Border Hopping on the Welsh Marches Line

On June 18, 2013 · 2 Comments

I found some border weirdness between Pontrilas in Herefordshire, England and Pandy in Monmouthshire, Wales. All would be fine in an automobile. Drive between the towns on A465, cross an unremarkable bridge over the border and continue on one’s way for an eight-minute journey (map). No big deal. Take the same trip by train however and watch the magic begin.

View Train from Pontrilas to Pandy in a larger map

From Pontrilas, start in England and go 0.80 miles to the border, then into Wales for 0.37 miles, then back into England for 0.45 miles, then back into Wales for 0.52 miles, then back into England for 2.45 miles, and finally into Wales, arriving at Pandy after 0.78 miles. Discounting the two end sections, a train will cross the border an amazing 5 times in 3.79 miles (6.10 kilometres). The map I made shows English segments as blue lines and Welsh segments as red.

Both automobile and locomotive follow the valley of the River Monnow (Afon Mynwy in Welsh). The roadway remains south of river on the Welsh side, crossing into English territory just outside of Pontrilas on the way to Hereford. In contrast, the railway remains north of the River Monnow primarily during the same stretch. However, its tracks clip the River Monnow to avoid a sharp bend at one point, accounting for two of the border crossings. Additionally, the river must have changed course sometime in the past. The border deviates slightly from the watercourse and the railway clips that section too.

Pontrilas Station House and Cottage
Station House in Pontrilas: Flickr by tomline43 via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Completing this border-defying feat shouldn’t be daunting although it would involve more than simply hopping a train in Pontrilas and riding the rails to Pandy, or vice versa. I couldn’t find evidence that there was ever a regular station at Pandy. Pontrilas had a station although it stopped serving passengers in 1958 and closed altogether in 1964. Today it’s the Station House bed and breakfast inn. The establishment caters to railfans and notes that "some 50 trains pass during the 24 hours on weekdays, approximately half comprising the hourly ‘Express Sprinter’ service from Cardiff to Manchester." That would be a drawback for most inns. That’s a selling point here!

The route followed a very old railroad line, with the border-crossing segment originally constructed as part of the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway, circa 1853. It passed through several iterations eventually becoming known commonly as the North and West Route, and now the Welsh Marches Line (Llinell y Mers). The Welsh Marches of the middle ages formed a frontier between England and Wales, and to a degree maintained its independence from both. Today the term describes an amorphous and imprecise borderland more generically.

Arriva Welsh Marches Line
SOURCE: Google Street View "A465, Herefordshire HR2, UK," May 2009

A casual railway passenger on Arriva Trains Wales (Trenau Arriva Cymru) would find it completely feasible to experience the anomaly. Hundreds of people probably traverse this section every day without realizing its significance. One could board at Hereford, England and disembark at Abergavenny, Wales, covering a distance of about 28 miles with the anomaly included near its midpoint. Arriva posted a cheapest one-way fare of £9.60 when I checked this evening. It offered different travel options practically twice per hour.

Somehow I managed to capture one of the most remarkable geo-oddity Google Street View images I’ve ever witnessed (above). Don’t bother to click it. I recorded it as a screen grab because someday Google will overwrite my discovery with new imagery and it will be lost. Feel free to refer to the original image until that happens.

What makes it so special?

  • It’s on the border with a "Welcome to England" sign clearly visible.
  • An Arriva passenger train can be seen in the background just exiting the anomaly.
  • Did somebody say beer festival? — lower, left corner: "Bridge Inn Kentchurch Beer Festival 1st-4th May. 15 Real Ales, Food Available, Free Camping, Live Music Every Night." The Bridge Inn does have a website and I checked it. The establishment usually holds a beer festival during the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

What a lovely scene. Trains, real ale and border weirdness; a trifecta of 12MC enjoyment. I need to put the Welsh Marches on my visit list. Absolutely.

Semi-Practical Exclaves Galore!

On April 26, 2012 · 15 Comments

I mentioned a semi-practical exclave in Australia a few days ago. This was a spot in New South Wales where a resident in an automobile could exit his neighborhood without ever leaving NSW, but could return only via Queensland. I noted somewhat tongue-in-cheek that the "…situation becomes very special, perhaps unique, meaning I didn’t bother looking for any other occurrences: the curious case of a semi-practical exclave… it’s a practical exclave going in one direction but not in the other."

