I was up with the lark this morning, assuming larks rise from their slothful nests at 6:45 am. Having made tea we finished packing. Then we rested from our exertions before taking the 205 bus to Paddington.
We still had plenty of time on arrival so had tea and a breakfast muffin at Sloe. The train departed on time at 10:45 and there was vacant space for our suitcase within hand’s reach of my seat. I even had enough leg room.
The train reached Swansea (Abertawe) more or less on schedule and we transferred to the old cuckoo that was to take us to our final destination. It did and was only a few minutes late. In fact, the whole trip went very smoothly.
I had printed a map to help find the hotel but the colour cartridge in the printer had run out so that the map looked like a very old and worn inscription. Tigger, who displays remarkable path-finding abilities, put us on the right track and we soon arrived at the Croyland Guest House. After a rest and a cup of tea, we set out to visit the town.
Thus did we make our first proper acquaintance with the beautiful and ancient seaside town of Tenby, in Welsh Dinbych-y-pysgod (“fortlet of the fish”).
The day was dull and cloudy but Tenby is so picturesque that it tempts you to take photos at every turn. I was glad to be using a digital camera for I soon shot more than the equivalent of a roll of film. Later the conditions cleared somewhat, allowing a pale glow of evening sun to light the scene, showing off to advantage the buildings many of which are painted in cheerful pastel colors.
We dined at the Bay Tree (“No reservation? It’ll be OK as long as you are out by 8.”) and continued our ramble, taking the cliff-top path and being stopped in our tracks again and again by beautiful views.
We walked until we were tired enough to return to the hotel. I had no idea where we were but the old Tigger magic came into play and a couple of turns brought us out in sight of our guest house. Homing pigeons have nothing on Tigger.
Our room is on the second floor but there are only 31 steps up to it. The Devonian’s record remains unbeaten. The room is good. It is a “family room” so there is plenty of space. In contrast, the bathroom is tiny and there is nowhere to put anything. Still, you can’t have everything, As long as the disadvantages are small ones, I reckon we’re ahead.
This gull was intently watching the diners within
Sunday, September 2nd 2007
The plan was to go to the station to buy rover rail and bus tickets for our explorations of the area. Unfortunately, the plan failed because you can buy these tickets only from manned railway stations and Tenby station isn’t manned. I don’t know why it isn’t because it is quite a busy little station at times.
The day turned out to be grey with light showers and as it was Sunday, travel was going to be difficult, so we decided to stay in Tenby for the day. This gave us the chance to explore the town thoroughly. We went into the more interesting shops and even bought a few things such as postcards.
One shop promised “alternative clothing”, so, of course, we went in for a look. The style turned out to be vaguely Goth but at the tame end of the spectrum, though we did find a nice selection of colourful socks at £1.99 a pair. They were for women and several sizes too small for me but Tigger bought them for me, anyway, because nylon socks stretch and size doesn’t matter that much. I wore a pair later and they are fine.
We had lunch in a pub, mushroom strogonoff with chips. The strogonoff was unusual, with a distinctly spicy taste. The pub also had Indian dishes on the menu so perhaps there had been cultural cross-fertilization.
As we were feeling a little tired, and as there are only 31 steps up to our room (plus the 7 from the street to the front door), we decided to go back to the hotel. We made tea and watched a DVD about the Pembrokeshire (Sir Penfro in Welsh) coastal path. This caused us to fall asleep a couple of times so it seemed best to retire for a nap. Waking up some time later, we watched the rest of the DVD and then wondered what to do next.
We decided to go out and look for something to eat. By the time we reached town it was 9 pm and nearly every eatery we tried had stopped serving food. It began to feel like the Mousehole Incident all over again. We ended up having a very indifferent meal in a pizza place.
After this, we set out to see, and photograph, “Tenby by Night”. Tenby is quite pretty by night but not necessarily easy to photograph. Modern digital cameras can get results in any conditions short of total darkness but not always the results you would wish.
