Thursday, on which my bum gets numb. And I learn some frightening stuff.

Hello, Dear Readers.

Back again.

Today I attended what we officially call “Corporate Study Day,” and what is UNofficially called many other names amongst the staff, none of them complimentary. It is made up of a series of talks by the heads, or deputy heads, of various departments at the hospital and it is mandatory to attend. I suppose that, given the size of the place and the thousands of people who work there, it is a wonder that anything like this ever works at all but it never fails to irk me that “they” never get it right. My name was on none of the official lists that were set out for us to sign to say that we had attended, so I duly signed and printed in the sections provided. In fact it is my estimation that about 75% of the names were not countersigned. Oh well, lots more had added their names underneath mine.

The trouble with CS day is that much of it is the same every year, which makes it very dull indeed after a few years. That said, one part which used to be the lady in question standing on the stage and droning on for an hour was much improved, perhaps due to the feedback given last year. Sadly a later part which I am required to sit through but which really is not at all relevant is, as a result of not being relevant as dull as ditchwater despite being delivered by one of the more engaging speakers of the morning.

Just like last year there was much confusion about what I was supposed to attend during the afternoon, so in the end I just followed the list that was put up. If my immediate bosses don’t like it then they can lump it.

But the afternoon turned out to be an incredible session. Officially termed “Safeguarding Adults, ” which I had attended last year, this was a variation from the usual talk because the hospital had invited in a woman who works for the Suffolk Police in the Forced Marriages Unit. The stories she told us were just incredible, particularly in regard to honour killings: it’s a world you hear about every now and then in the press and other media but one which, as she was keen to underline, is actually there all the time. Many of the incidents she quoted were local, and the statistics she had to hand were horrifying on both a national and a local level. She also revealed that she, herself, as a Muslim woman had been expected to follow a path set for her by her family and when she said no, she wanted a career, she was disowned by them. She has not had any contact with any of her relations for 17 years.

We sat there, stunned by the atrocities she told us; the murders, the beatings, the kidnappings, things that were, ARE, occurring in our civilised, western country but happening under the radar. In one city, in one year, 500 children vanished from schools with no trace, yet no questions were ever asked because the figures weren’t collated until a couple of years later. Very frightening.

She also works to combat illegal female genital mutilation. Her talk on this matter was shorter but had no less impact. Again the statistics were frightening, not to mention the horrific descriptions of the injuries (mostly) young girls can sustain. She at least spared us the photographs which she uses when talking to solely to the gynecological and surgical staff.

At the end she cheerfully asked “Any questions” and was surprised when there were none, but our lack of response wasn’t due to any lack of interest it was down to us being stunned, frankly. Then someone broke the ice by saying, “That was all incredibly thought provoking, terrifying even,” and there was some chat. I hope she realised how powerful her presentation had been. She talked about how she goes into schools, colleges and other institutions, so she clearly works hard. Of all the speakers we had today she was by far the most engaging.

Anyway, this is a short entry. I’m on a long day tomorrow, so I ought to get off to bed. But I will be back soon.

Wales 2013: Part 6, in which we have one last walk and then come home.

Well, I am angry, Dear Readers – angry with myself for stupidly not saving what I had written when I closed my documents the other night. Buggeration.

Sigh. Anyway, here we go again.

We came home on Saturday. The end.

No, not really… Saturday morning dawned dry and sunny. We were up early so we could have breakfast, perform ablutions and pack the car (I say “we,” but Drew likes to pack the car by himself and has it down to a fine art.) The request is that holiday makers vacate the bungalow and drop the front door key off at the handyman’s house by 10.30 but we have never achieved that goal. I don’t think it’s too vital to be out on the dot and I imagine that the families that come with lots of kids find it hard to achieve anyway. But this year we had left, locked up and Drew was popping the key through the letterbox at the handyman’s by 11.15.

You see we don’t just leave, we go through the place cleaning and hoovering and making sure everything is back where it should be (when we arrive we snap photos so we don’t forget where things have to go because there are things we move to dog-proof the place. This year we slightly re-arranged bits of furniture to suit our needs, so we wanted to make sure there was nothing out of place when we left. This leaves Handyman little to do, but that’s fine by me, I think it’s a matter of courtesy to leave it as you find it. He’ll change all the bed linen anyway (although we take our own) and the grass needed cutting before the next lot of people arrived, so he’ll be busy enough. According to the lady who owns it, not everyone in the past has been so thoughtful and the bungalow has been left in a terrible state.

Drew’s Mum took a great pride in making sure the place was spotless before she left, so we intend to keep up her standards!

It is our tradition that before we drive out of Fairbourne for the last time we take the dogs for one last walk on the beach. In fact we used to go for one last walk in the B.C. years so we could breath in some of that Welsh sea air, so now we have the dogs with us it makes even more sense to do so – they get a chance for a wee and/or a pooh and to stretch their legs before being cooped up in the car for hours.

Because we’d managed a walk on the beach the evening before we decided to go up to the Point, so we could walk from the car park, round past the station cafe, along the sand (if there was any exposed by the tide) and then back to the car. It seemed that a lot of other people had woken up that morning and made the same decision because the car park was very full but after a moment’s panic we managed to squeeze in without a problem.

But once we were out of the car we discovered that despite the number of vehicles there the number of people wasn’t overwhelming; some were just sitting in their cars looking at the views and several were up at the station waiting for the little train to arrive. To my own joy we had arrived at precisely the right time to watch the train round the bend and draw up at the station, and then the engine move from one end of the carriages to the other ready for its return journey.

We were also lucky with the tide. It had been going out for a while so although it was not out to its full extent there were still acres of sand to walk on. The Girls were happy to run about and we were happy in the sunshine. In the distance there were even horses from the nearby riding school moving across the sand. How I wished even more we could stay.

But we took more photos, untangled the girls who had woven their respective leads into an awkward mess, sighed wistfully, and returned to the car.

Barmouth across the estuary.

The first part of the trip was uneventful. Lola, as usual, hated being in the back of the car and not in the front. She ran through her entire repertoire of attention seeking noises and wriggled about, but we resolutely ignored her and she almost settled down. Charley, seasoned traveller that she is, relaxed straight away.

There’s not much to relate about the drive. We listened to and sang along to the playlist I’d made for the entire holiday (predominantly 80s music, with the old singalong track from the 70s added in, there was nothing earlier than 1974 and nothing later than 1989) and enjoyed the fact that we there were no snarl ups anywhere. We stopped off at one of usual places, Dinky’s Dinah which is situated in a layby immediately off the main road. Always busy with bikers, car drivers and their families and lorry drivers, the place looks like a series of old sheds nailed together, but they do great, basic food – we had bacon butties! There are also some toilets (always handy) and a small path round a low mound covered in trees which makes an ideal short walk for the Girls. (Internet research reveals that the tree-covered mound is what remains from the layout of the area when a long-lost railway line crossed the area.) We stopped there for about half an hour to eat the butties and get some fresh air as well as to use the facilities (I chose not to wash my hands at the sinks in the toilet block – they didn’t look very savoury to me, so when I got back to the car I slathered loads of hand cleanser all over my hands. Drew DID wash his hands but discovered that the whole sink was only loosely attached to the wall making the process a tad nerve-wracking) Then we set off – next stop Birmingham.

