Gwyl yng Nghymru 2004

3rd to 7th August

Wales has the quality of change over medium distances. So touring in Wales inevitably means different types of scenery. In Scotland one has to go further to see difference, which mum and I have experienced. After I learnt to drive in 1999 we had our first touring holiday in Scotland. Mum could probably handle less time in the car between places now, and the few roads in Scotland were well worn, as were those in the Dales that she had thought of as an area to visit.
So Wales it was, following on from the tour of Wales that Elena and I took for our honeymoon. In fact the first place I booked, for two nights, was a gwesty we had stayed in. The third night I booked a place in a town that Elena and I had passed through, but the third night was a part of Wales I had never seen. Despite going there by rail, having holidays there when a teenager, and living in Bangor for all of seven weeks, I had never been into Ynys Mon or Anglesey (I prefer Welsh language place names: English ones are later, derived, corrupted and less rooted).
From new Holland, Wales is far, and mid-Wales is further. Access into Wales is easiest and faster north (A55) and south (M4). Mid Wales is assisted (M54), but it stops short, so to speak. All three ways in are better than the pathetic north-south route of the A470. It is as if Wales is designed to connect to England but not to itself. Nevertheless, getting into mid Wales is awkward. The question is what to do with the Midlands of England.
There had just been an interview in Abertawe (Swansea). I went the standard M42 route, and then the M50 and across the Heads of the Valleys road to Cwm Nedd, the A483. I came back over the second Severn Crossing, up the M5, and off near Gloucester to get the Foss Way nearby and avoid the Midlands and the M42 with its hectic traffic and roadworks. The Foss Way would have been a journey for the holiday but Brecon is a little further north, and a decision to stop on the way at Y Gelli (Hay-on-Wye) meant a different route. We went on the A15 and the A46 to the A52 and south of Nottingham, to try the A50 and go on to the A38. This may have been a little longer in travel than going out west along the M180, M18, M1 and A38, depending on the traffic on the M1. On the other hand, it is always quicker via the A15/ A46 than the M18 to get to the A1 at least. It has to be said, however, that the road from Nottingham to the A50 (also to the M1) is wholly inadequate. The A38 took us to the A5 and M6 Toll, to try that, finding that the signposting for the link road to the M54 inadequate and confusing so that we left one junction early. The M54 we took until Telford, after which we went wrong at Much Wenlock, which seems to be a small town in which to take a wrong turning. A different B road further south took us to Ludlow, for a short look around. The next stop was Y Gelli, the first holiday destination.
I had been saying to Elena by telephone that this is a village in the middle of nowhere stuffed with bookshops (a kind of personal heaven). I did not believe it just after arrival, though the first point of call was a poetry bookshop. It was sad going in there because the chap came from sitting outside and yet neither mum nor I wanted anything. It is not one of my areas of interest. However, I soon discovered that this is true. How do they make money? They must have telephone, website and catalogue orders. Another answer is that the stock is often as seen in a charity shop, but with a higher mark up. We had arrived after 5:30 pm but some were still open, including the maddest one of all, in the open air under some partial ruins. I did buy a book by Charles Handy, the business guru, from the 1980s (it turned out), but some ideas are still relevant. This came from a shop that would close at 7 pm. Ironically mum bought one on Irish verse. So this is the small place that the BBC comes for certain book shows and discussions. After the first couple of photos I tried to get it so that every single photograph had the word 'books' or view of them somewhere.
The final stage was a drive to Tai'r Bull at Libanus where I had pre-booked for two nights. It means of three cottages the third was the bullhouse. This is on the A470 just south of Brecon and under new ownership since Elena and I were there at the honeymoon. It is by a main road, but we had good weather such that on this night and the next we ate our food outside. Very good food it was too, made and cooked on the premises. Speaking from Russia, Elena remembered the place for its fierce showers (the electric versions), and she was absolutely right. The force of water is immense and it is as if you are pinned back against the wall of the en-suite shower.
Next day we set off for the road to Hirwaun, the Head of the Valleys road joined where it becomes a dual carriageway for its length to near Abertawe (Swansea). Cwm Nedd is very attractive. We went to Mwmbwls and after an hour there looking at the shops and views we went to Bae Caswell along the way. Here mum and I took turns for drawing and I continued the photography. There should be a painting or two from this. As experienced before, if you keep going you end up driving through a housing estate and narrow roads with bumps. This time, rather than go into parts of Gower, Mum and I went back to Abertawe emerging into Mwmbwls and back along Oystermouth Road.
