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Llandudno – borderland to wonderland

Looking at the previous posts, the mixture of the 360 analogue photos with the ‘normal’ digital ones seems a bit uncomfortable, like mixing cross-ply and radials. So this time, I’ll give you all the 360 pix first then (for the die-hards who scroll down the page) tell the story of the trip with the digi ones. So here goes:

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I like the way the optics here compress the pier into a kind of island or ship, loaded with fun.

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My favourite of me as ‘existential pier man’

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OK then. So I snatched a day off on what turned out to be the sunniest day of the summer. My first errand involved a trip to work, the Edge Hill University campus, once described as ‘Ballardian’ by a visiting author.

Edge Hill

Got the train from Ormskirk to Liverpool Central, then changed to the Wirral Line to go to Bidston on the Wirral, and from there to Shotton. I was now at the outer reaches of the Merseyrail network, where the familiar coloured lines end and obscure grey ones begin. Beyond Shotton, I was interested to see that the track taking me into Wales was named the Borderlands Line, suggesting that I might be going to experience the ‘liminal’ states of transition often referred to by geographers writing about the seaside and spiritual writers writing about ‘thin places’. My textbook for the day however was neither or both of these: The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie by Keith Brooke, in which a teenage boy daydreams an idealised version of his home town into existence. People who don’t have roles in his preferred version of reality hang about under the pier and Frankie must face down the Owner who ultimately seems to control his dreamworld.

Llandudno

I reached Llandudno, like Saltburn and Southend a place I have never visited. In Waterstones I scanned the ‘local interest’ section, learning that Alice ‘in Wonderland’ Liddell used to have holidays here. I went to (pub chain) Wetherspoons Palladium, a vast converted theatre that has also been a cinema and a bingo hall, for lunch. The boxes are still in place but with printed cutouts of Edwardian-looking theatregoers instead of real audience members; the ‘stage’ they watch is a large space with more tables for drinkers. If as a young man I had envisioned an ideal town like Faraway Frankie, mundane buildings becoming pubs with many real ales and cheap all-day breakfasts could well have been a feature. Perhaps I could have wished for something better, but I’m not complaining: Wetherspoons establishments form handy bases on these expeditions, and seem precisely calibrated to my needs and desires, from locally-styled alcohol to low-fat meals.

Llandudno

Refreshed by my sojourn in the Spectacle I headed towards the pier. It has a hotel at the land end, and has been designed so that the pier’s attractions start on land; as one walks along the actual pier begins. The hotel, site of some TV filming for the recent Forsyte Saga, has a door debouching onto the pier itself. Beneath this the building has its footings in (rather absurdly real) rock.

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I walked down the long pier in the sun, past Dan the Man’s C&W CD stall (playing Dave Sheriff’s ‘Red Hot Salsa’), past concessions selling photographs and souvenirs, past the bar and cafe.

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Bunting flapped above me – I felt a sort of macho pride in having ‘won’ the challenge of my day off. I had found sunshine and been to a place of inarguable funtime, chalking up a result. Then I reached the end and, as always, turned back towards the town.

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In the distance I could see the Happy Valley gardens, with their neat-looking stone circle installed in 1963 as part of an eistedford.

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But, leaving the pier on the other side of the Grand Hotel, I found a more interesting little wonderland – a wildly overgrown garden, nestled below the pier on its hidden land side…

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…on its way to becoming a climax forest of buddleia, lush and ignored by the Owner and not featured in anyone’s daydream right now.