Sometimes the traffic in Birmingham and its environs can be appalling, but it was flowing with no problems when we got to the outskirts and we got to Selly Oak, where Drew used to live with his parents, without incident. Here we stopped at Sainsbury’s (a supermarket) so Drew could nip in to get some odds and ends as well as flowers for when we went to the cemetery for our annual visit to his parents. The Girls weren’t very happy about this, though Lola wasn’t as loudly distressed as she has been and it was Charley who seemed the most uncomfortable. In the event, and despite it being very busy, Drew wasn’t very long and we drove the mile or so to the cemetery.

When Drew’s parents both passed away I said to him that it didn’t matter when, if he felt the need to go and visit the place where their ashes are buried, we would go. If he wanted to set off in the middle of the night, then we would. So far he has not felt the need in that way, but we visit the cemetery on the way home every year. It’s lovely to go and see them, but as you can imagine it is very hard for him because, as he said this time, it makes their loss very real. His body language changes in that short drive from supermarket to cemetery – I’m not sure anyone who doesn’t know him as well as I do would notice, but I see him tense up, grip the steering wheel more tightly and hear his voice become tight.

I cannot pretend to imagine how he feels because I am lucky enough to still have both parents alive, although in the past year I have become acutely aware that they won’t be here forever (as have they!) We had to leave the Girls in the car as, unlike the cemetery at home, dogs aren’t allowed in and somehow Lola’s unhappy yipping and Charley’s distressed howling made the whole visit even more agonising (although we noticed that when another car parked near ours their nosiness outweighed their other emotions and they went quiet!)

Drew placed the plant he had bought on their headstone and we stood there for a little while, with the breeze blowing the flowers and trinkets that families had brought to decorate their loved ones’ headstones. Only when the Girls went quiet, heralding the arrival of the other family, did we stir and go back to the car where the Girls were hysterical with joy at our reappearance. Moments later they were not so joyous when Drew got out again, this time by himself, to place another plant on his grandmother’s grave.

Then we were off again; another short drive to Drew’s brother’s house. This is another post-holiday tradition, although originally we stopped at Drew’s parents’ house not only on the way home but on the way THERE!! Drew’s brother and sister-in-law lost one of their elderly dogs, a spaniel, last year and still have another one who, despite various age-related complaints, remains, unexpectedly, in relatively robust health. But they also have just acquired two very gorgeous black and white spaniel puppies. They’re still at the eat, sleep and wobble about stage and are entirely beautiful. It was interesting to see how our two reacted to them. Lola just wanted to play, although she was a little wary from time to time, but Charley was not sure at all. She doesn’t like the quick movements puppies make, it unnerves her. She was intrigued, but took refuge on Drew’s lap for most of the time.

We were there for a couple of hours before setting off again. It was nice to sit drinking coffee and chatting in their back garden while the dogs played, very relaxing and of course a break for Drew from the driving. Once we were back on the road the traffic remained steady with no delays at all and we arrived back at home within minutes of the time Drew had predicted, making him as accurate at the end of the holiday as he had been at the beginning.

The land gets flatter as we approach home.

After a bit of confusion I managed to phone our order for Chinese food through to our new favourite takeaway while Drew unpacked the car, and we rounded off the evening by watching Doctor Who and eating more food!

The next day, Sunday, we had been invited by my parents to a meal to celebrate my brother’s birthday, which had been while we were away. This was at the Four Horseshoes a beautiful old pub which has been an inn since the twelfth century! We’ve been there once before, for my sister-in-law’s birthday late last year and it was as fantastic this time as last. We could have taken Charley and Lola, as dogs are permitted in the pub, but we knew that they wouldn’t really like it, would bark if there were other dogs around (there were) and anyway it was quite nice not to have them there after two weeks of worrying if they were okay. Foodwise, other than my sister-in-law who is vegetarian, we all went for the carvery option, the choices being pork, gammon and turkey this particular week (I chose pork) and as before the portions were more than generous. We ate indoors, but went out into the pub’s garden for our coffees where the sun stayed out for some of the time but where the children were able to play for a while.

The Four Horseshoes.

There is a page of photos of the inside here including one of the internal well.

Close to the pub, perhaps a mile away if that, are the Thornham Walks which has been created in the grounds of the Thornham Estate, owned for centuries by the Henniker family. Going for the meal and then the walks with the family was a lovely way to round off our two weeks of holiday time and was a buffer between freedom and real life. Just what we needed.

The hermitage in the grounds of the estate.

After our walk we had more coffee and some cake at the tea room.

And so now, here we are, one week later and things are back in their usual groove. Work has been okay although I was dreading returning. The long day I worked was bearable, helped by there being enough staff for a change, but I’m still pleased I won’t be doing many more. The June rota is completed and there is one for July but it isn’t official yet, but I have no long days in July and also no night shifts.

I’ve got at least one supplementary Welsh holiday post planned, so you’re not free yet!

And finally, pictures to illustrate our pie and chips for slmret:

Equally as nice with gravy.

Wales 2013. Part five in which our week draws to an end, but in which we still manage to see some su

Oh, Dear Readers, we are back at home again.

How dull it seems to be back at home, everything over-familiar and just… normal. At least I am not back at work until tomorrow. But, let me go back to last week to finish writing about the holiday, which will allow me to re-live it some more at least.

And so let me take you back to last Wednesday. This was the day we had decided to do our annual “round robin” trip. Drew used to do this with his parents and it involves visiting several different places all in one day – or in one afternoon, in our case! It sounds as though it would be too rushed, but in fact it doesn’t work out like that at all.

In fact it isn’t just the places that we stop off on this day out, the drive itself is pretty wonderful because the route takes you through some beautiful countryside. One part of it in particular, as the road sweeps down from the hills through the Bwlch Llyn Bach pass to Talyllin Lake, is stunning, especially on a clear and bright day. No matter how many times we have done this drive, it never fails to strike me with its beauty. And down by the lake itself, where we always stop to have a walk along the lakeside, it is always still and quiet. I daresay that when the weather is bad it can be as windy and noisy as anywhere else, but generally the high valley keeps it sheltered. The road that skirts the lake is a narrow one, but quite often the route that large lorries and coaches take, which jars with the surroundings. (In fact on our way out of the valley we had to pause while a large coach, the cars behind it (including us) and a sizeable van coming the other way performed an awkward choreography at a particularly narrow section of the road.)

Talyllin Lake looking towards Bwlch Llyn Bach Pass, down which we had just driven to get there.