You always have to remember that while camera doesn’t lie, its truth may not be the same as yours.
We returned to the hotel at last and I am in bed writing this while Tigger is watching a DVD on her laptop.
Monday, September 3rd 2007
Tenby station lacks staff and also lacks train information. There is a timetable pasted on the wall. With any luck you can catch a train in the right direction. There are two directions, Doc Penfro (Pembroke Dock) or Abertawe (Swansea). As there is no ticket office you buy your ticket on the train without penalty.
We had to travel first to Caerfyrddin (Carmarthen) to buy our South Wales Rover ticket. For £45 you get 8 days unlimited travel in the region including 4 by train. Next time we will buy them in advance in London or online to avoid the problem of unmanned stations.
Fully armed with our rovers, we boarded the Manchester (Manceinion) train which also calls at Caedydd (Cardiff), our destination for today.
We passed through some beautiful countryside with views of land and sea and watched a military plane manoeuvring over one of the firing ranges that are a feature of this area.
Compared with Tenby, Cardiff is the big city with impressive buildings and shopping arcades. Tigger wanted to visit the National Museum of Wales, so we repaired to the bus station and enquired which bus would take us there. It is the number 27. This where things started to go wrong.
We found the bus but there was no driver. Others were looking for him too. Eventually he appeared and confirmed that the bus went past the museum and he would tell us when we were there. The bus ride wasn’t very interesting but did seem rather long. We began to suspect that the driver had forgotten to let us off at out stop. And so it was. He admitted his fault and let us off on the return journey.
That was not all. The Museum was shrouded in scaffolding and boarding but notices assured us that it was open. It wasn’t. Maybe it closes on Mondays but if so there was not a single notice explaining this. We walked all the way round it looking for the entrance or a notice and found none. Strange how public institutions – educational ones to boot – can be so thoughtless and unhelpful.
We visited Cardiff Bay and had a drink at a little cafe in a leisure complex there. Then we rode the number 6 “bendy bus” back to the station. Cadiff’s “bendies”, unlike their London cousins, have a single centre door which opens only if a passenger presses a button. In other words, this door is for exit only and all passengers enter through the front door, buying or showing a ticket.
We found a train waiting in the station to take us to Swansea where we would pick up the cuckoo to take us to Tenby. We had an hour to wait at Swansea and decided to eat. We took a while finding food (ending up in Pizza Hut) and didn’t leave ourselves much time to eat, pay and get back to the station. I had visions of missing the train (which was the last of the day) and spending the night in Swansea. Fortunately, we made it back to the station just in time.
There is always one day on an expedition when things go wrong and compromise our enjoyment. Let’s hope today was it for this trip.
The cuckoo delivered us safely at Tenby and we followed the now familiar route to the guest house, negotiated the 31 steps to our room (plus 7 up to the front door) and made tea. It is 10:28 pm and I am in bed writing this blog while enjoying a cup of Betjeman & Barton‘s finest.
Tuesday, September 4th 2007
We have chosen to make today our train-free day, meaning that for the rest of our trip we can use bus and train as appropriate. In any case, the only way to reach today’s destination is by bus.
The journey is in two stages. First we take the 381 bus to Narbeth (Arbeth in Welsh) and there change to the 430. The 381 dropped us at the stop at the top of the hill and as we saw no timetable for the 430, we assumed we needed to go down the hill into town. Having done so and failed to find the stop, we were informed by a helpful native that the bus stopped at the top of the hill.
We now had insufficient time to get back to the stop. Just then the bus came by. Tigger waved to it and the driver stopped! Our journey was saved!
We reached our destination at about 11:30. This was a once small village that these days is growing apace but which, unless you are from the area, you will almost never have heard of: Cilgerran.
We went there because I have ancient connections with the place. Relatives lived there for a while and we visited them during the school summer holidays. When my mother became ill and couldn’t travel, I attended the village school for one term.
