Wales, a Well-Kept Secret

7 Jun

Regular readers will remember our trip up to Abergavenny last year. Apart from Merthyr Tydfil which deserves an entry in the guide book, ‘Places to avoid on vacation’ (and I do not proffer that opinion lightly), we’d been delighted with the walking, cycling and hospitality in Wales.

This time we planned to stay in a self-catering cottage on a farm at the north west edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park for five days so Stuart could participate in a two-day offroad motorcycling course nearby. Before and afterwards we’d explore the opposite side of the Brecon Beacons from last year’s walks.

Great idea except it dawned on Stu as we were driving into Llandovery and towards the farm that he had never actually confirmed the accommodation. A phone call established that they were full. Alternative arangements required.

Until the age of the steam train Llandovery was a droving town catering to thirsty men herding cattle and sheep from Wales to London. It still has ten pubs but only a couple have rooms. The tourist office recommended the 14th century coaching inn, The Castle, across the road and within view of the castle ruins.

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In remembrance of the Welsh equivalent of William Wallace, ‘Braveheart’, Llywelyn Bren executed by the English in 1318.

I knew the minute Hugh, the young duty manager, greeted me that we were onto a good thing. Rare individuals choose exactly the job they were born to do. Hugh was born to make guests happy. He showed me a couple of rooms, both fine, newly refurbished, airy rooms at the top of the hotel, we discussed the Bed and Breakfast rate, and reached a good deal for both of us. The Castle is a gastro pub, one of four properties, including the spa hotel, Peterson Court, managed by three Welsh people in their mid-forties. We tested the opposition, Cawdor Hotel in Llandeilo, 18 miles down the road, for a night, but were keen to get back to The Castle.

An hour after checkin, 30pence walking guide in hand, we followed the circuit walk out of town along the Roman Road and through grazing farmland. The bluebells and buttercups were still in abundance and the sheep and lambs cuter than ever.

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A Welsh drover will always stand at the crossroads in Llandovery.

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Catharine this one is for you!

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Another 30pence map guided us next day on a seven mile loop to Myddfai through HRH Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall’s Welsh farm at Llwynwermod. This area is rich in myth and history, look up ‘The Physicians of Myddfai’ and the ‘Lady of the Lake’ for some interesting tales. We didn’t see Chuck and Camilla but enjoyed the coffee and sponge cake at the new Myddfai Community Hall.

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Most farmers cooperate with the right of way law but this farmer made navigating the trail very difficult.

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As we found last year, the country lanes with their flowering hedgerows are lovely to walk along but quite littered. We livened up our walks by collecting rubbish along the way. Bounty chocolate bars, cigarette packets, drink bottles and MacDonalds packaging are the most common litter (and Macdonalds was more than a thirty minute drive away, go figure).

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Now we’d warmed up our legs we were ready to tackle a section of the Beacons Way walk from the Llandeusant youth hostel in the old Red Lion pub to the cairn above Lyn y Fan Fach (lake) by Black Mountain, the highest point in the northwest Brecon Beacons at 886 metres. This required a detailed OS map and some preparation as the top is exposed and the escarpment steep.

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We had a third glorious day of sunshine with only sheep for company for the first two hours. Cresting the mountain we saw a tall, lone figure striding towards us. The shape resolved into that of park ranger, Richard, a Welsh man mountain. Windburnt cheeks and coal black hair, he would be right at home in a romance novel.

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The conversation however was all about the lakeside bothy (hut) he was walking down to check, apparently walkers are as bad at waste management as the local drivers. I did manage to get an answer to something that had been troubling me. When walking up hill and down dale on peaty, grassy, steep ground, is it better to follow one track or spread out the impact by walking different routes? Richard’s answer: the latter.

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Next day was the first of Stuart’s motorcycle course in Daffyd Esgair Forest, thankfully another fine day. Tamsin of Black Mountain Motorcycling rented Stu the offroad motorcycle and all the protective gear. I dropped him off at 9am and eight hours later collected him, exhausted but jubilant at having made it through a rigorous day of steep, dirt paths and slippery, grass downhills. He felt he’d learnt enough in one day to store away for use in Peru next year when he does the three week motorcycle tour in Peru on unsealed roads (I will be learning Spanish sitting next to the local driver in the support van). Stu also felt guilty about riding offroad, carving tracks through the forest and burning fossil fuels unnecessarily so one day was enough. Tick another one off Stuart’s Bucket List!

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Our last day in Wales was more of the sunshine Britain has been longing for. We drove down to the Gower Peninsula, parked in the Hill End privately owned car park by the surfing beach, and walked to Rhosilli on the bridleway for a pint at the Worm’s Head pub overlooking the cliffs and back along the ridge path past parapenters readying themselves to leap off the cliff.

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This wallk was an introduction to the wild, Welsh ponies of Gower. People and dogs do not faze them. If they deign to notice you they just flick their long fringe then get back to the important business of grazing, mutual grooming, or scratching their backsides on the stone walls of abandoned cottages. Beautiful creatures.

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Wales really turned it on for us again, wonderful food, countryside and people. I can’t say it without sounding an idiot but I can now write it, Diolch yn Fawr Cymr! (Thank you Wales!).

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4 Responses to “Wales, a Well-Kept Secret”

  1. Charmaine Lawton June 6, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    Vicarious travel aint quite the real thing, but you make it a mighty close second Sharon…luvly!

    • Sharon Tickle June 7, 2013 at 5:29 am #

      Hi Charm,

      We can’t figure out why more people don’t go to Wales instead of crowding into Cornwall. Seems a whole lot more interesting to me!

      Hope you are planning your next trip.

      Sxx

  2. Bronwyn Tudehope June 8, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    Oh Sharon, you guys just make me want to book my tickets NOW.
    Love your work!
    Bron x

    • Sharon Tickle June 9, 2013 at 5:56 am #

      Do it Bron ;-))

      See you at Sept book club. My place!

      Love,

      Sxx

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