We got to the M4 and then went towards Y Rhondda. Despite doubts, the instinctive sharp left after the motorway was correct, to take us through forested area and a climbing road. This road finally climbs high, and emerges over the top to have a steep corner to corner hillside drop. Mum did not like these heights and this sort of view over Treorci. We did not stop there, but the road through Cwm Rhondda became a negotiation of parked vehicles down its narrow length. Endless terraces lined the road, with terraces above on sideroads rising steeply upwards. You go downhill but gently, and a railway is nearby. Via Porth eventually comes Pontypridd and roads to process towards the A470. Now there was a view of that and the M4 going east. You see more of Casnewydd (Newport) than Caerdydd (Cardiff). We were going through Casnewydd just before the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru began: a few days later traffic levels were described as being 70% up in places.
We went over the Second Severn Crossing. Mum likened the suspension bridge to having sails. She thought it was quite ugly. We went to the M49 and received a lesson in lack of detail in road atlases. The atlas showed joining the M5 before immediately leaving it, and I stuck to this whereas the M49 went in one portion straight to to the road to Avonmouth. So we crossed over the Avon itself on the M5 to come back, into Avonmouth and a road that took us past places that looked like Victoria Dock in Hull and the old Hedon Road. Severn Beach seemed not to be a place to pause and view, so we continued to cross back at £4.60 over the original Severn Bridge on the renamed M48. It is cheaper than the Humber Bridge because it is £2.50 each way. If the Humber Bridge charged £5 one way only, people that way would go round. Going round is much harder at the Severn crossings so they can charge it all one way. Clearly, though, journeys out of De Gymru have more flexibility and choice than those in: always use the M50 from the north.
Finally we stopped, in Chepstow, where the road was dug up. It tested mum's limited walking mobility and it was hot, beaming sunshine.
That was the last stop that day, with the pub a dual carriageway and more away, producing a day of some 216 miles.
It was the last night at Libanus and we moved on. This was done by booking ahead in Aberhonddu (Brecon) taking up quite a chunk of time whilst also looking at local shops. We booked to be away from a main road this time, but not insisting on ensuite was a mistake, only to be found out later. We still paid the highest bed and breakfast rates, but for all the friendliness the accommodation was basic.
The next stop became Llandrindod (Wells), arrived via Capel Uchaf and Llanelwedd, the Victorian town of verandahs. More books to see and purchased. Then it was a case of go to Elan, but which way. I did not actually see the signpost (as I was going more by postional instinct) after Llanwrthwl and the A470, but it was both ways at a junction. I went left, resulting in the narrowest of roads and a closed gate. Fortunately a tractor was behind, and he asked me to open and he'd close. There were three gates to open. The appearance of a red triangle sign proved this was a public road, and we ended up by a riverside.
Mum said this was not the Elan Valley she remembered, but after a short stop there we soon we found such lakes in the next narrow road route - the mountain road to Aberystwyth (in other words, not ending up at Rhaiadr). There are no steep hills up, but how high one ends up is clear at the pass into slag hillsides and abandoned dwellings, and by how far you come down and down, past Pontarfynach (Devil's Bridge) and still going down until Aberystwyth is seen from on high.
We ended up at sea level, on the sea front, mum again finding difficulty walking (and the public toilet is that building that says 1925 above an archway in). Elena and I had stayed outside Aberystwyth up roads and farm leading routes, but mum and I pressed on to Machynlleth. We were certainly ahead of time, and found a peaceful and unexpected bird sanctuary called Ynys Hir with a good view to do some drawing.
At Machynlleth we discovered the inadequacy of Tourist Information Centre directions. A man said the best way he could tell us where to go was by him getting on his bicycle. We followed the bicycle. The pub we ate in had an anti-social behaviour notice within. The food was alright, if a little samey, and a little cheaper than Libanus. What annoyed me was this pub was advertising rooms as from £20 a night, all en-suite. Even with two singles, it must have been cheaper or better value than where we were staying. I did not like having other people in and a separate toilet with bathroom combined. This was not adequate, and there was not even a sink in the room.
So the next morning I insisted on ensuite and worked out a place to stay to be a secret from mum. She probably thought I would pick somewhere easterly, in order to facilitate the ride home from the accommodation. I calculated that being close to the A55 did facilitate the ride home, but well west. Mum had mentioned her National Service time army base, at Ty Croes, Ynys Mon, and near there I booked the final night's accommodation. This was to be much much better.
