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Invasion Llangollen

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Llangollen is a town of surprises -- including the largest Dr Who exhibition in the universe. CAROL FEWSTER travels through time to investigate

Step through the doors, and in the dim light a Dalek blocks your path. The heavily armoured your path. The heavily armoured alien is far larger than you might expect, and its rows of burnished studs make a forbidding sight. There is no escape: the only way is forward, and moving into the depths simply draws you deeper into the strange world of Dr Who.

Eerie blue tights flash, and strange electronic noises wail overhead. From the familiar blue police call box, the world of Dr Who's Tardis opens out as your journey deeper in time and space. Every turn along the mirrored corridors draws you deeper into the labyrinth, as you join the BBC's famous Dr Who figures on their adventures into the unknown.

Suddenly a silver-suited figure towers beside you. The unearthly features of the Cyberman, wandering through the display to the delight and horror of the children, adds to the sense of unreality. Before you, on the screen, the well-known features of Dr Who fade away as another Dr Who regenerates before your eyes.

This is the largest exhibition of Dr Who memorabilia in the universe, and one that draws an army of fans from all over the world. As the Cyberman marches on, fans argue excitedly over which Dr Who was best. From the first screening on that November night in 1963, people all over the world have watched the adventures of the time-travelling doctor. As the doctor and his winsome assistant whirled through time and space, fans in over 70 countries around the world watched entranced as the pair just about defeat every foe dreamed up by the fertile minds at the BBC.

The adventures of Dr Who are imprinted in many a memory -- and for most fans, the very best Dr Who of all is the one they saw first. Debate has been lively over the merits of the recent movie version, where Spielberg-esque sets and hi-tech special effects replaced the much-loved rubber and plyboard creations of the television series. Yet for decades, the fantastic costumes and wild creations languished in a basement at the BBC.

By one of the finest acts of time travel, the collection is now on display in a converted mill in the small Welsh town of Llangollen. It took the persuasive powers of staff at the Dapol Model Railway factory in Cheshire to drag them out. The factory was already producing Dr Who models, so it made sense to display the elaborate train sets so beloved of railway buffs in the same place as the Dr Who memorabilia which often shared a loyal fan club.

Yet at the last moment, disaster struck. Just as the collection was being moved from Cheshire to mountainous Wales, a huge factory fire destroyed many of the moulds and left staff battling to save as many as they could to preserve this little piece of 20th-century history.

But in spite of the near-disaster, the result is splendid. There are the doctors' cloaks in all their glory; there is Bessie, the charming Edwardian car driven by Jon Pertwee in his days as Dr Who. And there are all the monsters, still as terrifying behind glass as they were from behind the sofa. In the new exhibition, you press a button and the malevolent creatures lean towards you waving a scabrous claw.

And as if the stroll through deepest space and the monsters inhabiting it were not enough, the same converted mill in Llangollen also houses exhibitions which bring out the enthusiast in us all. From the hall of monsters, you can descend into the depths to watch models being intricately made in the factory. Behind laminated glass, a man lovingly clips together tiny trains; in another bay, a woman puts the finishing touches to miniature red and black Daleks; and in a third, a woman is carefully spraying the gold studs to each Dalek.

Upstairs, too, is an enthusiast's dream. The world's largest permanent museum of model railways is laid out in huge rooms, with a couple of dozen large working display layouts. There, little boys -- some of them quite grown up now -- push buttons to make the miniature trains shunt back and forth, whir through tunnels and chug through tiny landscapes.

And that, perhaps, is the secret of just why the Dr Who and model railway museums work so well in Llangollen. This picturesque town itself is stuffed with quirky museums and living history. Caught between dramatic mountain scenery and huddled over the rushing River Dee as it surges along the valley, the town cherishes those things which bring out the child in us all.

Along the valley of the Dee, steam trains chug through lush fields. as the sheep barely pause in their grazing. Through tunnels, up high into the hills, the steam trains rush under the loving care of those who tend them. Pick the right weekend of the year -- a Great Western weekend perhaps, or a Thomas The Tank celebration -- and you can chug through Wales under the admiring gaze of enthusiasts who throng the fields just to photograph the engine. In the comfortable carriages, the tone is hushed as passengers talk lovingly of tracks and rolling stock.

