good going for a town of this size. Behind the bench is the town’s museum, a sixteen-sided building that opened in 1971 as a purpose-built library to replace the one that had been in the Town Hall. The library’s now around the corner in Castle Street. Sixteen sides makes it hexadecagonal. I don’t think looking stuff up is enough though. All that does is give some background, a touch of the objective to add to the subjective.

Anyone could do it. Which means that there’s not a compelling-enough reason for me to. I need to regroup, basically. I’m not sure “angle” is the word, but I need something to get to grips with this.

The museum’s not bad, though. I went in once and had a quick scoot about. Like many local history-specific places, there aren’t always concessions to the total noob, so not all of it made immediate sense. That said, I bought a charmingly-put together locally-published book on the town’s pubs and breweries past and present. It’ll come in handy, I’m sure, as I get my head around this place. I mentioned this blog to the fella in the museum. They were kind enough not to press the hidden silent alarm under the counter. No shutters came down. No SWAT came a-running. I even got a little bit of insider knowledge about the bench outside. I’ll not betray confidences here.

The view from bench 6. Note the spare seating lurking behind the blue bins.

It’s in a good spot, the bench. Parade Street is part of the one-way loop that the buses get sent around on. The bench is by the dropping-off and waiting point. Then they pull along twenty metres or so to the pickup zone by the bus shelters. A simple-enough system, but effective. So the bench is busy. Somewhere to wait for the 5 to Wrexham or the T3 to Barmouth if perching on those slanted arse-rests that bus shelters too-often have isn’t your thing.

Much of the year, too, it’s a place just far enough off the main drag of Castle Street to pretty much ensure a seat. You could get five or six on the bench at a push, and there’s no shortage of ice-creams to be bought and eaten in town.

Opposite, there’s the back of the Town Hall and a parking spot for a police car. More than once I’ve seen an indulgent copper stick on the blues and twos for a delighted toddler. If you squint by the Town Hall, there’s a spare bench tidied away. Maybe it’s been decommissioned; taken out for repairs or an upgrade. Perhaps it’s a leftover. Could have been borrowed from council stores as a prop for amateur dramatics; the Town Hall has a stage, and musical theatre isn’t totally unknown here.

Parade Street isn’t long. Maybe one hundred metres. Next to the police station, a former school that’s now an international language school. Seems to be EU-funded; enjoy it while you can. On this side of the road, an extreme sports place, and the silver band meeting huts. Parade Street then turns left, becoming East Street. Old maps I’ve seen indicate the road used to carry on straight, following the river. There’s a path there now. It’ll take you as far as Aldi and Home Bargains, maybe a mile upstream.

There is a parade, however. The street’s on the route of the procession of competitors that’s an integral part of the annual International Eisteddfod. The road predates the event, though; if there’s a reason for the name I’m yet to find it.

I linger here a few minutes more. Still trying to get my head quite around how to approach this. Perhaps this is it. All there is. No matter. At least I’m sat down, and there’s a place or two that’ll flog me both local organic farm artisan ice cream or else a soft-serve stale-Flake 99 (crushed nuts and monkey blood with that, please) straight from the machine, like it ought to be.

Bench 5: Castle Street

There are two benches here right next to each other. But they’re not the same. Not at all. Different designs and that. So I can’t be counting them as part of the same installation. That wouldn’t be right, would it? I mean, if we don’t have rules about this kind of thing, where would we be? What kind of people would we have become?

It’s difference that signifies.

The neighbouring bench will just have to wait.

It’s a Sunday morning in early Summer. The pleasantest bit of the day, when it’s mostly bright sunshine but still cool outside. Early, but not troublingly so. Seven-ish. I’ve made preparations for my little wander, even though the Spar’s already open. But they don’t have a coffee machine, and I only live around the corner anyway.

I could have popped out with a mug, but I’ve brewed a pot and have got one of those insulated cup/flask hybrid things, so it’s off with that I go.

Bench 5. Location:

Bench 5. As the title to the post indicates, we’re on Castle Street. That’s the main road through Llangollen if you’re crossing the River Dee. Castle Street runs from the castle end of things through the town centre, up to the A5. Maybe four hundred yards in a straight line. If you look up in the right places you’ll see Castell Dinas Bran – Crow Castle, more or less – being all ruined and romantic on the skyline. We’ll get closer all in good time, so I’ll spare the details till then.