I wanted to find the house we stayed in, the Pendre pub that had been run by friends of the family, and the school where I had briefly been a pupil. I thought the latter would either have disappeared or been turned into a private house like so many village schools. In fact, it is still a school and has even been expanded. The children were in uniform, in contrast to my day, and it seems very active and orderly, quite unlike the shambolic institution that I knew.
The Pendre is still there. It was closed so we continued our explorations. I knew what the house should look like and what its name was. I also knew it was beside one of the chapels. I remembered this because of the following anecdote.
My male relative was using a mechanical garden implement one Sunday. Someone came out of the chapel to ask him to desist as no one could hear the minister give his sermon. My relative looked at his watch and said “Your minister has 10 minutes to finish his sermon after which I will continue.” He was as good as his word but, as you may imagine, this did not help his already compromised reputation in the village.
I also knew that my relatives lived in the left-hand one of a pair of conjoined houses both owned by Willy the baker whose baker’s oven was in the right-hand house. I had been in there once when he removed a bee sting from my hand. The house, if I recall correctly, was called Dychwelfa.
No one I spoke to had heard of Dychwelfa or Willy the baker. We searched for some time until I realized I had walked past the second chapel, ignoring the houses next to it because they did not look like the Dychwelfa I remembered. A discontinuity in the roof-line of the row of houses (it was Tigger with her interest in architecture who pointed this out) suggests that what was once the house of my memory has been remodelled or even rebuilt so that it no longer resembles the house that once stood there.
There was no point in dwelling on things gone for ever, so we turned our attention the the ruined castle. I knew it as a crumbling and dangerous ruin but a lot of work had been done on it.These days you have to pay to go in but the fabric has been stabilized and you can climb the spiral stairs of the west tower and the east tower and walk across a bridge between them.
I have fear of heights but I made myself go up and take photos from the top. It was a beautiful sunny day so the views were magnificent. There was a section of battlement open on both sides except for a low railing. I knew I could never persuade myself to go onto that so I sat on the end and took photos through the railings.
I went down and joined Tigger on a grassy area and was so relaxed that I fell asleep, to be awoken by Tigger putting a spider on my nose.
We then took the bus to Cardigan (Aberteifi) and visited the beautiful old indoor market they have there. From Cardigan we travelled back to Narbeth and after tea in the Q Cafe took the Tenby bus but got off at Saundersfoot. We had dinner at The Mermaid on the Strand and then took the 352 (which was 15 minutes late – shades of Dorset) back to Tenby.
We suddenly realized that the bus was running along the road in which our guest house is situated and asked to driver if he would drop us off. He was willing to do so (don’t try this in London!), saving us a long walk home.
Wednesday, September 5th 2007
Today is a friend’s birthday so the day started by texting him greetings. Well, this is the modern way.
The weather was looking dull and overcast so it seemed best to make this a town visit where there would be plenty of places to go in the event of rain. We joined the crowd on Tenby Station to catch the Swansea train. From today, the train consists of one carriage only because it is winter and, as we all know, no one travels in winter. More corporate penny-pinching at the cost of customer comfort and convenience. The train was of course uncomfortably crowded.
On reaching Swansea we visited the covered market which has an engaging collection of stalls. One of these prints customers’ designs on tee shirts and Tigger bought me one with my name, SilverTiger, on it.
After this we went to the bus station and chose a bus more or less at random. It turned out to be a good choice, as it was the number 14 which took us to Pennard Cliffs, a beautiful and virtually unspoilt place with lovely views of cliff and sea.
We lunched at the small coffee shop there and then went for a walk on the cliff top. By now the sun had come out and it was a warm and pleasant day.
Returning to Swansea, we had a drink in a scruffy pub near the bus station and then took a bus to the train station when we took a train to Pembrey and Burry Port (Pen-bre and Porth Tywyn, in Welsh), where we had a good dinner in a nice pub, the Cornish Arms, and then went out for a walk and photographed the port and the beautiful sunset.
