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|Wales - October 2000|
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03/10 - continued . . . We made our way
back up to the gravel crossroads and then the road up by the head
of the valley. We stopped to unlock the hubs and sort stuff out
and they all decided that it was time to head for a pub. One or
the other of the two that sat right next door to each other just
off the main road in Talybont.
Chris produced a container of water and started trying to remove the worst of the layers of mud that were hanging off all sides of the Lada. I suggested to Martin that since we were going to be leaving the Land Rover parked up outside a pub we should roll down the tarpaulin and close up the back. We both got out and I tried to help and tie it down on my side. I'd gone to great pains to try and learn the particular sequence that was involved in hooking up all the ties and fastenings and making sure it was folded over in just the way Martin liked so that the rain didn't get in. Martin complained at the way I was doing it because just this time he had decided to do it differently and it needed to be done just so. Typical! Feeling useless and annoyed and tired of being told what to do, like a sulking child, without a word I left him to it and went and sat back in the Land Rover. Chris had decided to tidy up before he returned to civilisation and started to remove the overalls he was wearing over his clothes. I couldn't help but laugh. He was determined to do it without having to remove his shoes. His shoes were almost bigger than the legs of the overalls and it was hilarious to watch him struggling to pull them over one foot as they got stuck and he started to lose his balance and fall this way and that. He got one foot free and started hopping about and losing his balance on the other. Sue leapt out and ran round the car to assist and ended up looking as though she was bowed, kissing her master's feet. From the look on their stern embarrassed faces I don't think they appreciated my laughing much, but I just couldn't stop myself. Lots.
We headed off back down the narrow valley road and soon left the views behind as I busied myself trying to tidy up my hair and look at least a little less like a wild muddy mountain man of the woods.
Martin came to the conclusion that if he was going to have a drink it would go straight to his head so he demanded that I hold out the sandwich box as he drove. Without a complaint I duly did so only to find that he was going to finish his cigarette first, so there I sat obediently holding out the box until at his leisure he helped himself to his sandwiches. Grrrrrrrr!
We parked up next to the small green that lay in front of the pubs. Right next door to each other there was the White Lion and the Black Lion. Half joking I asked how we were going to decide which one to go in. No one seemed to be able to make a decision so I chose the closest and walked into the Black Lion with the rest following behind. Wanting to show willing and not appear as uptight about money as I really am I went to the bar and ordered a drink for us all. Not being a drinking person at the best of times and feeling already rather tired I decided to steer clear of the pints of beer that Martin and Sue were having and had a nice soft pint of orange squash as Chris a non drinker had his coke. The pub was warm, quiet and almost empty as we sat at a table and we all began to feel very tired. There was a little small talk and inevitably the conversation got around to RUPPs and the possibility of how they may all be re-designated footpaths and how wrong this was because they had every right to enjoy their off roading sport.
Unfortunately because of all the silent debate I'd had with myself on the subject earlier I couldn't help but express my opinion that on balance I felt that it WAS right to stop vehicles from inevitably damaging the countryside. This went down like a lead balloon amongst the 'petrol heads' and I quickly had to defuse the argument that was about to erupt. Close one!
All fighting off sleep in the warmth of the pub they all discussed what to do next. I of course simply agreed to go along with whatever it was they wanted since I really had no choice. At length it was agreed that we would head for the long sandy beach at Borth and play in the sand. With the vehicles of course.
As we drove along the roads and across the vast flatness of the land around Borth we were made aware of how really windy it was. At least I think it was the wind and not the beer. The Land Rover veered this way and that as Martin seemed to be struggling with it against the unseen force that wanted us to park up in a hedge. Down the deserted beachfront road we drove, past the expensive looking houses with the views of only golf course and dunes. Past the rows of empty mobile homes, one of which some long gone crashing car had smashed into and which the wind was doing it's best to finish off. At the end of the road we carried on, out onto the sand at a steady pace doing circles and swoops in and out as we went. The wind was picking up the sand and blowing it in long waves and ripples across and along in front of us, veiling the ground beneath and making it look as though we were strange ships afloat on a sea of sand. With the two vehicles driving far out beyond the wooden posts that marked the end of the safe parking area, and ploughing through the sand storm, we looked just like extras in some old world war two desert rats movie. We parked up for a while near the breaking waves, got out, and braced against the biting wind, poked and prodded amongst the sand and shells to see what there was to see as Tucker ate some sea. The sun beginning to lower in the sky shone through between heavy golden clouds and played on the glistening waves far out to sea. It was once again spectacular.
Chris and Sue suggested that we should visit the pub that we had used when down this way before, that had offered a relaxed atmosphere and a pretty good menu. Off we headed back down the beachfront and drove amongst the buildings further down looking for a parking space. It was all pretty full and we ended up parking quite a distance from the pub. We left Tucker in the car and all wrapped up against the wind, walked all the way back to the Queen Vic. It was shut. Typical. Not quite knowing what to do about it we wandered aimlessly around through an alleyway to the back of the pub and a small patio area sat just above the long sand and shingle beach. The wind blew fiercely in our faces as we looked at the mass of fishermen that lined the beach. As far as the eye could see in every direction there were cold huddled figures. From each one, great tall rods rose up, all angled seawards, straining against the thick nylon lines that disappeared into the waves as the wind blew against them. It occurred to me that such was the wind and the waves it was pretty likely at the far end of the beach high and dry up on the sand there was a great big pile of lines and baits and woe betide anyone who decided to reel his in. He'd end up with a big pile of fishermen, rods, lines and bait at his feet!
We walked all the way back to the cars which were actually parked near another pub and decided to waste some time in there, although we knew from experience that the atmosphere in this one was 'lacking' if not downright unpleasant. I'm sure she didn't mean to be, but the barmaid here we remembered well from the year before and she was borderline rude. With someone else buying the same round as last time we sat at a table in the corner of the empty dining area and wasted time until seven o'clock when we imagined the other pub would be open.
The drab atmosphere of the place was perhaps catching and we all sat rather subdued and forced a little small talk as Chris swallowed his painkillers trying to ease the neck pain he was suffering as a result of some old serious bike accident.
As we chatted I remarked how I felt I was a little different to Chris and Martin in that I preferred the natural unspoilt beauty of things up on the hills and was probably more of a walker at heart whereas they seemed to prefer roaring across them in their cars and were more fascinated by any man made piece of machinery that we might stumble across. Chris seemed irritated with this unexpected offering and asked, if that was how I felt why I had come away with them! I'm sure he didn't mean to offend but the way in which he'd said it rather upset oversensitive little me and I made the mistake of trying to explain. How it was wonderful to be up in the places we would go and to see the things we saw and how I was grateful for the opportunity to see such things and that without them I probably never would. BUT, despite all of this I considered it impossible to deny that the vehicles caused considerable damage and spoilt things for walkers and the like. My comments seemed to fall on as rocky a ground as I reasoned was made by their vehicles. It seemed quite clear to me just then, that this would likely be the last time I would go off roading with them.
At seven o'clock we left the pub and walked all the way along once again to the Queen Vic. It had just opened and we were the only ones there. We all ordered food and another drink and sat at a table in the corner opposite the satellite TV. Unfortunately I didn't fight hard enough to get to the table first and horror of horrors I ended up sat with my back to the rest of the pub and worse, with my back to the television! As the rest sat and watched whatever was going on behind me, occasionally commenting on interesting programs, I tried to relieve my boredom by studiously examining the wallpaper and paintings adorning the wall I was facing. How many times I've done that in how many pubs! I really don't know why people find going to the pub so enjoyable.
One by one we ended up making visits to the WC that was nearby to freshen up and try and clean some of the grime from our hands before eating. What on earth the owner did with the old-fashioned fabric roller hand-towel once we'd all finished I don't know, other than perhaps throw it away. It was black! And then of course there was the condom machine in the corner of the WC that was full, so the graffiti said, of leak-flavoured condoms!
The food took ages. It really did seem possible that my joke that the Swiss student who had turned up on a motorbike just after we had, who I'd overheard being interviewed for a job by the barman, really was being interviewed for the chef's post! At last we were brought our food and it really was worth the wait. For four pounds fifty I was presented with a huge plate of chips and peas with an amazingly generous pile of what was allegedly local ham. It was absolutely delicious and, despite the fact that full of pints of orange squash I was starting to feel really rather unwell, I managed to finish the lot.
With a very full stomach and in the warmth of the pub it was agony trying to stay awake. To my disappointment Chris and Sue decided to order up a desert and we began another long wait before it would arrive. I so, SO wanted to leave and go back to the bungalow and collapse in a comfy chair. It had been a long day and I'd had enough of it, but of course I had no say in the matter. As luck would have it Martin was evidently feeling the same and much to my obvious relief suggested that we would go back and leave the others to come back in their own time. Oh thank goodness!