The bench is dedicated. They all are, after a fashion, but this one has a name plaque to prove it. This is in memory of Reginald and Megan Wrixon. The surname’s a new one on me. I like it. I like surnames. Part of the thing of being a writer is that sometimes you need a surname that’s unusual without being distracting. Common names are blank to the point of meaningless sometimes, and distinctive ones can be jarring. Ones that link to another cultural reference point can feel like borrowings or shout-outs. Wrixon. I might use that.

The bench backs onto a railing which in turn demarcates a ramp entrance to one of the town’s estate agency offices. In front, and partially blocking off the view of the street, there’s a community noticeboard. There’s a lot going on, and the notices are maintained well. No leftover entreaties to come to a Harvest Supper from the year before last here. The noticeboard is two-sided and there’s different stuff being advertised on both. Talks at the museum. Preachers in the chapels. The storytelling club that meets weekly. The fortnightly cinema club that shows precisely the respectable but not challenging kinda movies you’d entirely expect them to be showing. They do good stuff, in all fairness, and they get decent crowds; they meet in the Town Hall, which is part of the same building that the estate agency’s in.

Up front and straight opposite is the town’s last bank. Barclay’s is only open part time these days. Yes, it’s a shame, but when did you last need to go inside a branch? Mourn loss, not change, that’s what I reckon.

Besides, you can do the over-the-counter stuff in the post office (itself no longer a stand-alone concern, but a kiosk inside the mini-market attacked to Stan’s filling station). And there’s a mobile branch of the Nat West that pulls up in the Market Street car park for a couple of hours on Friday mornings.

There’s something underneath the bench. Two somethings. At first, I think that they’re both feathers, but turns out that one of them’s a comb. A brown nylon one. The kind with two sections: thick combing, fine combing. Someone’s sat here, sorted their quiff out, fumbled. Not fancied either a street-dirty comb, or else the reaching under the bench to find the bastard. Sod it. They’re only pennies. You can see the thinking even if you can’t really approve.

The usual early morning foot and cycle traffic. Dog-walkers and those taking a Spandex and jogging cure. A well-kitted out fella on the kind of bike that weighs as much as a paper aeroplane. There’s someone making an ingredients delivery to Fouzi’s Italian place to my left, over by the Royal Hotel. Trays of mushrooms and the like. I don;t see anyone letting him in, so maybe he’s got a key. Perhaps there’s a press-button entry system. One of those PIN locks you see on Air BnB flats. He’s in and out in five minutes.

I take the lid off my flask thing. The coffee’s still too hot (it’s black, no sugar) to dive into. I let it steam. I’ve got a bottle of orange juice. The little ones you get with a McDonald’s breakfast, though that’s not this one’s origin, officer. I shake it and have that while I’m waiting.

There’s a fella on the pavement opposite. He’s a big lad, of that there’s no doubt. Trainers, white socks, khaki shorts, an inadvisably tucked-in checked shirt. Button-down collar, short sleeves. A hat that’s more forage cap than baseball. Yes, there’s a bum bag. A fanny pack, if you will.

I can only assume he’s walked up from the Royal Hotel. He’s taking it slow. Not a young fella, plus he’s designed neither for the sunnier months nor the incline. He gets to the bank. There’s a cash machine; his target, it seems. He’s there a while. Then he looks around. It’s not exactly a plea for help. But it’s not anything else either.

I leave my coffee where it is and walk over.

Here’s the thing. In Wales, everything’s bilingual if it’s public, Street signs, notices, bank statements. And that includes the cash machines. If you’re not ready for it, and you’re working on autopilot – because who really reads the rubric on an ATM anyway? – it’s easy to miss that the first option you’re given is Welsh or English. The chap’s got himself lost in world of digital Welshness.

Anyway, I help him out. Backtrack him to the first screen, and then he can get about his English-language business. He’s grateful. And, as it turns out, chatty. He’s from Maine. He’s found that he likes cricket. Well, what he likes is the BBC’s radio coverage. Slow-paced, funny, statistical. He’s been listening to the Cricket World Cup while he and his wife have been on their tour of the UK. He’d like to get to a match, but he’s not sure if he can swing that.

He heads back to the hotel, and I go back to the Wrixon bench. My coffee’s as just right as Baby Bear’s porridge. There’s a bin adjacent, but I take the orange bottle home for recycling. I’m out of the house for maybe half an hour, forty minutes. Something like that.

