Category Archives: Wales

South Wales, Port Talbot and Famous Movie Stars

Aberavon Swansea Bay

“I would like to go back to Wales. I’m obsessed with my childhood and at least three times a week dream I am back there” – Anthony Hopkins

After a comfortable night in the caravan and a full English breakfast in the morning I tentatively raised the subject of plans for the day.

I hope that he won’t mind me saying but my travelling companion is rather eclectic by nature and I knew that he had a lot of things that he wanted to show me but I was certain that he didn’t really have what you would call a schedule  to follow.  It was a tough thirty minutes or so putting a sensible itinerary together but this was essential because without a set route we would almost certainly have been driving all around South Wales in a completely ragged and hopelessly disorganised way and contributing thousands of tonnes of CO2 towards global warming.

To begin with we drove west towards Swansea because our first destination was Aberavon close to the steel town of Port Talbot and we come now to the question of the Welsh language because as an Englishman I confess that I am seriously confused about the naming of Port Talbot.

The Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith) has spent several years obsessively insisting on using Welsh place names instead of English; for example Cardiff is now Caerdydd*, Swansea is Abertawe and Merthyr Tidfil has amusingly become Merthyr Tudful and this is why I am confused because Port Talbot stubbornly remains Port Talbot, curious because it is named (wash your mouth out) after an English landowning family, the Talbots, who built the port there.

Let’s think about it.  What used to be Portmadoc in North Wales has become Porthmadog  and just west of Swansea Burry Port is Porth Tywyn, so following that line of logic Port Talbot should surely be something like Porth Turbot but whilst Cymdeithas yr Iaith have zealously removed as many English place names as possible Port Talbot curiously remains Port Talbot. But then, who wants to be called after a fish in any language

steel-works-sign

Welsh is a noble ancient language but the absurd thing is that Cymdeithas yr Iaith are so opposed to anything remotely English that when there is no equivalent (traditional) Welsh word they just make one up (except for Port Talbot).  Last time I identified Tacsi and Ambiwlans, two completely unnecessary new words that have been added to the lexicon of Wales and now I present further evidence such as  ffacs (for fax), garag (garage) and compiwter (computer) but driving along today I came upon possibly the best example of all.

We drove past the entrance to a GOLF course.

The game of golf originated in Scotland and is played all over the World.  All over the World it is called GOLF, every country in Western Europe calls it GOLF (check it out if you don’t believe me – Catalan, Basque, Galician) if Scotland had a language it would almost certainly call it GOLF, but in Wales they have decided to call it GOLFF which is surely language revisionism at its most absurd.

I laughed so much I almost had to pull over and stop for fear of crashing the car!

Port Talbot Steel works from Aberavon Beach

After  some confusion and an unnecessary detour through the town we eventually arrived at the seafront and a stunning three-mile wide beach, perhaps one of the best beaches that you could ever hope to see, magnificent golden honey-comb sand only just separated from a burning blue sky by a foaming white surf, certainly one of the finest that I have ever set foot on and I walked to the shoreline and admired the views that perfectly combined natural and built environment with the Port Talbot steel works to my left and the docks of Swansea to my right, a pair of modern industrial pincers surrounding the idyllic Swansea Bay and the Bristol Channel beyond.

I could have stayed much longer, but…

… of course my pal hadn’t brought me here to see the beach because there were more important things to tell me about. Film actors!  Because Port Talbot is blessed by being either birthplace or nearby birthplace or the home to some of the film industries most famous people.

Burton Hopkins Sheen

Richard Burton was born in nearby Pontrhydyfen, Anthony Hopkins was born in Margam and Michael Sheen (born in Newport) was bought up in Port Talbot.  My friend likes these bits of information and we spoke about our visit to a local man on the promenade.  “A shame you weren’t here three days ago”, he said, “Anthony Hopkins was here shopping in the pie shop”.

Quite frankly this sounded rather unlikely to me and I thought straight away that it was a little joke at our expense.  I did some research when I returned home and it turns out to be entirely true, he was indeed in South Wales just a week before our visit.  Nevertheless, call me a sceptic if you like but I somehow doubt that Anthony Hopkins, who lives in Malibu, California and enjoys a life of fine dining experiences, has any sort of fantasies about tucking into a Peter’s Pie!

anthony-hopkind-dreams-of-pies

We left Aberavon and Port Talbot and made our way north-east towards the Rhondda Valley stopping on the way at the village of Pontrhydyfen to see the house where Richard Burton was born and the pub The Miners Arms which proudly displays old photographs of the actor on his many visits home including a famous return in 1972 when he took Elizabeth Taylor to meet his family while filming the movie “Under Milk Wood”.