A wider view of the lake. The road runs along the right hand side of the view.

The lakeside is home to one of Drew’s favourite houses. When I first started coming to Wales with him this house was barely visible from the roadside on the opposite bank, but year by year it became clear that the house and its garden was being tidied up and restored until now when it is clearly visible in its smart new appearance. Later that week we discovered, when looking in the window of an estate agent, that is was once a vicarage AND that it is for sale. And so it has joined our list of lottery houses – places which we would buy if we won the national lottery.

From the lake we retraced some of our route before heading off back up into the hills and through more wonderful attractive countryside to a small town called Corris. This place is home to the Corris Craft Centre, incorporating King Arthur’s Labrynth and, a little further down the road, the Centre for Alternative Technology, a place forever etched on Drew’s memory after a childhood visit which he remembers as being a horrific mix of vats of urine and hoards of wasps. It is the Craft Centre we always visit, although our once leisurely perusal of the many small shops is now curtailed by the presence of the dogs. In particular there is a place we like that makes candles, although sadly it seems to be relying more and more on the generic sorts of trinkets and giftlets that can be picked up in any gift shop anywhere in the country, and a shop that sells jewellery made locally from native gold and stone. And of course it has a very good cafe! In the last couple of years the outside seating/eating area has been improved a great deal, so we sat here to enjoy our mid-afternoon snack!

The way into the Corris Craft Centre.

The outside eating area, with more of the Centre and the hills in the background.

In the years Before Canines, we went on the King Arthur’s Labyrinth adventure. At the time I was still prone to panic attacks brought on by claustrophobia, so I was very wary of going into the old slate mines, where the labyrinth is set up. In the end, though, it was so well done and entertaining that I forgot my fears – in fact much of time was preoccupied by having to wear a hard hat, to protect our delicate skulls against the low ceilings; all well and good if they fitted properly but they seemed to come in just one size so I, as a person who seems to have an unusually large head PLUS thick hair meaning I find it hard to find any sort of hat to fit me, just had it wobbling on top of my head in a really irritating manner. And when I DID bang my head, it was because the bloody hat made me too tall!

The labyrinth adventure begins when you board a long, narrow boat to negotiate one of the chambers that has become partially flooded since the mining stopped decades ago. You are guided by several eerie, silent figures dressed in brown monk-like hooded robes who are there to make sure you don’t go down the wrong tunnel, fall into the water or meet another party (they were very good at this – the only time you did see another group of people was as you began and ended the trip.) The boat seems to glide through the water of its own, spooky, accord, but in fact was attached to small rails underneath, as some too-loud bloke announced at one point. The twitched barely noticeably at this, but remained silent.

It’s all brilliantly done – dragons that breathe fire and smoke loom from the shadows, figures lurk here and there, other robed men (could’ve been women, too, it was impossible to tell) move wordlessly through the shadows and the journey is rounded off by an incredibly clever scene where gallons of water crash down onto the representation of a village to show how the spirits got their revenge on the rebellious population and another where Arthur and his knights are asleep, waiting for that time when the country is in such dire straits that he needs to awaken in order to save it.

It was while we were entering the chamber where the great flooding scene took place that our creepy, hooded guide, raised his face into the pale light and spoke to us the ancient, sacred words: “On holiday here, lads?” in a very strong Birmingham accent, followed by a warning not to stand too close or we’d get wet.

The view across the main road outside the Centre.

Hot sausage roll, which we shared.

Cream topped hot chocolate.

I just can’t resist that millionaire’s shortbread.

But back to the current visit. From Corris we took the main road through the valley and out onto the coast side to drive through Aberdovey and on to Tywyn. Here the clouds had given way to sunshine, so we set off for a walk along the prom first and then down onto the beach. The Girls were happy; they were bored from being in the car for too long and they don’t really like it at Corris, being too reigned in on their leads and with one or other of us disappearing out of sight every now and then. Here, on the beach, they could run at the full extent of their leads and plunge in and out of the pools of water (Charley) and generally be silly (Lola.) And it was nice for us, too, to walk properly in the fresh air for a while. It certainly worked up an appetite: we’d lost track of time and hadn’t realised we were due to eat, so we headed back to the car and drove back to Fairbourne to spend the evening lazily!

Three views of Tywyn.

On Thursday the weather seemed to be a little better, with more sunshine forecast than previously. This is one of the days that Barmouth holds its market, and we had long planned to visit it as early as possible (too late and half the stall holders have packed up and gone home.) We actually managed to arrive there at about half past one and, after off-loading some of our recycling at the large, official, recycling bins in the car park, we set off into Barmouth town centre via a slightly different route although we were surprised to discover that the pedestrian crossing over the railway line was closed off with a firmly-nailed wooden barrier! Although there has, to my knowledge, never been an accident on it in all the time that it’s been there Network Rail have closed it for safety reasons – they’re playing a cautious card after a series of accidents on crossings across the country, but these have all involved cars and not pedestrians. However, in this age of the compensation culture I can see why they’ve taken this action.

Barmouth is home to a smart little cafe from where we have often bought their delicious hot baguettes filled with pork, apple sauce and gravy… but these are supremely popular and so unless you manage to get there really early they tend to sell out of these and so it was on Thursday. Instead I had bacon and brie while Drew had chicken, bacon and sweetcorn. Pork they may not have been, but they were incredibly nice, nonetheless.

 

The marble sculpture I mentioned in another blog.

The Arousal Cafe.

These eaten we went on to the market. To our surprise most of the stalls were still there, so we had a slow stroll round, peering at the stuff for sale – we did buy a couple of things, but they were practical and not pleasure (dog treats and pooh bags.) After that we had a walk around the streets, some bits I had never been to on foot before, and made a note of a couple of places we might explore next year when we come (and, after Drew spoke to the owners of the bungalow, we have booked the same two weeks next year) and from there we walked to the Bath House Cafe again. This time, although there was a breeze, we were able to sit in the open air area!

We both had milkshakes this time, and I indulged myself in yet another piece of Millionaire’s Shortbread as well as having cream and a flake on my milkshake. That was probably a week’s calories in one sitting. But it was worth it!

Coins pushed into the “skin” of the head.

Annoyingly sideways photo 1 – the wooden Easter Island head.

Annoying sideways photo 2 – my lovely, lovely, lovely milkshake with cream and flake.

After upping our blood sugar levels to all-time highs we took the Girls onto the beach for a walk up to the wooden Easter Island head that we first noticed last year. Since our visit in 2012 he has acquired a bracing frame to secure him in place, a new scorch mark on the back of his head and people have been pushing more coins into his lined and pitted wooden flesh. He looks kind of folorn in his more weathered way, but I imagine that this is supposed to be what happens to him – no one could expect an untreated wooden structure of any sort to last for too long if placed on top of a sand dune on an exposed stretch of beach. We shall see him again next year and see how he’s doing.