Bench 4: Aber Adda

Yeah. This is what it’s all about. This is what you pay your money for, and this is what I’m all about. Bench 4. Look at it. Just look. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Bench 4. Location:

Bench 4 is about a five minute walk away from Bench 3, and pretty much as obscure a spot as you might ever wish to find. It’s not the kind of sit-down spot that you’d happen across if you were in town on touristy or even on dog-walking business. Heck, I’d wager that there’s plenty of people who live on Aber Adda that don’t know that it’s there.

From Bench 3, you head up Hill Street – often referred to hereabouts as Grapes Hill because of the former pub that sits at the base of the rise – and you take the first left. The turning’s just around the corner from a dog-turn to the right, between a handsome trio of whitewashed three-storey cottages. The hill’s quite a rise; you might find yourself glad of a breather before you get to your destination. Hill Street is narrow; cars usually take it in single file, so there’s a fair amount of that polite no-you-go-first flashing and waving going on between motorists. Often as not the foot traffic is a blend of locals about their chores and visitors clutching maps working out for themselves if this is the way to the museum and gardens at Plas Newydd or not. Clue: it is. And we’ll get there in good-enough time too, so we’ll save those particular joys for later

Aber Adda is residential. A run of good-looking Victorian terraced houses of decent sizes. The bulk of the homes are on the right hand side of the street as you face down it, meaning that you get a fine view of the town and of the valley; on the other side of the Dee you’ve a direct line of sight to Dinas Bran. It’s not everyone who’s got a ruined castle on the top of the hill opposite. These folk have. Envy them.

Bench 4 in context.

You can envy them, but you might not get parked. Road space is at a premium here, and cars tend to be mounted on kerbs. It seems to be a constant irritation to householders. I’ve been accosted more than once by a resident who’d assumed that I’d illicitly parked in front of their house. There was a story about needing 24 hour ambulance access, and about the B&B up the hill and the chaos that causes, and those new people three doors down. Fuckers, the lot of them, paramedics aside, I was assured.

The bench is at the far end of things. After a couple of dozen or so (I haven’t counted) houses, Aber Adda changes. There’s a development of about twenty social housing flats. Single-storey dwellings with flat roofing. A run of them are up a level, having garages below. There’s ten garages. Less than one each. There’s a bit of hard standing too; additional parking for those living in the flats. The flats have been here long enough for them not to look an imposition. There’s a vaguely sheltered housing vibe; many of the residents are elderly, or otherwise in need of a home without stairs. Maybe they shouldn’t have put the homes up a hill; seems kinda disenfranchising.

Still. The parking area’s usually pretty cluttered with vehicles, often as not a couple of works vans in with the mix. There’s three council-emptied skips also; two for landfill, one for recycling. A nice little amenity for those living here.

And there’s a bench.

The hard standing has a low border around it. A bit of tubular metalwork high enough to make it a trip hazard. On the down-slope side, a steep drop down to the buildings of the main road below. The bench itself is in front of a couple of the flats, looking straight back down Aber Adda. Not that you’d see much because the view’s usually pretty cluttered with parked cars. You might wonder what they were thinking of.

The bench is a council job. It could do with a splash of paint. The asphalt underneath runs away, so the bench is at an awkward angle. But you get a great view back down the valley. It’s better in the winter in fairness, when there’s less leaf-clutter getting in the way, but even so. You can see what they were thinking.

View from Bench 4.

It’s a decent bit of utility. A gesture of thoughtfulness towards those living here. Often as not, public seating is in useful places, or in stopping-off points that were handy back in the days when folk walked everywhere and might appreciate a five minute sit down when lugging their shopping homewards. Here, it’s for those living here. An acknowledgement of the place and of the view. I really like it.

View from Bench 4: detail (that’s the pavilion where they have the International Eisteddfod).

A shame that in the intervening decades the parking’s taken over somewhat. The bench tends to be boxed in with vehicles, making it hard to see, let alone reach or to sit on. I don’t think anyone uses it much anymore. That’s a real shame.

Oh, I looked up Aber Adda. Tried to work out what the name means. Aber is estuary; I suppose there’s a link to the valley, and to the Dee below. Adda is a Welsh version of Adam. Maybe there was an orchard here once.

Bench 3: Hall Street

Bench 3 isn’t far from Bench 2. You cross Berwyn Street, scoot up the little cut-through between the m’Eating Point cafe and Stan’s shop/petrol station, and there you’ll find Hall Street. Turn left, and the bench is about fifty yards away on the left hand side. It’s opposite the small car park and a chapel, and is on the pavement, butted up to a cottage.

