Thursday, March 7, 2013

The bucket man ‘does Swansea and Gower’

The last time I was in my home town, Swansea, was in 2002. At that time, my wife and I stopped for 2 nights at my friend’s home on our way up the west coast of Wales. It had been 9 years prior to that since my previous visit with my oldest son. This trip offered more. For those unfamiliar with what ‘Gower’ is, see later in this blog post. For now, keep in mind that it is a peninsula, perhaps 10 miles long by 3 miles wide, to the immediate west of Swansea.

Barry and Pat had each lived in my parent’s home in Swansea for a few months in the late 1950s while they were sorting their young lives out. I have known them that long. We went out ‘or a curry’, which although I had asked for it ‘hot’ was disappointingly mild. Must be this strange accent I've developed after being away so long! We stopped off at my old ‘local’, the Rhyddings Hotel, and I slept well that night in my friend’s home in West Cross, near Mumbles.

Saturday, March 2nd. This was to be a special day for me; Barry had got tickets for me to see Swansea City versus Newcastle United at the Liberty Stadium - my first ever viewing, in person, of a Premiere League match.

Traffic to the stadium was expected to be a nightmare. HRH Queen Elizabeth II was scheduled to be in town that day! HRH got sick, did not come and we were able to get to the stadium with no problem! I probably had not seen the ‘Swans’ play since at least as far back as late 1969 – except for those matches on TV once they began their march into the Premiership in 2011. It was not one of their better performances, but they won the match 1-0.

The next morning, I put part 1 of my plan into action. I walked to the nearby bus stop and purchased an ‘unlimited travel for 7 days’ bus pass. It cost only about $30 and by midweek I was already ahead of the game with frequent use. A single trip into town would be more than $4.50 without that pass. It pays to do your homework and planning. I had scoped out all the local bus routes, had timetables and maps all prepared weeks before I left St. Louis. I was going to be Gulliver for the next week.

My hosts treated me to a trip down memory lane as we went for ‘Sunday Lunch’ – a midday dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at a local diner, The Village Inn.

I had not had that food combo in more than 43 years! Yum! Lunch was followed (in my day it was preceded by) a trip to a local Mumbles-area pub, The Hancock - where we watched a Premier League football (soccer) match on TV and ‘had a few jars’. I have to admit, although I would like to have had one of the many excellent Welsh beers available, my taste in beer has shifted over the years to the sharpness of lagers and away from the smoothness of ales. So, lager it has been each day on this ‘Bucket-list’ trip.

On Monday, I put my bus pass, maps and planning to good use.

I struck off on my own to Limeslade Bay to walk on the sand and cobbled beach. The sea!  Salt water, sea air; nectar of the gods! Back home in the USA, I’d have to make a 12-hour drive to get to the nearest beach. I was here, at Limeslade Bay just 15 minutes after leaving Barry’s house. After 5 or 6 attempts to ‘bounce a flat rock off the sea’s churning surface, I succeeded, scooped up a limpet shell, a few assorted pebbles and headed to the rocky, sandy and cobbled shores of  adjacent Bracelet Bay on the west side of Mumbles Head.

I listened and recorded the sound of the waves as they crashed against the cliffs and swooshed back out, dragging shells and pebbles back down then sandy portions of the cove.

I continued my hike up to the top of the cliffs to look out across the two islands, separated by sometimes stormy and dangerous waters, that form the headland and house the lighthouse at Mumbles.

- and across to Swansea Bay. It was, as it often is in the mornings, a little misty and I could not get a good clear view of the vista that lay ahead. I climbed back down to their pier (closed for renovation, wouldn’t you know!) and bought myself an ice-cream cone with a Cadbury’s flake stuck in it. Then, I walked the ¾ mile or so back to Oytermouth Square along a stretch of pub-strewn road that was once famous as ‘The Mumbles Mile’ pub-crawl

Plans are great, but become useless when not followed. Though not disastrous, I wish I not forgotten to take my ‘fold up’ walking stick with me on that day’s outing. The steps and cliff paths would have been less challenging if I had that third leg to balance and support the two that exceeded its age by some 69 years!

Having completed leg 1 of the Gower tour, I had lots of time left to attack mission 2. Using my trusty and economical 7-day bus pass, I caught the ‘Number 14’ to Kittle, a small village a few miles away. Getting off at the Beaufort Arms (everywhere in Wales seems to have a pub near a bus stop) and trekked down the steep hillside lane.

The narrow roadway leads to the ford in Bishopston Valley and through St Teilo’s churchyard. In my youth, I often walked the length of Bishopston Valley, crawling several hundred yards into old caves (I get claustrophobic thinking of that now), arriving at Pwll-Du Bay, a beautiful where the stream became lagoon-like behind a bank of cobblestones before entering the sea.  A steep, 200 foot high climb is needed to get to the paved road then a mile-long walk to the nearest bus-stop. My inner wisdom (hmm!) told me I best leave that part out of my current endeavor to relive my youth.