It must have been great to be in The Miners Arms the night Burton turned up there. Drinks all round and all of it charged to Richard’s bar bill!

I thought about this.  Everyone has to come from somewhere, however remote, however grubby, however humble.  I guess if I were rich and successful and married to one of the most famous woman in the world I’d probably want to take her back to my home town to meet the folks just as Richard did.

After Pontrhydyfen we drove to the Rhondda an area consisting  made up of two valleys, those of the larger Rhondda Fawr valley (mawr large) and the smaller Rhondda Fach valley (bach small).  We reached Rhondda Fawr and after an argument about the route headed north towards the Brecon Beacons.  My route because I was driving!

burton-visit

An interesting picture, Richard looks likes he wants to get it over with and Elizabeth looks as though she is ready to bail out – “I’m a celebrity get me out of here!”

* I wonder if the Welsh Language Society are aware that there are five towns in the USA (in Alabama, California, Illonois, Maryland and Tennessee) called Cardiff and none of them are referred to as Caerdydd.  If I were Cymdeithas yr Iaith I would be urgently taking that up with The United States Board on Geographic Names!

South Wales, Taking The Fosse Way to Trecco Bay

porthcawl-has-everything

“My studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.”  –  Mark Twain, ‘A Tramp Abroad –That Awful German Language’

Just a few months ago I went to mid Wales and stayed in a caravan in Borth, near Aberystwyth.  Naturally I wrote about the experience.  In one post I talked about some things I find amusing about the  Welsh Language. I find things amusing about most languages, even English.  Just a bit of fun, nothing remotely malicious. Rather like Mark Twain I like to think.

I received a lot of negative response.  The really gross stuff with the dreadfully bad language and the most appalling racist personal abuse I deleted but some of the less offensive comments I allowed to stay attached to the post just to demonstrate how some half-wit ignorant people have no sense of humour.

Salvidor Dali once said, “Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali.”  and I rather feel like that about being English!

One responder accused me of being a “cultureless, uncouth, knuckle-dragging racist” and warned me never to visit Wales again because I would not be even half-welcome in the hillsides.  I saw the funny side in that comment because in spitting out his obnoxious bile he must surely have been looking in a mirror when he wrote it.  As his blood boiled and his brain fried I am certain that the irony was lost on him!

I ignored him and risking assault with a deadly dictionary set off in October for another caravan holiday this time in the south, to Porthcawl and the holiday village at Trecco Bay.

Undeterred, I will return to the issue of the Welsh language again later…

dictionary-attack

It was a long difficult two hundred and seventy mile journey from Lincolnshire to Porthcawl but as soon as I arrived I knew that I was going to like it there.

South Wales isn’t new to me of course, I studied history at Cardiff University between 1972 to 1975, worked a summer season at Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Barry Island and I have visited several times since but on this occasion I was travelling with my good friend who hails from the Rhondda Valley and he had promised to show me some things that I might not otherwise have expected to see.  A privileged insider’s view as it were and I was looking forward to that!

The Parkdean holiday site was neat and tidy and the caravan was equipped as though it were my home, central heating, cooker, fridge/freezer etc.  It is a big site, once, it is claimed, the largest in the United Kingdom which was once host to hundreds of holidaymaker families from the South Wales valleys.  To assist with orientation it is divided into sectors, all named after trees.  Finding the caravan was rather like being lost in a forest.  We were in the Cedars district.

trecco-bay-caravan-park

This reminded me of a weekend trip to Haugesund in Norway a few years ago.  I stayed at the Hotel Amanda which is home to the annual Norwegian film festival and the whole place had a movie theme with every room named after a famous film.

I would have liked to have been allocated the Gladiator suite but we were given Shane, named after the famous 1953 Alan Ladd western (one of my favourites by the way), which although not as exciting as Ben Hur or Spartacus was a whole lot better than the Rosemary’s Baby room on the opposite side of the corridor because I could have guaranteed nightmares if we had been sleeping there.  Actually, I might have refused to attempt sleep in there at all!

This is Marilyn Monroe in Haugesund

Marilyn Monroe Haugesund Norway

It had been a long day, my pal had recommended a rather curious route which I should have challenged but was foolish enough to agree to which took us along the Fosse Way, an ancient Roman Road, almost two thousand years old and complete with all original hazards, then through the crowded and always overrated Cotswolds, a tedious crawl through Cheltenham and Gloucester with a hundred or so red lights to negotiate and then a drive through the frankly uninspiring Forest of Dean.

