One of the last times I traveled for work, I was lucky enough to be in Bristol, UK. I’d never been to Wales before so….and I was so close so…and there was no good reason for me not to go so… You guessed it. I packed up some stuff and took the train to Cardiff.
I took the commuter train and got in super late. This was one of the few times I decided to roll the dice and not pre-book a hotel room (but just the first time for this trip) and sure enough, things got dicey. There was some sort of event that weekend and hotels were hard to come by. At 11pm, I’d struck out at about 5 hotels. That got my heart rate up a bit. It worked out just fine though; always does. Got a sweet little room within walking distance to the train station and downtown. I spent the next morning drinking cappuccinos, eating pastry, walking through the farmer’s market and adventuring around the castle.
At the end of the day the weather went sideways and so did the rain. I made plans to drive over to the west coast and walk The Golden Road, a 4,000 year old trail along a ridge that the Druids used to take to stay out of an ancient (and spooky) forest. The Druids are gone, and so is the forest, but the trail is still there so I was goin’ no matter what!
I reserved a rental car and downloaded a map to the village of Rosebush in Pembrokeshire (I mean, it just sounds magical!) When I got to the rental car place, the kid behind the counter told me that the car I reserved had a flat, and that it would be at least an hour before the mechanic could get to it. Oooorrr, he could upgrade me for free and comp the gas. I would just have to pick the car up from their other location about 15 minutes away. He’d even drive me over there. So off we went to their other location and the fancier car!
I had reserved an automatic, because who wants to drive on the left side of the road from the right side of the car AND remember how to drive a stick at the same time. You see where I’m going with this? Yeah, the fancier car was a manual. And when the kid came over with the keys, big fat snowflakes were gently floating down around both of us. He handed me the keys and said, “Here you go! I’ve lived in Cardiff for 17 years and never seen it snow before. Bye!” I smiled one of those smiles where your face says “Yay for vacation!” and your eyes say “Oh shit!”
I hopped in the car – the right side of the car – and looked down to my left at the gear box. Yeah, I had never shifted with my left hand so this was gonna be fun. I turned on my phone and brought up the map…from the place that was 15 minutes away. Mmmmm…yeah. Off I went with a map that wasn’t much good to me until I found the freeway, driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car, shifting with the wrong hand and driving in the snow. Adventures! Elevated blood pressure!
I learned something about my motor skills that day. When I shift with my left hand, my right hand (you know, the one on the steering wheel) likes to pull to the right. That’s unbelievably scary when the roads you are driving ARE NOTHING BUT MEDIEVAL CART PATHS TURNED INTO WINDING ROADWAYS.
About an hour and 15 near death experiences later, I found the freeway and was westbound. Just a tip: when you drive on the left, the slow lane is the left lane. If you get in the right lane, angry Welshmen/women will ride your ass until you finally figure that out.
It was January and the sun went down promptly at 4:45pm. It was time to find a place to crash for the night. (The sleep kind of crash.) I passed a sign for a place called The Fox and Hound Bed & Breakfast so I turned off. I rolled into a tiny town and passed a pub called The Fox and Hound. There was nooothing else there so I decided to go in and ask if I was on the right track. Turned out I was. The B&B was above the pub, and I was to be the only guest that night. And since I was the only guest, I got to pick what time I wanted to eat breakfast. 8am seemed reasonable.
When I came down the next morning, a fella who had the build of a rugby player came over to take my order. He asked how scrambled eggs, bacon and toast sounded. I said it sounded great! He let me know everything was going to be made fresh so he’d bring out a starter if I was hungry. I was, so he did. The starter was some house made granola. He brought it out in a serving bowl (which I assumed was so I could take as much, or as little, as I liked, because this serving bowl contained at least 6 servings.) Nope. I could feel my eyes get bigger and bigger as he poured the milk for me…right into the serving bowl… He left the milk, you know, in case I needed some more. I didn’t even make a dent. Then he brought out the eggs, bacon and toast…on separate plates…because there was so much of each. My kingdom for a pair of soft pants.
After loosening my belt so I could sit in the car, I drove toward the village of Rosebush. Rosebush in January is so sleepy that a fox was walking down the main street when I drove up. At first glance, it was just me, the fox and some sheep, as far as living things went. The trailhead for The Golden Road had been moved the year before, and the guide books told me to take off from a famous Welsh fromagerie; Pant Mawr Farmhouse Cheese. I went over there to see if I could spot the trailhead, and encountered the only other living soul in Rosebush, not including the sheep. A fella from the fromagerie happened to come out as I was wandering around the property, and he pointed out the trailhead. He also helpfully mentioned that I would have to climb over a couple of sheep gates along the way.
As I made my way for the ridge, the wind kicked up and a gale blew through. It was so windy I had to hold the stocking cap onto my head. I climbed to the crest, quickly read the inscription on the cairn and got the heck out of the wind as soon as I could. The hill provided a windbreak on the way down, and I had a chance to look out at the deep green fields, gray rock walls, stark white farm houses and dots of white sheep far out into the distance. It was so beautiful. Then I slipped in a pile of sheep shit and landed in the bog. The rest of the trip was uneventful.