The Welsh Weekend
A weekend away with the lads and their fast cars. A significant quantity of beer was consumed, as an antidote to the excess of fresh air.
For ages and ages I’d been attempting and failing to arrange a “lads weekend” away somewhere with Kipper, Jimmy and Stevie. That makes it sound like me attempting to do the organizing and the other three doing the welching. Not really. We’ve just had several Friday or Saturday night “beers and curry” trips where we’ve mumbled through a drunken stupor about really needing to get something sorted and have then either conveniently forgotten, or decided it was all too complicated or expensive to actually do. So we didn’t do it.
Well not this time.
We started off talking about going to South Wales but then Jimmy interjected with a request to go to North Wales too, which I was initially not in favour of until it became clear that someone else would be driving all weekend. Buggrit then ! Why should I worry about the mileage if I’m not going to have to drive ?
Why wasn’t I going to have to drive ? Because Kip was just going to pick up his new car a few days beforehand, and he and Jimmy fancied a bit of a flash-car group test kind of a thing. Suits me. It’s extremely rare that I get to go away on holiday for 4 days and don’t have to drive at all. It is even rarer that I get driven around in a top-notch sports car. The cars in question were the rather stunningly good looking Porsche 911s shown the the photo. The white one is Jimmy’s. The blue one is Kipper’s.
The weekend began on Friday morning with me having to go up to my dentist to get the rough edges polished off a crown I’d had replaced the previous weekend. OK, that wasn’t part of the weekend away, but it was something I had to do on Friday morning.
The weekend away began with the chaps turning up in the flash motors at my house in the middle of the morning. This part was quickly followed by a fuel and coffee stop and then a fairly slow meander up the M40 in the direction of Birmingham. This turned into a moderately fast chunter up the M54 to the Telford Services, where we stopped for coffee, snacks, and a bit of caching. There is a massive old steam hammer in the car park which is host to an Earthcache called Shropshire Iron. It’s also home to a traditional cache, but the logs seemed to indicate that some climbing was involved in finding it. Personally, I’m not very agile, but also I wouldn’t have placed a cache on such a monument if it was necessary to climb on it. I searched all the areas I could reach without climbing and didn’t find it. If it does involve climbing, they’re welcome to it. Not a game I would play.
On returning to the cars we decided on a swap around, with Stevie riding shotgun in Kip’s car and me with Jimmy.
The drive up from here was slightly more interesting than the motorways earlier in the day, mainly involving the A5 until just before Betws-y-Coed. This involved passing through Llangollen, the scene of an earlier adventure this year at the UK Mega Geocaching Event (see Llangollen Mega).
We arrived there with just enough daylight left to go for a quick gander around Conwy town. There wasn’t a lot to see, to be honest, as more or less everywhere seemed to be closed. I guess it isn’t tourist season and because the light disappears at 4:30pm it’s likely everyone had packed up for the day and had relocated to whatever form of activity goes down on a Friday evening. We did get some fresh air and a bit of a leg stretch though, but not very many decent photos, as the light was disappearing at, well, the speed of light.
Once darkness had properly arrived we decided that it was officially allowed to be beer o’clock, so we headed back to the Groes Inn and settled into the bar for the evening. It was one of those excellent bars where despite the fact that they weren’t, technically speaking, open to the public at the point when we arrived, the barman was perfectly happy to serve us a pint while they were waiting to open, what with us being guests at the hotel. And in the bar was more or less where we all stayed until bed o’clock, with the exception of a couple of dashes out to grab cards and risk.
Breakfast was a fairly lardy effort by all four of us. I was ready a few minutes early so I took the opportunity to dash 200 yards down the road to find This Daughter became a Conwy Valley tour guide and to take a couple of photos. It was quite a nice morning.
After we checked out of the hotel we headed off for Jimmy’s “main event” for the weekend, which was the drive around the Evo Triangle, which starts a little way back along the A5 from where we’d been the previous night. While we were having breakfast there had been a couple of hail showers and the remnants of it were still lying around on the ground. This, combined with Kip’s understandably tentative driving (in a car he’d only had for three days) meant that my ride around was somewhat more leisurely than Jimmy and Steve’s. The first stretch is really quite narrow and twisty. You can see why Evo Magazine tests cars up there, but I could also see why Kip wasn’t really testing his.
