Date of Trip: November 2006
For the first time since she became an adult, my daughter and I took a two week road trip through England, Wales and Ireland. Vaughn lives in England and I was her first visitor from home. Extraordinary in so many aspects of sights, history and other-worldliness, the most striking was the character of the people we met. Vaughn had decided “making friends” was to be our theme, so everywhere we went we unabashedly spoke to anyone who would speak with us…asking questions about the area, the food, the bed and breakfasts, culture and very often, directions. People throughout the UK were above all, warm and friendly and often went out of their way to guide us to the best and most often missed sites. By the time we got to Wales, in our little rental car, I was driving like a pro on the left side of the road, and truth be told, it felt very natural for me, and we had even made some new friends!
The M-4 freeway exit to the coastal town of Swansea, where we had decided to stop for the evening, did not seem to be well marked and our friend, Tom-Tom on the dashboard, was not much help. Once off the freeway we followed a small road into an old section of Swansea on High Street, where we spotted a typical Edwardian tavern, the Red Lion, amid the rows of townhouses which lined up like soldiers on the cobbled and curved street, and headed in for our usual evening pint of Guinness and never-disappointing fresh fish and chips. Swansea is one of the old port cities of Wales and in November even thought the ferry to Ireland is shut down for winter, there is still a lot to see.
Just as we finished our meal a rowdy group of ten at a nearby table hollered over to see if we were Americans, then signaled us to join them for a pint. In the spirit of our mantra, “more friends”, we sat with them and listened to stories for about an hour before asking if they knew of a bed and breakfast nearby. Three of them immediately jumped up to make phone calls to find a room for us…without luck. Our new friends highly recommended the Fairyhill Cottages, because of the unique decor of fairies throughout, but it also had no vacancies. We will plan to stay there on our return to Wales. Resolving the best decision was to return to the freeway and take a room at the nondescript motel we had passed on the way in, we said our goodbyes, exchanged cell phone numbers and headed out.
The motel was full, and although the hostess tried for a half hour to find a room for us, there was nothing available within fifty miles. Naively thinking we could just drive around until we found something, we got in the car and headed back towards town, which, much like Brigadoon, had totally vanished! No matter which road we took, or how many times Tom-Tom told us to take a right or a left, we circled for about an hour and always ended up in the parking lot of the no-vacancy motel. About then, Vaughn got a call from Paul, her new friend, who asked if we were settled in for the night. When she told him that not only were we not settled in, we had no idea where we were, he patiently gave her directions back to the pub and told her to meet him there. Thank goodness for Paul…when we got to the pub, Paul was waiting in the parking lot, and had his lovely mother in the car with him and he and his mother led us to a friend’s house who kept a spare room above her beauty shop on High Street for spur of the moment travelers. We stood in front of the B&B and gave hugs all around, and then climbed the three flights of stairs to the attic, where we had a great night’s sleep….on mattress coils without mattresses.
At the direction of our new friends, the next morning we had a fabulous “proper” breakfast at Niki’s Cafe on High Street, with fresh baked croissants, and packed up chocolate filled delicacies for later in the day. The cafe is owned by Niki, he’s of Greek origin, and Kathy, she’s Welsh and was one of our “new friends” from the pub the evening before. The coffee was definitely worth finding an excuse to return to Swansea on another day. As we left town we saw ancient white-washed stone homes built right to the edge of the water, and with the light of the morning we could see an abundance of bed and breakfasts along the road, both in town and out, most with wisps of smoke from the chimneys, tempting travelers with the idea of hunkering down beside a fire with a warm mug of cider. The lesson learned was to call ahead for a Bed and Breakfast on our next visit to Swansea, because even in November Swansea is a popular destination.
We drove along the magnificently rugged and rocky Gower Peninsula coastline decked in its winter coat of silver and grey green moss, and stood nibbling our chocolate croissants on the cliffs. The wind blew steadily as we looked out to sea and it was easy to imagine the stirrings of excitement as Viking invaders first landed there hundreds of years ago.
Within close proximity to Swansea are numerous fortresses and castles, in various stages of decay and rehabilitation. Good maps of Wales show the castles and most do not charge a fee to enter. The one we arbitrarily picked was perched above a small village in the Welsh farmland and we were the sole explorers in the four hours we spent there. We felt there could be spirits of our Welsh ancestors watching us from those bastions and called out to them to be our friends. It certainly was beginning to feel like home, especially for Vaughn.
Paul checked in with Vaughn periodically during the day to make sure we weren’t lost again as we wandered in Wales. We floated that night on dreams of our new friends in foreign worlds and the world got a little closer and cozier knowing that there are kind and gentle people who look out for each other everywhere, if you look!