The Ballards - Wales


Wales. Land of miners' choirs, Rugby, coal and rugged countryside. Of tongue-twisting language, of rain and mines and coal ports, oil ports and Snowdonia.
One of my earliest memories is of a family holiday in the 1960s in Tenby, South Wales. It rained each and every day, and my parents vowed we would henceforth holiday abroad. Not a great start.
Then our neighbours invited me to their holiday cottage near Blaenau Ffestiniog, home of the famous railway. My memories of that holiday were that their car smelt of petrol so badly that I was car-sick, that I am not a railway buff, and that it rained each and every day.
So that was it for childhood memories; hardly inspiring. Adult memories are numerous business trips to Newtown, Powys, which is pretty rough and very hard to get to once the road investment peters out West of Shrewsbury. Wales has weird bi-lingual road signs and lots of speed camera warning signs (but few actual cameras), absolutely awful roads, and yes, it rains each and every day.

So it was a pleasant surprise to discover Caernarvon airfield and the associated huge, dog-friendly beach at the end of the runway.
And sometimes it doesn't even rain: I have flown towards Caernarfon and the clouds and rain covering the rest of Wales have ceased as we approach the airfield, so I have concluded they have their own microclimate, hidden away from the prying eyes of the English.

And then Pete flew me over Rhossili Beach on the Gower Peninsula, and I thought "I'll have to walk down there"

So Nessa and I went off down the M4 one Friday afternoon to visit for the weekend. We had a B 'n B booked at Llethryd Mills but nothing else planned.

What I had forgotten was just how long it takes to get to places by car: even at "70mph" (around 88mph indicated, so Mr TomTom says 85mph True speed) Swansea is a very long way. My trips to Wales had been 55 mins in assorted aircraft, so I had mentally (and lazily) assumed it wouldn't be that much longer in the car. Bristol is an hour, and I assumed maybe another 45 minutes but no, it took us well over 3 hours and a fight through Swansea (don't bother) to finally emerge on to the Gower, past Swansea airfield (we might as well have flown, but then we wouldn't have had the car) and in to Lethrydd in time for a late cup of tea. The weather had become progressively worse as we neared our destination so I concluded the curse of the Welsh weather was once more upon us: it would rain each and every day.

That night we went out in the mist and found a jolly pub to eat at. They were busy but glad to see us and we had a slap up meal before retiring for the night.

The following morning the promised rain didn't appear, but it was so misty we could barely see 100 yards. The girls, whom we had left at home, told us with some glee of the extraordinarily sunny weather Oxfordshire was having. Typical...
We ventured forth for Rhossili Beach, parked in the £3 (£3!!) car park and walked along what felt like, in the mist, a narrow tunnel to the coastguard station where volunteers keep watch on folk walking down to the Worm's Head and regularly getting stranded or in trouble with the tides. Walking back the clouds slowly began to lift and as we climbed down to the beach we could begin to see its enormous length.

Rhossili beach in high summer must be hell, but in early-April the summer dog and parakite ban has yet to be enforced, the beach is thinly trafficked and at low tide it's so big there is room for everyone to have their own bit of solitude. We strolled on, lost in our own world and quite lost track of time. The rising cloudbase revealed more of the cliffs and hills.

Returning back up the cliffs we decided we had earned lunch and had fish and chips in the car in newspaper from a local fish'n chipperie followed by an hour reading the papers and snoozing on the beachfront. We're easily pleased....

And in the morning the sun shone. The mist cleared and we could see Wales as it was meant to be. And it didn't rain. No sireee