To me, the drive back was very scary. It was dark. We were tired. Martin had drunk a couple of beers or so. The wind was blowing us all over the place. A crew were removing a broken tree in a hedge alongside the road. Debris and leaves and bits of trees lay all over all the roads and it seemed as though around every bend we could have been faced with a fallen tree in our path. I felt we were going far too fast and just in case he was doing that out of bravado on my account I assured him that he should go as slowly as he liked to be safe. Any slower than the sedate thirty miles an hour we were apparently already doing would have been dangerously silly so we carried on safely as we were. We were home by just after nine o'clock and soon sat all cleaned up and relaxing in front of the television as the wind howled across the chimney and moved the drawn curtains at the windows. It was a very blustery night and I'm sure it was more blustery than usual even for those parts. I wondered how much electricity the windmill like turbines on the hills made that night.
Sue and Chris were back an hour or so later and went almost straight to bed although that may have been because I was hogging the TV and watching 'my' sort of programs. Not a four-wheel drive car in sight. Martin couldn't stand it either and was soon gone to bed as well, leaving me to my nightly ritual of winding down, alone.
I didn't last long and feeling very tired by about eleven o'clock I too crept into bed. Oh no! Martin was snoring again and I suspected he had discovered I'd turned the radiator off and had put it back on. It was awfully hot and dry and my nose was all bunged up from too many nervous cigarettes in the pub, and I could hardly breath. Just another night then! Eventually I fell asleep.
04/10 - I soon woke up again and was forced to get up and take a moment to regret having had so much orange squash. Tossing and turning and sweating I got back to sleep.
What on earth!!!! I was soon wide-awake again listening to Martin's conversation. He was fast asleep but having a mumbled conversation with someone. I guessed it was Chris. All I could make out in the mumbling was "it's only a suggestion." This was a phrase he had used many times up in the hills when discussing what we might do next. As soon as I'd caught these words there followed a rather frightening amount of thrashing around as though in his dream the suggestion was being acted upon. Fascinating. He's still off roading when he's asleep! The thrashing about abated and the snoring recommenced. In stereo! Through the wall, through the fitted cupboard I could hear Chris snoring too! I didn't sleep much and finally gave up and got up at about eight thirty in need of coffee and cigarettes. There were breaks in the cloud, the sun was playing on the hilltops, the RAF jets were playing below the hilltops and there was much less wind. I sat around, had some breakfast muesli, watched the birds and generally relaxed for a couple of hours. Eventually Martin got up and after a swift good morning was off talking about Land Rovers. Such passion! I was almost jealous.
It had been decided the day before that today we were all going to go and have a look at the nearby Centre for Alternative Technology. Sues job had some loose connection with the place and she was eager to go check it out. I was very much less eager especially when phone calls enquiring had confirmed the six pounds fifty entrance fee!! Nevertheless once again I really had to go along with the majority unless I wanted to spend the day alone in the bungalow. It didn't seem to me that would have been right so I changed into my tidy clothes and dirty white comfortable shoes. Chris and Sue were slow getting up so I had plenty of time to leisurely make up some sandwiches and flasks.
Martin had spotted a more scenic route on the map along the river that we could have used to get to the C.A.T. but this time Chris was leading the way and before we could mention it he had sped off along the usual route towards Machynlleth. As we approached the high street it was chaotically full of people and hustle and bustle and bottlenecked traffic. It was market day. All along both sides of the street stalls had been set up and people were thronging from homes and farmsteads all around to buy whatever it was that only this one day would allow. Martin and I discussed stopping to look but there was nowhere to park and Chris was carrying on. Turning right at the A487 and down over the river Dyfi we followed the signs and made our way up the valley only a few kilometres before turning right into the C.A.T. car park. Perched high up on the hill above us was an impressive large wooden structure that Chris and I agreed made us think of Hitler's mountain retreat in the Austrian Alps.
We left Tucker safely in the Lada and made our way to the ticket office at the bottom of the cliff. As we paid our entrance fee Tucker confirmed he was settling down and getting comfortable by tooting the horn a couple of times. At the last moment we decided to take our sandwiches and flasks so Martin rushed back to the car to get my rucksack and on his return I popped it on my back and carried it with us. That was a mistake. I'd left my thick heavy waterproofs in the rucksack and by the time we'd finished walking around I was hot and aching from the uncomfortable weight. It was however very nice to stop at a table in the sun later on and have our food and coffee. Less weight.
We all crammed into the narrow seats at the front, or rather the back as it went up, of the water powered railway carriage that was to take us up the cliff to the entrance. With a slight swish and gurgle of water it gently began to rise up the cliff. It really was quite a high cliff and gave a good view of the valley below and hills in the distance beyond and I rather felt sorry for Sue who must have been going through it somewhat with her fear of heights. Slowing gently and then with hardly a bump, the carriage came to a stop at the impressive upper station that was the 'Hitler' lookout we'd seen from the car park. The whole building was made out of huge great timbers and a wide wooden deck surrounded by wooden railings was perched on the edge affording a straight down view to the lower station, the car park and beyond. Immediately in front of the upper station was a large lake full of big carp with a connection to a small pond from where the water was taken to power the carriage we had come up in. Armed with our leaflet guides we set off on the circular walk through all the hands-on exhibits. It was most definitely interesting but me being me, I felt uneasy about the whole thing. I can't quite put my finger on why but is something along the lines that I suspected rightly or wrongly that it was too much of a moneymaking business despite its charity status. All the exhibits were certainly food for thought about how modern day energy requirements and way of life could be done differently with less harm to the environment and all that, but it also smacked a little too much of a theme park in places. As a school kid for sowing the seeds of how things should be done and how badly they are done I suppose it would have been excellent. Indeed herds of school children were rampaging all over the place trying to answer the questions on their field trip questionnaires. As an adult who lives in a city and is trapped inescapably into that wasteful, consumerist, polluting way of life it was difficult to imagine what sort of change in lifestyle the place could really achieve in it's visitors.
I can't put my finger on it. The place just wasn't really for me, but I guess I knew that before I got there or did soon after I had to hand over six pounds fifty. That isn't to say that one or two exhibits weren't rather interesting and did make an impact. There was the one that looked like an old farm water pumping windmill with a seat attached to a crank instead of whatever normal mechanism may have existed. As the wind blew, the sails went round, the crank cranked and the seat went up and down to show the power of the wind. I admit I am underweight but it was surprising to feel how easily it was able to lift me up and down. It was certainly rather relaxing but I don't think my neighbours would have stood idly by if I tried to build one in my small back yard. Martin has a little bit more weight and with the both of us on the seat it came very close to grinding to a halt before we hurriedly got off lest something should embarrassingly break under the strain. Then there was the exhibit to show how the sun could heat domestic water. Perhaps it wouldn't have been as impressive if the sun hadn't been making an appearance but luckily it had. Four pieces of metal were place in full view of the sun. One was painted white, one black, one black with insulation behind and the last, black with insulation behind and transparent insulation in front. The idea was that you walk along and touch each in turn and feel the difference in rising temperature. It was truly remarkable how much difference there was not least of all between the black and white. I wondered if I was feeling so hot because I was wearing all black rather than because of the heavy rucksack I was carrying. As part of the same exhibit there was a complete supplemental solar water heating system that had been made out of old domestic radiators. I am embarrassed to admit that I now find it very difficult to walk past the lane near my house where someone has dumped an old radiator without having fantasies about painting it black and putting it on the roof of the house! I'm resisting because I don't think the rotten old timbers that hold up the tiles on my roof could possibly resist the extra weight, and having to replace the roof would hardly be an environmentally friendly cost saving enterprise. Anyway what would the neighbours think!
Every exhibit gave details of an associated information leaflet that was available from the bookshop. The bookshop was rather impressive. Full of all kinds of books and more like a small well stocked library. And in between the books were all sorts of goodies from miniature windmills for the garden to wind up radios, solar cells and associated electrical components, but everything was very highly priced including all the leaflets! Martin was well into the swing of things and was thinking of buying a fancy decorative windmill for his garden but didn't in the end, perhaps because of the incredulous look on my face when he told me. He was definitely going to build a water system out of radiators though. The roof on his house faces just the right way. He bought the leaflet. I couldn't resist having a jolly good read through it myself later in the day . . . since I had nothing else to read and he'd bought it anyway you understand.
By the time we left I was ready to leave, but fully intended to have a look at the C.A.T. website when I got back home to my computer. It HAD been interesting. ( http://www.cat.org.uk )
We set off back to Machynlleth with the agreed intention of stopping and having a look around at the market stalls and the shops.
A short way down the road off to our left I spotted a river, perhaps the Dulas, meandering through the lush green fields glinting in the sunlight. And there on one bend was a large shingle bank stretching out into the water and along its course like a wonderful sun bleached beach. In the field on the opposite bank was a large family sized tepee, of the type made by a company just outside of Machynlleth, with young children playing on the grass nearby. In the warmth and the sun it looked peaceful, unspoilt and idyllic and I pondered how such a life was possible and dreamed of how it might feel to wake in the morning and wash in the river and make a fire to cook some food. As always it does, my mind drew me back to the realities of such an existence in the rain and the snow of winter and the inevitable unanswered question that always convinces me such a life is not for me. Where do they go to the toilet?!!
Back through the busy high street of Machynlleth there was nowhere else to park so we pulled into the Co-Op car park and found some spaces. Leaving the vehicles behind we all set off up the high street. Most of the stalls were already packing up making ready to leave but there were still enough left to be worth a look. Sue, tempted by a display of ornate metal candle holders and enormous fat triple wicked candles, decided to buy a couple as a present for someone she knew and was soon lumbered carrying a very heavy carrier bag.
