Tag Archives: South Wales

Postcard Maps of 2016

Morocco Postcard Map

January…

I really need to be careful about making bold statements because upon returning from Morocco in December 2011 I said that I would never go again.  This is what I said…

“I enjoyed the experience of Fez, the Riad was excellent, the food was good, the sightseeing was unexpected and we were treated with courtesy and respect by everyone associated with the Riad but I have seen Morocco now and I think it may be some time before I return to North Africa as we resume our travels through Europe.”

Well, now I have to eat my words because our first overseas trip in 2016 was to Essouria on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.  Why did I go back on my statement – return flights for less than £40 each are just too good to resist and nothing beats getting on a plane with temperatures hovering around zero and then getting off again three hours later into 20°, blue sky, sunshine and swaying palm trees.

April…

We like to visit Spain at least once a year but somehow managed to miss a trip in 2015 so after a two-year wait we were happy to be going back, this time to Andalucía in the far south, the second largest and most populous of all of the Regions.

After picking up the rental car we headed immediately to the Autopista del Sol,an ugly, charmless toll road which conveniently by-passes the congested coast road and moves traffic from east to west with brutal efficiency.  It reminded me of what Laurie Lee had to say about it: “The road to Malaga followed a beautiful but exhausted shore, seemingly forgotten by the world.  I remember the names, San Pedro, Estepona, Marbella and Fuengirola.  They were salt-fish villages, thin ribbed, sea hating, cursing their place in the sun.  At that time one could have bought the whole coast for a shilling.  Not Emperors could buy it now.”

June…

We travelled to Ireland in 2014 and went to the west coast and a year later we went to Northern Ireland and stayed in Belfast.  Despite Ireland’s reputation for Atlantic storms, dreary weather and lots of rain we enjoyed blue skies  on both occasions.  So good was the weather that Kim thinks it is permanently sunny in the Emerald Isle so we arranged to go again this year and this time chose the city of Cork, the county of West Cork and the south coast of the country as our destination.

north wales

Also in June…

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.

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.

August…

At school holiday time there is always the threat of an extended visit from the grandchildren which can be a stressful experience as they spend a week dismantling the house and trashing the garden.

This year I decided to rent a holiday cottage elsewhere and let them destroy someone else’s place instead.  I chose a cottage in the village of Thornton Stewart in North Yorkshire and drove there one busy Friday afternoon along the A1 – The Great North Road, which many people claim is the only good thing that comes out of London.

cyclades-postcard

September…

We had not visited the Cyclades Islands in Greece since 2011 and so we were interested to see what changes there might be in five years.

We no longer choose to fly to Athens because there is always the risk of industrial action on the buses or the metro or the ferries, or getting caught up in a demonstration in the city centre as we did in 2011, so this year we flew instead to Mykonos, a popular tourist destination in the centre of the island group.

south-wales-map

October…

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!

Malta Map Postcard

Also in October…

I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence.  I love it I went several times in the 1990s on family holidays and I returned for the first time since then in 2015.  I hoped that Kim would love it too and as it happened she liked the place so much that we returned for a second time in October 2016.

November…

My sister, Lindsay, more or less lives permanently in Spain now on the Costa Blanca so this provided a perfect opportunity to go and visit her and spend some time in a part of Spain that I haven’t visited for several years.  I have never considered it one of favourite parts of the country so I was interested to see what impression it would make this time!

South Wales, The Rhondda Valleys and More Graveyards

vaynor-church

Eventually we reached the elevated village of Llanwonno and my fears were realised – it was indeed another church yard that we were about to visit.

Who was buried here I wondered, who was so famous that it was worth making this driving detour up the side of a mountain?  As we walked from the car park to the church my friend told me the story of Guto Nyth Brân who, legend has it, was the fastest running man ever in the World.

Local folklore said he could run quickly enough to catch hares and foxes and birds in flight.  If his mother ran out of milk for a cup of tea he could  run to the local shop there and back, five miles away, before the kettle boiled.  I assume of course that he must have had the right change on him at the till with no fiddling about in his pockets or his purse for that elusive penny!

As stories of his running speed spread through the Valleys he was regularly challenged to competitive races on which substantial bets were placed.

His first race, organised by his girlfriend and business partner, Sian the Shop (not to be mistaken with Sean the Sheep saw him take on a previously unbeaten English runner. He won the race easily as well as £400 prize money.  A huge amount of money in those days, equivalent to roughly £50,000 today !  He continued to race and accumulate a fortune until he was thirty.

He was so famous that had there been television in the eighteenth century then he would surely have won BBC Sports Personality of the Year and the USA Sports Illustrated  Sportsperson of the Year Award.

guto-nyth-bran

After a while he retired (he could afford it) but when he was thirty-seven Sian the Shop persuaded him as a matter of pride and principle to come out of retirement and take on a new runner called the Prince of Bedwas who was boasting that he was unbeatable. This was for a prize of one thousand guineas (a hundred and fifty thousand pounds) and on account of the huge prize money on offer it was to be an appropriately gruelling twelve-mile race between Newport and Bedwas near to the town of Caerphilly and for most of the way a steady climb from sea level to seventy metres or so with an especially challenging final hill.

Guto won easily of course, completing the course in fifty-three minutes.

To put that into some sort of perspective the current official IAAF world record for a half marathon (roughly the same distance)  is fifty-eight minutes and twenty-three seconds set by Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea in March 2010 at the Lisbon half marathon in Portugal.  I realise that the timing of races might now be considerably more precise than it was three hundred years ago but today athletes have Nike running shoes and fitness management support staff and five minutes is a lot to explain away even by time-keeping inaccuracies of such great margins.

Sadly the story ended in tragedy after Sian slapped him on the back so hard in celebration Guto suffered a heart attack and collapsed and died.  Some girlfriend hey!

Every year there is now a road race in nearby Mountain Ash to commemorate the life and achievement of Guto Nyth Brân.

There was disappointment for us too this afternoon because the Church was having its roof replaced and to protect the gravestone from potential damage from falling masonry it was fully encased in a plywood box to protect it and on it was pinned a short note apologising for the inconvenience.  You would have thought that they could at the very least have put up some sort of replica or included a picture!

grave-of-guto-nyth-bran

I couldn’t help but laugh and my travelling companion saw the funny side of it as well.  He likes gravestones and monuments and plaques and struggles to understand why I don’t share his enthusiasm for them.  I explained that as a history student I like stories and facts but I don’t really get any sort of adrenalin rush from seeing where famous people were born or are buried.

The following day we drove to the town of Caerphilly where he had learned about a memorial plaque that had been erected in another churchyard to commemorate Guto Nyth Brân and the finishing point of his famous last race so we set out to find it.

It was there right enough but what a shame it wasn’t covered up in embarrassment with a sheet of securely nailed, solid plywood, maybe two, just in case the first one falls off  (a real double-bagger this one) because in respect of both content and design I nominate this memorial plaque to be, without fear of contradiction, the worst that I have ever, ever seen…

Guto Nyth Brân Memorial Stone Caerphilly

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