Have Bag, Will Travel
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Tag Archives: Borth
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.