From here we hadn’t really got much of a plan other than to start heading south. We started by picking our way south through Blaenau Ffestiniog in the general direction of Portmeirion, where we stopped to refuel the cars. Blaenau Ffestiniog has some tourist trade associated with the slate mining industry, but this is fairly quiet in November. It also has the dubious distinction of being an island of non-park within the middle of the Snowdonia National Park. The village is surrounded (and completely dominated) by spoil heaps from the now defunct slate mines, which gives it a somewhat otherworldly feel. The National Park has a nice mix of colours, especially in Autumn, with grass, trees, coloured buildings, and so on. Blaenau Ffestiniog is predominantly grey in colour.
We’d sort of half planned to drive down the coast road from Portmeirion through Harlech to Barmouth but as we glanced at our watches while filling the cars up we decided instead that we ought to get a few more miles done while the driving conditions were good (i.e. while it was sunny and the roads were dry). So we just headed back up the main road and followed a series of winding A-roads all the way down to Aberystwyth. At one point we passed the now decommissioned Trawsfynydd nuclear power station – the only nuclear station ever built in the UK that’s not by the sea. This being Wales, they concluded that the lake they constructed to hold the cooling water would never empty enough to cause a problem.
I’m not sure what I expected to find in Aberystwyth, because I’ve never been there before. I was somehow expecting it to be a much bigger place than it was. It basically only has a couple of shopping streets in the middle with some housing estates around the outside and the rather large Aberystwyth University. The place is apparently a very long way from anywhere else, by UK standards, with the closest large settlements of note being Swansea (70 miles), Telford (75 miles) and Wrexham (80 miles). We stopped to have some lunch (well, coffee and cake) and a bit of a leg-stretch through the castle and down the sea front a little bit. At the castle I managed to sneak in an Earthache called Aberystwyth stone circle earth cache.
The important distance (from our perspective) in that list of places above was “Swansea (70 miles)”, or in our case, Gower Peninsula (86 miles). By the time we left Aberystwyth it was well after 3pm, so we were in for some driving in the dark. We picked our way down the coast initially through a seemingly endless succession of small villages, all of which were in the bottom of a steep hollow, followed by a steep climb out. I guess there’s a village here at every point where a stream flows out into the sea.
We eventually turned off the coast road and followed a bunch of smaller (but still A graded) roads down to Carmarthen. By the time we got there it was all but dark. At least there we picked up a decent dual carriageway that took us a good chunk of the way. By the time we got back onto the country roads leading into the Gower it was completely dark, and it was also chucking it down with rain. Methinks that both drivers were having a slight sense of humour crisis and just wanted to get parked up and get the beers in. I don’t blame them. They’d both been driving for about 5 hours over the course of the day.
We were staying at the King’s Head Inn at Llangennith, which proved to have some very nice bedrooms but a public area that was somewhat more basic than the Groes Inn, where we’d been the previous night. It wasn’t bad, it was just more of a pub than a restaurant.
We’d reserved a table for dinner for 7:30, but ended up in the bar well before 6 and started merrily helping ourselves to beer and food pretty much as soon as we got there. Stevie kept disappearing up the car park to fetch games out of Jimmy’s car. There was some cards and risk involved. And that was pretty much it for Saturday.
Breakfast at the hotel started unusually late (at 8:30am), and we decided we couldn’t even be bothered with that early, so we went for 9am. The highlight (cough) was undoubtedly Kip’s discovery that Laver Bread doesn’t contain either bread or molten rocks. Basically, it’s boiled, mushed-up seaweed. It didn’t look very appetising. I reckon it’s one of those things that hotels put on the menu in a tourist area safe in the knowledge that some poor unsuspecting soul will try it just because it’s supposedly a local delicacy. I reckon the locals don’t even eat it themselves – they just like to wind up tourists by pretending they do.