Easter man checked, we walked along to the end of the man-made spit that juts into the estuary opposite the point on the Fairbourne side. The tide was rising, but not so much as to cover the wide base which people fish from. I suddenly realised that the mottled concrete we were standing on wasn’t actually mottled concrete at all but a layer of tiny shells that over the years has covered the structure. Being this close to the narrowest point in the estuary, where it meets the sea, you can really notice the swirling currents and the rapidity of the water as it forces its way through the confines of the land out into open water.

At this point the sun was losing out to the clouds and as it was beginning to spit with rain we took a direct route back to the car across the beach and to the car park. I had very much wanted to drive up into the hills to the beautiful lakes there the previous day, but it didn’t really fit in with the round robin trip so Drew had said we might go there after visiting Barmouth. With the rain, though, he wasn’t so eager, but after a drive down the seafront as far as it is possible to go and a brief visit to the Co-op the sun had come out over the hills once again and he agreed that we would go.

Large 1930s house on the hillside just outside of Barmouth.

No words can really do this drive or the area justice. Here you are at the foot of Cadair Idris, which stands higher than any other hill top in the area. At its foot is one of the crystal clear Creggennan Lakes. Although the narrow road that runs past it IS an official road, betrayed by the signs here and there, it is in reality little more than one car width and has hardly any traffic on it, because of which it has an almost permanently natural soundtrack – no vehicles, no distant music, nothing man-made at all. The only voices are those of the grazing sheep and lambs, which wander freely all over the place and you can hear the water running in the stream that runs from the lake down hill, the water of the lake lapping on the shore and the wind in the grass and bushes.

Looking down at the lake – we’d had to stop so I could open the gate between the fields (and then close it again) so I took this photo.

We’re not sure whether the stone pile in the centre of the picture is left from the ice-age or whether it was man made.

When we first got out of the car and when she first realised how close the sheep were, Lola went barmy. She just would not stop barking at them, although she didn’t want to go near them. Charley took it all in her stride; she’s seen it all before and gave up eating sheep pooh several years ago. In the end I picked Lola up, and she calmed down straight away, in the end giving a large sigh and relaxing into my arms. By the time I put her down, ten minutes or so later, she had clearly got it out of system because she didn’t pay much attention to the sheep at all. Nor, after a cursory sniff, did she indulge in eating sheep pooh, a change from last year when I had to take her back to the car to stop her filling herself up on it! We did speculate that since she tried horse pooh, the output of sheep doesn’t do it for her anymore.

Thanks to the improvement in Lola’s behaviour we were both able to walk along the narrow road, up the incline from the lake to a point which affords you the most incredible view of the Mawddach Estuary, Fairbourne and Barmouth. It’s the first time that I’ve seen it so clear, as though the rain had washed away the mistiness that sometimes blurs the scene. We could barely tear ourselves away from it, and thank goodness for digital photography because we both took a phenomenal amount of pictures (many of which I discarded once I had seen them on my laptop.)

Barmouth Railway Bridge, the Mawddach Estuary and Cardigan Bay beyond.

The journey down the mountain side is shorter but even more picturesque than the way up as you negotiate some very sharp corners and pass by some woodland. Here there are some very old cottages which are now used as holiday homes. They’re very attractive, but a bit too far away from the beaches for us, and I don’t think Drew would want to negotiate that road too often. In bad weather it must be a perilous drive!

Just out of shot, the drop to the right is quite steep!

Yet another gate had to be negotiated, so I took another photo – one of my favourite spots.

Someone, some unthinking git, had thrown this into that stream – recently by the look of it and it could only have been deliberate. I was so angry when I saw it but there was absolutely no way that I could reach it to retrieve it. If I could have, I would have.

We spent the evening relaxing with a Miss Marple DVD, one of the BBC ones with the wonderful Joan Hickson in it. Classy.

And so to Friday, our last full day in Wales this year. It was hard not to feel a bit miserable in the morning while Drew was getting going, but I did a little bit of packing and sorting out in order to save time on Saturday morning and that kept me occupied. The Girls, after going out for their morning ablutions, returned to the bedroom and went straight back to sleep.

But it was worth it once we did get out and about. We decided to go back to Dolgellau, partly because Drew thought the market might be on – but we were too late for it, unfortunately. We needed to go there to buy our friend’s 30th birthday present, which we managed to do though the poor woman in the shop had to clamber into the window to get the item for me… and then had to do the same for Drew when he went in after me and asked for something else. But as it was quiet hopefully she didn’t mind too much and we spent a fair bit.

We dropped the stuff off at the car and set off on another walk, the first section of the Mawddach trail which starts off on one side of the river before crossing over and joining the old railway line route where it came out of Dolgellau and headed towards the coast. There was once a fairly big station in the town, where one line met two others, but after it was closed in 1964 the whole area was redeveloped and the old flat rail areas are now where the main road runs.

It’s a nice walk, with the river running first on one side and then the other, fields with sheep in them (and a couple of chickens) and views back to where Dolgellau is nestling in the curve of the valley bottom.

There was a brief moment of excitement when the local area emergency helicopter landed on one of the playing fields to meet an ambulance which had parked close by about 5 minutes before. Lots of people went to have a look but we didn’t take any pictures until it was clear that it was a practice exercise and no patients were involved.

When our walk was over we drove back to Fairbourne and instead of going straight back to the bungalow headed for the seafront car park. Although we’d walked round the Point we still hadn’t walked on the main beach; we were never there when the tide was out. Until then.

Fairbourne beach, of all the places we visit, has a special meaning to me. It was the first place Drew showed me when I first visited Wales with him. Before we had the dogs we would walk down to the beach and then a long way along it, unhindered by the restrictions on where dogs are allowed.

Well, that’s almost it. We went home, did a bit more packing to save time, had something to eat and watched another Miss Marple before going to bed.

I shall write about Saturday and the journey home another time. It’ll take me a while to add all the photos in, and it’s getting late. Bye for now.

Wales 2013. Part four in which we did more walking, saw several ancient things and visited one of my

Welcome back, Dear Readers.

Firstly I owe you two apologies: 1) The two horrendous spelling mistakes in the title of the last entry – finishing a post when you’re very, very tired is probably a mistake. 2) Everything I described as happening on Friday was actually SATURDAY! Not sure how I came to make that mistake, but there you go. The only thing that is incorrect because I have muddled two days is the episode of Doctor Who that we watched – not the repeat with Diana Rigg but that week’s actual episode in which the Doctor and Clara had to deal with the revitalised Cybermen; an episode written by the renowned Neil Gaiman! Pretty marvelous it was, too.

As this second week of our holiday speeds towards its conclusion, and it seems to pass by more quickly each day, I am trying to avoid the creeping sensation of dread at returning to the drudgery of normal life. On returning to work my first shift will be a long day because the rota was done before the new arrangements were made, so I’m concerned about that, and Drew is finally going to have to see about claiming benefits now that the last of his pay-off from his old company has all gone; it’s not a pleasant process, nor is it a simple or swift one and it will be complicated by his Crohn’s being thrown into the mix.