I am not saying the Forest of Dean is uninspiring in general you understand, just this bit of it where the road carves through.  Before going on I want to clear that up because I don’t want the good folk of Gloucestershire getting upset with me.  I am likely to have enough trouble in Wales!

fosse-way

I am not usually that enthusiastic about motorways but boy was I glad to reach the M4 for the final thirty miles and vowed there and then to take the motorway option back home at the end of the week.  Glaciers form quicker than a journey along the Fosse Way!

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention – on the way (about two hours previously) I had taken a short detour through the town of Rugby in Warwickshire which is where I had grown up as a young boy and a teenager but I failed to generate much interest in that, not even a short walk to see a statue of the poet Rupert Brooke or to visit the Gilbert Rugby Ball Museum.

As a consequence of dashing through Rugby and then failing to find anywhere suitable for a lunch stop on the Fosse Way (since the Romans left nobody uses the Fosse Way any more so there are no pubs or service stations, not even for a Caesar Salad) we arrived in Trecco Bay a little earlier than I had imagined we would.

fosse-way-service-station

An odd thing was that it wasn’t raining.

If you have ever been to Wales then you probably won’t believe that so I will say it again, in fact I will shout it out loud – it wasn’t raining!  It always rains when I go to Wales but this evening there was blue sky and the prospect of a good sunset so after allocating rooms and settling in I made my way to the beach and waited for a Welsh Dragon to breathe fire and turn the sky red and after only a short while I was not disappointed.

Wales Porthcawl Sunset

Another Story for Halloween

A couple of years ago I went to Wales for a holiday with my daughter and grandchildren.  We stayed in a remote cottage, a mile from the road and without any public lighting.

On the first night I was rather tired and went to bed early but sometime about one o’clock Kim woke me to say she could hear something – something fluttering.  I told her she was imagining things and that she should go back to sleep but then I heard it too.  A gentle quivering high in the beams, probably a moth I reassured myself but then Kim demanded man action so I got out of bed and turned on the light.  Oh My God it was a bat.  A bat.  A bloody bat!

Little brown bat

It was quite happy flying about in the blacked out room but the light send it into a delirious panic and it began to swoop about the room and jump from beam to beam and Kim started to shriek.

From under the shelter of the duvet Kim kept shouting ‘get rid of it, get rid of it!’and I was doing my best but as anyone who has ever had a bat in their bedroom in the middle of the night will know this is much easier said than done.  I was still half asleep and although I am in peak physical condition the creature was a whole lot faster than me.  There were various suggestions ranging from catching it in a fishing net to throwing a towel over it but it was moving so quickly that all of these suggestions were completely useless.

My one and only idea was to open the window and hope that it would find its own way out and in a huge slice of good fortune that is exactly what happened and it suddenly disappeared into the ink black sky.

There is a lot of folklore and old wives’ tales about bats such as:

  • It’s lucky to keep a bat bone in your clothes.
  • Keeping the right eye of a bat in your waistcoat will make you invisible
  • Carrying powdered bat heart will stop a man bleeding to death
  • Washing your face in the blood of a bat enables you to see in the dark.

I have to say that I like the idea of being invisible!

It is also said that a bat in the house means that it is haunted and the ghost has let it in…

Halloween Pumpkin

The following night I stayed up a little later but shortly after Kim had gone to bed I said goodnight to Sally and walked along the corridor to the bedrooms.  Part way along someone called out “Granddad, Granddad, Granddad” three times and assuming it was one of the three children I went to their bedrooms and asked who was calling me – all three were fast asleep, very fast asleep.  I went back to Sally and asked if she was trying to trick me but she denied it.  I went back to the children and in the corridor passed a cold spot that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand out like porcupine quills.

This was a “Blair Witch Project” moment. Let me remind you that this cottage was very, very remote, a mile from the nearest road and the night was as black as tar.  It was a ghost, believe me it was a ghost.  Do you remember my story about the bat and how if they fly into a house it is because they are haunted and the ghost lets them in?

I was scared, Sally was scared but Kim wasn’t scared and told us not to be silly and just go to bed.

All was fine until about one o’clock in the morning when I had a tapping noise that woke me up.  I heard footsteps downstairs and thought one of the children must be walking about so I went to investigate.  In the corridor I heard soft and measured footsteps in front of me, the voice said “Granddad” and as I followed into the black treacle darkness I said, “who’s there, who’s there?”  but when I checked the bedrooms Sally and all of the children were all still fast asleep, very fast asleep.  As I turned to leave something cold brushed past me like a floating whisper and touched me on the cheek.

