In July 1962, school was over and so was my schoolboy athletics career. Rugby had finished at the end of the Spring Term. No more weight-training and running? If so, that would be a welcome rest. So, for 2 months, what was I going to do for money and general fitness? There were no Park Runs then. For money I odd-jobbed for a local dairy but for fitness I did nothing! In October I was to go to university in Wales. What fitness work could I do there? Time would tell.
Steam trains were still around in 1962. I boarded one at our local station and travelled to the welsh coastal town of Bangor, which had a very different culture to the one I had grown up in. It was raining heavily when I arrived – apparently rain was the norm near Snowdonia. The older students met us at the station and took us to our digs in a specially charted bus. I checked in, looked out of the window onto a wet main road and thought – “Oh dear! What have I done?” I was very hemmed in. Where were the open fields and the exciting woods where I used to play all day when I was a primary school pupil? The reality of my situation had definitely kicked in rapidly. My link with the outside world was a telephone box 200 yards away. If I went for a walk, I found that many of the people did not speak English as their first language – a strange experience for a young student who had rarely been out of South Yorkshire.
When I first arrived in the welsh town by the mountains, I had failed to realise that you could use the natural surroundings to design your own personal fitness routine. Athletics and Rugby require special facilities but walking and running do not. They are free and available to everyone. This was not such a bad place after all.
So, looking for outdoor space, it seemed as though the mountains near to the town could be a source of recreation for me and so it proved. One of my digs mates had a small motorbike and was into rock-climbing. I tried that with him but the danger did not appeal to me. I preferred the hill-walking. This could be as hard or easy as you wanted it to be. As my fitness improved I eventually decided to also try rugby again – “social” this time. What a good move. No first team for me! The second and third teams sounded attractive and so it proved. I had been in this situation before when I hurt my back and I had enjoyed the feeling of “pressure off”.
We travelled all over the region playing various village teams and sports clubs. Great! We embraced the new culture. There was also a good social life attached to playing rugby. Home matches were played close to the Menai Bridge in a beautiful setting. Training was also on these fields. However, at the end of 1962, the coldest winter for a very long time set in, so match-rugby was not an option. The frost meant that we could not even train on the pitches. Someone had a brilliant idea – use the beach! We certainly did and at times we would also use the sea as that was frozen too – a rare phenomenon. We managed to keep fit and when you are running you do not really feel the cold as much.
Matches were also played against the other colleges of the University such as Aberystwyth, Cardiff and Swansea. They involved travelling significant distances. Cardiff and especially Swansea were attractive to me after being “winter-bound” for so long. In fact Swansea is where I was due to go to continue with my studies in October 1963.