Monday 26 October 2009
Today I left for for Pembrokeshire to stay 3 nights in a backpacking lodge in the country. London has it’s rewards, but it is far too crowded and seeing as it was my mid-term break, I could escape the cloying claustrophobia of the massive city.
It all started when I was given the most amazing teaching job in Brent. I had gone for an interview months ago when I had first arrived and looked for supply work. After Brent Supply (the agency I signed up with) had seen me, they had put me in a taxi and sent me to another interview with Brent Music Service. At the time, they had decided against using supply teachers as they could not afford it. Now, months later, one of their teachers was stuck in America with visa issues and they needed someone till christmas. They remembered me from the interview months back and asked Jan at Brent Supply to call me up and see if I was available. I had just been sitting in a coffee shop with Carmen lamenting the fact that I did not have a job come the new school year, when I noticed that my phone had rung unnoticed. Back home I spoke with Jan and she asked me if I was interested and I said for sure and the next thing I knew…I was employed. It really was some kind of miracle. I still teach at my other school, but as their one day a week singing teacher.
So, with money now in the bank on a weekly basis, I thought all my financial burdens were over. Little did I realise that with all the taxes and other bits and pieces, a whole day of work is deducted and after rent, bills and travel, not as much is left over as I once thought. So much for my great resolve to save. But I could not waste a perfectly good mid-term school break and I asked Sarah if she could suggest a place to visit. She had heard that St Davids in Pembrokeshire is beautiful and was thinking about going there herself with her husband. I quickly found an affordable lodge called Caerhafod Lodge near St Davids and booked 3 nights and discounted return trains tickets and my holiday was all set. Now I just had to survive six weeks of six schools a week and London with all its joyous noise.
So, Monday found me waiting for a late train at Paddington. Someone had taken a stroll onto the tracks earlier that morning and got him/herself personally introduced to a train. So, all trains were delayed or cancelled. Finally, after waiting an age at the poster boards, we saw what platform to run to. Having arrived, I saw that someone had taken my seat due to the fact that there were so many extra people from the cancelled trains trying to get to Reading. I hunkered down with a book and a nice quiet, laptop-busy neighbour.
Almost at the end of this particular leg of the journey, some woman and her multitude of children said that I was sitting in her seat and booted me off. However, she got off the train at the next station. Some people…really! I returned to her seat.
At Swansea, I changed from my First Great Western train and ran onto the soon departing and equally late Arriva train to Haverfordwest. No sooner had I got on and found an available seat, then the train was on the way. Everything worked out perfectly in the end. The countryside is beautiful!!! There were huge tracks of beach where the birds all stood and harvested the sands while the tide was out. I could imagine how quickly the sea would role in to reclaim those shimmering sand-stretches.
After arriving in Haverfordwest late, I ran to the connecting bus and went into St Davids. I then sat in a coffee shop in the smallest city in Britain. It’s a medieval town in Wales that still has its old cathedral from when it was one of the most important monasteries in Europe. It has not lost its old world charm and is so beautifully situated by sea and country. The coffee was lovely, the cafe was cosy and rain was falling outside the cottage walls.
I then caught the last bus and asked the driver to stop outside the Lodge’s driveway, which he did and drove away, leaving me in the country lane, bag on back and rain slowly falling. I walked up the driveway and could not see anything in the night light. The stars and moon were hidden by the clouds and I was met at the top of the drive by Carolyn – the woman who runs the farm and lodge. The lodge is actually a converted stables and dairy and I had the whole place to myself. Carolyn said that it was very strange seeing at was the mid-term break. She had guests the weekends before and after I left, but I was the only person staying there for that week. I thought that suited me fine, but I soon found that there was very little to do. There was hardly any signal for my phone and there was no TV or DVDs. Just a book that would not last me long.
Tuesday 27 October 2009
I woke up at the most awful time of 06h30. In London, I would have dreaded this, but being so bored and tired, I had gone to bed early. I was still yawning enormously while I made myself some coffee and sat drinking it while watching the sun rise over the farms, country and sea. There was a field of bulls and a calf with its mother next to me on my right and a field with a horse and her foal on my left. Directly in front of me, was the sea and some rolling hills and overhead the crows flew and cried.
The reason that I had got ready so early was that the buses do not run all that frequently and the last one leaves St Davids at 18h22. I wanted a full day of exploring because after six, there would be nothing left for me to do, but read. I ran down the driveway and waved down the bus.
While St Davids slept, I explored its streets. I walked past the little cottages and made my way to the Cathedral and the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace. I wandered around little lanes and took photos of ancient city walls. It is always amazing to see such grandeur in such decay.
I then went into the boat hire and cruise shop, but they said that the sea was too rough and I must call later to find out if any boats were going out at lunch time. So, I went for a Welsh Breakfast in another café and tried an authentic Black Pudding and it was interesting. I had always felt curious about Black Pudding after reading a short story called The Vendetta at school. It was not as revolting as I thought it would be. It was spicy and the texture was odd but not unpleasant. But, I don’t think I’ll be going out of my way to have congealed blood again. I sat, drinking coffee and eating my breakfast, whiling away the hour before having to phone. I read my book and wrote on some postcards that I would later post. I decided that I would not stress about what I would be doing or not doing on my holiday. I has a basic idea of what I wanted to see and do, but I was not going to stress myself out during a holiday from my normal termly stressing. I wanted to see all the closest villages and go for a coastal walk through Pembrokeshire and I wanted to go on a cruise to see an island. However, there would be no puffins at this time of year, so it was not an issue if I did not go on a cruise. Just as well, I’d formed a plan B this day, because when I phoned the cruise company, they said that no boats were going out and that I should phone the next day.
