Thirty three years ago whilst on a school geography field study trip in North Wales I was taken, along with my fellow class mates, to look at a sea cove on the Welsh coast. I have long since forgotten the geomorphological point of this exercise but I distinctly remember how the grandeur of the scene impressed me enough to want to return - I never did.
Last month, therefore, after one third of a century I took it in my head to do so, though I now had the problem of no longer remembering precisely where the cove was located, beyond knowing it was somewhere on the Llyn peninsula. My idea was go on a walking tour searching for it.
On a fine sunny Saturday April morning, I boarded a train in Shrewsbury that would take me to Pwllheli. As the crow flies the distance twixt these towns is only 75 miles, but the train travels so slowly, stops so often and takes such a circuitous route it took almost three and a half hours to get there. It must be the slowest rail journey in Britain. After arriving in Pwllheli I walked along the coast to Abersoch where, as night was falling, I sought out a B & B.
I hit on an establishment run by a white-haired lady called Mrs. Davies. Before showing me my room Mrs. Davies asked me to sign the visitors' book. I've known some proprietors who've been keen to be paid in advance but in Mrs. Davies' case it was merely my signature she wanted for, as she pointed out, the book had now served her 31 years. She showed me the first page and the initial year 1967. Four months of 1998 were almost gone, yet I was only the fifth person this year to sign Mrs. Davies' book. At that rate of usage, even though it had only a few blank pages left, the book might yet see Mrs. Davies through to the next millennium. I had the distinct feeling once it was full Mrs Davies would feel able to retire - hence her keenness to see me sign it. Mrs. Davies, despite her Welsh surname and distinct Welsh accent, was actually English.
Leaving Abersoch the next morning it began spitting with rain; the weather forecast promised worse to come. I headed westwards. Approaching midday the idea of spending an hour in a pub appealed. I looked at the map. The nearest village was a place called Botwnnog but there was no indication on the map that it had a pub, there was no point in diverting my steps there if it hadn't. Just to confirm its lack of a pub I asked a farmer I met if that was the case: and this is how I came to end up in a caravan.
The farmer confirmed Botwnnog's publess condition and then asked if I was camping as he owned a small campsite. No, I told him though I did have a sleeping bag with me if he was wondering why my rucksack was so bulky. Well in that case I might like to use a small caravan he had pitched on the site. He would give me a lift if I wanted. I looked at the ominous clouds, thought of all the rain that was promised, and accepted. Had Botwnnog been possessed of a pub it never would have happened.
The camping field was the very last field on the peninsula there was nothing beyond it but a few hundred yards of wild heath and then the open sea. The site was bare of facilities other than a single corrugated iron privy, that looked like a sentry box, and a single stand pipe. No one else was using the field. I would be there in splendid isolation. I could live the life of a hermit - perfect. I stayed in the caravan a total of four nights.
It was wonderfully bright and cheerful when the sun was shining but this, alas, only happened on the Monday, thereafter it rained. I was constantly aware of the rain drumming on the caravan's roof. Each day I walked into the nearby village of Aberdaron.
There were two pubs in the village. I preferred the poshest of the two, Ty Neuydd - New House, as it overlooked the sea. It was run by a Mrs. Jones but like Mrs. Davies, Mrs. Jones was not Welsh; she was from Tipperary and had quite a distinct Irish brogue. The young barmaid was from Cambridgeshire but at least the waitress was Welsh, or so I thought initially; her accent was somewhat unusual: she turned out to be Polish.
On my last day in the area I checked out a cove called Porth Oer. I couldn't be a hundred percent sure, maybe only fifty percent, but I think this was the cove I had visited all those years ago. It was striking but I had seen its equal and better a hundred times since; why had I remembered it? No doubt because it was the first exciting coastline I ever saw, having only seen the sea at Yarmouth and Margate till then, where the coastline is very dull.
Porth Oer is also called `Whistling Sands'. `Kick the sand and you'll hear it whistle,' I was told. I scuffed it a few times with my boot and it gave a sort of squeak. Maybe it was too wet.
I was wet, the rain was pouring down. It was still raining when I got the bus the next day to travel back to Pwllheli to catch that slow train back to Salop. It rained all the way.