Of course when I’m too lazy to look for other instances and lay it out there as somewhat of an unstated challenge, then it’s almost certain that a loyal follower of the Twelve Mile Circle audience will find an example. Usually it’s an even better example.

View Larger Map

Let’s give some credit to "Voyager9270" who posted a comment in response: "There is an international version of the semi-practical exclave you describe above in Beebe Plain, Vt. and Stanstead, Quebec." Sure enough, Voyager9270 was absolutely correct. Canusa Street / Rue Canusa (Québec Route 247) runs directly along the border between the United States (Vermont) and Canada (Québec) for about a kilometre. It curves further into Canada to the east and it terminates at a T-intersection with Beebee Plain Road to the west, where there is also a border station.

Thus, a U.S. citizen on the Vermont side of Canusa Street lives in an international semi-practical exclave arrangement with an added level of inconvenience. Drivers can arrive from the rest of the United States without a problem. The right side of Canusa Street is completely within the United States. Leaving one’s home is another issue. Turning left onto Rue Canusa from a driveway in Vermont, heading back to the rest of the United States, places a driver on the Québec side of the road. This didn’t use to be a problem in the days before 9-11 when this border town loosely formed a single community. Now, however, a driver from the Vermont side of Canusa Street needs to clear a border station in order to re-enter the United States.

A couple of other interesting albeit completely irrelevant features I uncovered.

  • Beebe Plain is named for the town’s founder, Zeba Beebe, which I though was a great name.
  • Canusa is quite obviously a portmanteau of Canada-USA, and loyal readers know I loves me a good portmanteau.

There I was. I felt compelled to search for additional semi-practical exclaves now that I’d been armed with the knowledge that perhaps they might not be all that unusual after all. However I’d also figured out a secret pattern that I could use to identify them: find places where the border ran straight down the middle of a road. Not every property along the line would form a semi-practical exclave but it would certainly increase the odds. I added a corollary. Look for dead-end streets that branched from the border road that might create entire semi-practical neighborhoods.

There aren’t very many geo-oddity blogs. We’re a pretty small community. Not surprisingly, my search began to cross paths with the Basement Geographer. He’d already posted a couple of similar articles dealing with borders stung down the middle of roads: Bisected and Bilateral: Streets Shared By Two Countries, Part I (The Americas) and Bisected and Bilateral: Streets Shared By Two Countries, Part II (Europe and the Middle East). I didn’t want to tread on ground already covered there (even if I was taking a slightly different tack) so go read those articles because they’re great. I’m sure you could use them to find lots of semi-practical exclaves at those locations while you’re at it.

That left me with the challenge of finding roads overlain upon borders in places not already featured. I did manage to find a couple.

View Larger Map

The situation occurs on the border between England and Wales in Saltney, appropriately enough along Boundary Lane. This means "that houses on the west side of the street are in the Flintshire County Council area and in the North Wales Police jurisdiction, while those on the east side are in the Cheshire West and Chester unitary authority area and in the Cheshire Police jurisdiction."

Not every property along Boundary Lane qualifies as a semi-practical exclave. Many connect to other roadways that anchor them to their homelands. In England, Stanley Park Dr. and its various branches form a semi-practical exclave. In Wales, streets such as Larch Way, Douglas Place, Cwrt Terfyn seem to fit the definition as well.

Kansas City might be the most promising location, though. The dueling Kansas Cities, one in Kansas and one in Missouri, blend together almost seamlessly along State Line Road.

View Larger Map

State Line Road hugs the boarder for an astounding 12.5 miles (20 kmilometres) unbroken. This creates probably hundreds of properties that would qualify as semi-practical exclaves.

View Larger Map

Here is one easy example. It’s an entire apartment complex on the Missouri side of the line. State Line Road might be the longest urban road split down the middle by a border (meaning I didn’t bother looking for any longer occurrences).

Runaway Truck!

On January 26, 2012 · 17 Comments

I went on a brief roadtrip last Autumn, an experience I described in more detail in my Adventures along Maryland I-70/68. I mentioned a massive road cut at Sideling Hill. I couldn’t find a reason to highlight another feature, a runaway truck ramp just west of the cut as one descends descends the hill at great speed. I had enough material for the article so I saved it for another day.