But I must focus on the here and now and try not to dwell on the might be.

So, where were we? Ah yes.

On Sunday we spent most of the time indoors due to the heavy rain. I took just a few photos of the dogs indoors, and when we did go out we just whipped the dogs down to the sea front and back to stretch their (and our) legs. I did get a bit cross and cabin feverish, I’m afraid to say.

Monday dawned alot more promisingly. At half past six, when I woke up, it was very sunny, although the sun was soon lost behind more cloud. But we elected to go out despite the weather, not wishing to let it keep us cooped up for a second day. I think to do so would have frayed our tempers too much…

We decided to visit the Monday market at Tywyn, Drew’s slippers suddenly having decided to collapse around the edges of the soles. But being late and with the weather not being promising we found the few stall holders who had bothered to turn up (and some people come from as far as Birmingham and Liverpool, so who can blame them?) were closing up. No slippers, but we did buy some Liverpudlian vegetables from a chirpy Liverpool lad – a snip considering how much we got; a huge cauliflower, some broccoli and some large stalks of asparagus.

After a (very) swift circuit of the market site we got back in the car and nipped over the road to the ice cream factory shop for our second visit. No crowds or queues this week – we were the third of only three cars in the car park. The day’s flavours included chocolate or passion fruit, and we both opted for the former. Delicious, naturally.

By now the sun was doing its best to battle through the scudding clouds, so from the factory we drove the mile or so to Tywyn sea front and easily found somewhere to park there, too. After a few minutes debating whether the spitting rain was going to amount to anything more we decided it wouldn’t, then the sun came out anyway and we set off for a walk along the promenade in the opposite direction to our previous visit.

I can only imagine that lots of people had been pressed up against their windows waiting for the sun to come out, accompanied by their impatient canine friends, because as we made progress we were joined suddenly by quite a few other couples and their doggy companions.

This part of Tywyn beach is where stormy weather can sometimes uncover the remains of the centuries old forest and peat beds that existed there before the sea moved back inland, and to my joy they were exposed again this time, albeit not as much as last year. I was also surprised to find that the peat is still soft; I noticed Charley scratching at a piece of it and that it moved under her claws. I had expected it to have become petrified over the hundreds of years, but it seems it doesn’t.

An ancient tree root that grew over some of the peat, several thousand years ago.

Ancient tree stump.

I love the fact that it clearly shows that people were cutting the peat here and that they removed square sections of it. Anything that can connect you to the people of the past thrills me, like old graffiti in castles and other old buildings or finger marks in ancient pottery. It means you view the object as something pertaining to another human being and not just a thing.

We didn’t walk as far as last year, when it had been warm and sunny and there was a police presence investigating what had turned out to be the area where a young man had drowned himself. Although the sun stayed out there was an area of back cloud moving inexorably from the horizon towards the coast, with clear sheets of rain falling from it so we thought it sensible to turn round and head back to the car. Charley happily ambled about, in and out of pools of water as is her habit, but Lola proved more difficult to coax along because she suddenly noticed a gathering of gulls pacing about at the water’s edge some distance away. They completely fascinated her and although my tugging her lead would bring her back to the present and make her take a few more steps, she would soon turn back and stop to stare. It wasn’t until we had left them well behind that she forgot about them and joined Charley in her rambling and ambling.

Lola watches the seagulls.

In the end those threatening clouds passed away from us, although a few drops of rain fell on the windscreen once we were back in the car.

I had written some postcards when we first got to Tywyn and were waiting for the drizzle to stop, and suggested that we stop at the layby near our favourite ancient church in Llwyngwril to post them in the letterbox there. We decided that if the rain held off we would go down to the church and see how it was faring. And indeed the sun came out again as we went along the coast road, so we parked, I posted the cards and we set off down the steep lane to the church.

The lane down to the church. When we first used to come the house on the immediate right was a derelict barn.

It’s taken a few years but now it’s a very smart looking house.

I mentioned in a previous blog that we were concerned that the church seems to be deteriorating slowly and I have to say that this visit has not quashed those concerns at all. The green patch, slime almost, growing on the inside of one of the walls is noticeably more established and one of the discovered wall texts has a patch of yellow lichen on it that my photos from a couple of years ago show is new. Someone has tied several of the pews together and they are bunched together in one corner at the rear. However, the roof, which is relatively new, is still intact and the solid walls are still solid so it seems to be that the cold air inside the church is generating its own damp problem.

Various shots of the inside of the church.

But it remains one of my favourite places to visit and is most definitely the most peaceful. Out in the graveyard, which is closed to burials, there is a recently erected stone marking the death of a lady who, although she lived in Australia, had said that this church was her most loved place. I can see why. While Drew took his turn inside the church I sat on the bench that looks out to sea and closed my eyes, not just to listen but to soak up the atmosphere of the place. Even with Charley and Lola wriggling about, alarmed because Drew was out of sight, I felt it seep into my bones.

The view from the bench where I sat and soaked in the atmosphere.

I like to think of all the people who have been in that place over the centuries, the original church being built in the 12th Century, probably thousands of years if the historians are correct about places of worship that were originally pagan being adopted by Christians. I mentioned in the past that there is a stream running from the hillside to the sea and that people in the past attributed special meaning to them, which might tie in with it being a place in which people worshiped prior to Christianity becoming the main religion in Wales. When I’m in a place like this, or in any ancient building, I have to touch the fabric of the place so that I have a physical connection with the person who placed that brick or stone in that position. When the church that my family go to had some major renovation work carried out in the early Nineties my Grandad, who had been the verger there for many years, brought home a large nail that had been removed from the medieval roof. Holding it in your hand, knowing that a man had held it and hammered it into place hundreds of years before is a special sensation.

Was the stream once sacred to the pre-Christians who lived here?

There is an informative pdf file about the church here. It’s a bit heavy going and is really designed to be printed off and read, but it’s interesting.

On the way down to the church the Girls were fascinated by a pony which was idling its time in the field next to the steep lane. Lola was happy to regard this intriguing creature from a safe distance, despite the gate and fence round the field, but Charley, who has previous with a full-size horse, had to go in for a closer look. Of course Drew didn’t let her get any nearer than was safe for her to do so, about a foot away from the gate, but she strained at the leash for a closer look. When she first saw a horse, a couple of years ago, she barked and barked and barked, but this time she just stared and sniffed hard. It was the pony, who had returned their interested gazes with one of equal fascination, suddenly snorted and took a step forward. This didn’t seem to be an aggressive act, more one of wanting to play in fact, but it was too much for Charley and she backed off quickly. We were surprised because her default reaction is to bark, but this time it alarmed her into submission. As we descended the hill to the churchyard gate we got lower than the level of the field, but the pony followed our progress with interest, and was still waiting for us, even before we were through the gate and back on the path! On the way up the hill neither of the girls gave the field a second glance!