I was scared, very scared!  I put all of the downstairs lights on and fled back to bed, closed the children’s bedroom door, closed our bedroom door (as though that would make a difference) and pulled the duvet up under my chin and listened while the footsteps and the bumping noises continued.

ghost Wales Cottahe Llanuwchllyn

This has happened to me before.  Once in a remote Posada in Santillana del Mar in Spain we were left alone for the night, there was no one else there and we both heard something walk along the corridor outside our room and stop for a moment outside of our door.  Even Kim agrees with that ghost story.

You may not believe me either but in the morning there was another spooky thing when I discovered fish heads and crab claws in a neat pile on the roof of my car and I have absolutely no explanation for that unless it was some form of Druid exorcism.

Let me tell you as well that on every one of the next few nights I woke in the early hours and never once did I hear another noise in that house and I never felt the cold spot again.

Also in the morning the owner of the cottage came to see us and we asked the question about the haunting.  Very quickly she denied it and said that we were being silly but we all thought that she was just a little too quick to make the denial.

Have you ever stayed in a haunted house or seen a ghost?

halloween-witch

 

Travelling – What A View!

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Wales – The Submerged Forest of Prehistoric Borth

Sunken Forest Borth Wales

After fish and chip lunch at Aberystwyth we returned early to Borth because we knew that this was the right time for low tide and we wanted to see the submerged Bronze Age forest which, thanks to the restlessness of the sea, can only be seen once a day.

There is something primeval and bleak about Borth.  Something essentially Welsh. Fishermen’s cottages alongside Victorian grand houses. None of them used now for their original purpose.  A barren, soulless ribbon of houses and small shops, a community built at the side of a road along a storm beach overlooking a vast bay punctuated by decaying wooden groynes and lapped in Summer by an endless sequence of lazy rollers but in Winter lashed by frantic Atlantic storms.

Sunken Forest Borth Wales

The submerged forest is a prehistoric woodland, an eerie landscape of preserved trunks of hundreds of oak, pine, alder and beech trees that died more than four and a half thousand years ago and which has been revealed by the ferocious storms of 2010 which stripped thousands of tons of sand from beaches in Cardigan Bay.

The shin-high stumps were once part of a forest that before rising sea levels stretched for many miles on boggy land between Borth and Ynyslas and covered the whole area before it turned into a peat bog and was eventually overwhelmed by sand and seawater.  They have been miraculously well preserved due to the conditions in the bog which are deprived of oxygen and have a high alkaline level.

Lucky probably because if people had found these two hundred years ago they would no doubt have chopped them up and burnt them on a fire.

Sunken Forest

This was absolutely wonderful, we walking in a place where our ancestors lived thousands of years ago and here’s a thought – it doesn’t even make the Tripadvsor list of top things to do in Borth.  Sad that it cannot get an entry on a list which includes the RNLI lifeboat depot and the railway station waiting room.

Things have to be very special to get into my top ten life/travel experiences and this one immediately elbowed  its way in because I considered it a privilege to be able to walk in this ancient primeval forest which is estimated to extend twenty miles out into Cardigan Bay and which some naturalists speculate that it covered an area of land from Anglesea to Cornwall.  What a true sense of history an experience such as this provides.

Actually, my top ten now has about a hundred entries and is bulging at the seams.

Somewhere amongst the stumps archaeologists found a timber walkway made from short lengths of coppiced branches, held in place with upright posts.  It has been dated to between three and four thousand  years old, built as the local people found ways to cope with living in an increasingly waterlogged environment.  Two years ago human and animal footprints were found preserved in the hardened top layer of peat, along with scatterings of burnt stones from ancient hearths and at about the same time some beach walkers discovered a set of four thousand year old red deer antlers, four feet wide!

The skeletal trees, twisted roots and black stumps are said to have given rise to the local legend of a lost kingdom, Cantre’r Gwaelod, drowned beneath the waves.  The Welsh Atlantis.  Also known as the Lowland Hundred, the kingdom was first mentioned in the Black Book of Carmarthen, the earliest surviving manuscript written entirely in Welsh from around the year 1250. In folk-law the kingdom was believed to have been flooded when a forgetful or distracted maiden named Mererid allowed a well in her care to overflow but we know now of course that it was as a result of the end of the last great Ice Age when sea levels rose and consumed the land.

