“Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?” – Sir Thomas More – ‘A Man For All Seasons’
I was surprised that I was so easily persuaded to book a holiday cottage in Wales because most of my holiday memories of the Principality involve precipitation.
When I was a boy we used to go on family holidays to Borth in Mid Wales and stay in a caravan. It always rained and all through the night there was a steady pitter-patter of rain on the biscuit tin roof and everywhere seemed damp, musty and cold. Later we used to go the Plas Panteidal Hoiliday Village near Aberdovey and although the accommodation was an improvement the same could never be said for the weather.
To be fair, I can remember the sun shining on one ocassion and that was in the long hot summer of 1976 when I went to Plas Panteidal for the last time and we actually managed a few days of good weather and enjoyed some unexpected opportunities to get on the beach. The last time that I went to Wales for a holiday was in 1986 when I went to the Hoseason’s Holiday Village in Carnarvon in North Wales and it was so cold and so wet that we gave up on the fourth day, abandoned the holiday and drove all the way back home.
As well as holidays, between 1972 and 1975 I went to University in Wales at Cardiff and I spent a considerable amount of my student grant on umbrellas and wet weather clothing.
Anyway, after a gap of twenty-five years I was ready to give Wales another chance and booked a holiday cottage in Cardigan in South Wales. Things seemed promising as the spring and early summer got off to a fine start with the hottest April on record followed by the driest May and the meteorologists predicting a long hot summer and a certain drought. Now, I didn’t particularly want to wish a drought on anyone but I did rather hope that these fine weather conditions might just continue through into the middle of June.
Unfortunately I was going to be disappointed and a week following a BBC Radio Five special programme on the drought crisis everything changed and it rained every day thereafter and instead of picnic hampers and swimming costumes I was going to need anoraks and umbrellas!
The day of departure started quite brightly but unfortunately that was in Spalding in Lincolnshire on the east coast and I was due to be driving into certain wet weather in the west. And it didn’t take long and by the time I picked up my travelling companions, son Jonathan and granddaughter Molly, it was already raining steadily and there was no real prospect of improvement.
What we had ahead of us now was a five hour journey in the most appalling conditions as the wet weather was completely relentless. On the first part of the journey we used dual carriageways and motorways where the spray and muck from other road users constantly assaulted the windscreen and then after Shrewsbury we crossed Offa’s Dyke from Shropshire into Wales onto single carriageway roads with ever widening puddles and bleak gloomy weather ahead as heavy grey clouds stuck like stubborn strips of Velcro to the tops of the sodden Welsh hills.
It rained in Welshpool, it rained in Newtown, it rained in Llangurig and it rained in Aberystwyth as we reached the coast and the road swung south towards our destination. To our right the sea was grey and uninviting, lashed with spiteful squalls of stinging rain as wave after wave of dark clouds swept in from the Irish Sea and it was about now that I was forced to concede that we probably wouldn’t be having a barbeque this evening.
The road took us through the Georgian fishing port of Aberaeron which has a High Street and a harbour flanked by gaily coloured houses in a Mediterranean sort of way but even the pretty hues of the elegant buildings could do nothing to lift the gloom of the grey sky as great slabs of misery assaulted them continuously and robbed them of their natural vibrancy and leeched them of their colour. Everwhere people were hurrying along the drenched pavements in raincoats and with umbrellas and in the late afternoon the outside temperature dropped into single figures. I was not amused!
Eventually we arrived at the farmhouse cottage in the village of Ferwig just outside Cardigan. The farmyard was full of puddles and the gutters and drainpipes were overflowing with water but at least the farmer who greeted us had a broad smile and that lifted the gloom by about a factor of about 1 (that’s 1 from a base of zero, by the way!) And the cottage was excellent, it was comfortable and warm and we turned the heating up and put the fire on and transferred our bags from the car and began to set up home.
It rained all evening as dark clammy clouds kept swooping in over the nearby coastline like a hostile invading army and just before going to bed I took a last look out of the rain splashed window and said to myself ‘OK Wales, this really is your very last chance, this is my first time in twenty-five years and if it keeps raining I won’t be back for another twenty-five!’