Travel special 2014: Escape the bustle of London on a rail journey to Pen-y-Bont
The journey home – 'home' still being the word I instinctively use for the house I grew up in, atop of wild Welsh hillside, even if today it's where I go to escape everyday life – begins with bustle. The battle on the Tube with a case, the dash around Euston juggling handbag-paper-coffee-lunch. It's wise to stock up: the journey to Pen-y-Bont takes over four hours, via Crewe and Shrewsbury. It's very much not the route a crow would fly...
But it is, by that last stretch, a beautiful one. This is the Heart of Wales line. The train usually only has one coach; it sways along the track between Shrewsbury and Swansea four times a day.
There is no first class, no buffet car, no shop. Pen-y-Bont station is a request stop: if you don't tell the conductor where you wish to alight they'll just sail on through...
But the views really are marvellous, all rolling hills, impressive viaducts and tiny stations with unpronounceable names (Llangynllo, Cynghordy). Once over the border, the landscape rears up into mountains, the greens darken and deepen; you spy wildlife – lambs, rabbits, red kites, pheasants.
There's no bustle at Pen-y-Bont, at all; I'm often the only passenger. The station is unmanned, not a ticket barrier or Starbucks in sight. You have to walk right across the tracks to get to the car park. But I appreciate this journey, this funny little station: the increasing smallness of trains and the eroding of city-minded expectations offset by the opening up of the landscape, an increased sense of space and air and time.
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