/ Wales2016

Sun 25 - Mumbles of discontent

Before I start something I forgot from yesterday - a ‘made me smile’ as we drove through Treorchy Liz pointed a local eating establishment with the wonderful title “Good pie Mr Chips”. Wonder if they do battered donats, food fit for the Hilton perhaps.

I’ve just finished reading a novel on time-travel “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” and am trying, manfully, to keep up in a discourse on quantum retro-causality and free will with a couple of friends. So perhaps I’ll write about my thoughts on Swansea tonight, before I visit it properly tomorrow.

I loved Cardiff but I don’t like Swansea. Swansea prefers traffic lights over roundabouts. This means traffic flow is at broken even at the quieter times. And should you ever catch a couple of consecutive green lights and so actually work up a little speed - beware! Swansea uses road cameras as 100m markers to measure your sluggish progress through the city.

Speed cameras are a pain and for visitors like me actually appear to increase road danger. Much of Swansea’s road system is busy 30mph-limited dual carriageways which suddenly split into a turn lanes. So driving requires keeping up with the traffic on a dual carriageway, being able to parse bilingual road signs, anticipate future directional changes so you are always in the correct lane, not get pissed off by the boyo who has just zoomed past you in the other lane and then swung back to cut you up, all that whilst one eye is permanently checking the speedo to ensure you haven’t crept above 31mph and so become a candidate for the local police’s “vehicle of the month” photo-shoot.

Another thing, the weather’s crap in Swansea. It was beautiful the whole week in Cardiff. Within 30 minutes of arriving on site here in Gowerton last night it started to rain, not heavy but steady. It saved the heavy rain for a couple of hours later when it lashed it down. So much for going out to find the local pub. The weather’s not so much crap as perverse - today we’ve had glorious blue skies, nothing other than gentle white fluff in sight and somehow it has slashed it down - a grey cloud appearing from the same perfect hiding place as Llandaff cathedral and 2 minutes later disappearing back there again.

The locals don’t even like Swansea! Mention at the campsite we plan to spend some time in Swansea we get told it’s the beaches, The Gower, The Mumbles we need go see. No-one mentions a good reason to go to Swansea (not quite true after mentioning I am a Dylan Thomas fan the campsite warden did suggest I might like to visit his birthplace).

Even the busses are so ashamed of Swansea that it takes us significant effort to find a bus stop in Gowerton tonight and then the stop has no numbers, no direction marker, no route plan. Obviously the bus companies are just as ashamed of Llanelli in the other direction too. In the end we had to confirm with a local which stop we needed for Swansea. I almost expected to hear him say “Swansea, Swansea, oh you don’t want to go there boy”

Well we did pop into ,Swansea, so briefly this morning that we have yet to form a real opinion. The reason for going - it’s Sunday and there’s a car boot sale. And another weird one (remember Lebdury’s Ready, Steady, Boot last week). This time it is weird because it is held in a multi-story car-park. Ground floor is for parking, floors 2-6 are bustling with stalls. Now I suspect the dimness of car park interior and the stark grey concrete walls didn’t help but most of stuff didn’t seem to exude the confident air of cherished merchandise. Just one single purchase - I really ought at least try and read Joyce’s Ulysses and I’m not sure if I still have a copy at home after the many book purges (although I suspect I have a Kindle copy and know I have the BBC radio recording taken over 24 hours in Dublin, a few years back) . Walking back to the van the first of today’s surprise 2- minute downpours didn’t lighten the mood that this had not been the most exciting Sunday morning of our lives.

With weather uncertain the original idea of wandering around the city briefly to get our bearings for tomorrow was shelved in favour of a scenic drive. First stop the Mumbles, a picturesque appendix of Swansea that seems bustling with life and interesting shops and pubs. Bustling being the apposite word, it seemed just too busy to stop, too difficult to find a parking place, too risky to guarantee staying dry whilst browsing the bijoux boutiques.

So onwards to the Gower peninsula, in 1956 awarded Britain’s first ever “Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. I’m sure it is, but it needs time taken to explore the hidden beaches and coves. Sadly the tall hedges don’t allow for roadside scenic browsing. Still when we did get a view it was outstandingly beautiful. The roads here are all narrow, often narrowing just too much for two cars to pass comfortably, so any scenic viewing is pretty much limited to passengers, the driver needing eyes firmly on the road at all times. Rhosilli beach is famous, and justifiably so, Parking above it at the National Trust car park at The Worms Head there is a great view down and along it’s length of golden sands. Rather than head for the beach we carried along the cliff-top towards the lookout point and tidal islands sitting picturesquely off-shore. Carried along that is until the weather’s perversity hit us again - a forceful, bitterly cold head-wind tried to prevent our progress and when we had clearly indicated to the weather gods we were made of sterner stuff they used that old 2 minute downpour trick again, this time interspersing the rain with a generous proportion of hail-stone. Of course, the 10 minute earlier 100% blue sky had completely fooled us and our raincoats were wrapped up snugly inside the van. So no searching for seals, chough or other wildlife today, the weather wins. And drives us on to The Greyhound at Llanrhidian, home of the Gower Brewery. A couple of half-pints of their rather excellent beer went a long way towards restoring our humour, as did the beautiful drive over Cefn Bryn common to reach the pub, Indeed I have only just realised we passed an ancient burial chamber known as Arthur’s Stone. Rats, we’d have stopped had we realised.

Dinner back at the van and then off to find the local pub which has probably the best internet reviews we’ve ever read for a small-town pub and excellent reviews for food too, so a good place to plan for dinner tomorrow perhaps1. It’s closed. Must be a Sunday thing. I mention this to the local who was so helpful in locating a bus stop and, no, the owner had a disagreement with the brewer and closed the pub last Friday! Rats again.

  1. Actually the menu at The Greyhound looked superb, local salt march lamb2, venison with blueberries and wild mushrooms, a pie of local pork with apple and Gwaint Y Ddraig cider were just a few of the specials. ↩

  2. The area round by the campsite and on toward Rhosilli is salt-marsh and lambs are grazed on the tough salt-laden grasses giving them a unique flavour, apparently. Curiously we discovered this a week or two ago as a butcher in Hermitage advertises salt-marsh lamb - the first place we’'d ever heard of it. ↩