Bench 3. Location:

I like this bench. It feels unofficial. Maybe part of an assertion of private space onto the public land of the footpath. See how it’s padlocked to the wall? Note the base plate for a bit of shade? The planters on the far side of the door? This is a garden as much as a bit of public seating. operating in a strange hinterland between the collective and the individual.

It makes you wonder what this signifies. Is it an act of generosity on the part of the flat-dwellers? Somewhere for the weary, the lazy and/or the curious to park up for a moment, provided out of charity? Or is this a little bit of robber baron activity, an attempt to annex the commonwealth by private claim-jumpers?

It’s an odd little bench, that’s for sure. Spacious enough for two; three would be a push. Perhaps made of MDF. I don’t know much about these things. Maybe someone moved into the flat with a bench that was surplus to needs – a remnant from an old garden – and this was the best that they could come up with. It was this or the skip.

Anyway. I’m glad that it’s here, not least because it gives a new perspective on the town. I like it because it’s tucked away; there’s no obvious public utility being served here. And I like it because the view’s not great; no-one looked out and thought that this was a spot that needed commemoration. That one day, the coach parties would come, and that they would assemble at this place and behold the majesty of the vista.

Bench 3 view.

To the right, a car park. Space for a couple of dozen cars. Sometimes you’ll find a camper van parked up overnight. To the right, an old chapel. The Rehoboth chapel; an imposing building, silent since the early 1980s, when its congregation merged – with others – to the Seion chapel mentioned at the Bench 2 location. A whizz around the internet indicates that the chapel’s been a couple of things since, most notably a furniture store (a common-enough use for these sorts of buildings once the faithful have moved on) but that today it remains shut. There’s evidence of post still being delivered.

Rehoboth chapel, Hall Street/Victoria Square, Llangollen

If you continue on past the bench, Hall Street opens up into what was called Victoria Square. An awkward open space that’s now a junction shaped like a capital K lying on its back.

Looking up the meaning of “Rehoboth” offers a few hints. The term pops up three times in the Old Testament, each in different usages:

  1. a well dug by Isaac, the name meaning “open space”
  2. the city from which Saul came from
  3. a town perhaps near Ninevah; the word “Rehoboth” is linked etymologically to a Hebrew phrase meaning “public place” or “public square”.

It’s maybe not such a huge jump to get from Victoria Square to Rehoboth if we take the latter definition into consideration.

Here’s a thing. The chapel was first built in 1838, then enlarged in 1872; a school opened up in 1846 linked to the chapel – though not on-site; we’ll get to that another day, I’d have thought – that offered non-Church of England British School education. The story goes that one of the pupils, a Mary Hughes, had a pet lamb that would follow her everywhere, including here. The nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb” is claimed to have originated here.

The building that the bench is padlocked to has an interesting history. It – like the chapel and some other surrounding buildings – is Grade II listed, in part because of the conjunction of these different constructions together. It was at one point the Town Hall, Llangollen’s prison, the police station, town’s armoury, and some other stuff too. There’s signage indicating that recently this has been open as a museum called The Old Lock-Up, but that seems to have gone the way of all things too. There might be an office inside; there’s some indication that there’s a canal-based charity operating out of here. I like the uncertainty of it. The not knowing. Anyway, there’s a plaque summarising some of the history.

This was once the centre of the town, in other words. Not so much anymore.

Victoria Square, c. 1905. Source:

And now:

Victoria Square, 2019.

The chapel’s dark. The armoury building is quiet. What was a bank – on the right, by the pillar box – is now now separate small business units. A former pub – The Grapes – now flats. There’s an Indian restaurant, a vegan-friendly eatery (on the left – just), a B&B that might be on the pricey side for some. Perhaps best of all, though out of shot, there’s Watkin & Williams, an ironmongery/DIY shop of the old school. Even so, you’d never know that there was somewhere for a sit down tucked around the corner. It pays to have a look.

Bench 2: Market Street car park / Berwyn Street

Bench 2 is on my daily route. I come by here every day. Several times. Back back and forth and forth, and back back and forth and forth, like the song says.

And sometimes I stop here. For me this is a utility pause. A place to check my phone because it’s just buzzed in my pocket.

Bench 2: Location:

I should explain.

I used to be a teacher. A lecturer, I suppose. A decade and a half in the educational hinterland that is forever further education. Further education is the bit between GCSEs (the first time around, anyway) and university / job / whatever. A couple of years of all-but-mandatory schooling on top of the decade or more.

