Travel, UK

A Taste of Wales

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Wales. You know you’re there from the instant you cross that invisible line from England. From the alphabet soup of consonants splattered across roadside signs to the straw hanging from the mouth’s of matted-haired locals. I’d threaded my way into the ‘different’ country before: on trains destined for Herefordshire, and on day trips with my Shropshire family. But when a three-day housesit near the west coast was advertised, I embraced the opportunity to visit a place that wouldn’t otherwise have made it onto the itinerary.

I picked at my fingernails as our van rolled out of Talsarn and up the driveway, tyres sustaining a year’s wear in the five-minute drive along the jagged ballast. What the hell had I done? I’d gone against all the advice in the house-sitting handbook and agreed to three days in a stranger’s house on no more than a few brief emails and a picture of their dogs. No FaceTime interview, no photos, not even a phone call. And having crossed the kind of mountain pass known to stop vehicles in their tracks just to get there, my plan B list was seriously lacking. What if the place was filthy? Completely run down? Derelict? Or worse still, what if the owners were axe murderers?

My apprehension was calmed by the stunning country garden in full spring bloom which welcomed us at the end of the driveway. The friendly face of our host appearing at the gate, not an axe in sight, laid my fears completely to rest. The gorgeous stone cottage overlooking the rolling green farmland could not have been a more perfect base from which to get a taste of Wales.

The farming district on the west coast is said to be ‘poor’, but I’d prefer to call it “pleasantly uncomplicated.” The winding roads, smattered with hand printed signs for fresh eggs and farm shops, we often found ourselves disappearing down the rabbit hole of obscure laneways in search of said “Fferm Siops.” The further from the main road we ventured, the deeper into the heart of Wales we seemed to go, the English language eventually disappearing altogether.

But somewhere in the simplicity of rural life, we were inadvertently swept up in a Welsh village’s event of the week (possibly even year): Tour de Tractor. Ushered down the road ahead of yet another wave of farming equipment we were suddenly engulfed by hundreds of tractors and a tunnel of adoring fans. Deckchairs were set up and children fidgeted with excitement as we passed. There was something lovely about the simple innocence of it all.

Riding distance from our temporary home was the beautiful little town of Aberaeron, nestled on the rugged west coast. The streets adorned with a rainbow of pretty terraced houses, each doing their bit to cheer the place up, despite the incessant blanket of grey. The town centred around a tidal boat harbour. Rows of dormant yachts sat motionless on the seabed, their reflections twinkling in the shallow water, the bright blue Harbourmaster Hotel overseeing it all.

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If this little gem of a find wasn’t enough, the weather finally graced us with pleasant conditions. And rather than obsessing about riding we were able to spend some time on foot, exploring a stunning part of the country, the sunshine even seeing us join the culture of crazies who eat ice-cream in sub-zero temperatures. In a test of off-bike fitness, we puffed our way along the walk-trail, high above the ocean out of Aberaeron. The path wound steeply along the unforgiving coast, punctuated by timber stiles and embellished with bushes of spring wild flowers, the land slipping dramatically into the water below. Cotton bud sheep grazed on the kind of green which could only be attributed to weeks of rain, the infinite turquoise striking a stunning contrast beyond.

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The walking continued, or at least for Colby it did, albeit in not such appropriate shoes and over less than agreeable terrain. In the saddle, the farming landscape had been similar to the Lakes District, although far more forgiving. And given the sun on our backs, uber-considerate motorists, smooth rollers and our ability to hold a decent speed for the first time in weeks I became driven to make the most of the favourable conditions. But as we drifted closer to the outskirts of Aberystwyth, and further from our temporary home, Colby was halted in his tracks by an irreparable mechanical. There was no way I wanted to spend the perfect afternoon crippled and alone by the road side, so I was quick to claim the 25km ride home to fetch the car, convincing myself it would only take a little over an hour (if I went hard). Three hours later I was finally reunited with Colby, half way up just one of the killer hills that had destroyed me hours earlier, his cleats ground down to nothing and his soul in a similar condition.

Our Wales-tasting came to an end far too soon and although it may not have made it onto my Top 10 must-see list in the past, it certainly won’t be struck from the itinerary of future trips.