Quickly paying my bill, I ran to catch the bus to Fishguard. Yawning hugely, I watched the countryside roll by. In Fishguard, I bought some gifts for people and walked to the harbour. I sat on the rocks of the peer while enjoying the sun, sea and salty wind that tried to blow my hood off. All the people walking by would smile and greet me before walking on. Even the dogs greeted each other and me and did not gripe.
I then walked back up the hill to the city centre and caught a bus to Haverfordwest where I explored the castle ruins. I walked about the centre which is situated between two bridges. I waited for a bus in a pub, having my first half pint of Welsh Brains – an odd sounding ale. But where the Irish have Guinness, the Welsh have Brains.
Back at Caerhafod Lodge, I cooked some custard that had been left behind by some previous backpacker. That’s one of the great things about these hostels. I’ve left my leftover food and tins at other lodges when I’d not needed them any longer. So, if you run out of something, you just help yourself to what others have left behind. In Scotland, I remember seeing a couple walk into our hostel, help themselves to leftover food, cook it up, eat it and then walk out again. Clearly those people had a system that worked. And the food was just sitting there, so why not?
The bus ride back to the lodge was hair-raising. These Welsh bus drivers really pelt down the lane and no one but me seemed to flinch. But the drivers are so nice and chatty. In general, they’re right about the Welsh. They are a lovely, warm and welcoming people.
Wednesday 28 October 2009
I woke early again and drank coffee on the outside bench watching the bulls graze in tge field while the sun rose and slowly illuminated the countryside and sea. I then took a nice stroll down the country lane towards St Davids. It was a lot further than I had thought it would be. I had decided against spending £24 for a morning boat ride that would be limited by the rough seas and instead was later taking a guided walk along the Pembrookshire coastline. As I was walking down the country lane, a kind farmer pulled up and gave me a lift for the last mile and a half to the city. Once there, I explored the last few sections that I had not seen before finding another small café to have breakfast and tea. I spent about an hour sitting and reading and just relaxing.
Afterwards, I walked to the post office and posted some more postcards before buying water and then walking to meet the guide. I was the only one there, so it was like a private tour and we had a grand time traversing the rugged coastline. It was truly beautiful! It was just a bit windy in places, and the walk was not difficult. I’m sure Colin, the guide, is used to slow and awkward tourists not used to the outdoor exertions. He kept asking if he was going too fast. I kept thinking he was going too slow. Along the way, we saw some Common Seals and a white pup. I’ve not even seen a Cape Fur Seal pup and I tried to take photos of it. Unfortunately, these pictures did not come out very well. The Common Seal is a lot more solitary and tend to keep to themselves and away from seal communities. And there were unsurprisingly no Puffins.
After extending out walk, Colin then drove us to a slate mine in the area. This mine had been excavated for centuries and a whole section of the cliff and coast has been chiselled and exploded away. After all the business and industry that must have happened there, it had been closed down because it was no longer lucrative and the slate was not of as high enough quality. Also, China is selling much cheaper slate to the western world. That just leaves Wales with one operating slate mine in the North. So, all that is left is a massive scar in the coastline. There’s something unsettling in the aspect of ruins, whether it is the ruins of a mighty palace, castle or a mine. And every time I see some kind of mighty ruin, a phrase from my childhood stint of Sunday School comes to mine: ‘All the things of this world will grow strangely dim/ In the light of His glory and grace.’ The rest of the song has faded into the reassesses of my mind, but I am constantly reminded of that one line time and time again while on my travels. Life is transcient. Everything fades – even great civilisations and buildings that once expressed wealth, power and pomp.
I finished this day with another half pint in a local pub with Colin before being driven back to my lodge
Thursday 29 October 2009
This was my last day on holiday and I found myself wishing I could stay and knowing that I would try to come back. I packed up everything, said farewell to the Lodge and to Carolyn and caught a bus to St Davids. I then sat in a tea room and had coffee and Welsh Cakes. The tea room is a sampler museum as well. There’s a lot of needle work on the walls that go back centuries. I was given a four page A4 document to read that detailed each of the samplers according to their age and era. Close to my table were two samplers that had been made by a grieving mother detailing the deaths of her two sons in 1864 (age 2) and 1876 (age 6). The bathroom was downstairs in the basement. This basement had been converted into a bomb shelter in the Second World War. There were war posters and even a manikin in a gas mask.
Later, I took the bus to Haverfordwest and sat in a pub eating lunch and drinking the last half pint of Brains I’ll have in a while. I then walked to the train station and caught my train to New Quay, Wales. After two hours, I changed trains and went a further two hours to Paddington where I caught a tube, another tube and then a bus home.