According to our train timetable, the 20:30 train from Burry would take us to Tenby. Instead, it terminated at Carmarthen. There then ensued some confusion of a kind not uncommon in these parts. One railway employee told us there would soon be a train for Tenby on platform 2 while another said it would be on platform 1.
The electronic display showed it as platform 1 and eventually all the railway staff agreed with this. Then, just before the train was due (it was late, of course), there was a flurry and we were all marshalled and sent across the track by the board walk to platform 2 where a one-carriage cuckoo soon arrived to carry us onward.
All in all it was a good day, amiably rounded off by tea in our nest on the second floor.
Thursday, September 6th 2007
We took the now familiar trail to the bus station to catch the 349 which would take us to Haverford West (Hwlffordd) and from there the 411 carried us to today’s destination, St Davids (Dinas Tyddewi).
St Davids is a picturesque little town, especially when the sun shines as it did after a gloomy start. There is the inevitable castle, the cathedral and the ruined Archbishop’s Palace. Once you have photographed these and the panorama of landscape beyond, there is not a lot more to do apart from have lunch.
We found lunch in a guest house with restaurant attached and made a note of it for future reference.
Having had lunch, photographed what was to be photographed and bought a beginners’ Welsh book, we worked out our itinerary for the return to Tenby. As the 349 bus journey was rather long we decided on a three-part return.
From the bus, Haverford West had looked as if it might be worth visiting so we took the 411 thither. In the event the town was rather a disappointment and, having looked at the covered market (in which most of the stalls were closed) and having had tea and tea cakes, we took the 349 onwards.
Rather than go all the way to Tenby, we stopped off at Pembroke (Penfro), intending to take the train the rest of the way.
I wrote the above paragraph on Pembroke Station, unaware that we were about to have a minor adventure. The train arrived and we climbed aboard. This came about as a result of Tigger suggesting that, instead of disembarking at Tenby, we go on to Saundersfoot for supper as we knew that there were buses going from there to Tenby until quite late. I agreed.
The train came and we climbed aboard. It always waits a while at Tenby and during this wait Tigger suggested we should get off and have supper in Tenby but I was in favour of going on. Either because of my hearing or through lack of attention, I had missed a piece of information that Tigger had gleaned from the map.
We arrived at Saundersfoot and got off the train onto a deserted station as dusk was beginning and the bats were darting about catching insects. As we reached the road, I discovered what I had previously missed: the station is a mile and a quarter outside town! Not much in daytime, perhaps, but in the evening, less propitious.
“What do we do now? enquired Tiger.
“We walk,” said I as cheerfully as I could.
The road to town is bendy and the light was failing. There was no pavement, of course, and plenty of blind corners. On-coming traffic would have difficulty spotting us and as the road is narrow, would be hugging the left.
Nothing daunted, we set off. I think Tigger was more concerned about the bats than the speeding cars.
“They won’t hurt you,” I stated cheerfully. “And you’re wearing a hat.”
“It’s all right for you,” muttered Tigger. “You like bats!”
Tigger had bought me a digital watch with a torch built-in (an early Christmas present) and I used this to alert oncoming motorists to our presence. All gave us a wide berth but one did so only at the last moment.
The appearance of 30 mph speed limit signs cheered us up; then came street lights. the first houses, views of the bay shining peacefully in the evening glow, the lights and the town. The Castle Inn was offering vegetable tikka masalla so we had supper there, finishing in time to make our way to the bus stop in time for the 8:30 number 352.
The driver kindly dropped us off in front of our guest house where we made tea and watched a DVD entitled Welsh Journeys.
Friday, September 7th 2007.
Today is a special day for me. Can you guess what it is? Clues are the socks and the SilverTiger tee shirt that Tigger bought for me earlier this week. Yes! Today is my birthday and the reason for arranging this trip at this particular time.
