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I’m a whole week late posting these sketches from our Sketching Day in Chester last Saturday. The weather was perfect, and the city’s so full of interesting things to draw it was a real wrench to leave. I spent most of my time drawing the gargoyles and finials on the cathedral ¬†roofline (glad I brought my glasses), but also nipped down into the basement of Spudulike to draw the remains of the Roman hypocaust underneath the restaurant! After three, the rain started to mizzle down and I went to the Grosvenor Museum to see if I could draw some of the Roman gravestones in the gallery, but it was too full of kids and tour groups (it was a Saturday, after all), so I didn’t get a chance. But it’s well worth remembering the Grosvenor as a venue for a cold wet winter mid-week afternoon for some excellent sketching.

So then this Saturday (yesterday), Al “Design by Alex”¬†Johnson and I went up to Llangollen for a day’s drawing and painting. Again, we had fantastic weather – the mist that was hanging over Shropshire in the morning burned out of the Dee valley by ten, and the sky didn’t have a cloud in it. Llangollen was bustling as ever, so we headed to the Llangollen Railway station to see what was going on there. We drew from the station platform for about an hour and then were invited by one of the volunteer conductors to go to the work shed and draw in there. We introduced ourselves to Roger, the weekend foreman, who very kindly showed us the shed and left us to it for the rest of the morning.

The work shed is vast – and absolutely stuffed full of locomotives in various stages of repair and construction. They Llangollen Railway work shop turns out to be Llangollen’s second-largest employer, and has a full-time engineering staff of twelve. They’re actually building two completely new steam locomotives there, one of which – named the “Unknown Warrior” – will be on the rails for the 2018 centenary of the Armistice.

Anyway, there was tons of stuff to draw – engines in various stages of coming together and being taken apart, piles of huge tools and parts, lines of wheels, buckets of rivets, you name it. We had an absolutely fantastic morning, and broke for lunch – eating butties and lamb oggies sitting out on the rocks in the middle of the River Dee itself with a view down towards the Llangollen bridge. Quite frankly, a point of view that beats even the terrace of the Cornmill!

We went back to the work shed after lunch, and met up with Roger again, who this time said: “You do know there’s a yard as well?” So then he showed us the yard – another huge space beyond the work shed filled with wagons, carriages, diesel and steam engines out on tracks, either waiting to be worked on or waiting to head down onto the main track for one of the weekend runs.

Again, there was almost too much to draw – but we managed to fill up the rest of the day drawing and painting to our hearts’ content.

I cannot recommend the Llangollen work shed and yard to anyone who has a chance to get up there. Doesn’t matter whether you’re drawing, painting or taking photographs, the shed and yard is a huge source of inspiration. And if you’re not a train-y person, don’t let the train-iness of it all put you off: there’s just a ton of stuff to look at: buildings, textures, nature vs. man-made, shiny new vs. decay, people working, visitors to the railway, etc. etc. etc. It reminds me very much of the reasons why Diana and I suggested “The Way” project last year, and actually revived my interest in all those ideas once more.

Huge thanks must go to Roger the volunteer foreman, the workshed engineers, the station conductors and all the staff at the Llangollen Railway for being so enthusiastic and accommodating. They didn’t bat an eyelid when we asked if we could do some sketching there, and went out of their way to suggest places we might find interesting and arrange access.

If you do go up yourself, introduce yourself to the station conductors first, and see if it’s possible to get to the work sheds: if they’re having a particularly busy day, or if there’s a special event on (there’s a big steam/car/train thing at the end of April for example), they warned us that it might not be convenient or possible to sketch in the sheds. Also, while weekends are usually fairly quiet at the sheds, they sometimes have jobs on that need to be finished, and they said they wouldn’t want people wandering around while they’re welding or moving rolling stock around in the yard. So do check with the conductors and the workshed foreman first. Also, they ask that if you’re planning to use any of the images commercially, that you check with their office first.

No question about it: the Llangollen work shed and yard definitely goes straight into the Inside Out “Top 10 Sketching Venues” list! Al and I will be going back there again as soon as we can – maybe we’ll see you there!