“If you are reading this in another country and are not familiar with the marine delicacy (the whelk), you may get the same experience (from eating it) by finding an old golf ball, removing the cover and eating what remains. The only difference is that the golf ball has a little more flavour” Bill Bryson – ‘Icons of England’
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. I believe that is what is called déjà vu?
Again, for the second day running, the weather forecasters had surprisingly got it right and the rain that they had predicted was sweeping back in from the Irish Sea when I woke in the morning. I say when I woke because this was the first day that Molly didn’t wake me prematurely and it seemed strange to be alone downstairs in the cottage on my fifty-seventh birthday drinking tea and fretting about the weather.
We had a final breakfast to use up everything in the fridge and at about ten o’clock we loaded the car and set off home. It was grey and bleak in the same way that it had been when we arrived and when we drove past Cardigan Bay at the place where we had stopped yesterday in warm sunshine the harbour looked windswept and cold with the uninvited burden of gatecrashing low cloud crushing down on it like a giant black anvil.
Because we had missed the boat trip yesterday our plan was to return to New Quay in time for the twelve o’clock sailing but the short journey was slow and tedious with the roads full of tractors and heavy goods vehicles and road works every few miles or so to bring everything to a standstill and we were cutting it fine when we finally arrived and parked the car in the same car park as the day before.
We had to walk quite quickly to get to the booking office so it was a good job that it was down hill all the way and finally for a moment or two it had stopped raining. We purchased our tickets and joined a queue of damp people with dripping anoraks as we watched the boat arrive and then as we climbed on board it started to rain again.
One of the two men in charge ran through the safety procedures and explained about the life-jackets and the evacuation procedures but I suspect this was a waste of time because if the boat sunk it is certain that we would be dead through hypothermia within a matter of only minutes. The boat then backed away from its mooring and headed out to the sea.
There was quite a heavy swell (I believe the technical nautical term is ‘lumpy’) and the boat pitched and swayed as it headed away from the harbour and proceeded to follow the coastline south. We say some grey seals and then passed by one of the most important sea bird breeding colonies in Wales with thousands of birds crammed onto the cliff facing looking forlornly out to sea and probably complaining to each other about the weather.
What we really wanted to see of course were the Cardigan Bay dolphins because there is a permanent population that live in these waters and over three hundred bottlenose dolphins are known to be using the Bay, around two hundred in any year, with numbers increasing throughout the summer and reaching a peak in late September and October. And we were in luck because after only fifteen minutes or so the captain spotted them and stopped the boat so we could see half a dozen or so about a hundred metres from the boat rising and falling on the surface of the water.
That was as close as they came however and I wondered how Michael Palin et al always manage to get them swimming obligingly within touching distance under the bow of the boat? The skipper carried on for the rest of the outward journey and then stopped at a small cove where the captain told tales of smugglers and ship wreckers and then set off back to New Quay. We passed the shellfish processing plant which specialises in whelks for Korea (nasty, chewy, smelly things the skipper described them as) and then as we approached the harbour we saw the dolphins again so I suppose we got our money’s worth on this trip.
We left New Quay now and headed back on the long journey home with fifty miles of Wales stretched out in front of us, drenched and sodden. It rained in Aberystwyth, it rained in Llangurig, it rained in Newtown and it rained in Welshpool and eventually we passed out of Wales and back into England in exactly the same sort of weather that we had arrived in.
After twenty-five years I had enjoyed my few days in Wales but here are four reasons why I won’t be rushing back:
- The weather is just too unreliable and there is nothing worse than getting soaked and miserable and spending lots of money trying to find a dry attraction.
- It is too far to drive and the roads are awful. Driving in Spain and France is a relaxing and enjoyable experience but on the UK’s crowded roads it is just no fun.
- It isn’t different enough and shopping in Tesco is not the same as going to Carrefour or Mercadona and you can get English television!
- My own fault this one but six weeks after returning home I received a letter from Heddlu Dyfed- Powys Police and a notice of intended prosecution for exceeding the 30 mph speed limit somewhere in Aberystwyth. That’s how to make visitors feel welcome!
Some more of my boat journeys recorded in the journal:
And another brush with the law: