Monday, March 11, 2013

To Gower with a bucket – but no spade

After walking a few miles on hills and streets of Swansea yesterday, I was ready for a bit of sitting down on a bus today. I am convinced that you need a bit of mountain goat or Sherpa DNA to live in Swansea.

I got off to a late start – not leaving on the 3A bus from West Cross to Swansea’s Central Bus Station until 10:30 am – almost missing my connection to the 118. The latter only runs every hour and missing it would mess up my schedule. Now there’s a ‘give-away’ word: ‘schedule’ – in the US, we say ‘SKED-ool’, but in the UK it is ‘SHED-ool’.  I have just enough time to buy a small container of milk and packet of ‘Digestives’to snack on during the day.

The 118 rolled out of the city center and up through Sketty – past the no-longer there Odeon Cinema, where as an 8 or 9-year old I’d go each Saturday for a matinee performance of cartoons and ‘Cowboy and Indian’ films. Half a dozen years later, it was where we ‘hooligans’ went to interrupt the films with our own shenanigans. One kid would start by shouting out, ‘Who burnt the cakes?’, which of course caught the usher’s attention who ran, torch (flashlight to US readers) in hand toward the miscreant. Then, the next kid – on the opposite side of the cinema would yell the answer to the query, ‘Alfie! Nobody knew the reason for the question (or the answer) – must have all ‘mitched’ school and History class that day, I guess – but it would result in laughter all over and dismay to the ‘culprit-seeking’ ushers. After allowing things to quiet down for a while, an alarm clock would suddenly ring – often at an intense or sad moment in the movie.  A beam of light, followed by its usher, would dash toward the now muted clock, only to swing violently toward the opposite side of the cinema in search of the bicycle horn that had just been trodden on!  And so it went in those early teen years – we ‘yobos’ probably never even knew what films were being shown – certainly we didn’t care – ‘Cakes, Alfie, alarm clocks and bicycle horns’ was entertainment enough for us.

As the last horn echoed in mind, the bus was already passing through Parkmill, home to Shepherd’s Ice Cream shop – no parent was allowed to pass that frontier without making the obligatory stop for a ‘cone’ or a ‘wafer’. Parkmill is also the place where easy walks lead up the hill to Pennard Castle, or down the valley to Three Cliffs Bay. Either way, the vista is one not to be missed – though miss it I must this time, for my bus was destined for other sights.   
A few minutes later, I dismounted the 118 at ‘The Towers’ – as it went on its way to Scurlage, and waited 30 minutes for the 117. The wait afforded me ample time to take photos

and even direct a lost Londoner back to where he could take the path to Three Cliffs.

The 117 arrived and immediately descended a 20% (no, that is not a ‘typo’ – yes 20%) gradient down into Oxwich village situated at the far end of a marshland behind 30-foot sand dunes that line the ½ mile beach we frequented as kids. The bus rolled on up the other side of the valley toward Horton – along a claustrophobic road whose stone-walled sides seemed to desire becoming passengers. At one section, there was less than 2 inches space on either side of the bus to the walls. We waited 10 minutes while a road-blocking furniture truck saw its innards spewed out on to the driveway of a happy owner of a new sectional set of sofa-seats. I chatted to Paul, the bus driver – I was the only passenger – who told me he does that run every day, with the .school kids. Ah! That’s why these seats have safety belts! We could learn a lesson from FirstCymru bus company and the UK government; we in the US, while fining passengers for not wearing seat belts, allow our kids to flop around unrestrained inside our flimsy uncomfortable school buses.   

The 117 made the loop down into and back out of the tiny village of Horton and on to another of Gower’s great beaches – Port Eynon. Passing by the statue of a lifeboat-man, symbolizing many heroic rescues launched from that village in years long past, we approach the ½-mile long dune-lined beach – but not before passing the field that in summer contains hundreds of cars and campers. In ‘my day’, few had cars, so it was the bus that brought us – a double-decker bus it was in those days! I recall when I was 11 or 12, spending a night in a neighbor’s ‘caravan’ that was permanently parked there. I slept (I wish I could have slept) on the floor next to their son’s bunk-bed. Peter had the worst ‘case of adenoids’ and I believed I was in a pig sty as the snorting continued throughout the night.

Soon, the 117 arrived in Scurlage, another small village, where I dismounted to wait 10 minutes or so for the next arriving 118 to take me the final ½ mile to Rhosilli. – a tiny village overlooking the bay of that name.  Rhosilli Bay was just named the best beach in the UK, one of the top 3 in Europe and one of the top 10 in the world!  Its ¾ mile long, ¼ mile wide stretch of sand, backed by 200 foot high cliffs (ideal for hang-gliding) lies at the western end of the Gower Peninsula – rightly named, by the National Trust, an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. I wonder how many thousands of children have taken bucket and spade to that beautiful stretch of sand and built sand-castles. I walked on past the steep path down to the beach, fearing I run out of either time – or breath – to make it back up again for the return bus. Instead I walked along the cliff top, past grazing sheep, some of which were perilously close to the edge – a tumbling mass of wool and mutton entered my imagination. A wiser flock of the beasts were safely enclosed in a stone-walled field of turnips, happily munching on the crop.

It was a very windy on the cliff top and being hazy, with a slight drizzle, the view of the magnificent bay below was far from optimum, but there are a myriad to be seen online. The hour I had allotted, was soon up and I had to hustle back to get the 118 which this time was to take me directly back to Swansea – but not before I bought a corned beef pasty in the tiny store near the bus stop.

I had decided to round out the afternoon by visiting a few other ‘old haunts’. First, I got of the bus in Sketty – just down the hill from the ‘alarm clock and bicycle horn entertainment center’ and entered Singleton Park – through which we had ridden our imaginary horses chasing imaginary Indians in those movie-matinee days 62 years ago – to see the Gorsedd Stones. I’m not sure if we ever role-played any ritualistic sacrifices there or not!


I walked on past the now (and again) burned Swiss Chalet, turning back to follow the stream on my left down to the exit opposite Guppy’s Shop – as it was in the ‘60s. I crossed the road into Brynmill Park, walking up by the pond and out the top end of the park to the once cobbled road leading up to St Benedict’s Church where I was married on St Valentine’s Day in 1970. Photos duly taken there, I proceeded back down to Rhyddings Terrace (my street!) and up into Marlborough Road toward the Rhyddings Hotel – scene of many a downed pint, darts thrown, cribbage hands played and bawdy rugby songs sung. I would be back there later that night, but now I needed to visit and photograph the first 2 schools in my young education – Brynmill Infants and Brynmill Primary Schools – each within a beer bottle’s throw of my local – ‘The Rhyd’.

Another of my watering holes in the ‘60s was The Cricketers’, down at the bottom of a steep hill, Finsbury Terrace, and aptly adjacent to the Swansea Rugby and Cricket Club – St Helen’s. The pub, as many are in Swansea now, was ‘To Let’. In 1953, I had played a Championship rugby match at St Helen’s - where rugby international matches were once played – ending our season with an unbeaten 18-0-0 record. Today, I dragged my 60-year-older legs around the east end of the grounds and on to the ‘Promenade’ to the Swansea Jack monument.

It was there, amid a stiff breeze and slight drizzle that my host’s son, having seen me trudge across the road a minute earlier, honked and waved at me to give me a welcome ride back to West Cross. I needed to rest up for the night’s planned reunion.

To be continued.

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