Charley’s nemesis.

The Victorian gate to the churchyard.

 

The view down to the church from the main road. I wonder what it looked like in the 1100s.

Later on the evening was so pleasant, although quite cold, that we walked the Girls down to the sea front again where we had nice view of another sunset. It was a lovely way to round off a pretty perfect day.

I suppose it was too much to hope that we would have two days in a row with mostly sunny weather, because Tuesday dawned sunny-ish but soon changed to dull and drizzly. At least it was relatively mild and not very windy at all. After some discussion about where to go and roughly planning out the rest of the week we decided to re-visit part of the Mawddach Trail, the route that follows the old railway line, that we had not been to for about 4 years. In fact Charley was just a pup when we were last there, and Lola wasn’t even a twinkle in her Daddy’s eye!

We chose this part of the walk because the trees that have grown up alongside the old railbed provide an excellent shelter from any precipitation, unless it’s incredibly heavy. The trees do mean that some of the lovely views are obscured, but not so much that it detracts from the enjoyment of doing the walk.

Looking back along the way we’d come, the old railway line.

A view across the fields to the hills.

What surprised us, though, was that the last time we walked this part we seemed to go for miles without really getting anywhere different and eventually turned back to the car. This time, unexpectedly, we suddenly emerged from the leafy tunnel out into the carpark of the old Penmeanpool railway station, the site of the rickety bridge and the spot that affords some spectacular views of the Mawddach valley. How come we didn’t get this far last time? It only took us half an hour to reach it and we were by no means tired; perhaps we are just more accustomed to walking long distances these days now we have the dogs. Whatever, it was a pleasant surprise and we lingered to take photographs.

These photos were taken almost at the same spot.

Like the Morfa Mawddach station it is hard to equate the peaceful scene that exists now with the area’s past as a small railway junction and station and a single track line along which large express trains would thunder on their journey along the coast line. It really is lovely here and the old Victorian hotel that once housed travellers has been beautifully maintained and remains as a hotel, with some other station buildings operating as holiday chalets. Some more recent houses have gardens fronting onto the old railway line and so also have incredible views across the valley. Simply lovely.

My photo is about 50 years later than the one above, but it shows more or less the same area.

The engine shed pictured was positioned beyond the white building in my photo, where the hotel car park is now situated.

 

So, after our pause to take pictures we turned back and retraced our steps to where the car was parked. Earlier Drew had remarked that he could smell onions and we had noticed some patches of wild onions growing next to the track. On the way back we noticed that there were masses of this stuff growing between the trees, which explained why the scent was so over-powering! It was as though hidden woodland creatures were having a fry-up!

From this spot it is only a short drive into Dolgellau (pronounced Dulgethleye). By now it was late enough in the day to park in the town centre rather than the car park, although you do have to negotiate the one-way system around the narrow streets. Being this late in the day, too, the shops were either closed or about to close so the place was devoid of shoppers and school kids, so we were able to wander about without the Girls being alarmed by anyone. Dolgellau is the place where a couple of years ago we DID visit when the kids were getting off the buses that had brought them home from school and were able to listen to them chatting and calling to each other, easily switching between English and Welsh as they made arrangements for the weekend. As we noticed last year when we visited Bala, you can tell how the teaching of Welsh, or the lack of it for some decades, has affected the use of the language – much older people and those in their mid-twenties and younger seem to be fluent in it, whereas the middle-aged are not because they were at school at a time when it was not the done thing to teach it.

The top 3 right hand set of windows on the longer wall of the building in the centre of the photo are painted into blank window frames!

In all the years I’ve been coming to Wales with Drew I have never really explored much of Dolgellau, tending to stick to just bits of it, but this time we walked right round the centre, peering into the closed shops and trying not to topple of the supremely narrow pavements. Here the buildings are built predominantly of the local stone and tend towards the narrow but tall – cramming a lot of people and business into a small area, I suppose.

Well, it was a pleasant way to spend half an hour or so, and we both got money out of the bank machine so it was useful stop in that respect. We will have to head back there when the shops are open to buy a mug for a great friend of ours who turned 30 last week – it is in English and Welsh and celebrates that milestone!

How to knacker your tyres – the car next to ours in Dalgellau.

I was hoping to update this blog before we get home, but I might not have the chance, although I’m going to give it a damn good try! Anyway, that’s the early part of this second week covered, so I’ll post it now and see what I can rustle up later.

Wales 2013: Part Three in which we dodge rainshowers, visit Barmouth and eat too much. Again.

All right, Readers?

“Gor, blimey guvnah, itsa reel peesoopah an nah misake.” (c) The Dick Van Dyke School of English Accents, posted as an tribute to my recent Xanga Pulse.

Ahem, where was I? Ah yes; the continuing story of our holiday in Wales.

So, after the torrential (but fun for me) conditions on Wednesday, we got up on Thursday hoping for some improvements in the local climate. It was a bit better, in that the rain was sporadic rather than continuous, so we decided we would visit Barmouth, or Abermaw to give it’s Welsh name, partly because we like it there and partly because we needed to do a top-up shop and there’s a reasonably big Co-op there.

Barmouth is a strange place in some ways. It has a very small harbour that grew up around the fishing industry that was once prevelant in the area, and more of the wide, sandy beaches that attracted visitors as the railways reached it in the Victorian era. Like so many other towns it grew up on the flat land at the bottom of the hills, though here the hills are verging on being cliffs, and the expanse of land at the bottom is much wider, so you have some houses high on the steep hillside and the town spread across the flatter land next to the sea. It is also the only place locally to have the sort of faded, slightly tawdry attractions that one might associate with a British sea-side town. Even Porthmadog, which I once famously described as “Hackney-On-Sea” (Hackney being part of what is now Greater London which was, when I lived in London briefly during the early Nineties, a faded shadow of it’s Victorian grandeur) doesn’t have anything like that on the sea front, which remains the home of some tall, Victorian guest houses.

One of the tiny, steep lanes that lead off the main road in the shopping area in Barmouth.

To reach the Barmouth side of the estuary you can drive the long, dull way round or you can cross via the far more attractive “rickety” bridge at Penmanpool, home to a very nice-looking hotel and, up until 1964, a small railway station. (But I shall revisit there later on.) This place has some wonderful views up and down the Mawddach Estuary and is one of my favourite spots in the area.

Barmouth has a vast car park, so there’s never any problem finding a place for the car, although we have seen it busier than it was last week. I think the weather must have put many people off because it was constantly spitting with rain and the wind was a tad chilly, although I wasn’t cold in my longy-shorts by any means. We didn’t have an ice-cream, however.