Voices are just as hushed on the tranquil canal as visitors to Llangollen Wharf take a trip on a horse-drawn boat along the canal where light shimmers over the pebbles and the ducks swim lazily out of the way. From the cafe with its gaily painted canal ware to the old bridges and splendid aqueduct, a boat trip is a journey back to a gentler time. And for boat enthusiasts, the converted mill which houses daleks and train sets is also home to a museum of inland waterways.

With its quaint tea shops and devotion to the past, from puffing trains to narrowboat rides, Llangollen is an odd place to confront a Dalek. Yet this small town gives itself over to pleasure, from the International Musical Eisteddfod which takes place every July to the detailed displays of Yeti, Cybermen and Timelords which take every Dr Who fan whirling away in time and space.

PHOTO (COLOR): Llangollen on the south bank of the south bank of the River Dee in Wales boasts the largest collection of Dr Who memorabilia on Earth (above and previous pages. The town's what and canal (far right)

PHOTO (COLOR): Besides the Dr Who exhibition, which runs alongside the world's largest permanent display of model railways, Llangollen has its own steam train (right) and the Pontcysyllte canal aqueduct (below)


By CAROL FEWSTER FURTHER INFORMATION

Llangollen Tourist Information Centre, Town Hall, Castle Street, Clwyd LL20 5PD, tel: (01978) 860828.

HOW TO GET THERE


By Car: Follow the M54 from Birmingham to Telford then the A5 to Llangollen. Or from Manchester take the M56 to Chester, the M53 and A55 south then the A483 down through Wrexham.


By Rail: up to four hours from London Euston or from Manchester one-and-a-half hours.

WHAT TO SEE

Dr Who Exhibition, Lower Dee Exhibition Centre, Mill Street, Llangollen LL20 8RX, tel: (01978) 860584. Open daily year round 10am-5pmAdmission: £4. The centre also houses International Model Railway World and the Museum of the Inland Waterways All attraction admission: £7. Llangollen Railway, Abbey Road, Llangollen LL20 8SN, tel: (01978 860951 (24-hour information) or (01978) 860979 (office hours only). Trains daily Apr-Oct and weekends/£4.60 return. The Wharf, Llangollen, tel: (01978) 860702. Horse-drawn boat trips 945 minutes return). Admission: £2.50. Longer trips to the aqueduct are also available. The International Musical Eisteddfod will take place 8-13 July 1997, Contact the Eisteddfod Office, Llangollen LL20 8NG, tel: (01978) 860236.

Plas Newydd (above), Hill Street, Llangollen LL20 8AW, tel: (01978) 861314. The home of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, known as the "Ladies of Llangollen", from 1780-1831. The story goes that they had eloped from Kilkenny in Ireland before settling here. The black and white house, which retains some Gothic elements and is surrounded by pretty gardens, is quarter-of-a-mile from the town centre. House: open 1 Apr-end Oct daily 10am-5pm. Admission: £1.80. Gardens open year round.

WHERE TO STAY

Tyddyn Isaf, Rhewl, Ruthin, Clwyd LL15 1UH, tel: (01824) 703367. Self-catering £30-£40 per night or £90-£240 per week. A farmhouse, converted granary and a caravan. Wonderful views over the Clwydian hills.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Fewster, Carol (November 1996). Invasion Llangollen. In Britain .
  • MLA 7th ed.: Fewster, Carol. "Invasion Llangollen." In Britain [add city] November 1996. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Fewster, Carol. "Invasion Llangollen." In Britain, edition, sec., November 1996
  • Turabian: Fewster, Carol. "Invasion Llangollen." In Britain, November 1996, section, edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Invasion Llangollen | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Invasion_Llangollen | work=In Britain | pages= | date=November 1996 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Invasion Llangollen | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Invasion_Llangollen | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024}}</ref>