Brakes on the Cambrian Line hourly service

The Welsh Government’s Transport Minister, Edwina Hart, has disappointed everyone pushing for an hourly train service on the Cambrian Line by declaring that evidence of demand must first be provided.

Politicians in Central Wales had always understood from the previous Minister that the provision of an hourly service was a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ and was only being held up by the need for infrastructure improvements.

In a written statement the new Minister said last week:
“I have asked the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Railway Liaison Committee to co-ordinate work with the other rail interest groups to investigate the demand for rail services.”

Everyone involved sees this as a considerable setback.

In reporting this, it would be wrong not to also give the Minister’s explanation:
In addition to capital budgets being increasingly constrained following UK Government budget decisions, revenue budgets are under considerable pressure. The Welsh Government prioritised a series of rail service enhancements in 2011 on the basis of the revenue budgets being available. A consequence of the challenging economic climate and in-year revenue reductions from the UK Government is that I must be realistic about our ability to provide the funding for new or additional services.

There’s no doubt that Westminster cuts are hitting both the Welsh Government and (consequently) County Councils hard and this looks set to continue and increase for the foreseeable future. Ceredigion has been given the task of saving £12.5 million in the next three years [Update 2/10/13: now looking like £20 million]. Nevertheless, the statement prioritises improvements to various lines and stations in North, South and East Wales (and, to be fair, Aberystwyth station), so it’s a question of the Cambrian Line service not receiving that same priority.

Some of the thinking revealed in the Minister's statement is also concerning. The statement says:
“Initially for the Cambrian Line and the Heart of Wales Line, my tourism sector panel will provide a view on the feasibility of proposals for summer tourist trains on a trial basis”.

This misses the point that commuters, students and business visitors are key users of the service all year round. 


The Aberystwyth Labyrinth

Although it might not be obvious at first glance, this is the new Aberystwyth Labyrinth. The site is a former bowling green, next to the current green just to the left that's very well-used by North Road Bowling Club. The second green was surplus to the club’s needs. 

A few years ago the Town Council put the idea of constructing a labyrinth here to residents living around the site at a meeting held in the bowling club hall (top left). The residents said they just wanted it left as a grassy area for people to play on so the Council said fair enough and backed off. 

However, over time, the area became a muddy quagmire and an eyesore that residents complained about. People playing on it would naturally lose their ball at times over onto the real bowling green and were known to walk across the pristine green in their studded boots to retrieve it. 

After a few years of this, the Town Council decided to go back to their original idea of constructing a labyrinth as an amenity area and an attraction, both for local people and for tourists. Because the site can be looked down on from North Road above, it's a very suitable site for some kind of visual attraction.

So the Council ordered 670 wooden poles from local sawmills and 1200 metres of hemp rope. One councillor in particular (who's too modest to want his name mentioned, but it wasn't me) then put in most of the work of constructing the whole thing himself.

The finished article is a rope labyrinth 900m long. That is, 900m to the centre and another 900 back again. If you walk the whole thing it will take about 20 minutes to the middle and back. In the middle is a Mountain Ash tree, donated by Aberystwyth's twin town of Kronberg in Germany, with a seat around it.

The theme of rope was chosen because the area was used to make rope a couple of hundred years ago. A 200 yard passage going right through this area was used to twist the rope. The gap between the houses in Faenor Street where this took place can still be seen.

A quick word about definitions; with a maze, you have different choices of path and can't see the end. With a labyrinth there's one path and you can see where you're aiming for. So what we’ve got here is a  labyrinth.
Grass is being allowed to grow in the gaps between the pathways so it’s becoming a more natural area again and, since the work started, 16 species of wild flowers have been found to have seeded. The labyrinth is accessible to the disabled who have an access to start halfway along if they want. There are no concrete foundations so the site can eventually return to how it was. 

Now I know this project has incurred the wrath of those who regard anything artistic, quirky or cultural as 'frivolous' or a 'waste of money'. But I think this sort of thing is what makes the world interesting so I hope you'll pop along to walk it.

The Aberystwyth Labyrinth in North Road is due to have its official opening at 11am on Saturday 20th July.

Info about other labyrinths here and here