Where the swallows skitter – a bypass and space travel?


The train along the Cambrian coast route stops at Llanbedr only by request, and on this occasion I was the only passenger to alight. To the west fields of wet grassland, divided by drainage channels brimming with rushes, spread towards the sea.

A mile or so away, the concrete runways and hangars of the old airfield sizzled in the sudden August heat, distorting the view of the sand dunes beyond.

Following the lane towards the village, I came across a printed banner with the slogan “Say No To Llanbedr Spaceport” – a reference to the airport’s recognised potential as a launch site for commercial spaceplanes. The arguments are complex: establishing a centre for aerospace technologies here would bring much needed high-quality jobs to the area but at the cost of development in a national park where many livelihoods are based on tourism and outdoor recreation.

Llanbedr bridge over the Artro, in Gwynedd, north Wales. Photograph: Jozef Mikietyn/Alamy

The sound of water falling over rocks guided me to the footpath along the Artro, a river that drains a good portion of the . Its proximity to the sea, and the sharpness of its response to inland rain, makes it liable to flood, so it is managed, subtly, with banks of rock and grassed berms.

From a new footbridge, much grander than the one it replaced, I watched fish of impressive size gently circling the pools just downstream, while a pair of swallows skittered noisily under the bridge and briefly skimmed the water surface.

The village was choked with vehicles queuing for the ancient and narrow granite bridge, so the planning notice on a wooden pole detailing proposals for a new bypass road came as little surprise.

I realised with some sadness that the proposed route would cut across the flood plain and river I had just explored. Yes, it would relieve pressure on a village sorely tried by traffic, and improve access to the proposed spaceport, but also cause significant changes to the landscape. Conflicted, I retired to the cool stone bar of the Victoria Inn to consider the matter over a pint.

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