I can't quite say why. Perhaps it's a guy thing, but the army surplus stall just up the road attracted us guys like a magnet. We spent quite some time there walking around and poking and prodding through just about everything from boots to hats. The urge to buy something was strong with me but I really couldn't find anything that was different or a sufficient improvement on what I already so I resisted. Chris however just had to buy one of the black nylon 'puffa' jackets and did so after a little unsuccessful bartering for around thirty pounds. He wore it away and comparing it with the one I was wearing as we walked down the street as if in uniform, it really was very much better quality. I was gripped with the desire to rush back and buy myself a spare for future use but resisted, just. Of course when it was too late to do so I wished I had. We wandered aimlessly around and eventually ended up in a book shop and all stood looking at ordinance survey maps and pointing out the ones that would best show off-road routes. With little to offer to the conversation I sneaked back out of the shop and quickly crossed the road and headed around the corner to a 'second hand' shop that I'd spotted as we'd driven past several times. It was still open and I wandered around looking at whatever was there. What was there was definitely not good. Definitely very second hand. It seemed that people in these parts made full use of what they had and when they'd done with it, it really wasn't much use, and in my opinion certainly not worth what they were asking. How strangely a second hand shop can be a barometer of the wealth and living standards of the people of an area. This was not a wealthy area.
As I left the shop a large green lorry pulling a huge trailer was caught in the traffic and inching noisily, slowly by. The trailer had at least three tiers with open slats along each and from these slats the sheep looked out in fear. It was a horrible sight. Behind the fearful faces you could see many more all cramped together in the darkness and baaaa-ing pitifully. It was horribly unsettling to think that with my vegetarian phase at an end I was liable to meet one of these, sometime soon at my local kebab shop. I had to face the fact that they were enduring this torture because of me. I forced myself to accept my part and stand and watch as the lorry agonisingly slowly made its way through the traffic and shoppers. I hoped that they would suffer little and that their journey would be swiftly done.
Eventually Martin spotted me leaning against a metal handrail and crossed the road to join me. Chris and Sue on the way over the road to another shop found us and said they wouldn't be long and asked if we'd keep an eye on the heavy carrier which Sue hung on the handrail. The lorry full of sheep came back up the road from where it had gone, turned down the high street and battled it's way through the traffic. I kept my hand on the bag until I could see they were crossing the road to return and then picked up the bag to hand it back to them. It fell to the floor with an awful clang of the metal and a thud of the candle wax right in front of them. I felt awful. I felt the bag. As far as I could tell everything was still intact but I didn't dare look and handed it over apologising. I don't think Sue dared look either. I think it was ok.
We made our way in and out of a couple more shops before making our way slowly back to the cars. I couldn't resist stopping at one window that caught my eye but the rest seemed to have no interest at all and I had to all too hurriedly scan what was there before rushing to catch up. There was hardly a property for sale in that estate agents window that I couldn't have bought if I'd sold everything I own. I live in a sad little run down, two bedroom terrace in a none too nice part of Bristol but according to that window I could have more or less swapped it for a in need of improvement, four bedroom detached house with large gardens, out in the hills five miles from Machynlleth. I pretty much live in solitude in the flat, drab, greyness of the city. Such a move is a great temptation to me. In the reflection of the window I watched cringing as the lorry full of sheep went by going back down the high street. Was he lost? So much for a quick end to suffering!
We walked back to the Co-Op and were soon back on the road and heading for the bungalow.
Martin cooked a splendid fry up, we ate and I washed up and vacated the kitchen to allow Sue to do the same. Everyone seemed pretty lazy and I was relieved when it was finally agreed that they couldn't be bothered to go out to a pub. I relaxed in my chair and turned off in front of the television, as only I seem to be able to do. With ever active minds Martin read his C.A.T. leaflets, Chris read his great big thick paperback book that he'd started and almost finished since we'd been there and Sue chose another book from the large, full bookcase next to the sofa and all of this at the same time as watching television. It was a pleasant relaxing evening and Martin and I ended up having a small bottle of beer and chatting long after the others had gone early to bed. Somehow after having read his leaflets Martin had become an expert on solar power and wind turbines. I valiantly allowed him to impress me with his knowledge and details of how things could be built but got into a bit of an argument when discussing the inevitable energy losses involved in gearing. I freely admit to knowing very little about such things but it just seemed obvious and incontrovertible no matter which way you think about it that you lose energy through the friction of the cogs and the bearings and the like. Apparently no you don't! It was an amusing argument, if rather exasperating and we finally joked, "We'll agree to differ. No we wont!" in the words of an insecure bullying manager we had once shared at work. Somewhere near midnight we readied for our beds as torrential rain poured and lashed on the windows outside.
05/10 - I slept quite well but was woken earlier than I would have liked at about seven thirty by Martin gibbering loudly again in his sleep. I tried to make out what was being said but couldn't and soon gave up and crept outside dressed in my dirty clothes because today we were definitely off roading.
The sky looked heavy and low but there were some sunny spells so I went outside and dried the rain from the seat and sat in the damp cold air with a coffee and cigarettes. The clouds closed in and the rain began to pour so I retreated into the sitting room and watched the world happen from the windows. The rain poured and poured and the poor old horses and especially the scruffy old donkey stood next to the fence were drenched. To prevent the rain from filling them, his huge ears were laid flat against his head and he looked dejected and sad and more than a little like Eeyore. Flocks of birds with preened oiled feathers dry in the rain fluttered and fought over the nuts at the table. Hidden aircraft screeched and roared low overhead in the clouds and I marvelled how it was that they could see. I marvelled how it was that Sue could sleep amidst the noise. The noise of Chris still snoring audible two rooms away! It was a marvellous morning.
I made up sandwiches and flasks but it was a slow lazy morning and we weren't out of the bungalow much before midday. Sue and Chris needed to go to a bank and the chemist and rushed off ahead to stop at Machynlleth. Martin and I followed in the Land Rover at a more sedate pace as the rain poured down against the windscreen. Uh oh! The windscreen wiper in front of me was no longer working. They are old-fashioned wipers moved by a funny old electric motor bolted to the inside of the windscreen in front of you. There are two metal levers. One that turns them on and off, and the other that goes backwards and forwards in time with the wiper blade outside. They actually work quite well, when they work, and are always a source of amusement when you have to turn them off. You see they don't automatically stop in the right place like we've all got used to with modern cars. Maybe that is the real purpose of the second lever although Martin had told me to never touch it. You have to time it just right and allow for a bit of slack in the mechanism to get it to lie flat and not end up stopped right in the middle of the windscreen. Bit of an arcade game. A test of co-ordination and timing. Sadly the motor on my side had given up. Given the Land Rover had a character all of its own I was convinced that at any moment it would maybe start working again all on its own. Even though I was told to 'just leave it', occasionally over the course of the next couple of days when Martin wasn't looking I couldn't resist turning it back on just to check. I never saw it work again.
Eventually we got to Machynlleth, or at least I think it was Mahynlleth. It was a little difficult to tell with the rain lashing down and me nose pressed to the windscreen peering out through a blurring film of water and raindrops and mud. I very much prefer to see where I'm going especially when the inside of the vehicle is all heavy bare protruding steel and sheets of thick glass and there isn't a seat belt worth wearing.
We spotted the Lada, pulled over, and after a brief wait were once again heading through Talybont and along the narrow lane that lead up to the high valley with the views on the way to the old mine. Remarkably we got stuck in a traffic jam. A tractor was climbing slowly along the lane as fast as it could, holding up a car, a mail van, and us behind. Loaded down with a strange wire mesh box affixed to it's rear that contained a rather waggy tailed and excited sheep dog it really couldn't have gone much faster. Thankfully it at last turned off down a steep lane to the left that lead to a distant farm nestling at the bottom of the other side of the valley. As luck would have it the car driver lived in another distant farm down the same lane and the postman was delivering to both and they all turned off the road together. At last! Martin eagerly started to accelerate away around a corner only to find a huge lorry loaded high with recently cut trees filling the road and coming down towards us. How that lorry had made it all the way down the side of that hill on that narrow road with the huge drop on the right I will never know. The driver must have had nerves of steel. Wearing a steely expression he clearly couldn't reverse anywhere, so we did. Chris backed up out of the way and gave Martin enough room to back up and then they both pulled down the lane, in behind the postman who was just getting back into his van after having given a handful of mail to the car driver. As the lorry edged past, the farmer stopped and stood guard at his gate watching us, pretending to look at his mail and sporting his best neighbourhood watch posture. I longed to go and say hello and convince him we were nice people and put him at his ease in his isolated home but our rapid departure probably did so well enough.
Along the valley road we went up the familiar track to the gravel crossroads. Following the map we turned left and headed off up an overgrown little used route along through the trees. Little used it was perhaps better off for it and the going was relatively easy and in short time we were back to a forestry gravel road. Straight over we went into the black hole in the trees that was the path another off road route took through the denseness of the forest and which the map indicated would take us towards the reservoirs we had stopped at a day or so before. It felt like longer. It felt to me as though we had been away for a very long time. Time for me slows when there is much happening in it.
