I’ve definitely not spent enough time in Wales. I have discovered over the last two months, taking terrible, but beautiful train journeys to Abergavenny and then Aberystwyth – the things we do for love, eh? – Wales is damn pretty and I need to go back some more.
Even things you expect to be bleak, like an old Iron Works or a mine, are instantly made more lush and intense by the dark green hills towering above, adding huge dollops of colour to every grey little town. Not all towns are grey of course, some of the villages are simply gorgeous, and even in tiny Abergavenny we found a lovely Italian restaurant and the most adorable tea shop (I can always find a tea shop) called Cwytch.
We spent most time in Abergavenny walking; we hiked what, at first, felt more like a motorway just with human traffic, which turned out to be Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons. The weather was bleak, grey and blowing an absolute gale, sometimes so strong I could barely climb a hill or hold myself steady at the top of a ridge but on a clear day the views must be fantastic. One of my favourite things about hill walking is watching as the sun starts to drop and seeing golden reflections bouncing off the hills in front and behind. I did what I usually do and attempted a route without a map but it all ended up okay in the end as we raced down the last hill trying to beat the torrential downpour that we had seen thundering towards us from miles away; there was nothing we could do at that stage.
Big Pit isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; taking a rickety ‘cage’ below ground and then being underground in the dark, in an ex-mine, relatively cold … it certainly isn’t my mum’s idea of fun. The tour is very tame though, you head down with ex-miners who make the funniest, best tour guides and then you walk around, having the danger spots pointed out to you, where things like Black Damp still lurk ominously, and seeing the stables where the poor mining ponies used to spend their lives. It’s not too small either; you never really have to crouch. Working in the conditions down there barely bares imaging with the freezing layer of water sat at ground level, the sticky dark mud, the jagged rock faces and the small working spaces. Our miner, from a long-standing family of miners, said he’d do it again though. The exhibitions, and the views, at the top of the pit are wonderful though and certainly worth heading in for – it’s that Welsh countryside again sweeping in from all angles and taking your breath away.
Aberystwyth has a lot more to offer than Abergavenny obviously; everything from a scary array of cocktails at The Cambrian, to Pier Pressure – yep – the nightclub on the pier. My favourite part of my weekend there was hopping off the train and knowing I was in the vicinity of the sea. I could smell it as we walked up the highstreet in the dark so I could get my first glimpse of it. It is the perfect Victorian sea front, a little more run down than some I know, but still the beautiful tall, imposing houses, the beautiful baby-colours of some of the buildings, the idyllic pleasure pier and a smaller wooden one, giving those atmospheric lines that break up the otherwise flat beach-line. At one end of the beach is Constitution Hill and at the other is the Castle. The hill is a lovely little, steep walk, with another great view at the top (and a bonus cafe!). The great thing about Aber is that it’s surrounded by hills, so if you want to get a little perspective on life, you just need to pop up any hill of your choice and get some actual perspective.
At the top of Constitution Hill we were graced by a Red Kite and her mate. It made the perfect contrast for me with the grey, hectic, mess that Manchester can be, to see this beautiful, rusty red hunter gliding around up there, totally un-phased by our presence. The castle and the old college lie right next to each other, both surprisingly beautiful popping out of a town that could otherwise fade into less-impressive-ness. Even though it was chilly while I was there I can already imagine lying in the sun traps between the ruins of the castle and I certainly wasn’t the only one taking photos.