As the college I taught at was what used to be a mixed economy college – a chunk of FE, and a little bit of higher education on top, the courses franchised in from places with exotic names like Hull and Sheffield – I taught a bit of everything. Folk tend not to believe the lists, so I’ll not add to the disbelief now.

And I learned back in the early days of mobile phones that it paid to have your device on vibrate only. I got my first mobile about 1999, which was pretty late. Of course in those days, it was all playing Snake on your Nokia and printing off arcane screeds of code to add another monophonic ringtone to your collection. We led simple lives, but we were happy.

The upshot of all of this is that fifteen years of having a surreptitious phone in my pocket means that I’m conditioned, salivating dog-style, to respond to a soundless jiggle at my hip. That’s where the bench comes in.

The chapel opposite is the Seion Wesleyan chapel. That’s Welsh-language Methodism. It’s a decent, solid building. Built in 1905, and incorporating an earlier chapel dating from 1840 or thereabouts. I like its sturdiness. Reflective of the practicality of the faith practiced inside, I’d hope. Something to get you by, rooted in the past and the present, and not over-promising.

Bench 2: the view

I’m not a religious person, but I can see how that’d work.

Llangollen’s full of chapels, some of them dark, some still shining bright. We’ll get to a few of them in due course. I can’t recall seeing folk going in and out of this one, but there’s a noticeboard on the other side of the building that’s kept up to date, so signs point to activity.

I checked in the only book of town history (Sherratt’s An Illustrated History of Llangollen) that I’ve got. Methodism hit this part of the world hard, the way Sherratt tells it. John Wesley visited the town in 1789.

Other preachers followed. One was a Mr Bryan, who in 1801 so dazzled the crowds assembled that the town’s miller, one John Jones, who was celebrated at the time for his involvement in cockfighting, came straight back from the sermon, renounced his blood sport and gambling ways, and “greatly surprised his wife by going out into the yard and decapitating all his birds, said to be the finest in the county, in order to rid himself of temptation”, according to Sherratt. Jones (and Mrs Jones) were instrumental in the Welsh Methodist Society soon inaugurated in town the following year.

We’re between the Market Street car park and Berwyn Street. There’s an oddly wide passageway between the chapel and the first of the houses. In the passage, there’s three benches, plus a bin and a little electrical junction box kinda thing. Like I said, I cut through here pretty much every day, and so this is a regular stopping-off point.

Behind me, a run of houses, hotels, and the vets. To my left, the car park, to my right, Berwyn Street. Close is the M’Eating Point caff, a regular stop-off. There’s a couple of takeaways (a Chinese and a kebab shop) around the corner; occasionally you’ll get a late-night drunk here passed out or finishing off their pizza. If there’s any mess, though, it’s gone by morning. There’s a council clean-up crew that swoops early doors to make sure the town centre’s presentable for visitors and locals alike.

I like the bench. I like how it’s different from the two opposite (I’ll touch base with them all in good time). I like how there’s this wide passageway. Maybe there were houses here once. To the right, the road side of things, there’s one of those zig-zag ironwork arrangements to make sure that pedestrians don’t run straight into the road.

I’m headed that way, as it happens. Off to Stan’s; a filling station and a mini-mart that’s an offshoot of an independent superstore a few miles away. That’s my next stop. Stangollen.

Bench 1: Market Street car park

We’re on Market Street, in the car park. And yes, there’s a market here on Tuesdays. Truth be told there’s not much of a market these days. Since Christmas only a hardy two of three stalls have turned up. The fishmonger’s van, the fruit and veg guys. Sometimes there’s a clothing stall, sometimes not. It depends on the weather. Up until Christmas there was a cheese stall, as regular as you like. Good local stuff and homemade chutneys and piccalilli, bottled in re-used jam jars like it should be. I’ve not seen the cheese fella since then. Truth be told, I worry. He wasn’t youthful.

Bench 1: Market St car park. Location:

In the summer it perks up. There’s usually one of those stalls that sells a little bit of everything. Batteries and socks and pet chews. Other clothes stalls; everything from voluminous nighties to neon puffa jackets. A bakery stall that does reasonable cakes. For a few weeks you get pop-up wannabes after that tourist dollar. Fudge merchants. Little pockets of flavoured toffees for four pounds a go. Easy money if boiling sugar’s your thing.

The market takes up the left hand side of the car park as you pull in. Just the first row or so of parking spaces. Even though there’s signs in two languages reminding/warning folk of the market, invariably the run of stalls is interrupted by a hatchback left overnight.

