Our plan was to get going at around 12:30 arriving, with at least a lunch break, in Port Eynon at around 5:30 on the Friday evening. Plans being what plans are, this was destined to go wrong.
We actually left home at 1pm but decided a meal first would be an excellent idea. It was this same excellent idea that may have been our mistake, for when we finally set off at 2pm we were in for a radical rethink of our route because when we hit the M1 at junction 16, it had become Britain’s seconds largest car park after the M25.
You see, like it or not we always tend to stick to Motorways when we can finding that the extra distance is soon counteracted by the increased speed achieved thus making this journey one of those where we would be on Motorway for much of the journey. With the M1 at a stand still we were screwed with the motorway theory and had to plot our course on the ‘A’ roads and byways of the Midlands.
It is always customary to complain about the ‘man’ in front and his stupid driving slowing us down and I am pleased to say that on our entire 186 mile journey, there was indeed one such man, the rest were not men but I cannot say more than through fear of alienating myself from a percentage of the population. One truck driver very nearly got me reaching for the telephone to call that number on the back asking if he was driving well. I didn’t because he turned off, clearly having sensed he was pushing his luck insisting on doing 30mph in a 60mph zone. The man I spoke of earlier was Micra Man, a guy in his mid fifties I would say. His main concern with driving was to maintain a steady speed never more than 10mph under the speed limit and doing a near emergency stop with each speed camera. This was made all the worse by the fact that he seemed to feel his 5 feet of car required the space of the Wallace Arnold coach he normally travels in and it was near impossible to overtake. Once clear of the Evesham ring road I found a fair amount of dual carriageway and, though I do normally remain somewhere near the speed limit, my frustrations led me to be dead wicked and experiment on the abilities of my vehicle on an open road. One very interesting fact I discovered. Once I had got to the maximum speed, I was able to gain an extra 10mph by switching to cruise control.
We did hit the M5 at just around 20 minutes behind our original schedule, this surprised us no end and we felt compelled to stop at the next services to recover from the shock, now we were even further behind schedule!
British service stations … we need them, couldn’t do without them but … £1.80 for a mug of tea? Not even good tea mind, just bog standard sweep it off the floor tea bags I cheap cups that cost around 20p a unit if that. I could have taken the mug, the pot and a spoon away with me and they would still have been in profit! What is it about our service stations that they are allowed to get away with just making prices up? Having driven in Europe quite a bit, I have to say that though the prices increase just a little bit, they really are quite comparable to high street prices. To make matter worse, were we to decide to pay by cash, all automatic teller machines charge around 75p to make a withdrawal! Should we be unlucky enough to need to use the toilets excessively and have a mean, the amount of time spent inside will probably also incur us an extra fee for parking!
Back on the motorway and our journey further onto Wales was quite uneventful. That was, uneventful until we got to the bridge … £4.60! They are surely having a laugh. That sort of money would get me half way to Paris in France on a toll road with bridges thrown in to keep me awake … who thinks of these prices? Worse yet, charging to get into Wales and free to get out, surely that has to be the wrong way round?
Once clear of the bridge, we then had almost 30 miles of hardly moving traffic and delays before we again discovered the nearly open road. By now, I was also finding this duel signage was getting very annoying! I cannot see any justification is showing signs in Welsh when statistically, only around 2.6% of the population speak the language and, at best, only an average of 19.9% across the country as a whole. Surely, if we follow this logic, then if 19.9% of the country are able to speak another language, the same other language, we should then have road signs across the country in that language too? Oh dear, I remember visiting Ilford a few years ago where many of the signs were in squiggles that I didn’t understand, enough said!
By now the sun was getting low through the trees along the country lanes beyond Swansea. The roads were getting narrower and the low walls leaned ever more toward those roads. There is something very worrying about driving along a road with the sun in my eyes and knowing there is a small wall alongside me that I can no longer see and a coach driving toward me! Thankfully, my judgement on such things was sound and the paintwork of my car and the integrity of the walls are intact.
Upon arrival in Port Eynon at around 7pm, yes, it took 5 hours to get there; we were greeted by Martyn, a good friend of ours at the gates to the public car park that required a combination code to access. Doesn’t seem very public if members of the public need to know a private code but hey ho, this is Wales and I am English, who said I am meant to understand it? I have to say, it was most welcome to be greeted by a friendly face when we arrived, no made any more or less so by the fact that Martyn knew the gate combination code. We were soon inside this now long past lifeboat house that is now a Youth Hostel and selecting our bunks from those available in there. It has to be said how wonderful it is to have a youth hostel that believes all their guests will be 5 years old and very short. Now, it does so happen that I am very short but even I struggled with the getting into the top bunk routine. I can climb a ladder OK but some clever person had decided to add an extra twist and put the ladder directly under the apex of the roof so that not only did I have to crawl to get in the bed but I also had to lean to one side! Apologies, I digress … It seemed to soon be decided that a while spent in the local hostelry would be conducive to getting to know each other.
