Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Road - Slow TV - Y Ffordd

You never know what you could film with Slow TV
Telford's Historic A5 -The Road - North Wales Slow TV 
A5 Hanesyddol Telford - Y Ffordd - Gogledd Cymru Teledu Araf

In 2014 I produced a research film for making Slow TV; to watch the videos, follow this link. See below for more information about the road and the production.


The A5 into North Wales, constructed under engineer Thomas Telford’s planning, direction and ingenuity opened up the area in a way which had never been done before. Prior to this revolution the road to Holyhead from England and the ferry to Ireland was hazardous, circuitous and something really only for the hardy, determined traveller.

Formerly, the principal route was to Chester then west loosely following the North Welsh coast, with boat crossings of the River Conwy and Menai Strait - both perilous and at the mercy of sometimes questionable operators. 

Getting around the headland at Penmaenmawr was left to judging the tide or an inland way - the Sychnant Pass - from Conwy to Dwygyfylchi, which wasn’t for everyones’ nerves.

Take it Slow - 'Araf' in Wales
Telford’s strategic revision of the route from the Midlands linking Llangollen to Betws y Coed to Bangor, the creation of the Menai Suspension Bridge, and the onward route to Holyhead for connection with Ireland, remain unsurpassed in terms of breath-taking scale. 

At the instigation of the Holyhead Road Commission in 1815, Telford instructed three of his team to survey the entirety of the route from London to Holyhead, with the addition of the road from Chester to Bangor since the mail from Liverpool and Manchester took this route to join the journey to Holyhead. Starting in September 1815, the team completed their appraisal in March 1817. 

The single most dramatic piece of the work was that which completed the route in 1826 - The Menai Bridge from North Wales’ mainland to Anglesey. On the 30th January 1826 the bridge opened, to celebrations far and wide; flags were even flown from the Pyramids in Egypt, and a decent meal with plenty of good ale was brought in to mark the occasion for all those who had worked on the project. 

It had taken nearly 50 years from initial discussions and arguments in the 1780s for the bridge to be realised. Robin Ddu, a sixteenth century poet, had spoken prophetically of the the Menai Strait being bridged in the future. Certainly the bridging most have been something that had crossed people’s minds for millennia beforehand, in times when all that was lacking was the technology to literally bridge the expanse.

Travelling the old way - Stage Coach at Tyn y Coed
The wider aspect of the road from Shrewsbury was similarly auspicious  in its endeavours. The Welsh side of the project was “not so much a matter of road improvement as of road making”. 

What is seen in the clips represents a total transformation of getting through North Wales. What can now be done in 150 minutes via motorised transport would have been several days of hard journeying - even after Telford and before the advent of the internal combustion engine it was a considerable effort. So, split up into bitesize chunks, is the section of the A5 from England into and through North Wales.


Filmed early one August morning in 2014, this film represents a couple important factors. It was practical production research into making a Slow TV recording - what things had to be done to make it actually happen? It was conceptual research in framing the idea of what a Slow TV project could be - what might work and how does one relate the concept from recording to the viewer? 

This had started out as possibly the main project but was put on the backburner when it became clear my major film was to be about Slow TV, not Slow TV itself. A production trip to Oslo and Bergen was about 10 days away when I filmed this, but I’d invested several weeks in planning a route, making practical arrangements and obsessive thinking it needed to happen.

Production problems - failed clutch and recovery home
Like any production, there were difficulties. The filming of the Llangollen to A55 stretch was set to happen a couple weeks earlier but the clutch on the car went before we even got anywhere near Wales, scuppering not only filming but a family holiday as we needed recovery home to repair the car.

I’d borrowed three go-pro cameras and mounted my Sony Xperia Z smartphone on a small gorillapod on the dashboard. The film footage from the phone is nearly always questionable. It hunts for its focus point nearly all the time when moving, resulting in footage which is impossible to watch. 

The go-pros had battery issues and despite thorough checks, not all the batteries charged properly the night before. This meant that by the time the journey was about 4/5 done there was only power left in one, so for almost all of Anglesey I only have the rear camera available.

Checking the Go-Pro - Menai Bridge and Strait to rear
Planning the filming had to accommodate other trips, family arrangements and renting a vehicle as our own still awaited clutch repair. Having rented a car the windscreen of the rental vehicle got a chip before filming meaning the intended angle of filming couldn’t be used. The filming took place on the best available day but what I hadn’t found out during planning was that this was also the day of the Anglesey Show and the route went right past the showground entrance. Thankfully I’d still left very early and had minimal traffic delay but nevertheless still got caught in enough traffic to lessen the flow of the journey.

So, I learned a lot of lessons for making Slow TV from producing this research film - I’m not posting those lessons here - but you’re welcome to watch and make notes. Suffice to say there are things to be improved, which is the whole idea of production research.

Slow Television - The Slow TV Blog

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