Back at the plot, Sunday was supposed to be “my” day, in that it involved some walking and a few geocaches. I have to say that I managed to make a complete pucky-acky of the whole thing, starting with the discovery that my GPS had been switched on in Kipper’s car on Saturday afternoon, followed by the disappointment of finding that I’d failed to put the charger cable into my caching bag, and finishing with the disgrace of discovering that at some point between Thursday night and Sunday morning the geocaches I’d very carefully loaded onto it had somehow got deleted. The GPS was therefore reduced to the level of being a heavy and slightly unreliable (but at least waterproof) map. Any caching would have to be done on my phone. It’s a good job I’d only planned for us to do 8 or so anyway.
Our plan was to walk from Llangennith over to Rhossili and on to Worm’s Head an then back again – a distance that ought to be about 5 miles each way. Time was an issue all day because the causeway to Worm’s Head is only accessible for a 5 hour period around each low tide, and the only available low tide window during daylight was due to start at 2pm. That’s not a great equation if your walk onto the head and back takes at least 90 minutes and then you’ve got over four miles to walk home across country on a day where darkness arrives at about 4:30pm. Still, what could possibly go wrong, huh?
The first stage of our walk took us from Llangennith over Rhossili Down (where we found 2 normal caches, one YOSM and a completely random bit of tupperware that’s logged on a competitor geocaching website.
The highlight of this stretch (at least for the other three) was watching me slide over not once, but twice, on the wet slope coming down into Rhossili village. I got dirty.
We grabbed a church micro geocache in the village and then made our way to the National Trust office to confirm the tide times. It was about time for a break too, so we retired to a nearby cafe for coffee and cake while I washed my hands and gently shed the layers of drying mud off my trouser legs and onto the floor. Hmm!
From here we made the walk down to the Worm’s Head causeway, stopping to do a further 2 traditional caches and another Earthcache and we found ourselves sitting at the bottom of a cliff waiting for the tide to go out. There were quite a few other people doing the same. They seemed all to be in the “silver surfer” category, not that any of us are exactly spring chickens, but I got the distinct impression that we were among the youngest of those waiting. We had to sit there for a good 40 minutes or so while the water dropped away. The official word was that you’d be able to cross at 2 pm. Some of the old geezers started to make their way down and across at about ten to, so we obviously packed up and followed them.
The walk out along Worm’s Head was quite challenging. The initial causeway was only just draining as we walked across, so we had to keep rerouting to find a dry way through, plus the rocks themselves were rather jagged. Beyond a certain point, the rocks got a bit easier and we were mainly skipping through smaller rocks encrusted with barnacles and surrounded by loads of little mussels, which made the underfoot conditions much more grippy. At the first island, it was a straightforward walk around the grass. Kip and Stevie took the hardcore option of walking over the top rather than around the side, obviously.
At the far end of the Inner Head the walk becomes quite tricky as you have to scramble over some very rough rocks that are full of deep crevasses. The rocks themselves are sedimentary and have been folded such that the cleavage lies at a 70% angle to the flat. This makes it extremely uneven to try to walk over, and quite slow going.
From there you go around the middle head and arrive at the Devil’s Bridge – a naturally formed bridge in the limestone that’s the site of an Earthcache called Little Bridges #886 Devils Bridge. When I was planning the walk, this was as far as I thought it was reasonable to try to go, but of course opnce you’re out there it’s very tempting to go further, so we did. We made it all the way out onto the Outer Head. Kip and Stevie attempted to climb up to the highest point (they didn’t quite make it) while me and Jimmy decided that time was marching on and that we had gone far enough already to claim we’d “done it”, so we turned and started going back. It had taken most of an hour to get to the Outer Head from dry land, so we estimated that turning around and returning would put us back on land just before 4 pm. We didn’t want to leave it too late because we didn’t fancy trying to cross the causeway in failing light, even if the tide was well out.
As it happened, Kip and Steve caught up with us again (and overtook me) going back across that rocky ridge again and then surged ahead over the causeway to get back well ahead of me. In any case it took us a good 15 minutes less to get back than it had to get out. The causeway had become a good bit easier.