The Ship in of Port Eynon is one of those weird pubs that really looks like it should be something else but I don’t know what … closed comes to mind. To the right in the very scary public bar so thick with smoke that I was unable to see the far side of it, one of those places that become quieter the further in a stranger walks. On the other side is the lounge bar. This was much friendlier and already contained within its walls some fellows from our group.
Allow me to deviate from this for a moment, I shall return. When in Rome a couple of weeks ago I was sitting at a pavement café having just had a meal and consuming copious amounts of cheap beer when I could not help to notice the distinct tones of Kermit the Frog from behind me. Unaware of the volume of my voice I asked those there with me if they too could hear Kermit the Frog. What I had not realised was just how close one of ‘Kermit’s’ friends was sitting behind me. Shall we say, there will always be a little part of the United States of America that dislikes English people intensely? So, what is the connection I hear you ask, OK, I don’t but flow with me here … The Ship Inn had a rather attractive bar person by the name of Chris, I mean, it was just me that noticed. So, we were chatting amongst ourselves and I just happened to mention how much I wished that the really cute barman was on the menu because I would very much like to suck on his sausage or something similar. I could tell by the look on the faces of those around me that I was going to regret saying that. This was confirmed when the hand of a female member of staff reached over to remove my now empty plate from in front of me! One of these days I shall learn to check behind me before I open my mouth, I blame my parents for not taking me to a pantomime when I was younger, this is where British children learn the art of looking behind them. I managed to leave the pub in one piece so either the waitress never heard my comment or Chris the Barman was very pleased to hear it, I shall never know.
We took our first walk across the beach. It has sand and pebbles and rocks and just about any manner of things that I could trip or slide on, in short, looked good from a distance but close up … well, it will not get a blue flag of excellence from me.
For the remainder of the evening we played games and chatted and consumed even more booze before retiring for the night to our little nurseries and private rabbit hutches. To say I slept badly was riding dangerously close to understatement. I tossed much of the night, and not in a fun way either. I needed the loo but navigating my way out of the top bunk in the dark did not provoke images I would care to be photographed. Someone in the room was snoring, not a terrible snore just a low nasal murmur. I have had worse nights sleep but normally they are a lot more fun than this!
Totally non refreshed I emerged the following morning to a gathering of fellow Hostellers. It seemed that the best laid plans of what to do that day were quickly being rewritten and replaced with new ones. A group headed off for a distant castle or two, another for a walk and our group for a following the leader amble around the point. We discovered a 16th century salt house, (it was actually made of brick but salt was extracted there), which had been somewhat spoilt by some stainless steel railing no doubt put in place to protect the local authority from being sued by anyone stupid enough to accidentally fall over the edge of a very obvious wall. Of course, if the water in the reservoirs were still rich in salt, in theory they would have floated so no problem. After deciding this place was really rather dull we headed off to take a look at a nearby cave at Culver Hole which had been thoughtfully bricked up some years ago to provide a home for pigeons. Of course, that may just be a myth; the official story is that it was a man-made cave, possibly associated with the long-vanished Port Eynon castle, it appears to have served as a smugglers’ den, armoury and dovecot, and there is supposed to be a lost secret passage under the headland to the Salt House. I think I prefer the pigeon theory. We risked life and limb to see this wonder so I feel entitled to believe whatever I want.
Suitably proud of ourselves for doing such a daring deed, we returned to the accommodation and pondered the rest of our day.
Two of our number had decided to traverse the walk from Port Eynon to Rhossilli some nine miles away. It felt wrong to leave them to do it alone but that feeling soon passed and we decided to drive to Rhossilli instead and walk to Worm’s Head. Now, Worm’s Head is just where this part of Wales’s runs out of Land and for 5 hours a day it regains a little more because a causeway appears to some nearby islands. There is no better reason to walk this particular bit of the country than that, just because for much of the time it is impossible! Well, it has to be said; even at low tide it is not a million miles off impossible, stupid, foolhardy, rash, mistaken, daft and down right idiotic all come to mind as reasonable descriptions for the journey. All in all though, it was really quite fun and very rewarding. I am aching like hell now with the strain of it all but I think, as a one off, never to be repeated excursion, it was fun.
The evening saw us return to the Ship Inn, yes, it was that good. Well, no, it wasn’t but it was the only place that seemed to stay open so late and everyone with us could have a drink as they were not driving!
We retired to the Lifeboat hut again, drank some more then I had an early night which proved to be a waste of time seeing as I had an even worse night of not sleeping. I was so awake I actually did get up and use the toilet and without falling or hitting my head. Despite lack of sleep, I was still up at 7:30am!
Suitably fed and watered, washed and smelling fresh we packed our things and bid a fond farewell to those friends that were anywhere to be seen and headed off easterly to England and Home.