Hello once more, Dear Readers.
Ear update: I realised when I finished work yesterday evening that at some point during the afternoon my hearing had returned to almost normal levels. When Drew asked me, once I reached home, out of a hundred what percentage would I give it I replied ninety to ninety five percent. As I walked home I listened to a podcast, and the stereo effect was almost complete again! I also tried some music, and again it was pretty much normal. I still had that strange delayed, echo effect when watching television but that’s bearable. However, this morning I have woken up to find the roaring and whistling back and my hearing muffled once again… BUT I think this suggests that it is just congestion and that being on my feet all day meant the gunk drained away from my eardrum, whereas once I was in bed it leaked back to smother it again. I no longer feel so worried. Add to that my need to deal with more phlegm (sorry if you are reading this while you eat) and I really do think it’s congestion.
Let me put aside my woes for a while and return to Wales instead. This time next week we should have set off on our 7-ish hour drive. We stop several times, for our own benefit and of course so the dogs can stretch their legs and have a wee. The traffic might be heavy due to it being a ban holiday on the following Monday meaning people are going away for the weekend and hauliers want their lorries at their destinations before everywhere closes down for the Sunday and Monday. That said, last year we were pleasantly surprised by the distinct lack of traffic and the almost complete absence of lorries – maybe the drivers will reach their destinations on Friday and take the whole weekend off!
The village of Fairbourne, where we stay while we’re in Wales, is ideally placed for those who like walking. If, like us, you merely want to take your dogs for a walk, then the overall flatness of the immediate area lends itself to doing just that. Last year we took the dogs from the bungalow down to the beach and instead of just walking on the beach and then back we decided to explore a little when we reached as far as people can walk along the sea front. Our interest was piqued by a tunnel under the railway line that clings to the hillside that falls to the sea, so we left the sea front, descended the rather dodgy steps to the road at the bottom and ventured into the tunnel. The tunnel is narrow but tall. It’s impossible to tell whether there already existed a gap in the ground at that point or whether the tunnel had to be cut through the rock, nor are there any clues to that once you are through to the other side, although I lean towards the lane being at least widened by humans rather than nature. The tunnel, short though it is, immediately plunges you into pure countryside with no hint of being close to the sea at all. On your right the ground rises steeply to the road whilst on the left there are small fields, scattered with ramshackle buildings. The lane itself leads directly to a small farm before turning abruptly to the right to join with the main road. On the right of that junction is a slowly decaying toll house. It’s for sale, so it’ll be interesting to see if anyone has rescued it when we return in May. I hope so, because the roof was covered in a large plastic sheet, which was itself falling apart… and once the elements get in to a building it can be almost impossible to save it.
The main road slopes down towards the village and is much further on foot than it seems in the car. It was the first time we had ever had a good look around there, so it was a pleasure to take in the details. There is a smattering of ancient farm buildings, some seemingly only standing thanks to the vegetation that has grown through them, several large Victorian buildings that look as though they were built to be hotels for the Victorian holidaying masses that never came and which are operating as bed and breakfasts and dotted between them are smaller, even older looking cottages and a few modern houses and bungalows.
A little further on the road swings to the left just before you reach the junction at which you turn left to reach Fairbourne itself. On the right are a collection of houses for the elderly and next to them some ancient stone-built cottages that were in the process of being renovated. If other renovations in the area are anything to go by then these will look amazing this year. Above these buildings, high on the hillside we noticed for the first time the ruins of buildings remaining from the slate mining which dominated the area for so long. (Indeed, there remains a large operational slate mine beyond Fairbourne on the main road even now.) It was the presence of the slate mines that has given Wales the legacy of many miniature railway lines, some now lost and many now restored as tourist attractions.
Dual language sign in English and Welsh.
During the second week of our holiday we arranged to meet a long-time internet friend in Aberystwyth, a large seaside town further down the coast and about an hour’s drive away. On our first trip there, several years ago and Before Dogs, we took a ride on the funicular railway at one of the bay that the town sits and walked all the way along the promenade to the remains of Aberystwyth castle – quite a lot of it is left and it stands open to the public on a small headland which would have afforded a great view out into the bay. The photo below was taken from just below the castle along the bay and shows the funicular railway where it climbs the hillside. The photo doesn’t show how black the sand is at that point. The photo under that is part of the interior of the castle.
On that first visit the drive back proved to be rather eventful. The main road was incredibly narrow in some places despite being the major traffic route for anything going in and out of Aberystwyth meaning that what was little wider than a normal suburban street had large lorries, coaches and farm vehicles thundering along it. On our way home we experienced a frighteningly loud and sudden bang as a lorry whizzed by in the opposite direction, causing Drew to slam on the brakes. Luckily there was no one behind us as he jumped out and ran back up the road to retrieve the wing mirror that the lorry had clipped off as it went by! Luckily nothing else was damaged and although the glass was of the mirror was broken Drew was able to re-attach the bit that had come off and we were able to drive on, albeit shaken up, for the rest of the journey (and the rest of the holiday.) Thank goodness we then had the Ford KA, a really small car, because neither we nor the lorry were out of our lanes so in a wider car the damage would have been far worse and, at that point on the road, unavoidable!
On our second trip last year we were ready to identify where that incident had occurred, but this proved to be impossible. Much of the road had been widened and straightened in the intervening years and indeed other sections were undergoing massive alterations making it unrecognisable from the road we were on before. I don’t think the changes will make the journey there any quicker, and where there were once views of fields and woods there will be concrete and tarmac, but it’ll certainly make it safer!
Aberystwyth has a sizeable and long-established university which is divided between beautiful sandstone buildings on the sea front and a much modern campus that you pass as you drive down from the hills into the town. I expect the students get used to it, but I can’t imagine a nicer place to go to university.
The above photo shows the Victorian University buildings on the left, with the hillside railway in the distance.
Another view over the bay.
Finally a some other photos from last year’s holiday.
The miniature train that runs along a line from Fairbourne village to Penryhn Point, a trip that takes about 20 minutes. At the point there are toilets and a small cafe. The railway is run by volunteers, has a selection of carriages and engines and last year was under threat of closure! Fairbourne also has a station for the normal railway which runs along the coast, so it’s possible to catch a train to Fairbourne, walk the few hundred yards to the miniature railway and ride to the Point where you can catch the little ferry (when it’s on) across that treacherous stretch of water to Barmouth (which can be seen in the distance behind the train.) Charley as been on the little train a couple of times but this was Lola’s first trip, and she wasn’t sure about it all.
And on the subject of the dogs:
Charley looking to see where her Dad has gone (he had nipped into one of the shops in Fairbourne village before we set off on a trip.)
Lola, worn out after another exciting day, balancing on her Uncle Drew’s knee.
The girls expectantly watching Drew getting stuff ready to go out on another trip.
The sun on the sea, Fairbourne beach.
The Lone Soldier. Drew spotted him, camouflaged against the stones on the beach. How did he get there? Does someone miss him? Has he been there for years or just days? We’ll never know.