Barmouth is home to lots of little, interesting shops as well as a couple of national chain stores, so there’s always something to look at in the shop windows. Before we had the dogs, or BC (Before Canines) as I call it we used to spend hours actually going in to the shops, although my tolerance level for browsing is much, MUCH lower than Drew’s so I don’t miss it that much if I’m honest. (If you already know you can’t afford anything I can’t see the point in torturing yourself over the lovely items you wish you could have.) Now that we’re in the AD (After Dog) period we do venture inside if we something we like the look of, but only individually while the other person waits outside with the dogs, which isn’t always a nice experience because Lola, at the moment, has serious separation issues and is quite vocal in expressing her dislike of one of us vanishing – it’s cross barking rather than distressed barking, though. I think she and I need to have words soon! I actually find Charley’s much quieter genuine distress harder to deal with – she is almost mutely bereft when Drew goes out of sight, especially when we’re in an unfamiliar place. One can’t reason with a dog, so although I can comfort her (and these days she does turn to me for reassurance) her distress is heartbreaking, whereas Lola’s annoyance is just, er, annoying.

Sometimes I miss the times when we holidayed alone, but I wouldn’t be without the Girls for anything. The thrill I get when they bound about joyfully on the beaches or explore somewhere new is boundless. But it would be nice to venture into a shop or museum without hearing an endless yipping from outside.

So we strolled from the carpark, via the little shop that sells postcards, books of crosswords and all sorts of handy stuff (and the public loos because of course I needed a wee by then) across the level crossing where the railway line acts as dividing line between the town centre and the sea front and into the main shopping area. This is home to the famous “Arousal Cafe, ” photos of which can be found on the internet. I don’t know when the letter “C” fell (or was stolen) from the cafe frontage, but it has said “Arousal” in all the years I have been visiting here. (Perhaps the same person visited the amusements in Tywyn, which now boasts the legend “Semens” over its door.)

The “Semens” arcade, in Tywyn

The narrow streets here can be difficult to negotiate when the town is busy, but today that wasn’t a problem, so we made good progress. Like last year we noticed a few new business had opened up, bucking the trend, and the large and shabby pub/restaurant is now a very smart and shiny Indian restaurant which brightens up the row of buildings it’s in no end. Sadly the cafe that sells THE most delicious filled rolls and sandwiches was closed, but it was rather late in the day to expect otherwise.

A view towards the “Arousal” cafe – it’s the low building with the arched doorway.

Our plan had been to have pie and chips (how very British!) when we got home to Fairbourne, but by now we were both quite hungry so the scents emanating from a smart little fish and chip shop proved too tempting and when I ventured the prospect of having chips from there instead of later to Drew he was just as eager as I was. And they were very nice chips – thick cut and not very greasy at all. Well worth it, and they filled a little hole. <P) We ate them whilst sitting on a bench situated on a corner by the railway bridge, with the very edge of the harbour on our left and the main road into Barmouth on the right. At this point is a sculpture made from a piece of marble salvaged from the wereck of an 18th Century ship that went down a few miles off Barmouth. Called “The Last Haul,” it depicts three fishermen struggling with a net and was sculpted by a local artist. What is just fascinating as the sculptured part is the lower section which has been left as it was in the sea – rough and permeated by the action of tiny sea creatures.

The chip shop is the building with the green area above the doorway in the centre of the picture.

Chips consumed we made our way slowly along the harbour wall, stopping to take photos of the estuary, the Barmouth railway bridge and the houses on the hillsides above the town and of various other scenes.

Barmouth bridge.

Houses high on the hillside.

A view of Barmouth Harbour.

 Then, as we headed back towards where the car was parked, we discovered that the Bath House Care, the wonderful place that sells THE best milkshakes in the world was still open. This time it was Drew who suggested we stop and partake of some milky joy but I was only too happy to say yes. You can choose any flavour from their extensive list, and combine two if you want and so it was that I had a half banoffee/ half white chocolate milkshake while Drew enjoyed a hot white chocolate. The dogs amused themselves grumbling at the lady who worked there everytime she came out to do some clearing up (they were about to close.) Fortunately she took it in good part.

The Bath House Cafe, source of the incredible milkshakes.

So that was Barmouth: short but delicious. We intend to go back tomorrow (Thursday) when the weekly market is on, although from experience we know that the weather can have an effect on how many stallholders bother to turn up. If tomorrow is dry and sunny then it’ll be okay.

We did indeed have those pies for tea, but by themselves (no more chips) and the evening turned out to be dry and somewhat sunny, so we were able to walk the Girls down to the sea wall and although it was cold enjoy a bit of a stroll before going back to the bungalow and battening down the hatches for the night.

Friday was a bit of a damp squib. For the first time the weather really, really affected what we could do so we were stuck indoors for most of the day and didn’t venture out until quite late in the afternoon. We both felt the need to get out, even if it was just to drive somewhere in the car, so as Drew needed to top up the car he decided we would drive to the garage on the other side of Dolgellau (pronounced Dulgethleye.) I took the opportunity to take some snaps of the route there, because I like the windy roads and there are several attractive places that we pass.

On the way back, because it had brightened up considerably, we decided to stop off at Morfa Mawddach to do the walk from the site of the old railway station to the toll bridge that leads over the estuary to Barmouth.

Like so many of the long-lost railway lines, the old routes of Morfa Mawddach have become cycling and walking routes and it is hard to equate the leafy, tranquil spot that is there today with the busy railway junction that was there up until the mid Sixties. The car park is where the trains once drew up at a platform, still there but now grassed over, and you have to go through a gate onto the currently use little platform, then through another gate and down onto the path.

This is where once there were trains arriving and unloading. The main platform is on the left now with grass and trees on top of it.

From the current Morfa Mawddach station, now just a shelter on a single platform, looking down the line that curves round to Barmouth bridge.

Two postcards of the station in it’s heyday, when it was known as Barmouth Junction.The central platform stretching away in the centre of the picture above is the one in the photo at the top but seen from the other side.

A similar view, with a train waiting at the left hand platform.

A photo I took several years ago of that platform seen in the first postcard. The main marshalling yard is the car park, the branch line is now the cycle track on the right. Spookily it looks like our current car parked in the left hand corner of the car park even though we had a different one then! The picture below is one I took this year!

I love this walk. It used to seem quite a long way from the station to the beach but with familiarity it has become shortened, but that doesn’t diminish the beauty of it all. Here, despite being able to see part of the road that runs into Barmouth and the presence of the railway line, you feel close to nature. Beyond the railway on one side is the wide expanse where the estuary reaches opens up into the sea with nothing to block the vast expanse of sky and on the other are the green hillsides of the valley through which the river has worn its way over the millenia, having once been the site of glacier in the ice-age. The green shades of the hills, all different hues thanks to the trees and different kinds of vegetation, are punctuated by the moving white dots of grazing lambs and sheep and bright yellow of the late-flowering gorse bushes. Usually, when we’re here at this time of year, the gorse has flowered already and shed its petals but this year after the long, drawn-out winter and cold and extra-wet spring many plants are playing catch-up just as the gorse is. What is missing from the hillsides is the pink of the acres of heather – it hasn’t caught up with the weather, yet.

