With lamentations and a sense of regret, we’re back in a rented car (steam won’t clear from the windows, rain stays on the wing mirrors, annoying rattle from the back and Passepartout still taking roundabouts seemingly with only a pure leap of faith). It seems the only way to get out of the city and into the countryside. We’re aiming for the Gower Peninsular.
As we pass through briery Welsh moors with rising hills and sheep-worn ways to our right I explain the road signs all being in two languages even though only about 20% of the country can speak Welsh, and most of them are up in the north. I tell a story I once heard that one sign has “No Entry For Heavy Goods Vehicles” in English at the top and underneath “I Am Sorry I Am Currently Out Of The Office And Will Be Back On Monday” underneath, as the sign writer sent an email to a holidaying Welsh translator to have his English translated, received an out of office email back, and thought that was the translation. I hope it’s true. But anyway, the one Welsh word that sticks in every travellers mind is Araf – slow. Written everywhere.
We arrive at Rhossili beach. It’s huge. Huge sky. Huge beach. The sea bay gaping wide in front of us. “What a big lot of…About” I say to the Greek who ignores me and fixes instead on the vastness of it all. The beach spreads and sweeps away from us for 4 huge miles. It is impossible not to be bowled over by the sight and size. The grassy escarpment plunges down in front of us on to the shore and the wreck of the Helvetia, a Norwegian ship which ran aground in 1887 whose wooden hull sticks out of the sand like an immense jaw of black teeth.
We walk on to Worm’s Head, a long jutting rocky promontory that falls and rises so, when the tide is in, it looks like a serpent writhing in the water. The tide is out however, so we spend an extraordinarily long time walking out across rocks and pools and finally up on to the worm’s head itself, to bathe in the sun like two fat seals.
We make it back to a good-looking hotel bar just as the weather starts to turn and have an awful British dinner in an incredible British setting.
As I examine my tasteless, tell-tale microwaved cold-in-the-middle dish I look around at the other customers, grimly eating in silence as three lads stand at the bar making an ostentatious noise, either blind or all-too-aware of everyone else around. A child too old for a highchair never-the-less sits in the pub provided seat howling at his ignoring parents. His sister eats something with saliva covered fingers from the kiddies menu. Burnt chip oil smell hangs in the air. Teenagers sit in the lounge listening to music through a portable speaker. A drunk man swears at his girlfriend who stares uninterested out of the window at a father outside smoking a fag while pushing a pushchair. A young woman in glasses tries to keep up conversation with her over-dressed for the occasion, uncomfortably stiff parents.
The beauty of the Gower, however, is still there when we leave. One last look before the car park.
A long debate about whether we should carry on to the Promised Land of Tenby, but as the light starts to fail we decide to use the car to head north and look for mountains.
The journey is very long. We drive through the Brecon Beacon and lots of places starting with Ll: Llandeilo, Llandovery, Llandrindod in the dark. We are dimly aware of looming mountains above us, darker jagged shadows on top of the dark night, as Passepartout peers out on a black road. A badly tuned, faulty, radio the only thing keeping us awake as we drive on for mile after mile, our aimed destination of Beddgelert in Snowdonia just never seeming to arrive.