Friday, December 08, 2006

The Historic Road

Back in the days when stagecoaches ran, Thomas Telford was contracted to build a road which stretched from London to Holyhead where passengers could sail for Ireland. Today, you can drive along the route ofthe A5 and see signs reminding you that you are on an historic route. Telford also designed and built five toll house across the island. These are to be found at Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Nant Gate, Gwalchmai, Caergeiliog and at the Holyhead end of the Stanley Embankment that takes the traveller from Anglesey to Holy Island and Holyhead.
The Holyhead road was the last turnpike in Britain. Today, the traveller can see the original charges for various modes of transport that used the road. They are displayed on a list of charges on a plaque set in the wall of the toll house at Llanfairpwllgyngyll. In 1895 the road became free of tolls as ownership passed to the county council.
By this time rail travel had greatly reduced travel by road. At the mainland end of the Menai Suspension Bridge can be seen gates of iron, patterned like the rays of the sun. The gates guarded the turnpike from those who would pass without payment. The numerous milestones along the A5 were made from stone quarried at Red Wharfe Bay. On each milestone is a plate showing the distance from Holyhead and two other locations. Believe it or not these milestones are "listed" structures and are preserved and conserved with great care. Where certain stones have become damaged they have been replaced with replicas.
Of course, the A5 is not restricted to Anglesey. Although parts of it have been upgraded to dual carriagways you will find it a very long journey from Anglesey to the midlands and south of England. From Bangor at the mainland side of the Menai Strait the road winds many miles through the northern part of Snowdonia through Betws-y-Coed and Llangollen. As it winds one hopes not to be following a slow vehicle such as a farm tractor. It is a classical country road with very few passing places. At one point where the original road was abandoned in favour of a short cutting there has been a serious fall of rock and the road there has been out of use for many months. Large vehicles are banned from this stretch which requires traffic to temporarilyuse the old road. This is so narrow at one point that traffic lights have been set up to make the road safe.
Looking at the North Wales road system, one would think that only people from North West England are expected or encouraged to visit Anglesey. These days, the traveller on the A5 turns on to the busy A55 and crosses to Anglesey on the Britannia Bridge which caters for both road and rail traffic today. But, for my money, one cannot beat crossing via the Menai Suspension Bridge. It is a leisurely affair, particularly if following a bus which has to pass very slowly to avoid the sides of the arches at each end. I seem to remember the drivers of the original Crosville buses handling the task much better than the Arriva drivers today.
At night the older bridge is lit up and takes on a special beauty. Ascetically, the Britannia Bridge cannot compete with its older partner. It has a huge steel arch these days beneath the rail deck which looks quite ugly. The road deck pierces the original piers and this looks more practical than lovely. Of course, it has to be mentioned that the Holyhead bound driver no longer uses the A5. A new road, the continuation of the A55 North Wales Expressway, now handles the traffic. This has made a great difference to the island and especially for the passengers wishing to visit Ireland.
If you know the narrow lanes which cross Anglesey you can reduce the travelling time from Penysarn, where I live, to Holyhead by including a stretch of the A55. I found good short cut to RAF Valley by using satellite navigation!


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