Some gorse in bloom next to the path we were walking on.

Last year when we did this walk it was so windy that Charley really didn’t enjoy it very much and took every opportunity to ram her head between our legs to protect her ears, but this year while it was breezy it wasn’t uncomfortably so. The sun was breaking through the clouds over the bay, far in the distance, so we both took lots of pictures before walking happily back to the car.

Dual language toll sign.

A view across the bridge to Barmouth.

Looking inland up the estuary.

The sun breaking through the clouds over Barmouth beach.

 

Often we pass long-distance walkers on this pathway, but this time we were passed by only one man who had crossed the bridge from the Barmouth side. He greeted us cheerily with an “All right, lads” as he went by and his laid-back demeanour was that of someone who enjoyed several, but not too many, pints of beer quite recently and he clearly gave off no vibes that might have allerted the Girls because they “allowed” him to pass by with barely a glance in his direction. We passed him again, about 20 minutes later, as we drove back along the main road to Fairbourne, plodding contentedly on his way at the roadside. Even if he lived in the nearest block of houses he had a long way to go, and that along a road that has no pavements on either side of it. Rather him than me, but if he’s been doing it for years then any risks probably don’t enter his mind at all.

Instead of returning directly to the bungalow we drove through the village, out of the other side and headed for the Point. The sun was casting lovely hues on the clouds and Drew wanted to capture some of the sunset in photos. I took a few, too, although my camera has not done the colours justice at all. Barmouth looked pretty in the evening sunshine, though.

After that we did finally return to the bungalow for tea and a comfortable evening during which we watched the repeat of the previous week’s Doctor Who episode, with guest star Diana Rigg whose performance I can only describe as delicious. Her real-life daughter played her character’s daughter and was pretty damn good as well. It was a fun and well-made episode, quite reminiscent of the original series before the 2005 reboot.

That’s it for now. Sorry this one is a bit picture heavy, hope it doesn’t eat up too much bandwidth or megabytes or whatever.

Back soon.

WALES 2013. An interlude in which I introduce Local Issues and Mrs. Manure.

An interlude:

Last year when we arrived here we discovered that the people who own the bungalow had put a notice up claiming that part of the ground just beyond the front garden was reserved for parking for the bungalow. This followed all the work they had carried out extending the bathroom and kitchen, so presumably they had gone through all the planning permissions and everything. In fact we only used it once, discovering that with the new car being larger it wasn’t convenient for getting the girls in and out of the back. This year we arrived at found that while that notice was still there, one of the neighbours had parked their car in it, while another space was marked out in white spray paint with the number of another of the bungalows, number 70. Another area was sprayed with the letters F.A.

As we were unloading the car an anxious looking lad suddenly appeared and said, hastily, that he’d move his car for us despite us explaining that it really didn’t matter because we wouldn’t be using it anyway. Nevertheless he did move it.

Turns out there is a Local Issue going on. We found this out because one afternoon we became abruptly re-acquainted with a neighbour we first met last year when she needed help shifting stuff she had got delivered to our garden but which was for hers. She is, it has to be said, disabled in some way and uses a wheeled support frame to negotiate the loose slate path from her garden to where she parks her car. And it is the parking of her car that is the Local Issue, for it is she who claims the space for number 70, while the other neighbours park wherever they like.

As I said we first me this lady last year when she had arranged for some stuff to be delivered to the garden of our holiday bungalow. Whether she had agreed this with the owners we will never know, we didn’t see any need to trouble them with this even if she hadn’t, but she didn’t say that she had. What she did do was ask us to help move the stuff.

Did this seem unreasonable? Well, the items in question were large and heavy and the company that had delivered them had clearly refused to take them down the awkward path to her own garden, yet here she was asking complete strangers to do it instead. I have to say that I mentally bristled at this. And, straight away, we noticed that she didn’t listen to a thing we said about having been to Wales before. In fact Drew explained that he had been visiting the area for the best part of 30 years, but this seemed to go in one ear and out the other because she kept advising us about places we had already said we were familiar with which we perceived as an attempt to curry favour.

We had forgotten about all this until one early evening when the dogs started going beserk. She had arrived home, parked her car in an available space, not her own, and was seeking assistance in carrying her shopping from the car to her bungalow. This, it turned out as Drew carried it for her and I tried to calm the girls, gave her a marvelous opportunity to lay out the Local Issue of the parking in great detail in which she was portrayed as The Victim and made mention of legal action. Drew made some neutral noises and said we weren’t going to use the official space for our bungalow so if she wanted to use it she was more than welcome.

Imagine my surprise, though, when he came back wearing a slightly shell-shocked expression on his face. Somehow, in the five minutes of being a personal courier he had not only heard (again) about all the local attractions and the Local Issue but had agreed to go with her in her car to a local stables and collect bags of manure and then lug it from her car to her garden! From that moment on she has become known as Mrs. Manure, or Manure Lady.

She is, it seems, one of life’s perpetual victims who is willing to use other people and has spent years honing the skill of seeming to be really interested in other people (specifically the ones she wants to get something out of) while not actually being interested in them at all. For example when she asked me what we thought of Barmouth, I said “Oh, it’s great. We’ve been there loads of times before,” she had already turned away to fiddle in her car. She resolutely fails to remember that the dogs are both girls and that Charley doesn’t like being fiddled with by strangers. She also told us that she had purposefully parked her car in an awkward place just so that we could put ours in its official spot, when in fact we knew that the only reason she had parked there was because the other neighbours had parked in the space she claims as her own. Perhaps her name should be Mrs. Disingenuous.

I also had the misfortune to overhear a confrontation between Mrs. Manure and one of the other neighbours and it has to be said that although he could have put his car somewhere else very easily, she still had plenty of room for hers, he remained very calm and reasonable while she chuntered on and on and on until he just walked away leaving her in a state of self-righteous indignation. (She also blames all the un-picked up dog-poo on their puppy!)

Interesting, too, that she has built her fence higher than any other fence on the estate, effectively screening herself from the outside, and that she apparently has no contact with any other person living here. In fact, when she was talking to us one afternoon as we were trying to get the dogs in the car her immediate neighbour, another lady who lives by herself and who is not involved in the Local Issue because she doesn’t have a vehicle of any sort, walked past. Mrs. M pointedly said hello to her, but this lady glared at her for a moment and kept right on walking. I think that says it all.

Fortunately Drew did not have to move any manure at all. It rained all that weekend and Mrs. M. has not mentioned it again whenever we’ve seen her. Perhaps she found some other mugs to do it for her. It has put a little bit of a blight on things because we have made an effort not to run into her, although she seems to have an uncanny knack of appearing whenever we set foot outside, and we don’t really want the other people to think we’re siding with her over the Local Issue. We’re only here for two weeks every year and quite frankly, don’t give much of a shit either way!

So, interlude over. Normal service will resume very shortly.