The trees here were very close and dense and dark. As we pushed our way through, the branches eerily scraped along the sides and roof of the Land Rover tarpaulin as though the trees were reaching out to push us back the way we'd come. We stopped briefly to force open the Land Rover doors against the branches and fully experience the atmosphere. The silence. The damp. The smell. The dark. One of these days I'm going to camp out overnight in such a place just to know what it's like, if I can find enough room beneath the trees to unroll a sleeping bag. One of these days. Maybe!
Chris announced that they hadn't been able to do what they needed to do at the bank in Machynlleth and they'd have to be in Aberystwyth before four thirty. That was a little disappointing in that we now had to watch the clock. Martin carried on leading the way bouncing, bumping and scraping through the trees.
Eventually the track brightened where the trees on the right had been felled, and sawn off stumps lay poking up out of the waterlogged marshy ground. Right in front of us the track disappeared into a huge outstretched puddle that demanded a closer look on foot. I tried my usual trick of breaking the dam and draining off the water but couldn't manage it so Martin pulled out a spade he had stowed behind the seats. He worked at the ground furiously for a good few minutes digging this way and that with beads of sweat starting to appear on his brow before the 'Tsunami' at last broke free. It was only then that we realised the track up ahead completely disappeared into boggy ground and there was no way we were going any further anyway. Reverse all the way back the way we'd come through the trees or try and turn round here where there was a little more room were the only options.
Chris was the first to have a go. With the engine roaring and wheels spinning he forced the Lada out of the deep ruts and backwards straight up the tree-lined bank as far up as it would go until he was indeed stopped by gently hitting a tree. He then forced it forward down over the track as far as he could without launching off into the bog or hitting a half hidden tree stump. Reversing again he backed up to the trees and although it wasn't exactly a perfect three point turn, it wasn't far off. The trouble started as he came back down over the track. The front wheels went firmly into the deep ruts and bogged down. As he roared the engine and lurched backwards and forwards and tried to climb his way out, the wheels bit into the mud and slipped and gripped and slipped again and an awful noise started up. The front wheels seemed to judder and intermittently lose momentum as an agonising crunching, creaking noise came from somewhere under the vehicle. I'm no mechanic but it sounded terminal to me. Just like the sort of sound you'd get tearing lots of metal teeth off some large cog deep in a gearbox. I was convinced that was the end of play. Amazingly he kept going and got the Lada turned round and back on the track and heading quickly off back through the trees up to the gravel forestry track as Martin turned the Land Rover round in a similar way.
Back at the track Chris was waiting still sat in the Lada. Martin got out to see if he wanted to investigate the problem but Chris said whatever it was he would just keep going 'until the thing breaks'!! He understandably didn't seem at all happy and Sue was rather silent and subdued as well. The atmosphere in the Lada seemed to be getting a bit tense maybe. Couples!
Off we went again on the easy gravel tracks and ended up passing the little signposts and stopping at the gate. Yippee! We were heading for the Anglers Retreat.
It was of course something of a disappointment. It was very nice scenery up near the reservoir and would no doubt be lovely as an angler's retreat but the rundown building made the whole place look rather shabby. Martin had been right after all. There was nothing much down there. We didn't even stop and drove straight past it, down a track and up into the trees for some more off-roading sport. Every foot we climbed through the mud and over boulders and rocks I was convinced was going to be the last for the Lada, but it seemed quite ok and we carried on as usual. Back up onto the forestry tracks we once more headed for the gravel crossroads and this time took the one branch that we hadn't yet done. Off we went again over rocks and through mud and puddles and streams, winding our way past the foundations of some old shepherds cottage as we made our way across country back up to the road. We turned left heading away from the direction of the spectacular valley and sought out another track that was on the map. Turning left off the road we headed off into the trees, down through a stream and were then confronted by a steep, bare-rock slope at a nasty angle with trees on both sides. I hung on for grim death as Martin slowly drove the Land Rover sure footedly up the slope with hardly a slip. Chris wasn't having so much luck. There was lots of noise and lots of slipping and he just wasn't climbing up it. With the Land Rover secure on less of a slope we got out to watch as Chris had another go. That wasn't right. The front wheels were not being driven. We called a halt to his attempts and told him what we had seen. He got out leaving the engine running to have a look underneath. As the engine idled a horrible metallic squeak could be heard. With a mechanics eye Chris immediately spotted the problem. It was the drive shaft to the front wheels. Apparently when Chris had built the car the length of the shaft had needed to be altered and extended and this had been done, as is usually the way, by fitting the shaft into an extending sleeve. The fit was necessarily tight so that friction would play a part in holding them together to a degree, but a weld had also been made at the join to solidify the two and make it unbreakable. The weld had broken. The shaft was spinning in the sleeve and it was this that was making the horrible squeaking. No power was reaching the front wheels at all. It was now only a two-wheel drive at the rear. No wonder it couldn't climb the slope. Chris was annoyed since it hadn't be he who had done the poor weld that had failed but he was quite happy in the knowledge that given a welding kit he could fix it in no time. We needed to find a garage with some equipment. We stopped very briefly for a coffee as a storm of huge hail stones suddenly crashed to the ground all around. The towrope was hitched up and with the rear wheels of the Lada fighting for grip and smoking in spectacular fashion, the Land Rover pulled it swiftly up the rock face. With some relief we were quickly back onto gravel forestry tracks and we made our way back to the road and headed for the main road at Talybont and a garage Chris remembered from when he'd bought his brake fluid.
Not very far from the two lion public houses we all pulled onto the forecourt of the petrol station that also had a large well-equipped garage with a couple of car lifts. Chris disappeared inside to find someone to ask if he could make use of the facilities. He was soon directed back out and over to a nearby office building where apparently the boss would be found. In no time at all he was back in the Lada and driving it around the petrol pumps and straight into the empty bay up over the large inspection pit. Like the skilled mechanic he is, he quickly got to work and slid in the jack assemblies and had the Lada up in the air and everything positioned ready to be welded. He then raced across the workshop and grabbed the enormous welding kit that was connected to the large gas bottles and wheeled it over in reach of the inspection pit. There was nothing much any of the rest of us could do so we followed Martin's lead, out away from the petrol pumps, and stood just around the corner next to the main road and had a cigarette as Chris started welding. With our cigarettes finished I sauntered back over to the entrance to the workshop and making sure I didn't catch sight of the dangerously bright welding light, looked tentatively under the Lada to see whatever I could. All I could see of Chris, down there in the pit, was the bottom half of his blue overalls intermittently brightly highlighted as he did his welding with occasional glowing balls of weld splatter falling to the floor all around. What didn't seem quite right was the small bonfire of paper and debris that was burning on the floor next to him! Without wanting to draw too much attention to it I quietly called out to Chris that he was on fire. Removing his heavily tinted welding mask he spotted the problem and immediately set about stamping it out with some obvious embarrassment.
It's easily done. I remember the time when I was building a motorbike in my living room. I've got no garage you see, so there really was nowhere else I could possibly do it. So there I was in my living room wearing my welding mask with at least some of the carpet covered, welding up a bit of the bike. It was a fiddly little bit and quite difficult to do and I was concentrating like anything until I noticed a rather strange smell, uncharacteristic of the more usual welding smells. I couldn't see a thing so had to stop and put everything down and take off the mask. As I did so I was finally able to see that my slippers were on fire! The carpet still bears the scars of my excited dance.
Within fifteen minutes of driving in, Chris had made the repair, paid the boss the £5 he'd asked for, and we were driving out. Very painless.
Mindful of the time, we made our way into Aberystwyth before the banks shut. We parked up in the Safeway car park and waited there while Sue went off and did whatever it was that had to be done.
Right next to the car park was the railway station for the small steam trains that ran up the line to Devil's Bridge. The train was sat there, all shiny brass and hissing, and I couldn't resist walking over, jumping up on to a wall, leaning on the fence and watching. Martin came and joined me, as did some other small boys and girls! We all waited rather impatiently until it tooted and hissed and finally steamed away with its very small number of passengers some of whom even had whole carriages to themselves. My sort of train.
When Sue had returned we debated what to do next and Martin thought that we could drive along the dirt track that ran parallel with the beach we'd gone down on the second day we were here, adding of course "it's only a suggestion." We made our way there and drove along the track as the strong wind picked up surf from the rough foaming waves and blew it right across in front of us in layers of spray. The waves really were quite spectacularly rough. Huge billowing clouds raced across the sky as the sun danced between them, and out on the glittering, heaving sea, great looming shadows advanced toward land.
