We started off driving west in our new little Fiat 500, which was a lot of fun because we are so used to taking public transport everywhere. Now, while I will be the first to sing the praises and benefits of public transport, it was so lovely to have our own little bubble of space to explore the country in. And it was nice to go somewhere without having to have my passport and visa, or to have to pack all my liquids in small bottles or checked luggage, or squeeze everything into an easily navigable suitcase, or wait in security queues, or ... well you get the idea. And most of the countryside we was so spread out that public transport wasn't really an option.
It only took about 4 hours to get from London to the Brecon Beacons National Park, where we set ourselves up in a little cottage adjoined to an old farmhouse run by the most lovely people that we have perhaps ever met. We explored the waterfalls in the park, enjoyed the most amazing views, and saw every castle and abbey in the surrounding area (no small feat, that).
We also went to some lovely little local pubs - which as a rule, seem to always have a cosy fire. My favourite meal was Welsh laverbread gnocci with leeks and cockles (how much more Welsh can you get?) and the cockles didn't scare me at all - in fact, they were delicious. (More on the British relationship with cockles here.) The best night we had was probably at the most local of all local pubs, which opens only in the evenings and closes, well, as one regular told me, "Whenever we stop drinking." Of course. They were so friendly in there they even asked us to join in their monthly quiz night, and while we didn't win, we like to think that we at least helped our team to get joint second place (there were only 3 teams...).
There was one wool shop stop (well, I found a few stalls in the markets, but this one was sadly the only one I found in the area worth buying from) and picked up some delicious Artesano Alpaca 4 ply which I plan to make into knee high Lakeside socks one day. As far as I could tell, the shops was only called The Cross Stitch Shop, but it was run by a really lovely, friendly lady in Llandeilo. (This friendliness did seem to be a real trend in Wales... maybe it was just that they weren't Londoners?)
After the Beacons (the castles, the cottage, the abbey, the waterfalls, the pubs) we made a snap decision to head down the coast to Tenby, a walled medieval city (well, town, I suppose - I learned on the radio that for a place to qualify as a city, it must have a cathedral...I guess Centreville, VA doesn't qualify then? ;) ). Tenby looked as though it would be lovely - candy coloured houses in a row on the seafront, pristine beaches, yet another ruined castle...but as it turned out, we arrived with the gales. At one point we were stuck in our B&B as the little Fiat couldn't make it through the flooded roads. I suppose it was all very atmospheric, and we didn't have to worry about this seaside town being mobbed with tourists, but it would've been nice if my Star Crossed Slouchy Beret could even stay on my head. But alas, the gale gods were not willing.
We did have a couple of hours while the rain let up to take some pictures and explore the grounds the B&B was set in - which in addition to the newly planted orchards and chickens running about, included a 12th century church with medicinal spring wells and Celtic remains from who-knows-when. I even braved the slippery rocks to have a taste of the water - very iron-y but apparently very good for you - pilgrims used to purposefully stop off here in the middle ages and it is said that a king (though I can't remember which) used to send for the water to be delivered to him specially.
Oh - so much more, but I'll let the pictures do the talking now:
The place where George Eliot wrote her first novel - note the For Sale sign. Buy it for me?
Alpacas(!) hanging out near Talley Abbey. Okay. I'll settle for an alpaca if I can't have George Eliot's house.
The lovely plant life at Aberglasney House and Gardens.
These tree roots made me want to sit down and knit something with a cable needle.
The slouchy beret staying firm at Carreg Cennen Castle.
And finally, a pair of pairs. I would not like to hear about the resemblance between the two. How did my shadow get so fat?!