Tuesday 8 October
Two-hundred miles of road journey to North Wales were uneventful, but beautiful once we had got to the Welsh valleys on the A5/A470. Another pleasure was not having to spend much time on the wretched M6. Perched 300 feet above the village, the exchange house was built in the mid-19th century, now nicely developed into a three-bedroom, modern residence. It’s not new to us as we had visited it briefly en route to the Ireland exchange in August. We settled in, then I walked a little towards the village, quite a walk back up those three hundred feet. Llanfairfechan, Welsh for ‘Little St Mary’s parish’, has sat on the North Wales coast at least since Roman times in 2nd century AD, and has a population of 3,600 of whom 66% speak Welsh. It’s twinned with Pleumeleuc, Brittany.
Wednesday 9 October
Squashy, body-moulding mattresses are not to my liking but I seem to have had a half-decent kip. On the menu today was ‘Looking at the local area’ and this we did on Llanfairfechan’s wind-blown seafront; at a seafood stall against the wall of Conwy Castle; and topped off with a mindless journey in Llandudno, actually getting lost looking for Asda, even after asking pedestrians way. Back for a slap-up lunch, after which I spent 90 minutes up and down mountainsides that reminded me that five miles on the flats of Bedfordshire is worth two miles of those closely woven, wavy brown lines on an Explorer map. Left up the lane, left at the first footpath then a circular around Lls-y-gwynt Covert, picking blackberries on a puff-draining way back. A heart-stopping text from the exchange people: Verity’s cat-flap does not let her in, moving them to invoke Sod’s Law of Exchanges: things go wrong that have never gone wrong before.
Thursday 10 October
After a rain-pelting night, we set out for Beaumaris, a pretty village on Anglesey. And the morning turned out, after a sunny start, to be just as wet as the day before, heavy showers throughout our visit. The primary activity was the castle, started by Edward I in 1195, but not properly finished because his financial attention was turned to invading Scotland instead of Wales, and he couldn’t afford to do both. Boasting 16 toilets or ‘latrines’ as the notices call them, the castle overlooks the Menai Strait and is one of the stoutest that I have seen, including its own receiving dock in order to offload goods direct from seagoing craft. After Suzanne had her resting coffee and I had wandered the streets, we looked at the parish church, where I was amazed to see a marble wall-slab commemorating, in Welsh and English, an ‘Obscure Man’, not one of the posh or titled folk whose names normally get slapped up for all to touch forelocks. But there was one in memory of Sophie Wellesley, a great-niece of the Duke of Wellington, so that more than balanced the one for the peasant. Back for (my) lunch of homemade soup, slice of bread, tangerine and coffee; Suzanne had no lunch, owing to her earlier cake and coffee. As I type, she is doing her French devoir. A walk across the golf course down into Llanfairfechan this afternoon was instructive; not a great deal going on in the village, with boarded-up shopfronts and a Co-op supermarket but there was a Guardian left in a newsagent, so we got the latest on the insanity of Brexit. Best bit was the cemetery, with a Commonwealth War Graves sign on the gate, and two Portland stone headstones within: one for a 24-year-old killed in 1941, buried in the same grave as his parents who died some 40 years later; the other for a young man killed in 1918 a few weeks before the Armistice. Weather warmed up by a degree old two and I puffed back up the incline.
Friday 11 October
Lazy morning, late breakfast (Conwy-bought Manx kipper for me) since the rain tipped down until gone 11. On the menu was Bangor, for supermarket shopping and plugging in the Prius, followed by Caernarfon. Talk about chalk and cheese, Bangor is a run-down town with more boarded-up shopfronts, unkempt houses, sad-looking people on the streets; a lot of immigration; drunks on the streets at midday. But we got away about 1 into the white middle-class Caernarfon. When I climbed too high up one of the castle’s towers, I felt rather panicky with the old vertigo and got lower, quickly. But the best bit of the castle was the Royal Welch Fusiliers military museum, with really smashing exhibits and text panels, all within the castle walls. When I asked an attendant a question about the Welch Regiment compared with the RWF, I got a handy chat that revealed a little about my old friend, Alan Edwards, in that the south of Wales had the WR and the north the RWF, but they are now amalgamated, the WR with its own museum in Brecon. So there. Lunch of half a toasted cheese sandwich (white bread, ugh) each, coffee and I unsuccessfully tempted by the huge piece of fruit cake. Oh yes, and this morning’s kipper was gorgeous; it was even cooked for me, compared with home when I have to fumigate the kitchen after my preparing and cooking.