Chris couldn't resist having a go at the beach and drove off and found a way down on to the grey-black sand. Martin made preparations to follow but just as he was about to re-enact the D-day landings he spotted Chris making frantic gestures not to. It was far too soft and Chris had some little difficulty in getting back up to park next to us. We all got out and watched and threw sticks as Tucker played and ran around. He really is a handsome looking mutt and I couldn't resist trying to get at least one half-decent photo of him. Once again I knew my camera wasn't really up to the job but I had to give it a go. I grabbed the stick he was playing with and waving it above my head, backed away from the waves and crouched down aiming the camera with my other hand. Of course as soon as I crouched down he would run up and harass me for it barking, but after much waving of the stick and pretending to throw it, I finally got what I thought would be a good enough shot.Retreating from the cold wind we sat in the cars for a bit having a quiet cup of coffee and watching the ranks of waders, or whatever those birds were that were marching in unison across the beach. Over in the distance at the end of the beach being battered by the waves, the harbour wall stretched out into the sea with its strange green tower stuck up at the end that looked like a big pipe. Every now and again a big wave would rise up, and crashing on the wall would throw spray high into the air. This was too much of a temptation in our boredom and we drove up to take a look. The cars were left parked high up on the pebble ridge just next to the car park, separate . . . because they could.
Sue decided to sit this one out so 'the boys' headed out along the wall with the sea boiling white on both sides. The strange rusting pipe sticking straight up out of the wall at the end was larger than it had appeared and was in fact about four feet in diameter. Perhaps an old miniature beheaded lighthouse. Clinging to one side starting about six feet off the ground there was a metal rung ladder that went up to the top perhaps twenty feet above. Walking around and behind it to the exposed seaward side was frightening enough, as I remembered tales of freak waves sweeping people out to sea. But then Martin tempted me by saying if I climbed up the ladder he would take a photo of me. I was very tempted. So tempted I thought I'd give it a go. Reaching up as far as I could I managed to get a hand on the second rung up and pulling myself up and arching my body I tried to raise my foot up to the bottom rung. It didn't work and I hung there for a moment. Perhaps it was because I'm skinny and don't have much muscle but my strength just ebbed away from me hung there and I dropped back down. Probably more accurately it was because the wind was tearing at me, the sea was crashing and boiling all around, the spray was blowing up at me and frankly I was scared. I wanted the photo but if that was going to be the last photo anyone ever took of me I thought I should live without.
Just a little damper and cooler we headed back to the shelter of the vehicles.
It seemed only fair that we should head for the amusement arcade perched on the old rusting pier on the sea front, because Sue had somewhat of a penchant for playing the slots. We started up and set off on our way out of the car park but passing one of the parked cars was a frightening experience. What was frightening, or perhaps more accurately a little sad, was the face of an old woman in one of the cars. What she actually really looked like I can't imagine. Perhaps she had a little known medical condition the exact opposite of the elephant man and her face was devoid of all form and was just a flat blank with some holes! Whatever the reason she appeared to have painted on all her facial features with a pallet knife and oils! And let me tell you she was no artist. Scary! Sad.
We managed to find parking spaces, albeit some distance apart, and were all soon traipsing into the arcade. I thought it was absolutely AWFULL! Lots of flashing lights and noise and taking away of ones money. I hated it. I tried to get into the swing of things as the others wandered around playing on the games and feeding money into slots, I really did. I even dug deep into my pockets and pulled out all the small change that I thought I could afford to lose. Ok, ok so it was only four pence, but I lost it all the same! Try as I may I will never enjoy such places. I couldn't wait to get out and was unusually almost enthusiastic at the prospect of going into the bar next-door for a drink.
The bar ran along next to the amusement arcade on the pier and gave great views out over the waves along the sea front and up to the electric railway on Constitution Hill from it's many windows. We all sat on stools and peered silently out as we sipped our squash, coke and beers. Somehow there was something of an atmosphere and it seemed as though Chris and Sue had few words for each other. As we watched a man and his son playing dare-you with the waves on a small wooden jetty, and watched the crazy people walking the promenade in the blustery cold wearing thin cotton T-shirts, Chris said his neck was causing him great pain and he went to sit in his car. One thing always guaranteed to cheer Chris up and take his mind off such things is some off-roading. It seemed best to do some.
We headed out along the A44 through Capel Bangor and Goginan and turned up the road at Ponterwyd that we had taken on our second day, that was the scenic road past the Nant-y-moch reservoir. The road across the dam was still closed, so once again, this time with Chris behind, we made our way down onto the little bridge below. Martin was eager to get another photo but this time of both vehicles. As we stopped on the bridge the heavens opened. It poured and poured and was so heavy I wondered for a moment if the dam had sprung a leak just above us. Martin decided not to bother with the photo and we carried on up the narrow twisty track as I peered out of the side window. Such was the rain with the windscreen wiper not working, this was the only way I could see anything at all. We stopped very briefly for Martin to get out and run back and confirm that Chris was happy to head off-road along a track. As he did so I hastily took the opportunity to see if the windscreen wiper motor might be working now. It wasn't. I took an ice scraper and a rag from the shelf in front of me and attempted to at least clean a little of the mud off my part of the windscreen. At the same time since it was now almost impossible for either of us to see any sort of rear view, I wiped down the plastic window in the back of the tarpaulin and gave the mirrors a quick going over for good measure before hanging the wet rag on the warm dashboard metal to dry. Martin caught me in the act and was thankful for my efforts. That was until the rain eased and the water on the Land Rover evaporated to reveal that the net result of my efforts was a muddy smeary mess on both windows and mirrors that was probably worse than if I hadn't bothered. Ooops!
Chris, as we imagined he would, had cheered up now we were out to play. We followed the road around the reservoir until we headed off up the same track that Martin and I had been along before.
Excellent. Now . . where was it? Where was it? Around the next bend? There it was . . gone! The car that we had towed out of the puddle was gone without a trace. Now I had yet another thing to wonder about that car. How had they managed to get it out of there?!!!
We followed the same route that we had done before, except this time before we reached the forestry roads we played around a little, near an old quarry just off the track to the left. A steep, steep slope lead up to it which was oh so very tempting to both of them but really rather too dangerous for even Chris to try. There was however a simpler route around to the top which meant that they could have a go at going down the slope instead. Oh joy!!! Chris went first inching the Lada over the edge. I really didn't want to do this and sat rigidly in my seat holding on to the dash, white knuckled. As the Lada went over the edge and started slipping down the slope, I swear I saw both back wheels come off the ground, but he made it safely to the bottom. Once they were clear and out of the way it was our turn. As is always the way with such things it is the first little bit when you're going over the top that is the worst. I remember doing a sponsored abseil down the Clifton gorge in Bristol once. Hanging onto that rope and leaning out over the drop with trembling legs, and trying to keep on a smile for the photograph was terrifying. Once I was on the way down it was great fun to push off the rock face with my feet and swing out as far as I could and see how far I could drop down before putting on the rope brakes and gently swinging back in to put my feet back on the rock face. Like SWAT teams and all that. Great fun . . . once you'd got the first bit out of the way!
Once we were over the edge in the Land Rover it felt ok. Just rather steep until it wasn't any more. I thought that it would have made a great photo from beneath just as the Land Rover was going over the edge, so I managed to persuade Martin to do it all over again. He duly obliged but I suddenly realised that the only way to get the photo I had imagined, was to put myself in a position where I would actually end up underneath the wheels of the plummeting Land Rover. That didn't seem such a good idea, as it loomed large above me lining up for it's decent. Sadly the photo I did manage to get as I leapt out of the way turned out to be nothing more than a pointless silhouette. I have a large expensive collection of pointless silhouettes.
Racing around wherever it was conceivable that a vehicle could, we suddenly veered up another steep slope with a horrible drop into a pond to our left. The slope levelled off at the top and we plunged into virgin mud that had been made by some forestry bulldozer that had carved it's way straight through into the trees. The bulldozer hadn't gone far and was parked near the end of the track, so that was very soon the end of that.
Back to the roads and through the forest we drove, eventually once more negotiating the now familiar high narrow road around the spectacular valley that lead down to the A487 at Talybont. We headed straight back with the intention of briefly stopping off at the Co-Op for some bread and milk in Machynlleth, but the beer and orange squash was making it's mark and we were forced to take a slight detour to find the public conveniences. As we pulled up next to them we discovered that a small fair was set up on the open ground nearby. We did have a quick look as we drove back out, but it was almost deserted at that early hour and was really very small and didn't seem worth investigating further. Fair enough.
After another quick stop for our milk and bread we were very soon back at the bungalow. As I luxuriated in a hot chilblain free bath, Martin cooked up a concoction of potatoes in mayonnaise with a sausage or two. We didn't tell Chris but with our last bit of sausage, we came to an understanding with the plaintively drooling Tucker who's head could not be prised from the table cloth in any other way.
All washed up and cleared away we settled down in front of the television for the rest of the evening.
There was some talk about going to the pub but Chris and Martin unusually made it clear that would have to be after we'd watched television first. It was 'Top Gear' night. Cars and all that.
We lazed in front of the television and going to the pub seemed to end up like being too much trouble.
The local weather forecast for our last day of off-roading was sunny but that was more than could be said for the atmosphere in the bungalow. Chris and Sue seemed to be continuing their silent thing and Sue disappeared into their room rather early!
Exhaustion overcame me at some point and for once I was in bed and pretty much asleep before Martin retired some time later.
