One of the nice things about working for a UK company but being on permanent assignment to a US one is that you get twice as many public holidays. While I'm not sure we want a Black Monday here in Little Olde England, maybe we could come up with some excuse for celebrating Thanksgiving. Perhaps without the turkey. Even though it's a moveable feast (the fourth Thursday of November) it usually coincides with our wedding anniversary, so it's a great opportunity for a few days away.
This year it was South Wales, and I managed to avoid the usual "going to Wales" joke (Q: How do you get two whales in a Mini? A: Across the Severn Bridge). Talking of the Severn Bridge, you have to pay £5.70 for the privilege of crossing it to get into Wales, but they say it’s not so bad because there's no charge to get out again. Except we came back a different route via Monmouth, so where do I go to get my £2.85 refunded?
What did surprise me, though, is how few Welsh people there seem to be in South Wales. When I booked the hotel, the website said it was "in the heart of Welshest Wales". Yet we'd got past Swansea before I heard a Welsh accent. And you can't even stop to look at the sea in Swansea without climbing over a huge wall. I suspect they built it especially so that all the English visitors have to pay to park their car. And that's after charging me just to get into Wales...
But once you get past Swansea to somewhere like Mumbles and Knab Rock, the whole outlook changes. Old-fashioned towns and villages with superb views across the estuary, and the wonderful hospitality (though the waiter in the cafe was Polish, so still no Welsh accent).
Then, the next day, one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in the UK. Llanstefan is like somewhere time forgot. Wide open and deserted beaches and mud flats, incredible views towards the valleys, and a sense of peace and tranquility that you never expected after going through places such as Port Talbot and Cardiff.
There wasn't a breath of wind that morning, and all you could hear was a farm tractor slowly plodding up and down a distant field. What an amazing place. OK, so I suppose you can't expect the only shop and tea-room to be open in late November, even though there was a huge sign saying "Open All Year" (it didn't say which year).
Next stop, Saundersfoot. No, I have no idea where the name came from. Strangely, the further West you go in South Wales, the less Welsh the place names get (think Pembroke, Haverfordwest, and Fishguard). Maybe we passed through Welshest Wales and out of the other side. But Saundersfoot is a nice little seaside resort where we were told to go and try the local delicacy named "Cawl". Supposedly it's a kind of mutton stew, though the place we were recommended to serves it with beef and cheese bread. It was nice, but cost about the same as a three-course meal here in the wilds of Derbyshire where I live.
But the highlight of the trip was to see Tenby. We watched an edition of Grand Designs on TV some weeks ago that featured a couple who had converted the old lifeboat station into an amazing house. The town and beach looked so nice in the program that we thought it was worth a visit, and we weren't disappointed.
The old town is quaint, though it would have been even quainter if the tide hadn't been out, and if local council hadn't been digging up all the cobbled streets that week. However, the views from the cliff are wonderful, and the deserted South beach provides an opportunity for a pleasant stroll along the coast. Preferably in the same direction as the 40 mph wind is blowing.
Coming home, we motored into the valleys planning to see the scenery and the Brecon Beacons, but were defeated by the sudden change to cold, wet, and misty weather. I managed to shoehorn in a brief diversion to the Brecon Mountain Railway, in the delightfully named village of Pant, but other than the cafe it was closed for the winter. The one highlight was in Neath Valley when the weather calmed down for a short while. A brisk and refreshing walk up a beautiful valley to the local waterfalls proved well worthwhile. OK, so it's not quite Victoria or Niagara, but it's a beautiful place.
I wonder if I can use the left-over half of my Severn Bridge fee to go back to Wales in the summer...