Saturday 12 October
A quiet but not really a rest day. At 8 this morning, I walked into the village for the paper. Later we journeyed to Bethesda, where I last visited some Mum and Dad 30 years ago. First of all, we decided to take the short route, which turned out to be miles of slow driving, fingers crossed into heart-stopping blind corners in the narrow lanes. At one point we had to follow an escaped sheep; I stopped and herded (can you herd one sheep?) the poor thing into someone’s driveway, allowing us our own getaway to the village of Bethesda, now much gentrified and full of cars, the unwelcome changes when you go back to somewhere heavy with memories. Despite help from the Post Office people, although we found the street, we could not with much certainty find the house, the best guess being one that had had its façade stripped. All to no avail, so we returned to Llanfairfechan to the second bit of Saturday excitement, taking Suzanne on a nature trail by another narrow road to the Three Streams. Here I got her down several steps to the fast-flowing stream and we took photos. I thought she did very well, considering how scared she can get when underfoot is poor. And it was. Now we wait until the evening when I take her to Mass. (Reflecting: now halfway through a lovely, unhurried exchange, with North Wales revealing itself slowly. A great home to come back to. Refused an emailed offer of exchange from Germans in Hesse, as we are determined not to make another one in school holidays.) On the beach, where I frittered away an hour before picking up Suzanne, I was able to walk a considerable distance over the flats and in the gathering dark it reminded me of child,hood walking alone on a beach, picking my way through stones, looking vainly for marine life caught in rock pools; loving the solitude. I wound my way back up through the village to the church, hanging about in the vestibule which I shared with a young mum and her fretting and mewling babe-in-arms. When the priest came out to prepare to glad-hand his departing congregation, he shook even my hand and muttered something pleasant but incoherent. He was Nigerian, and Suzanne said that his English was not all that good.
Sunday 13 October
Rain. Again. It’s almost 2. Still, bacon and mushrooms for breakfast was all right. Best excitement so far today has been the putting out of the rubbish: a special council trolley of four levels of boxes has to be trundled down the twelve steps to the lane. Got started on my latest Mick Herron ‘Slow Horses’ novel but put it down after twenty pages and stared into space, not because the book was unattractive but because there is something to be enjoyed in doing absolutely nothing constructive. Still raining. But it stopped about 4 when I walked back up towards the Three Streams, but this time I found a woodland track on the south side that took me steeply up beside the torrents and cascades. Just before that I witnessed two dog-walkers sitting on the back of the laneside bench, their filthy boots on the seat. Back in time for martinis, which Suzanne had pre-mixed at home ready for this marvellous Sunday habit.
Monday 14 October
To Portmerion, of The Prisoner Fame, some 40 miles away through stunning mountain scenery. Quite a performance ensued there, trying to find the charging point for the Prius, eventually with the kind and courteous help of no fewer than four employees in separate locations: the ticket issuer; a man sweeping out the information office; a young woman from accounts; a van driver. Lunch was a gigantic brown-bread ham sandwich and tomato soup.
Tuesday 15 October
A fair day dawns but still dark, several illuminated big ships out at sea, while closer in twinkle the lights of Llanfairfechan. The tide is in so that you cannot see the large sandbank in the middle of the strait, normally looking like a long, sleepy, half-submerged whale. Just over the lane is the golf course, across which is the handy shortcut to the village. I have seen few players so far, and I remember young days in Scotland where the links abutted the beginning of the Highland wilds of bracken, heather and exposed, mossy stone. Today we are in Llanberis and Suzanne has gone up Snowdon in the only rack-and-pinion train in Britain. A wonderful feeling, to put on your walking boots, set off late morning and have little notion of where you are going. Leaving the severely overpriced car park (£8) I approached the main drag of the village, but on seeing a big, brooding church I turned up its lane, merely to sit in a back pew and check the map. Well, it was steep and I climbed for half an hour. And up and up I went, over marshy fields with Snowdon a distant presence. Further down I was stumped with the map and backtracked over a field of sheep, one of whom with curly horns looked balefully at me, and I hurried just a little to the stile. Back in the village I was looking forward to my lunch of half of yesterday’s ham sandwich, tap-water, an apple and best of all, the Guardian. But although I sat on a bench in the sunlit churchyard with my eatable goodies, of my paper there was no sign. Ok, it’s sure to be in the car. On the way, I noted that the further you got from the little station and its huge rip-off car park, the cheaper it got; from the eight quid I paid, I could have halved it to four for the sake of a few hundred yards. Back in the car, I scrabbled about in. a furiously but futile search for the paper – Suzanne must have taken it with her up that mountain. Anyway, the short story, dear reader, is that I had forgotten that we had not bought a paper that morning.
Wednesday 16 October
The last full day of an exchange, with cleaning up and rubbish to take care of is often a let-down and, on this occasion, a little mixed. Although we had a good plan to tour Anglesey using the Michelin Green Guide and the Rough Guide, after an interesting museum of Anglesey history the day threatened to fizzle out. We did, after false starts, manage to find a prehistoric tomb in the middle of a field of sheep but not possible for Suzanne who can’t walk on the sort of surfaces that sheep manage easily. Then we headed for National Park sand dunes on the west coast, where again we were frustrated by hostile walking surfaces. After refusing a £12 per head charge for a visit to a stately home where all we wanted was the garden walk, we returned to Llanfairfechan for ice cream and a stroll along the promenade. For once, no rain and no wind.
Thursday 17 October