06/10 - I woke up early again at around seven o'clock. I opened the curtains in the sitting room to reveal a sparkling dew covered field, a cold clear sky with some pink fluffy clouds and the mist thick over the river in the valley below. I made a coffee and sat out on the seat in the cold. All around was the chirping of birds. The resident tiny, flighty, red-breasted robin eyed me from the fence before rushing around the corner perhaps to get a peanut or two. High up above and over the hill, the eerie call of a buzzard drifted down to my ear. Sheep could be heard baaa-ing in the mist-covered fields down by the river.
And then there was the most awful, frightening, agonised, screeching and screeching and screeching and silence! Something in the woods would see such mornings no more.
Time slipped by but no one else got up. I made the day's sandwiches up out of the way, and sat again outside as the sun began to play across the tops of the hills. This was too good an opportunity to miss.
I crept back into the bedroom and as quietly as I could so as not to wake Martin, I changed into my dirty off-roading clothes and crept back outside to put on my boots.
Around the back of the bungalow and over the style into the field, I climbed straight up over the soaking dew covered grass leaving a trail of footprints behind me. Up past the water trough and up through a gate. On up over another field scaring a small flock of sheep that acted as one and fled in all different directions. Climbing ever upwards and into yet another field. Stumbling over the deep muddy hoof marks from some absent heard of cows. Walking beneath the big old broad leafed trees startling unseen birds who noisily flapped away into the valley below. And on and on and up.
A wire fence barred my way. There was no sign of a gate. I didn't need one and standing on tiptoe managed to straddle and climb neatly over and into a small plantation of conifers. The ground here was steep, undulating and treacherous where the soil beneath the tall grass had been furrowed to take the plantings. I climbed carefully on wondering who would find whatever would remain of me if I were to break my leg there and fall down to die. Over another fence and finally there was nothing left to obstruct my way, save for an undulation and then the slope of the hill itself. It stretched out above me; short sheep-cropped grass and a scattering of bracken, dark in the shadow of the summit, criss-crossed by the tracks of the sheep. It was a steep climb and the best way to tackle it seemed to be to zigzag and follow the sheep tracks, because I'm not too bright a man and I was sure the sheep new more about hill walking than I did.
At last, at long last I rose up onto the top of the hill out of the shadows and into the warmth of the sunlight. My heart was pounding, I was coughing and spluttering, I was sweating inside my coat and woolly hat, my feet were cold and aching, but oh what a wonderful morning. What a wonderful view!
A little way off there was a small outcrop of rock that seemed to be the perfect place to stop and sit, so I stopped and sat. I sat there for quite a while and as my perspiration cooled I was warmed by the sun on my back. As I sat and watched, it gently rose higher in the sky, chasing off the shadows and mist from the valleys and glistening in the dew all around. Far off dogs barked from lonely farms with wisps of smoke rising from warming fires. Buzzards wheeled above distant hills. Birds flew about down below.
Need I say more? It was neat.
I would have stayed up there perhaps all day if I'd not felt guilty that everyone in the bungalow had probably now got up, and I was maybe delaying them from going out to play on their last full day.
With just a moment's pause to take a photograph of 'me' up on that hill, as best I could, I stood up and started off back down the way I'd climbed. It was really very tempting to run down the hill with arms outstretched singing 'The Hills Are Alive', but I thought I'd better not. After all, Julie Andrews wasn't on such a steep hill and certainly wasn't wearing combat boots, and what would the sheep have thought!!
Retracing my footsteps in the dewy grass, by the time I got back to the bungalow after having briefly stopped to take a photograph from up by the water trough, Martin was up but of course no one else was. I regretted having rushed back. I sat around and recovered from my exertion and eventually felt well enough to have a little breakfast. Embarrassed by the state of my mud and diesel covered handkerchiefs as I made use of one I commented as a defence what an awful state they were in. Martin was rightly disgusted I'm sure and commented that he always used tissues. I've never got on with tissues and despite the hygiene implications will forever use a handkerchief. Perhaps my nose is different in some way but I've never found a tissue that could stand up to the strain. Whenever I've tried to blow my nose in one it has immediately fallen apart and I've ended up with a handful of trouble. Martin helpfully suggested that I could wash them in the sink. Obvious really I suppose. It hadn't crossed my mind. With my collection of handkerchiefs all retrieved from various pockets, with scolding hot water from the tap and a few squirts of strong washing up liquid, I was soon doing my washing. It didn't take long before they were all spotless and not caring too much what anyone thought if they were to come into the kitchen just then, I draped them all over the red hot radiator to dry. So amazingly hot was the radiator that quite literally within seconds they were all bone dry and hidden away back in my pockets. The prospect of having a day without a constant film of diesel oil on my nose was a relief. I was ready to go, but the others still weren't up yet.
Martin took some time to crush up more of the peanuts and put them out on the bird table. We sat around with coffee and cigarettes and watched through the window, as the sparrows, robins, finches and tits couldn't believe their luck.
At last about eleven o'clock Chris appeared and informed us that Sue wouldn't be coming out to play with us today. Oh dear. To be honest I admired her and thought she had done remarkably well. I don't think I could have been the only girl to go away with three guys. Three guys who couldn't help but indulge in a bit of bonding schoolboy-humour and who had amongst them some very unpleasant personal habits and hygiene issues. To have had to sit in the Lada for hours on end all muddy, cold and wet and covered in Tucker's hair and pooh! To have been forced up steep hills and along nasty ridges with a fear of heights. To have been dragged forwards and backwards through the trees and mud. To have had to do all their cooking and washing up. To have to sleep through the snoring. And then to decided that whatever the peer pressure and whatever we thought, that enough was enough and today she would please herself. I could appreciate that.
With flasks made up and only Tucker in the Lada with Chris we set off through Machynlleth, over the river Dyfi and along the Dyfi Valley following the A493 until we reached the small village of Cwrt. Following the map we turned right just past a farmhouse through a gate, and started the steep rocky ascent up the off-road track that climbed up over the hills. Amazing sunny views revealed themselves all around as we climbed higher and higher. At one point the route we were taking was actually cut right through a huge piece of smooth rock. It was as though a channel big enough to get a vehicle through had been cut out of a piece of butter with a hot knife. The sides were all smooth and it was impossible to imagine how it had been done. It was narrow and on a curve and we agreed that Martin's long wheel base Land Rover if he had brought it, would not have managed to get through.
We bounced and bumped and ground and inched our way up over the track. I was free to look over the hills at all the views and up into the sky at all the buzzards and hawks flying round but I imagine that Martin saw little more than the rocky track ahead as he concentrated. Some of the route was to my eye quite impassable but as usual Martin and the Land Rover made light of it and just kept on going. There was one bit that crossed a stream and then rose sharply up, directly over a bare rocky outcrop. It looked impossible but I was starting to remember some of the views and realised that we'd been this route before, the previous year. I clung to the dash as we lurched and rolled and climbed slowly straight up over onto the muddy track above. Martin wanted to see some of the views, so we all pulled off the track and backed up onto some waterlogged grass to have a coffee break. I just had to climb back down and stand in the river and take a photo of the impressive, impossible looking climb we had just driven up, with the vehicles parked on the top as proof. Amazing.
The sunny views were amazing and far-reaching over the hills and the valley below. Bracken and sheep dotted the hill above and behind us as buzzards wheeled on thermals in the distance. I don't normally like to make people pose and smile for photos but this was going to be an exception. I clambered over the rocks and waterlogged ground until I found a spot that could just maybe do the scene justice and called out to Martin and Chris. SMILE PLEASE!
They seemed rather bashful and unwilling but eventually they slowly sauntered over next to their vehicles and struck their macho pose.
As I made my way back down to have some coffee and sandwiches the rocky outcrop I'd spotted further up the hill behind, intrigued me. With the rocks bright in the sunlight the contrasting darkness of a cave stood out. Fascinating. What secrets would that cave hold untouched by man on such a lonely hillside? It was a long, long way off but it would have been possible to climb over the fences, river, rocks and grass to reach it. Could I? Would I? I didn't want to hold the others up. It would have taken quite a time. I didn't. I couldn't keep my eyes off it, and dreamed of what I may have found as we got back on the track and carried on.
We passed a brightly clad mountain biker at some point and I was just amazed that someone could actually contemplate doing that route on a bike, let alone actually do it. Just incredible. He must have been a little crazy but I had a great deal of respect for him.
We carried on, following the long, long route over the hills and down through a beautiful steep sided lush green valley with sheep all around in the different gated fields. It doesn't seem quite right to call them fields when they are so barren and steep and just a small part of a vast hilly landscape, but I suppose the fences and gates divide them off as such. How it was, on some of the steeper hills someone had actually been able to set in wooden posts and string a wire between them straight up the side, was beyond me.
Gate after gate I leapt out and opened and closed. Passing some relics of forgotten farms and shepherd buildings down by a river, we eventually came to the end of the track and a road which lead down into the village of Rhud-yr-onnen. Following the roads we eventually pulled back out onto the A493, but having travelled across county cutting off a big loop we turned left and headed back towards the town of Tywyn.
Chris stopped briefly for some fuel at a station outside Tywyn but since there were no facilities there and we'd all drunk lots of coffee we agreed to look out for some public toilets as we drove into town. As their luck would have it, we spotted some signs and were soon pulling into a small parking area just down a small side street. The public toilets there were remarkable. Huge! Spotlessly clean, all polished dark wood and white tiles with at least half a dozen cubicles or more! We had the place to ourselves but I imagined that during the summer Tywyn must have been a really busy seaside town full of lots of visitors. Returning to the vehicles it was impossible to ignore the rusting old Land Rover that was parked up to die nearby, and we all had to go over and have a look and talk about the rust and say how sad it was.
We turned back out onto the main road and following the map, which didn't warn us of the circular one way system, headed off with some difficulty down the turning that lead to what appeared to be a ford over a river. The road ran next to a railway line on our left that blocked any view of the sea. To our right was a large military barracks of some sort but it too looked as though it was closed for the winter. A large flat flood plain of grassy fields stretched out to our right and here and there were groups of men flying small radio controlled model planes that were noisily buzzing around above them. We carried on all the way to the end of the road. And it was the end of the road. The railway track had a bridge but the road didn't. It'd had one once, but all that now remained were the grass covered concrete buttresses on either side of the tidal river with a similar dead end road on the other side. A few cars were parked up and dog walkers were walking their dogs. This it seemed was the only use this road had now. Hang on a minute though. Leading off the road and down to the waters edge beneath the railway bridge it became clear that there was a way through up onto the beach. As we slowly drove onto the rock-covered riverbank we could see cars parked up ahead. The bridge was low so I jumped out to warn if they were liable to hit it, but both vehicles drove under with room to spare. As fishermen and dog walkers watched, we headed off over some tracks past a strange small lake and played a little in the expanse of grass-covered dunes before pulling up onto a pebble ridge at the top of the beach. We parked up facing straight out to sea and drank some more from our thermoses. It was calmer than it had been but the waves were still breaking large and the wind was cold in the sun as we looked down the beach that stretched off for miles to our left. Chris got out and threw a stick and played with the excited Tucker for a while. As we watched he tempted Tucker to retrieve the stick from the water, and taken totally by surprise the poor old dog disappeared completely beneath a wave. He soon popped back up and shocked and bedraggled and with the most surprised expression I've ever seen on a dogs face, paddled his way back onto the beach. Poor little woofer.
I would have happily sat there for quite some time but Martin was anxious of what he 'knew' was the incoming tide and was convinced that our exit beneath the bridge would soon be underwater. We drove along the pebble ridge following the tracks that someone else had made, along to the end of the beach to our right. We then followed along the edge of the river inlet and made our way back to the railway bridge. Here and there in pebble circles were the charred remains of a campfire or two and I imagined that this was perhaps a popular place to spend a quiet summers evening out amongst the stars.
Locals' cars were still parked on this side of the bridge so our hasty retreat seemed unnecessary. As we drove back onto the rocky riverbed Martin did tentatively drive into the river just a little to see if his idea of maybe driving across was possible, but thankfully he thought better of it. There was no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the river was deeper than the Land Rover and I was more than happy when we were back on dry land. We briefly stopped because Martin wanted to walk up the concrete buttress and look down into the river to try and see how deep it was, but neither I nor Chris could be bothered. Martin got involved in chatting to a local dog walker but apparently this man's accent wasn't local at all. He told tales of how he had once been stationed at the barracks up the road during his national service and how he had fallen in love with the place and come back to live. Of how the field where the model aircraft were flying had once been an RAF airfield. Martin suitably impressed him, or otherwise, with his explanation he was just seeing if he could drive through the river!
Back on the road it was decided that we would retrace our ruts and drive the same off-road route back to the bungalow. A delivery driver in Rhud-yr-onnen unloading provisions at some out of the way cottage couldn't believe it when he found that he had created a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere. We waited patiently as he rather hurriedly finished unloading the heavy looking sacks from the back of his van. So embarrassed and flustered was he trying to run with a heavy sack on his shoulder, that I made up my mind to get out and offer to help. As luck would have it, before I could, he'd finished his delivery and closed up the back doors of the van and reversed into a gate out of our way. With a cheery wave we passed by and headed back up into the valley and the hills beyond.
Something wasn't right. I wasn't as cold as I normally was. My hands gripping the metal work in front of me were actually nice and warm as we slowly revved our way up a steep rocky incline. In a concerned voice Martin said it was getting too hot. Looking at the temperature gauge it appeared he was right. The round chrome and glass temperature gauge in Martin's Land Rover has always caused me concern. Apparently it was something to do with the engine conversion and was quite all right, but the gauge always seemed to indicate far too hot for my liking. Why have such a big scale if all the needle ever does is hang around near the top? On this occasion the needle was jammed right up against the end stop! We kept on going for what seemed like far too long considering, but Martin was searching for a flatter bit of track before investigating. Eventually satisfied that the track was flat enough we stopped and raised the bonnet to have a look. Things were very, very hot under that bonnet. So hot that we had to sit around and wait a bit before doing much. An opportunity not to be wasted, I climbed up the small hill that we had stopped next to, to see what I could see. Perched there on top of that hill were the derelict remains of some tiny single roomed cottage. A chimneystack and much of the walls remained complete, together with an old rotten wooden beam set in the stones above the door. The roof was gone and piles of rubble and stone lay on the ground inside. Once again I was in awe that someone had once perhaps lived in this tiny exposed ruin or at least sheltered there overnight before returning to tend their flocks. I wondered if whoever had built it had honoured the tradition of placing some artefact beneath the stones of the entrance for good luck as was once the custom. What might lie beneath my feet? Who's footsteps was I stood in? There was definitely an atmosphere about it for me that I cannot put in to words. I dreamed of spending a summer's night there camped amongst the stones. The chimney would have made an excellent place to build a campfire and the walls would still have offered protection from the wind. Silly dreams.
I climbed back down to join Martin and Chris and see what was to do. Using a rag Martin gingerly loosened up the radiator filler cap. The engine was SO hot the water was boiling!! Not good. With the pressure gradually released and the cold wind finding its way beneath the bonnet, things began to cool and Martin pulled off all three caps from the radiator and expansion and filler tanks. As he did so a large amount of brown, steaming hot water boiled out, ran all over the engine and was lost. The mechanics discussed what the problem could be, but it seemed pretty obvious as the Lada's two huge cooling fans whirred loudly behind us, as they had been all week. I couldn't remember having heard the Land Rover fan come on at all. Not once. Maybe the sensor was broken. I humbly suggested that if it were up to me, I would short out the cooling fan so that it was on all the time. Chris agreed but Martin wasn't keen because he said the wiring wasn't in the healthiest of condition as it was. As if to prove his point he gently tugged at one of the wires that led to the fan and it came away in his hand! The connector was corroded right through. That was probably the problem. Martin dug out his tools and spares and in no time at all had stripped the wire back to good metal and had fixed on a new connector. With the appropriate override switch turned on inside the Land Rover the large fan whirred away quite happily sucking in huge amounts of cold air through the radiator. A large container of water appeared and the radiator was topped back up. The trouble now was that Martin knew from experience that this would mean there would be an air lock in the system. Obviously concerned, Martin started up the engine and with the cooling fan going for all it was worth we headed on up the track.
The temperature gauge was still unable to indicate as hot as it wanted and although we were rumbling along as normal, things were a bit tense and I had a terrible sense of foreboding. This wasn't helped by the sight of a flock of at least a dozen great buzzards soaring and wheeling together high over the hilltop we were on. I thought buzzards were solitary birds? There were so many of them with their huge wings outstretched in the wind, that I wondered if my bird spotting skills were not what I thought and that they were in fact vultures. Hungry vultures that had spotted an ailing Land Rover on the hills and were circling ready for its occupants to be stranded and doomed.
We decided to stop at the same place that we had stopped at earlier where I had taken the photo. As we pulled off the track Martin positioned the Land Rover nose up on the slope so that the gradient might assist in clearing the air lock. There definitely was an air lock. If you reached down into the spaces beside the engine and felt the temperature of all the rubber hoses it really was pretty clear that one or two were much colder than the rest, and that shouldn't have been! Martin climbed up onto the bumper and jumped up and down on the front of the Land Rover to see if that would help. With the engine running he reached in feeling the pipes. He nearly was buzzard food as he caught his hand on the spinning fan-belt pulley wheel. Looking rather shocked and surprised but pleased that he'd escaped serious injury he proceeded to go back in and do it again! Very, very lucky!
Since little could be done, and having confirmed they were happy to sit there for a while and let things cool down, I couldn't resist. The cave beckoned. I climbed down the track, over the rocks, through the stream, straddled the fence and was soon climbing up through the bracken scattering surprised sheep. I'd misjudged exactly how far it was. It was a long way up. There was even a small hidden valley in between too! Pushing up straight through the bracken where no sheep had trod I eventually reached the rocks, aching and gasping for air. Foolishly I suddenly got all anxious and imagined some strange lurking creature that might live in the cave that would leap out and have me. If not an escaped big cat, like television news reports suggested were now living all over the place, then at least a huge sleep disturbed, panicked, flapping buzzard with flesh tearing claws and beak! Nervously I inched up toward the cave and looked in. It was in fact not a cave at all and was just a pile of rocks arranged in such a way as to make a shadow. Fool!