From Machynlleth I took the road to Aberdyfi, which strictly speaking is an estuary resort rather than the Irish Sea. It is a very attractive place, and we had it bathed in sunshine when the rest of the country was suffering storms and a change in the weather. It was going to rain for days. It was a place for mum to sit and me to photograph, but running out of film. I would not pay a master of Aladdin's cave for his prices. Tywyn is much bigger but we did not stop there. Mum wanted to visit Dolgellau where Boots did provide me with at least the right sizes and ASAs of films. It was good to hear Welsh spoken in there (I had in Aberystwyth, in the street). For Welsh to be spoken, the customer and shop assistant have to know each other, otherwise the tendency must be to default to English. The interesting thing is how the language reseeds in areas where it has been in effect lost. Again it will be based on personal knowledge and community. So I took pictures of many of the narrow streets. In Dolgellau there was an art exhibition that would have suited mum well to see it. It was up stairs that she refused to try to climb. Up the stairs some paintings were dedicated to the older person, with portraits. I pointed out to the person looking after the room that older people could not get up the stairs to see this! So I had a look around, and then was asked if I could make the CD player work, which I did.
I lost mum somewhere in the streets, and she lost the car park (to which I went, to come back to the streets again). After Dolgellau came a possibility of deception for mum's trip, by going to Bala (and rather quickly: I prefer the ability to use a road's capability) seeing Llyn Tegid on the way, but we did not stop there. Rather, we turned and went on the road past Llyn Celyn. I remember years back (when I was a teenager) a Welsh friend saying that they did build a good road here when they drowned the valley and village of Treweryn. It was an acidic comment. "Cofio Dreweryn", they said, meaning, "Remember Treweryn". It was a time when Birmingham built a reservoir overriding local protest; the upshot was that despite the loss it gave a huge boost to the Welsh language movement. I noticed a bilingual sign for school had the English "school" crossed out. This is unusual now that bilingual signs are policy, but the place is important. This was a fast run too, and I turned right going past Trawsfynydd. I should have realised that The Cob outside Porthmadog was a queue. Even a film shown after we returned home on S4C Digidol had the car queueing on The Cob. This made me wonder about timings, but there was enough time to go towards Pwllheli. Now I did remember Pwllheli as being another place of terrible traffic, and so after the view of Criccieth missed for a photograph) we took a road avoiding the town to take the road to Caernarfon.
Along the way mum mentioned the signposted Dinas Dinlle as a place where her late sister and late husband went for holidays. A quick left turn was in order. There was a brief stop there before returning to the main road.
Going through Caernarfon I overtook a car that had driven too slowly for too long and gained progress again. I was baffled by a single carriageway bridge that we went over near Bangor, coming from a joined dual carriageway. I knew it was not Menai Bridge, along the way, but what was it? If new, why was it single carriageway. Then it dawned we were on Ynys Mon, and took the dual carriageway  along open and scrubby land. It is such a contrast to mainland gogledd Cymru. I overshot the turn for Aberffraw, so instead did the investigating of Ty Croes from the Rhosneigr end, which mum also used to visit when stationed. First though another tractor driver was involved in the holiday, as to where was Ty Croes, as the railway area did not seem right. He said it is now a racetrack, and we went there. It is closed off: vehicles were being delivered. So we then went back to Rhosneigr, then to Aberffraw (which looked pretty depresssed). It was back on to the A55, but I left it a junction early, and thus a right turn at entering Caergeiliog became a left turn after going through it (mum was puzzled) and we took the minor road to Llanfair-yn-Neubwll for an excellent guest house.
The occupants came from Essex, to leave the rat race and make a living by bed and breakfast. They could not get professional jobs, due to not having Welsh. The grandchildren have become fluent in Welsh, and as a result the mother learnt it enough to get by and use it. For guests they have the Irish ferry traffic, tourists and plane spotters. It had views across to an RAF base of Valley. It is a short walk to the sea (I saw from a distance). Mum had a room and ensuite facilities downstairs; upstairs I had a double bedroom, a  bathroom of large sink, toilet and b-day and a separate bathroom, all for a single person's fee. Others were in the house.
For the evening we went to look at Caergybi (Holyhead) and decided not to stop in any of the pubs. We went to Y Fali as in fact was recommended where a huge Fisherman's Medley meal was delivered to each of us in this almost industrial eatery, bed and breakfast and pub business.
The next day it was an enjoyable and varied trip down a busy A55, even busier in the opposite direction, and we did some queue busting by going around Chester on the A55. I was thus able to carry out my promise to mum to see The Lowry, in Salford. Mum found the modern building easily vertigo inducing and needed the lift. The need to deliver a present to my great niece meant that we had a painfully slow trip through the Peak District via the top of Chesterfield to get to Clowne, and a little later took the motorways back to home.


Adrian Worsfold