Today was a train day so we caught the crowded one-carriage cuckoo (thanks Arriva trains for not giving a toss about customer comfort or convenience) to Swansea where we switched to the Paddington train that took us to Cardiff.
I could see Tigger had a plan so I waited to see what it was. First, we had a very good lunch in Cardiff at La Brasserie. Then off we went to the bus station to enquire which bus would take us to Tigger’s intended destination. Both the 32 and the 320 go there, should you be interested.
Our destination was St Fagans National History Museum (Sain Ffagan Amgueddfa Werin Cymru). Tigger had been there before and wanted me to see it too. We paid a fairly short visit because of travel constraints but intend to return another time.
In the museum grounds I met a pig and some birds but the main attraction of the museum is houses. When old houses of historic interest, such as farmhouses, labourers’ cottages, shops or a post-war prefab, become available, the museum seeks to acquire it. If it is successful, it dismantles the building, transports it to the museum site and reconstructs it like a giant 3D puzzle.
In this way, dwellings and shops, and by implication their associated way of life, are preserved for historians and the public alike. I particularly liked the shops which included a wartime rural post office, a tailor’s shop and a general store.
As you walk about the site it is like passing through different time zones. In each building there is a curator, some of whom are knowledgeable. There are also some working artisan workshops where you can see work being performed in authentic conditions.
We had asked the bus driver the time of the last bus back to town. This was due to leave at 4:58 but left a good 5 minutes early. Tough luck for anyone still the museum counting on that bus.
At Cardiff there was the usual confusion over the time of the next train to Swansea and the platform was switched at the last minute provoking a scene reminiscent of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, but we eventually boarded and found seats. At Swansea we have an hour to wait for our connection and experience shows this to be too short a time for getting a meal so at the time of writing I am not sure how we will organize the rest of the day.
In the event we had an hour and 20 minutes between trains at Swansea so notwithstanding our experience at Pizza Hut on Monday, we decided to have a meal. We chose a Chinese restaurant and had an adequate but not splendid meal.
We had plenty of time to catch our Arriva cuckoo for Tenby which rattled through the gathering dusk affording views of the sunset over a varied skyline.
Our trip has come to an end but as our train is not until this afternoon, we mean to make the most of the morning. So we arranged to leave our case at the guest house while we went off for a bus ride.
The bus we took was the 351, a small bus that carried us on a white-knuckle ride along narrow winding roads, up and down hills, through very varied and pretty countryside to the seaside town of Pendine (Pentywyn). This was one of the most enjoyable rides of the trip.
Pentine is famous for its 5 mile-long broad flat beach. Several land-speed records have been obtained here and there are plaques reminding you of this. Parry Thomas was killed here trying to regain the record in his car “Babs” which was buried in the sand here immediately following his death but has more recently been dug up and restored.
The beach is also good for land yachts and other beach activities. The town is small and quiet and seems to be patronized mainly by the elderly or families with very young children.
We enjoyed the view, had tea in a seafront cafe, took photos and then caught the little bus back to Tenby.
We thought our train departed Tenby at 3:30 and were on the platform in plenty of time. I went off for sandwiches and while I was away, Tigger realized we had made a mistake about the time. Our tickets were indeed for the 3:30 train but at Swansea, not Tenby. In other words, we had missed the train we had booked.
Our tickets are non-refundable so the mistake meant that we might have to buy new tickets at the full price. In the event things worked out better than we expected and there was even a bonus.
We waited impatiently for the 3:32 train and were not surprised that, once again, it was late. However, we were surprised by what train it was. We were expecting the usual cuckoo that would take us to Swansea where we would have to change and negoitiate for new tickets. When the train arrived, it was a big one and was going all the way to Paddington! We would not have to change and we would not be all that late.
There remained the question of the tickets. When the ticket inspector came, we explained our predicament. “Oh, don’t worry,” he said, clipping our tickets and going on his way.
All our problems solved, we could relax for the long journey home.