I elected instead, to clamber the ¼ mile path – again very steep.- to Bishopston where on one side of the road is the Joiner’s Arms and opposite, is the Valley Hotel – each with its almost requisite bus-stop. The ‘Joiner’s’ was not open so I went in to ‘The Valley’. It has changed a lot since I used to go there with my friends in the early ‘60s and sing bawdy rugby-songs. It has lots of character, aside from the old geezer snoozing beside the fireplace. I stripped off my thermal under garments – by this time weighed down with sweat – and enjoyed a pint of Carling's Lager. I struck up a conversation with a couple of locals, had a good chin-wag and after another half pint, headed outside for the bus.

Being the techno-geek / nerd that I am, I decided to test out my Magellan GPS device that I brought with me. To see if / how it worked, I elected to trudge across the open terrain of Fairwood Common – an expanse of grass and shrubs. Though I knew (by my built-in radar) almost exactly where Barry’s house lay, and where the applicable exit from the common’s many footpaths was, I was determined to force the blydi device to locate it on its screen. So, I headed off on the start of that trek, on a nice, clear footpath.

After leaving the footpath, it seemed that try as I could, by trekking this way, that way, I could not get it to locate the pre-inserted ‘home mark’. In the course of this seemingly directionless (but purposeful) wandering, I had to cross a 20 foot-wide marshy area. I spotted the places where I saw ‘good footing’ for the crossing. Put the GPS away, because I could see where I wanted to exit the common on to the road, and stepped forward. Arghh! The blydi clump of stable-looking grass proved to be a pile of ‘jello’ in disguise!  Down I went – on all fours. The next 3 minutes was a progression of hapless steps, stumbles, clawings, cussing and wet feet and knees. I had almost forgotten that episode until this morning, when Barry reminded me, ‘Put in your blog, about your trip in the bog’! Some friend!

Undaunted, and wiser on Tuesday, I set off again to explore more of the Gower Peninsular, which The National Trust long ago (and rightly) had declared to be ‘An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – an AONB). This time, I brought my stick! I stopped again in Oystermouth (making note to self to locate the URL to the famous castle there) to buy a corned beef pasty and sausage roll for my picnic lunch. By this time, may bus travel had reached the ‘pay off’ stage and I was not half-way through my planned travels for the week. Today’s trek was to be eastward along the along the coastal path from Caswell Bay. 

At the other end of the path is yet another beautiful beach and bay - Langland Bay. But for the weather, I'm sure people in the UK and Ireland to forgo their trips to Mallorca, Lanzerote and Tenerife. There is beauty to open the eyes of the blind – here in the British Isles, and especially in Gower.

The coastal trek sign at Caswell indicated that Langland was a little more than a mile away. It did NOT say that I’d have to climb up a steep path rising about 150 feet before the descent into Langland. Before setting off, I took my walking stick, scratched into the firm sand, ‘Swansea Jack was here’, took a photo and turned to laugh with the young couple (3 kids in tow) nearby who had commented to me, ‘The beach brings out kids of all ages!’ OK – up the path then. The air was invigorating and the view, though a little hazy, was marvelous. I encountered dozen of people walking the cliff path in either direction. If I lived nearby, I would make that an almost daily routine.

Many photo-stops, and a few breath-grabbing stops later, the sweat was flowing and I sat to eat my lunch and enjoy the sights and memories. I sat, now jacket-less, in front of a row of a few dozen green and white beach chalets that lined the seafront at Langland Bay. I recall may Dad telling me he had helped build them, some 60 years ago. The chalets were the ‘rich folk’ changed into their swim wear, while ‘we poor sods’ pulled up our trunks under a towel wrap whilst balancing stork-like on the sand.

When my pasty was consumed, I trudged up the half-mile-long steep road to Langland Corner for the next bus. As it was not due to arrive for 20 minutes, I demonstrated my lack of patience (those who know me will readily understand) and walked another half-mile to take a photo of a church I had seen earlier that day.  That was enough walking for one day I thought, so I stopped in Oystermouth, bought an 8-pack of Stella Artois (440 ml – about 15 oz) cans for $11, a Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut bar, and headed back to the house.

A quick change of clothes and I was of on the buses again to Skewen, a town 5 or 6 miles north-east from Swansea. The purpose of that jaunt was to visit Hari Kieft and his family. Hari is a 3 year-old who was in Children’s Hospital in St Louis just almost exactly a year ago. He had been born with a cardiac problem, but his surgery in St Louis was to correct an inability to walk unaided. I went to meet the family and when they were in St Louis last year and delivered a check from the local Welsh Society to help defray the $45,000 the Kiefts had to raise – the surgery not being available in Wales. Hari has made remarkable progress and it was a delight to meet him, his older sister Olivia and their parents, Richard and Cerianne.  Richard graciously drove me back to West Cross where I made plans for the next day’s activities.

To be continued 

1 comment:

  1. Mmmm, might go there for a holiday!!