Have a guess at what is the most exclusive journey in Wales…..
The short trip from public life into the comfort of the VIP lounge at any airport/nightclub south of Cemmaes Bay? That upgrade to first class for nothing? A nice invite to take pre-wedding tea (I suppose it would be high tea, to be properly posh) with Anglesey’s most famous engaged couple at their gaff?
There it is in the quietest bit of countryside you could imagine: at the border between Wales and England where Radnorshire folds into Shropshire – one of the high points of the Marches.
And yesterday, with no trains rumbling over all five hundred feet and thirteen arches worth of it, a lucky group of walkers, the simply curious, enthusiasts, people who love railways – and Phill the cameraman from Aberaeron – got to wander across it.
When you think about it, we define ourselves by our landmarks: the Severn Bridge is the start of South Wales, a drum roll of clean lines, with a nod to Brooklyn thrown in. The Britannia and Menai Bridges lead you off into the flatlands of Ynys Mon with the sense of a journey and the scent of the sea.
But Knucklas Bridge? It was built at the height of railway fever, finished by 1865, linking Knighton with Llandrindod Wells – enabling trains to shuffle from Swansea to Shrewsbury on what’s now called the Heart of Wales Line and what must be one of the most picturesque journeys in all of Wales.
From the road, you see the hint of a dark shape up ahead and a turret; and then you’re whizzing onwards towards Knighton itself. It’s only up on the top of the structure itself, you really start to see how much determination and cheap labour can achieve: a viaduct that’s built to look like a Marcher fortress, round about the time of Owain Glyndwr and maybe a little before. It was three years in the building, back when child labour wasn’t really an issue because you were lucky to reach ten and continue your schooling.
Views over to Wales one side, and England, the other. You realise how fluid the border always has been – how places like Shrewsbury and Oswestry weren’t always English: how the towns of the Marches have their names in both English and Welsh – how one Prince could fight the border of Wales one way, and an Earl the other side seize it back the other.
Of course by the time the railways came, building viaducts and making them look like castles was a Victorian conceit: no-one’s ever shot an arrow from the battlements. Well, probably. But for a few sunny hours yesterday, it was a very elegant, seventy five feet up in the air way to get publicity for one of Wales’ railway lines, a great and imaginative way to spend a day out, and one chance in a decade – maybe several – to look up close at just how wonderful this thing is, and celebrate a hidden part of Wales.