And so we continue in our exploration of this country of ours that I hardly know.
At the weekend, we drove the four and a half hours (according to google maps, six hours in real time, including wee and lunch breaks) to stay in Rupert's parents house in Wales. Waking up at home on the Saturday - to the first day of glorious sunshine we'd had in weeks, we began to have our doubts. We have actually been to the house in Wales before - September 1999, when for the entire week, waterfalls of rain were thrown from the sky by a vengeful god, turning the house grey, damp and cold, the country lanes to muddy quagmires so that it was impossible to take our seven month, teething baby anywhere. We were stuck in the house for seven days, Sam screaming the whole time, Rupert and I taking it in turns to sleep whenever we could. So when we woke up to see that our first hollyhock was flowering, the sky overhead a deep blue, it was with some trepidation that we loaded the car and set off.
The first half of the journey was idyllic, driving along winding, sun dappled lanes through golden Cotswold villages, full of roses and hollyhocks, village greens glowing emerald in the afternoon light. (Yes, it took us all morning to drag the kids out of bed and into the car. "Where's my deodorant?" "who's stolen my phone charger?" "Are you sure we won't be able to fit five big suitcases and a dog into the back of a Prius?" "Should I bring my bathers?") To give them their due, the kids have now got to the age where they can play on iPods and sing and even talk to each other in the car without it turning into bloodshed and mayhem, so Rupert and I were able to talk and exclaim at the beautiful countryside we were passing through, like normal people.
Until we hit the Severn Bridge. The moment we passed onto the bridge the clouds rolled over and as soon as we hit Wales on the other side the rain started to pour down in solid sheets.
It has rained on and off ever since, showers and drizzle and pouring, thunderous rain, but, in between there have been wonderful moments of sunshine.
Of course the weather is probably what has saved this corner of Wales. People talk so much about the overcrowding of Britain, how the beaches here are nothing but people and pebbles. But Fishguard, one of the closest towns, turns out to be a disgustingly pretty little town, with a harbour lined with jaunty houses painted in fresh pinks and blues and yellows, window boxes bursting with flowers, and all clustered along the foot of rearing green hills. We went when the tide was out and the boats were all aground, a forest of slanting masts and green-haired hulls, the seagulls circling overhead. The air was fresh and biting, full of the scent of salt and seaweed and freezing, freezing, cold, but there were still children playing in the water - albeit clothed in wet suits. (though apparently there was a girl in a bikini as well, thank you Lydia.)
The next day we went to the Cathedral and Bishop's palace in St David's - a famous tourist attraction at the height of the tourist season and yes, there were a fair amount of people, but we had no trouble finding parking. Nor did we have to queue to get into the Palace itself and, but for the odd couple or family, we almost had the place to ourselves - and such is the sense of peace in this place, I think there could have been a crowd of hundreds and it wouldn't have made a difference. The ruins of the palace, grey-purple stone walls rising out of thick green turf, of Great Halls, of churches and chapels, dungeons and wine cellars, were serene and filled with an ancient calm. The palace dates from the 6th century, when it started life as a monastery, was ransacked innumerable times by the Normans and, of course, the reformation, the destruction of the Catholic church etc. But, though it has seen its fair share of bloody deaths, the gore of battle violence and spewing hatred, one can now escape, for a moment, all thoughts of 21st century religious intolerance, whilst walking its paths on a sunny summer's day.
I was going to write much more, but Lydia is reading over my shoulder and correcting my grammar, which I find REALLY irritating, and I have dinner to cook. So will sign off now, and hopefully get to talk heather and beaches tomorrow.