Beach Groynes Grimsby

It may have been exposed because of changes to the sea defences.  When I came on holiday to Borth fifty years ago there were timber groynes extending out to sea but due to the cost of maintenance these have long since been abandoned and allowed to rot away into the sea.  With no defence against the power of the waves the 2010 storms did extensive damage all along this coast.

“In time, the protection afforded to Borth by the shingle bank will disappear, leading to a general collapse of the bank itself, resulting in major economic losses to residential properties, businesses and the tourist industry, as well as the disruption to, if not the loss of the village and transport infrastructure as it currently exists, and as a result, the local community.” – Ceredigion County Council

As a consequence new replacement stone defences have been installed at a cost of seven million pounds and a local archaeologist, sensing our interest, told us that they were now waiting to see if the forest will soon disappear again for another four thousand years.

Borth old groyne stump

It was our final evening in Borth, I prepared evening meal (chicken cooked in red wine and vegetables with Pembrokeshire potatoes) and then I made a last visit to the seafront where I was rewarded with a second magnificent sunset.  So magnificent that I began to question why I insist in travelling to the Greek Islands to see something that is equally as good here in Wales.

It was the day of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom so after a final visit to the camp club house and half an hour of average cabaret I returned to the caravan to watch the television.

I didn’t expect to stay up for very long but soon it became clear that there was going to be an unexpected leave vote so I stayed up into the small hours to watch the drama unfold.  Earlier today on the beach I had experienced ancient history and tonight I was watching modern history being made and I was a part of the moment.

The following morning we planned to leave early but we were so absorbed by the result of the referendum vote we stayed longer than planned and then as we left it started to rain so with only a brief stop for breakfast at Aberystwyth we drove straight home to Grimsby without stopping.

I had enjoyed my week, before we arrived I didn’t expect to I have to say but it was good fun to go back to a place of childhood holidays and I have to confess that my pal, Dai was absolutely right when he predicted that after this I would be a fan forever of caravan holidays.

Wales Borth Sunset

Wales – The Devil’s Bridge

Aberystwyth Postcard

The morning weather was wonderful, blue sky decorated with billowing clouds like white linen sheets, fresh from the laundry drying in the breeze so we hurried our breakfast and then set off in the direction once more of nearby Aberystwyth.

I drove carefully because last time I was here five years ago I was landed with a grossly unfair speeding ticket and today I found the sneaky camera that got me and I at last understood how I missed it!

We didn’t stop at Aberystwyth but drove straight through along the Vale of Rheidol alongside the narrow gauge railway line until we reached the station at the top at Devil’s Bridge.

Railways in Britain are a national obsession.  When the Victorians weren’t building piers they were building railways.  And by the time that they were nationalised in 1948 there were simply too many of them to be economical.  So in the 1960’s, based on a document called the Beeching Report’, the Government set about a reform programme which resulted in thousands of miles of track being dismantled and hundreds of stations being closed.

Railway enthusiasts everywhere went into collective shock but quickly rallied and almost immediately started organising themselves into preservation societies and very soon they were relaying railway  lines almost as quickly as British Rail contractors were tearing them up.  Now, every weekend these devotees of track and steam gather together to stoke boilers, grease points and polish name plates and to run engines on restored lines or on narrow gauge railways all over the country.  It is almost like an act of shared defiance against the policies of the national government.

Welsh Island Railway

The Devil’s Bridge is at a dramatic point in the landscape where the River Mynach tumbles ninety boiling metres in five steps down a steep and narrow ravine before it meets the River Rheidol and is unusual in that there are three separate bridges each one built over the previous as though one by one they have slipped into the gorge.

The most recent is an iron bridge (1901), which was built over a stone bridge (1753), which was built when the original bridge was declared to be unstable.

Devil's Bridge Ceredigion

According to the legend the original bridge was built by the Devil, as it was too difficult for mere mortals to achieve this feat of engineering.  Probably because of the weather the Devil had never been to Wales before but sometime around the eleventh century he dropped by.  As he wandered about admiring the scenery (no one has satisfactorily explained why he didn’t go somewhere even more scenic, such as Snowdonia for example) he came across an old lady who seemed rather upset.

 ”What’s the matter?” he asked (or possibly roared).

“Oh, I’m in such a terrible muddle and I don’t know what to do! My cow has wandered across the river and I can’t get her back”.

“Ah!” said the Devil “What you need my dear, is a bridge, and I am just the man to build you one. Why don’t you go home, and in the morning there will be a bridge waiting for you. All I ask in return is to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge!”

“Very Well then” she said “It’s a bargain. I’ll see you in the morning. Nos da, Goodnight”

That night she wondered about this stranger who would build her a bridge. ‘What a strange request!  Why should I cross the bridge to get my cow back if he gets to keep me in exchange? Mind you it is very tempting offer”

Devil's Bridge Wales

The next day she got up and called for her faithful dog. Together they went down to the river. “Well well” she couldn’t believe her eyes. In front of her was the best bridge that she had ever seen!

“I told you that I would build you a bridge” said the Devil. “Now it’s your turn to keep your side of the bargain”.

“I know, you get to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge” and she started to walk towards the bridge. But just when she got to the entrance, she stopped, took out a bone from her apron pocket and hurled it across the bridge. As quick as a flash and before the Devil could stop it, the dog chased after it.

“Aaaaaaagh!!!!!” screeched the Devil. “You stupid old woman, I don’t believe it! Your smelly, hairy farm dog has become the first living thing to cross my bridge. It’s no good to me”  he screamed and then he vanished and I can understand that because I am not what you call a dog lover myself.   After this the Devil was never seen in Wales again – some say it was because he was so embarrassed at being outwitted by the old lady but I suspect that it more likely had something to do with the weather!

Actually, it turns out that Satan is quite a prolific bridge builder and Wikipedia lists at least a hundred Devil’s Bridges, mostly in Europe.

Read here about how the Devil walked in Devon

Vale of Rheidol Light Railway

The gorge and the waterfalls are probably best described by a previous visitor, the poet, William Wordsworth:

How, art thou named? In search of what strange land
From what huge height, descending? Can such force
Of waters issue from a British source,
Or hath not Pindus fed thee, where the band
Of Patriots scoop their freedom out, with hand
Desperate as thine? Or come the incessant shocks
From that young Stream, that smites the throbbing rocks
Of Viamala? There I seem to stand,
As in life’s morn; permitted to behold,
From the dread chasm, woods climbing above woods,
In pomp that fades not; everlasting snows;
And skies that ne’er relinquish their repose;
Such power possess the fitmily of floods
Over the minds of Poets, young or old!

We stayed a while at the station and watched the stream train arrive and then we returned to Aberystwyth for lunch and had seaside fish and chips and sat in the sun on the promenade to eat them.

Borth Fisherman

Wales – Aberdovey and the Welsh Language

Borth Mid Wales Rain

“Cenedl heb iaith, cenedi heb galon” – Welsh proverb (A nation without language is a nation without heart)

The following morning it was raining. Raining quite hard as it happened and this was much more like the Wales that I remembered from family holidays when I was a boy.

After breakfast it began to ease away and by nine o’clock I was able to leave the caravan and walk again to the seafront and take the cliff top walk once more to the war memorial and look out over the bay where things looked very different today as grey clouds filled the sky in all directions.

On the way back down I spoke to a man who was hoping for better weather because he was preparing to do some repairs and painting of his house and he told me how the properties are under continual assault from the weather and from the salt water and how much work that entails in keeping properties well maintained.  Back home I like to paint my house every fifteen years or so, whether it needs it or not, but here he explained it is an annual chore.

Aberdovey Wales

By mid morning there was some improvement so we left the caravan and headed north towards the seaside town of Aberdovey on the opposite side of the estuary. I always like to go to Aberdovey because it is one of my favourite places in Wales.

A perfect seaside town with a sandy beach, a busy harbour, brightly painted houses and a small public park.  Parents with children entertain themselves in the simple pursuit of crabbing because thankfully there are no amusement arcades, no tacky tourist trains and no furious fast food diners.

As we drove around the north shore of the estuary the weather started to change for the better and by the time we had found a parking spot and wandered off in the direction of the harbour the clouds were rapidly disappearing and the sun was beginning to shine.

Aberdovey Beach

After lunch at the Dovey Inn we spent some time in the charming streets away from the seafront and left and carried on to Towyn.  Towyn is the terminus of the Talyllyn railway, which is just about my favourite narrow gauge railway in Wales but I didn’t mention this to my travelling companion because I was certain that having turned down the opportunity to take the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway just the previous day he was almost certain not to have had a Saint Paul on the road to Damascus type moment overnight and suddenly been converted into a steam railway enthusiast.

Instead we went to the seafront and sat and in the sunshine were content to sit and watch the sea and the boats before going to a supermarket for some supplies.

Tal-y-Llyn Lake Wales

We had driven here along the coastal route so we choose now to return via the country so we headed inland towards the foothills of Cader Idris mountain range and Tal-y-lyn lake.  If I was choosing to move house and live in Wales then this is where I would select, I prefer it to the north and the south, the countryside is green and gentle, the lakes are blue and serene and it is not nearly so busy.

Place names are hard to pronounce of course because trying to understand the Welsh language is like trying to crawl through a hawthorn bush without getting lacerated and as I called out the names of the villages as we drove through them and each one I got horribly wrong.

Since devolution the Welsh language fanatics have become rather like the French with their opposition to anything Anglo-Saxon and they have gone to a lot of trouble to replace as many words as possible and when they can revert them to Welsh.

When there is no Welsh word they just make one up.  For example there is no Welsh word for microwave and (you will probably have to look this up because you won’t believe me) the word they made up is ‘popty-ping’. Almost as funny is the Welsh word for ironing which is smwddio, which is pronounced smoothio It’s true.  UCNMIP, which, as it happens,  is not a Welsh word but simply means You Could Not Make It Up! (nad oeddech yn gallu ei wneud yn i fyny).

The weather continued to improve through late afternoon and after pie supper cooked in the popty-ping I made way once more to the sea and the pebble beach to wait patiently for a sunset that was preparing for a show in the west and as the sun dipped slowly down I wasn’t disappointed.

Borth Sunset

Wales – Aberystwyth and the Tale of Two Railways

Around Aberystwyth Postcard

Delighted with the results of my early morning sleuthing I returned to the caravan where my pal was ready for the planned trip to nearby Aberystwyth.

The journey took only half an hour or so and I drove first to the car park of the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway and my plan was to take the one hour steam train ride up the mountain to Devil’s Bridge at the top.  At the station booking office however all enthusiasm was washed away as though by a tsunami when we horrified to discover that the return fare was just short of £20.  I can travel a thousand miles on Ryanair for £20.  I would rather swim with sharks, wrestle alligators or jump out of a plane without a parachute than pay £20 to go on a steam train ride.

I had been on this train ride before so it wasn’t a really big issue for me so we left the railway station and drove towards the harbour where we parked the car and strolled along a concrete jetty which gave fine views of the elegant town and lush countryside beyond.

Aberystwyth Promenade

It was rather cloudy and there was a keen wind so we didn’t stay long and instead drove into the town and the Promenade and Constitution Hill where there was some late morning parking difficulties to overcome.

I am not very keen on paying for car parking either so we drove around for a while in a futile attempt to find a free parking space but eventually had to concede defeat and pull into a pay and display Council car park and begrudgingly pay the £2 charge.

We were now at the lower station terminus of the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway, which at one hundred and twenty years old is the longest funicular railway in England and Wales. Not Scotland however because they built an even longer one in 2001.

A return trip on the Cliff Railway was a lot cheaper than the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway so we didn’t grumble when we paid the modest charge, took the best spot in the carriage to give us views over Aberystwyth and then waited for the ascent to begin and within just a few minutes we were at the top and enjoying the panorama set out below us.

Aberystwyth is a fine looking town from above.  The town is situated near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol and is built into the folds and undulations of the hills and valleys that surround it and the really good thing is that the Promenade and sea front cannot really be extended and spoiled because the geographical limitations north and south prevent any further development.

Aberystwyth from Constitution Hill

I visited Aberystwyth with my parents in 1966 and I recall that I didn’t like it very much (don’t ask me why, I don’t remember), I applied for a University place here in 1972 and they turned me down and I resented that and in 2011 I drove through and was caught on a sneaky Powys Police speed camera and I raged about that but I liked it today as I looked out over the attractive town nestled gently into the topography of the natural landscape just as a protective mother might hold a child in her arms.

Aberystwyth Cliff Railway

Half an hour or so at the top of the funicular was long enough so before we blew up with excitement we took the train back to the seafront, picked up the car and drove to the Promenade for a fish and chip lunch.  Actually, after a large breakfast I wasn’t especially hungry so I strolled for a while along the seafront back towards the harbour and past the ruins of the castle and the original University buildings, now fallen into shameful disrepair.

We were done with Aberystwyth so we drove back to the caravan park at Borth and prepared for a home cooked meal of chicken stuffed with goat’s cheese wrapped in Parma ham (a speciality of mine) and an evening of important football on the television because tonight Wales were playing Russia in the European Championships.

We made different predictions and gripped in a wrestling hold of extreme pessimism my companion was certain that they would lose but I was a lot more confident of success and after Wales had won the match 3-0 I went for a final walk to the beach while he calmed himself down and rediscovered his composure.

There was a bit of a sunset but nothing to get carried away by so once the last strip of red sky had finally been extinguished and I was confident nothing more dramatic was going to happen I returned to the camp but instead of going directly back to the caravan I went to the clubhouse bar where there was entertainment and singing and dancing.

I enjoyed it, it was good fun and as later as I made my way back to the accommodation I looked up into a moonlit sky and thought that maybe I could finally get the hang of this caravan holiday business!

Borth Beach Wales

Wales – The Brynowyn Caravan Park at Borth

A Caravan Holiday

“I would like to go back to Wales. I’m obsessed with my childhood and at least three times a week dream I am back there” – Anthony Hopkins

I last stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I have consistently maintained that I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no fun in it whatsoever.

To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a ten-year-old child but I remember thinking that I never really wanted to do it ever again.  Caravans as I remember them simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem in Wales, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time.  So they were either pizza oven hot in the day or freezing cold and damp at night.

Brynowyn

I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and imagine my shock then when I tell you that I was so impressed with our holiday caravan accommodation in Borth because it had all of the facilities of a modern home with running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen and after preparing and enjoying a full English breakfast I walked out with a spring in my step on a voyage of rediscovery.

The only thing I don’t like is that these places allow pets and let’s be honest that means dogs because people don’t normally take their cat or goldfish on holiday.  There is a high chance therefore of occupying accommodation where dogs have sat all over the furniture or slept on the beds and with my aversion to canines that made me a little uneasy.

Brynowyn Holiday Caravan

The Brynowyn caravan holiday village seemed strangely familiar and it didn’t take me long to establish that this was the actual caravan park that I had stayed in with my parents and had such a miserable time in 1966 or thereabouts.

Our caravan then wasn’t like this today of course.  It had no bathroom so we had to use the communal camp washroom facilities, it had no electricity so we couldn’t watch TV, it had no kitchen so we couldn’t cook breakfast and it didn’t have heating so when it was cold it was really cold.  The only thing it did have was a bottle of Calor Gas and a one ring hob for boiling a kettle and for lighting hissing gas lamps at night which attracted insects and created so much condensation that after an hour or two, water was dripping off the ceiling onto our sleeping bags on the floor and we were sleeping in a puddle..

But I was nevertheless delighted to discover that this place was indeed a part of my never-to-be-forgotten childhood and somewhere that I had spent a week or two with my family.  As I get older I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me.  In Wales, here in Borth, they took us to the seaside for a holiday in a tiny caravan and I can only imagine that they hated it, it must, after all, have been mind-numbingly boring, spending endless hours in a biscuit tin with only the popping of the gas lamp for evening entertainment, especially when it was raining.

Holiday Beach Shop Borth Wales

After exploring the park I walked to the seafront and came across a beach front shop which I hoped I had correctly identified as the same one where I spent all of my pocket-money in 1966.  I clearly remember beach shops before they were replaced by amusement arcades, they were stacked floor to ceiling with loads of cheap souvenirs and beach games, cricket sets, canvas wind breaks, kites, lilos, buckets and spades, rubber balls and saucy seaside postcards.  The floor was covered in sand which we brought in on our feet and they had a curious smell of seaweed, salt-water damp and old stock.

I asked the man behind the counter how old the shop was and he proceeded to give me the full history.  I knew that I was in the right place when he told me that where there was now a café and an ice cream parlour, once there was a timber structure, painted bottle green, that was once the shop before it was demolished and I knew immediately that I was in the right place.  What a discovery.   Memories were sticking to me like Velcro!

Borth Wales 1970

I can’t be absolutely certain but I am fairly sure that this is a family picture taken at Borth, my Sister Lindsay, me, my Mother Joan and little brother Richard.

I carried on now and walked along the seafront and to the top of the cliffs that were crumbling dangerously away and towards a war memorial on the headland with a sign saying that the original had been destroyed by a thunderbolt in March 1981 and rebuilt three years later.  There were good views from the top stretching all the way to Snowdonia National Park and to Anglesea in the North and in this moment I remembered that Wales is one of my favourite places.  I thought I was in Iowa!

On the way down I stopped to talk to a man mowing his lawn and I bored him with my story of returning to Borth after fifty years and staying at the same caravan park and going to the same shop and he surprised me by telling me that fifty years ago he was the farmer who owned the land and the caravans.

Together we looked out over the bay and he told me that this is the only place that he would ever want to live and I like to think that I understood what he meant.  My journey of rediscovery was complete.

Borth and Snowdonia in the Distance