Where to begin…
Here I sit in my cosy Welsh cottage after a late afternoon ramble with Rosie. This will be our home for the next week. We arrived yesterday after a one night stopover from where we picked up the car. And so to complete the picture of my oh-so-British sojourn I am scooting around in a Mini Cooper (automatic diesel) and despite a minor hiccup, I am enjoying the appropriateness of the zippy, powerful little car for the narrow hedgerow-lined country roads. The cottage is a grade II listed building that my tour manager (aka my sister) sourced through Airbnb for us. It is in west Wales, just beyond the Brecon Beacons. Around us there are rolling hills, the occasional manor house, lots of farms, sweet little towns and then when you least expect it, some castle ruins on the horizon. The cottage is very comfortable for the two of us and will easily accommodate David when he arrives towards the end of our stay.
I have taken much pleasure today in preparing some delicious vegetarian fare after venturing to the nearest town Llandeilo to gather the provisions. I took some wrong turns and racked up some extra mileage as I misjudged the distances between the landmarks I had memorised to get me to the local supermarket and ended up circling all the way back past the cottage. It’s hard to let go of the inbuilt Aussie navigation system (especially distances) … and just remind me… why are they still using miles when everything else has gone metric?! I actually enjoyed the detour and embraced the opportunity to get a better lay of the land. And it is soooo pretty! You cannot help but be charmed.
It is always a bit of a highlight for me to shop in a foreign supermarket (strange, but true)… discovery and adventure into the mindset of the average local householder… now where would you find the fresh garlic? Do they even use it? (I remember in Florence it was a source of amusement that I could not find the fresh garlic after searching high and low, backwards and forwards in the vegetable section, only to find it at the very front right near the shopping baskets,… oh, but of course!)
We have chosen to take some more quieter time, be based in one place to allow for a true holiday and also to give Rosie some space to write her papers for uni. I had/have a vision that we will just be comfortably doing our own things and then go for rambles or for a drive to some interesting place and explore together. So far, so good.
Our excursion from London to Golden Grove
We left London on Tuesday, the tube to Heathrow to pick up the car and then straight onto the M4 to head west. The airbnb cottage booking was not starting until the following day so we had freedom to explore along the way with no need to hurry. The motorway was not really my ideal driving holiday so we exited to make our way along more of the byways but then due to confusion at one of the many roundabouts reentered the motorway…. oh well, try again at the next exit… and we did. We made our way to Chippenham, which is not so far from Bath. We spent a few hours there wandering around admiring its country feel, opshopping, had a late lunch/tea, considered our options for accommodation for the night and hatched a plan. I had begun to feel the urgency of finding a resting place for the night and Rosie suggested we see what youth hostels were near Ross-on-Wye. This had been our tentative destination at the beginning of the day partly due to my recollection of the area from a visit nearly thirty years ago and buoyed by our London airbnb host’s suggestion of the Wye valley, particularly a place called Symonds Yat (weird name, huh?). We were lucky enough to get a room at a YHA hostel in a beautiful situation especially considering it is school holidays at the moment.
We drove from Chippenham to the Hostel through the Cotswolds and Gloucestershire and deep into the Forest of Dean. Oh my goodness… I know I had ventured to the Cotswolds last visit but it was rainy midwinter. So to see it while driving up hill and down dale in the soft evening light of early Summer was something to behold. Narrow roads winding through quaint towns with quaint names like Tetbury and Stonehouse. As we crossed the Wye River we could see castle ruins on the horizon and then we went up and round the hill only to descend again down to the valley where the hostel was located, a grand old home right next to a church by the river and nought else around except nature. I love that the Youth Hostels in the UK are so family friendly. It was nice to be in an environment with happy, holidaying families… there was an air of Famous Five for me… quite timeless too in such a rural setting.
The Morning After
It’s the morning after the tragic events in London last night. I awoke to the news here in this sleepy, remote part of the UK via social media. We have sketchy wifi in our cottage which is perhaps a blessing but has dampened my enthusiasm for blogging as I can’t seem to co-ordinate my desire to share my impressions and the consistency of connection to upload photos and do a bit of research. But in the case of the bad news the connection to the outside world seems to have succeeded and also alerted me to the safety of family and friends still in London. Why? It’s the hopeless, useless, despairing nature of such acts that only begs the one word question. And that question is asked with absolutely no expectation of a satisfactory answer.
I am in bed still, which seems like a total indulgence (it is! And I’m proud of it!) on this Sunday morning. I woke fairly early and there was some sun, so I opened the curtains and the 180 year old window and listened to the birdsong and distant cow bellows. I can see hedgerows, trees, pastures and hills and for some quirky reason a disused, lopsided old red telephone box in the foreground. Over the past hour the birdsong has been steadily drowned out by the soft, cool rain that is pattering on all the foliage and the distant view is disappearing as the rain, although light, creates a mist in the valley.
We are very close to the Towy River, and yesterday we took one of the paths to the nearby bridge. It is a pedestrian bypath that passes around and then through a large, working dairy farm that is apparently an agricultural college as well. The sweet scents of summer wildflowers were punctuated by the not so unpleasant smell of dung. Perhaps for Rosie and I this smell evokes memories of our farmlife long since passed, when I would hand milk the cow and the kids would walk across the cow paddock to see their grandparents. As we loped in the almost knee high pasture, quite hilariously as it is quite the action to lift ones feet up and over the thick feed. We had a comical look that was almost the equal of the sight of the swan taking wing. Poor swan… we anthropomorphised it’s internal dialogue as we observed its terribly cumbersome take-off and equally arduous flight from the small pond to find friends further afield. We were willing it upward (up, up, up) but also enjoying the almost Chaplinesque spectacle of its awkward flight. Better to remain in a pond looking elegant if you’re a swan with an inferiority complex.
We collected elder flowers to attempt making cordial. They are steeping as I write. It’s an experiment that is born from my mesmerisation of the plethora of wildflowers that are ever present on the daily rambles we have. There is more to it than the joyousness of the bursting colour, there is the smells and then the songs of the birds and the scampering of the squirrels, rabbits and deer. Rambling, I am…