When it’s up and running, the market operates from about eight to not long after one. It’s a morning market. The fishmonger packs up first; late morning. They do genuine good business. They’re the main draw. Between Easter and October half-term the market is an attraction for day-trippers. The right-hand half of the car park is for coaches and buses, and so there’s plenty of interest to be had from those stretching their legs.

It’s a big car park. The town’s largest, not counting the newer one across at the Aldi, and about the most central. About three acres. A acre is a square seventy yards on each side, more or less, or just about the size of a rugby or football field. If you want to get a sense about how the town’s doing on any given day, a glance over the car park will tell you.

Before I sat here there was a couple. Middle-aged to elderly. Two glasses, both with beer. The car park doesn’t have one of those height restriction barriers because of the coaches that rock up, so the crafty and cost-conscious tourer can park up their caravanette overnight here for more-or-less free. That’s what this couple were doing; enjoying an afternoon ale in the car park, without having the fuss and bother of those pub prices. Fair play to them. A glass makes street drinking that little bit more sophisticated.

The town’s public toilets are to the side. Staffed all day – until five in the winter, six in the summer season – and there’s coin-operated and RADAR key options for out of hours. Head honcho at the loos is Dale. He keeps the place clean, takes the 30p entrance money, and maintains a constant running commentary of the comings and goings on Market Street. He’s usually by the pavement barriers, rolling a cigarette and saying his hellos. He likes to wave to traffic, does Dale. The nearest thing the place has to a mascot. Quite possibly a trickster God or Llangollen’s version of the ravens at the Tower of London. If Dale’s not there, then something’s awry. Or he’s on his lunch, putting a bet on.

Bench 1: view

You can cut across the car park, and you’ll come out onto Berwyn Street. The A5. Take a diagonal right from the bench, and there’s cluster of charity and recycling bins for clothes and whatnot. That side of things is where the hot hatches park up after dark. Just two or three, and only every now and again. Dope smoke and McDonalds from the 24 hour one at Chirk. Harmless enough.

You can see the backs of a few shops too. Plus one of the entrances to the town’s vets. If you’re nippy you can cut straight through the surgery waiting area and come out by the sorting office.

This area used to be known as Smithfield; there’s a side-street named Greenfield opposite, cutting from Market Street downhill to the police station on Parade Street. In addition, what’s now the M’Eating Point cafe on Berwyn Street was formerly the Smithfield Hotel. Little remembrances. Smithfield is a corruption of the Saxon for “smooth field”, presumably a flattish bit of land usefully-located for gatherings for beast markets and associated trades, like smithying.

There were weekly cattle and sheep markets, and the land could be hired for circuses, freak shows and other travelling attractions. There’s a bit of a fair sometimes; one to accompany the Christmas lights switch-on, and one in the summer. Stallholders have had the right to trade here since 1284. There’s a charter in existence from that year from Edward I, allowing two fairs to be held annually plus a weekly Tuesday market. Something to think about when you sit here and watch the small queue at the blue Transit selling fish. That there’s exercising of a right that’s been protected for over 700 years going on right there in front of you.

The granting of such a charter was something of a double-edged sword. While on the one hand it confirmed the right to trade and offered certain protections to the community in having that right – and therefore also attracting custom and business – it also warranted the right for the relevant authorities to extract a levy for providing such services. These days that’s done by Denbighshire County Council. The rules are pretty simple, as their website explains: “To trade at Llangollen market, come along to the market on the morning of the day you want to trade. You should aim to arrive around 8 am. There is a charge of £9.60 per stall.”

According to a local history book I peeked into – An Illustrated History of Llangollen, by Gordon Sherratt – the local council tried to ban the market in the late 1960s to ensure week-round parking availability. Protests magicked up the charter and the issue went away. Maybe the market was bigger then. It certainly can’t have been much smaller.

These days it’s a flat expanse of tarmac studded with vehicles. Busy when it’s sunny, sparse when the rain sets in. It’s quiet enough, though, to listen out for some echo of the past. A flavour of what it was like is given by Sherratt, who notes that a local schoolmaster in 1865 made the following complaint of fairground activity here:

“The electrogalvanic batteries, photographic studios, whirligigs and swings were innocent enough but most of the shows, tumbling, boxing, gambling etc were to be condemned. Many of the stereoscopic views were decidedly indecent … there is a vulgarity, a want of mental elevation in such practices which might induce an intelligent man to reprobate them even if the voices of morality and religion were silent.”

Think on, car parkers. Think on.