By the time I made my exhausted way back to the vehicles they were anxious to be on their way, and we soon set off over the hill, through all the gates and back down to the road. Martin stopped at the road and took all the coolant caps off because again from experience he knew that a drive back in this way would release the air. I was silently doubtful and imagined all the water being forced out as we drove. At least we'd have a nice steam cleaned engine I thought. Of course I was wrong. Martin knew what he was doing and by the time we were safely back at the bungalow he was happy that all the rubber pipes felt the same. He busied himself toping up levels and checking this and that and getting things ready for the drive home the next day. Sue appeared from inside the bungalow and said she was going for a walk. Hmmmm! Martin joked she should go up to the hilltop where I'd been earlier. I directed her straight up and told her it was wonderful but called out that it was rather a long way, as she headed off over the field. It was further than she'd fancied and wasn't gone very long.
Because of all the running around and getting wet that we'd done over the last few days I'd stopped carrying my mobile phone out with me. Being an old fashioned one it seemed to run out of battery power rather too quickly and was big and heavy and there really didn't seem much point in having to lug it around everywhere. After all, everyone else had one for emergencies and who was likely to want to call me? Starting to pack away some of my stuff in the bedroom I turned it on, just in case. It made me jump when all of a sudden it started making its funny bleep. I'd missed a call. After a bit of panicking I managed to remember which buttons I had to press to hear the recorded message that had been left.
My friend had called from the hospital. Everything had gone ok. I was glad.
Martin cooked up the last of the food and with the dishes all cleaned up, we settled down in front of the television for a while. Sue having discovered that Chris had hardly eaten all day did briefly appear to make him a meal before retreating back into her room. There was some talk about going and exploring all of the pubs in Machynlleth because it was the last night, but I for one wasn't keen and the idea seemed to slowly die a death. The three of us sat there vegetating in front of the television watching whatever was on and ended up watching the 'Groundforce' program. Someone's garden was being given the usual hurried makeover and it was all pretty boring until all of a sudden they announced that they had spent hundreds of pounds on some driftwood. Canadian imported driftwood that was being made into a seat or a display or something. Hundreds of pounds!!!! For driftwood!!!! Ridiculous. No wonder that man in the beaten up mini van had been collecting driftwood from the beach in Aberystwyth.
Martin decided that he'd light a fire and although it wasn't as successful as the one the farmer had made, it did eventually catch and smoulder away throughout the evening.
Chris disappeared into the bedroom for a time, not long before ten and then came back out and announced that they were going to the pub up the road. Too tired and lazy to move so late, and thinking that maybe they'd prefer to be alone, Martin and I bid them farewell. As far as I recall we were both asleep whenever it was they finally returned after closing time hopefully happy.
07/10 - The next morning we were all up pretty early and after a quick breakfast and a making of sandwiches and flasks, set about packing everything away and clearing everything up. A few bits and pieces in the kitchen that would keep, didn't seem worth worrying about and were left in the cupboards together with a bag of peanuts for whoever would stay there next. After all, it had been nice to find a few things ourselves when we arrived.
Martin attended to the visitor book. It was full of eloquent praise from previous occupants all saying how marvellous and comfortable the place was and what a good time they'd had and how they were intending to return. Indeed flicking through the pages going back several years it did seem that most of them did return year after year. It was amusing to see the odd comment about how someone had been snowed in, how someone had almost been blown away in the wind and how someone else had been stranded there by lack of fuel during the recent fuel price demonstrations. Martin left some appropriate words that included reference to the dog. It seemed likely that whoever would stay there in the future would know only too well that a dog had stayed there. Nevertheless Chris was making a valiant attempt to remove as much of the fur as possible by moving from room to room with the vacuum. Tucker was banished outside. The nest of tables and the chairs in the sitting room were put back to where they belonged. The fireplace full of ash was wiped over, but regretfully not 'properly' cleaned. Not so much swept under the carpet as swept under the grate, and left for the farmer's attention. The china ashtrays were cleaned and put back in the cupboards and the brass one vigorously rubbed and put back on the mantelpiece. The bins were emptied into bulging refuse sacks and put out of the way in the garage.
Gradually everything was put into the vehicles and we were pretty much out. The only thing that seemed to remain was to try and wipe over the kitchen floor. Our coming and going in muddy boots, the cooking, and the dog's food and drool had taken its toll. In the garage I'd spotted an old mop, so with cold water from the outside tap and a little washing up liquid I did my best to wipe it over, just a bit. The most difficult part was ringing out the mop between each wiping. There was nothing for it but to use my hands. Yuk!
At last with the kitchen floor almost dry, it seemed time to sort out the electric bill and see if the farmer and his wife were satisfied that we could leave. I walked over to the farmhouse and passing by one of the windows spotted the farmer within so I tapped on the window. He called out ok so I stood near the back door and waited while he called to his wife who was the meter reader. We walked back to the bungalow. As she read the meter we all told them how genuinely nice it had been staying there and we thanked them for the luxurious accommodation they had provided. We were even more thankful when the electric bill turned out to be only £4.96. As we dug in our pockets for the right change and the farmer's wife wrote out a receipt I couldn't help but try to ease my curiosity. I perhaps rather rudely asked how it was that the bungalow came to be there like it was. The farmer explained that it had been built for his mother in law who had lived there until she passed away. He explained how all the land around was theirs and that his son who lived in the house just along next to his by the stables, now ran the farm. They had another up in the hills a distance away but it was awfully cold up there in the winter and they had let that one out to a tenant. I asked what the truth was about the media reports about how tough farming was and he confirmed that it really was very tough. He told of how last year the price of lamb had fallen so much that they had actually been forced to give some away. The farm business was running at a loss and if not for the letting of the bungalow and the other farm they would have been in real trouble. He told how his family had lived there and farmed that land for many generations.
It seemed very true from the little he revealed that traditional farming in this country was in grave trouble. I understood then perhaps just a little more of the raised passions of angry, desperate farmers often seen on television news reports. It was so much more than 'just' issues of employment. This man when he walked his fields each morning with his dog was walking in the very footsteps of his father and his father before him. His life was bound up and tied to the very ground we stood on in a way I could never know. Was it any wonder that so many desperate farmers in such dire financial difficulties faced with the prospect of losing their farms, their land, their souls had chosen instead to lose their lives?
We said our goodbyes and set off in the heavy rain following the muddy roads that ran for mile after mile next to the pipe laying excavations. That was all I could see out of the side window.
Eventually the rain cleared and the sky brightened and in convoy, with little conversation we followed the same route back that we had used on the way up. We stopped very briefly in a large public car park in a town on the way to have a sandwich or two, stretch our legs and make use of the public toilets that were there. As we pulled into the car park, as my luck would have it, two or three coaches on some outing or other full of excited rowdy kids all needing to use the conveniences also pulled in.
Rudely introduced back to 'civilisation' we were jostled and pushed as we were forced to queue amongst the screaming kids. We stayed only as long as necessary and were soon back on the road.
It was a quiet, long, uneventful drive and at length we made our way back to Bristol. Chris and Sue turned off behind us with a wave as we carried on up to Martin's place. I helped him unload the Land Rover and take all his stuff inside and then stopped to relax a little and have a coffee and a smoke but I couldn't hide my eagerness to get home. We were soon crossing the city in the long wheelbase Land Rover with the power steering, on the way to my place. After a week travelling in the 'agricultural' other, this one felt like a smooth, quiet, luxurious Rolls Royce of Land Rovers.
Poor old Martin was forced to stop on the way and wait as I rushed into a shop for some milk so that I could make him a coffee when I got home. There was a huge slow moving queue at the till. Typical! Home was still there, intact. Always a tremendous relief.
Martin stopped for his coffee but was obviously tired after all the driving and was soon on his way back home with my heartfelt thanks for an excellent week.
Terribly impatient about such things I decided to use up the odd couple of shots I had left in my camera and when finished, took the films up the road for a one-hour developing.
I forced myself through all the noisy shoppers and past the traffic jam of fuming, stinking cars and walked down to the park to wile away the hour. I sat on one of the benches amongst the mountains of litter and broken glass hoping no one would think I'd thrown it there. A loud group of teenagers on a nearby seat asked me if I had a spare cigarette. I said no as I rolled one for myself. I felt distant.
I wanted to be distant. I wanted to be back in the hills. I wanted to be away from all this.
A long hour later I collected my developed photos. How much?!!! For meaningless silhouettes?!!!
I resisted the urge to look at them straight away and decided to savour the excitement and wait until I was back home and comfortably sat with a cup of coffee. Enjoying that little bit of expectation and excitement and perhaps dragging it out just a little, I popped into a charity shop on the way back home to look through all the second hand books and clothes to see if there may be a bargain.
Hello . . . ! Hung on a rack was a black 'puffa' jacket, almost like new, better quality than the one I had, and only six pounds. I had to buy it, I just had to.
Back at home, sat on the settee with my feet up, coffee in hand, wearing my 'new' coat, I finally opened up the envelope and looked at the photos. On the beginning of one of the films were some shots that I had taken early one morning of the scene that greeted me when I had opened the curtains.Right outside my house!
I'd forgotten all about that.
It reminded me just how good it was to be 'home'!!!
It's funny how things work out isn't it.
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