Back at the cafe, we decided to grab a quick drink and snack to keep us moving. Somehow, whilst standing in the queue in the cafe, I turned around and the end of my walking pole (which poking out of the top of my bag) managed to surgically remove a flatbread from the top of a bowl of kedgeree without causing the waitress to drop the bowl of kedgeree. I bet I couldn’t do that again if I tried. I decided it wouldn’t be a great idea to suggest that the “five second rule” applied, so I apologised as politely as I could manage and went to stand outside in disgrace. The poor waitress seemed at a bit of a loss for what to do before eventually deciding to go back and do another flatbread. Sorry! I didn’t realise you were there.
So after a quick drink we started the remaining couple of miles back home. For this leg, as it was now getting fairly gloomy, we decided we’d walk along the raised beach under Rhossili Down rather than going back over the top. It looked safer and easier to follow in the dark. I learned later that it’s not a raised beach, it’s a solifluction terrace caused by slumping of the cliff above during a previous era when the cliff face was subjected to regular freeze-thaw cycles. This has been made to look like a raised beach as the sea now is gradually undercutting it as it forms the rather lovely Rhossili Beach.
Back at the plot, we set off down a path that looked nice from above but proved to be a quagmire, so we backtracked a little and descended down a road that at least had hardcore on it until we got onto the level just above the beach. From here it was a flat walk (if somewhat long) to the other end of the beach and an entrance into the bottom end of a massive caravan park. We then had a seemingly very long walk through the caravans and then along a surprisingly long access road back up into Llangennith. By the time we got back home we’d walked nearly 12 miles and had been out for nearly 7 hours, although we weren’t exactly walking quickly for much of that. It was completely dark anyway.
We reconvened in the hotel restaurant (or was it the lounge) half an hour later, having done our best to wash away the dodgy smells. I managed to neck a pint of orange and lemonade in double quick time, ‘cos my mouth was drier than a pharaoh’s sock, and then we got into the now traditional evening activities of drinking beer, eating food and playing cards. In my case the beer went quite slowly, and I wasn’t very hungry. I ordered some onion rings and nachos and then picked my way through them with no great enthusiasm (and with much abuse from Kip, as I wasn’t eating the jalapenos, which constitutes a serious failing, apparently). I think I ended up leaving half of them. I just wasn’t hungry.
After a while, and after the boys had pudding, we retired to the bar (definitely a bar in the other side – there’s a jukebox, a pool table, and they let dogs in), for a couple more drinks and a journey through an eclectic mix of music on the jukebox courtesy of DJ Kip, while Stevie, Jimmy and me pretended we could play pool. Some of us were better at pretending than others were. It did feel a bit like being a student again though, especially when the barman told us not to put any more money in the pool table because he wanted to go home. It wasn’t even 11 pm though. They evidently don’t do late opening on a Sunday, even if you are staying there.
I spent the night was spent tossing and turning and listening to the sounds of the world outside. The sound most of the world seemed to be making was that of a running tap.
We had breakfast at 8:30 after having swum down the car park from the hotel rooms. We then swam back up again and packed up the cars ready for the trip home. While we were still on the Gower it was sailing more than driving, to be honest. The M4 had a 50mph speed limit most of the way because of the awful visibility and all the standing water on the carriageway, but apart from that, and the fact that we stopped to refuel in Swindon, the trip home was a bit of a non-event for me. I was a bit knackered and Kip was doing a sterling job of driving through the rain without moaning, so I spent much of my time snoozing or playing with my phone. It didn’t seem like a great idea to try to engage Kip in a discussion anyway. It was the kind of driving weather where you really need to pay attention.
We made it back home at about 2 pm, in plenty of time for me to fart about with some photos on the PC before going to fetch Izzy from school. I’d been assuming all the way home that I’d be driving to fetch her, given the rain, but somehow I managed to catch a dry and sunny spell so was able to walk there.
And that was about it. It was a four day weekend during which I’d eaten far too much, drunk less than I’d expected I might, walked a bit, filled in two new counties on my caching profile and been driven around in two very nice motors. We’d managed to get good weather whenever we needed it (for driving round the Evo Triangle and for walking on the Sunday).
We might have to make a habit of having lads weekends away if they all end up being like that.