You’ve probably seen these ramps too: odd, stubby stretches of roadway designed to halt trucks in their tracks should brakes fail while descending scary road grades. They exist all over the world with a similar purpose although under different names. Runaway truck ramp; truck arrester bed; safety ramp; escape bays, escape ramps and other variations influenced by engineering techniques or geography. Let’s see one in action during a 2009 test conducted by Canada’s Ministry of Transportation on Highway 11 in North Bay, Ontario. This one comes courtesy of YouTube. It’s all rather self-explanatory.

Few people probably realize that there are several different types. Auto Evolution describes four of them: A gravity escape ramp forces a truck uphill so gravity can slow it down. Arrester material ramps feature a thick gravel layer or some similar material causing friction as a truck passes. Sand pile ramps work in a similar manner. Arrester barriers act somewhat like arresting wires on an aircraft carrier as trucks barrel through a series of cable nets. Designs can be mixed-and-matched. The one I saw in western Maryland combined a gravity ramp with sand piles.

Runaway truck ramps have become a common roadway feature in mountainous areas. They also come in handy more than I imagined. Car and Driver explains,

By 1990, there were reportedly 170 runaway ramps in 27 (mostly western) states. Current data is scarce, but a 1981 NHTSA study notes there had been 2450 runaway-truck incidents that year, with 2150 of those involving the use of ramps… [a study described] the stopping inertia as “strong but absent the jarring impact of other crashes.” Vehicle damage was confined to lower engine accessories and air tanks.


View Larger Map

Does this stretch of highway look familiar? It should. I found the exact place along Highway 11 in North Bay featured in the video. The most difficult part of today’s article was finding runaway truck ramps on Street View. They aren’t labeled and I had to search areal imagery in painful detail before drilling down. I’m actually pretty proud of myself for finding this one.

This ramp definitely has cable nets and possibly gravel judging by the dust kicked-up as the truck makes its approach in the video.

United States

View Larger Map

I already mentioned the example in Maryland. This particular version can be found just outside of Vail, Colorado along Interstate 70. Notice how it would force a truck uphill so gravity could slow it down. It also appears to use a thick bed of gravel. It’s hard to tell.


View Larger Map

I managed to find an Australian example in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Here signage along the Great Western Highway declares it a "Safety Ramp." Once again, gravity and gravel are combined to force a stop. I’d be a bit wary of the large stone outcrop on the right. The ramp seems a little narrow to me. Imagine barreling down a mountain in a tractor-trailer without brakes and having to angle for that slot. I’d categorize that as a good example of threading-the-needle.

United Kingdom

View Larger Map

12MC reader "Thomas" in Scotland challenged me to find more Scottish material for my articles. Thomas, I searched satellite imagery all over the Highlands for a solid half-hour trying to uncover a runaway truck ramp for you, and I failed. Send me a map link if you’ve seen one.

The United Kingdom was difficult and not because of the issue of Truck vs. Lorry. Search engines dealt with that distinction without a problem. I did finally find one as I was about to give up on the UK entirely. It’s in Wales along the A4119 as one approaches Tonypandy in the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf. In this instance the descent doesn’t last very long but there’s a vicious roundabout at the bottom. I’d hate to consider the devastation that would ensue should a lorry plow into the circle at full speed, and I guess the road engineers in Tonypandy felt the same way.

I know runaway truck ramps exist in other countries but I don’t know what they’re called in their native languages. It’s hard enough with all the different English variations. What might this piece of road engineering be in German or Russian or Portuguese? A search engine isn’t much use if one can’t plug-in the proper term and, as I mentioned, they are exceedingly difficult to spot from satellite imagery.

Please post your favorite runaway truck ramps along with map links or embedded Street View images in the comments. Readers posting examples found in non-English speaking countries get double bonus points.

Totally Unrelated

American Meridian Happy Hour

Good times were had by all at the American Meridian Happy Hour on Tuesday. Our county counter extraordinaire is on the left (he said it was OK to post this). I’m on the right. Can you tell it was a LONG day at work? I’ll let other attendees self identify if they wish. We swapped all sorts of travel adventures involving geo-oddities. Thanks guys! — I wish the rest of the 12MC audience lived close enough to attend. Where else can one find people who totally understand why I once took my family miles out of the way to see the 45X90 Spot?

12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
July 2016
« Jun