I think I’m falling a little bit in love with Wales.
When he came to meet me at Gladstone’s Library last month, Tom spotted a squirrel in the woods. It was the silliest squirrel either of us had ever seen; swinging upside down from a tree by his back legs, like a daft, woodland pendulum.
“The squirrels in Wales are different to the ones in England,” Tom whispered, in a serious voice, as though we were in the Madagascan rainforest and he was David Attenborough. Or Steve Backshall.
The thing is that being in Wales really does feel like you’re somewhere completely different (and not just because of the silly squirrels and the fact it says ARAF on the roads.)
We went last weekend, further down this time, to Ceredigion. It was our second visit and I had forgotten just how beautiful the drive there was. (Actually, my excellent friend and neighbour did the driving and I’d like to thank her for that.)
Only about an hour of the journey is motorway, then it’s into the wilds. You have to stop for a last loo visit before the turn-off, otherwise it’s wild wees and funny little petrol stations all the way. There are big forests of gangly pine trees that make you feel like you’re driving into an American horror film. The roads twist and wind through nothing, occasionally swooping into valleys that make you gasp. Granted, there are parts where the gorse is the only colour and you know you wouldn’t make it out of the house for booze and bog roll in the winter, but it’s pretty spectacular.
On the edge of it all, next the Irish Sea, is the best British seaside town I’ve ever found: New Quay. The sea’s almost Caribbean blue, patches of the beach are made entirely of a load of crushed up shells, the rock pools are slate grey and dolphins hang out in the bay. And there’s a £1.20 shop (which used to be called the £1 shop and has the “.20” shoved on the end in a different font.) New Quay is tucked away, not on a throroughfare; you’d really have to know to get there. It’s thought to have been the influence for the ‘cliff-perched town at the far end of Wales’, from Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood and a Thomas trail takes you round buildings of significance. The people are really friendly – and have good taste in masonry paint: in New Quay (and nearby Aberaeron,) the residents paint their houses beautiful colours: cornflower, bright yellow, lilac and orange. Why don’t more people do that? Imagine the Manc terraces coloured in (it would all go wrong though – there’d be pale blue versus bright red warfare.)
We weren’t staying at the seaside but inland, on a farm, where Tom enjoyed being the ‘big boy’ to the extremely cute sixteen month old in our party. There were lambs everywhere and more red kites than Manchester has pigeons. It was windy and miserable but it didn’t matter. Tom named, hassled and loved the resident chickens all weekend. (Three of Henrietta VIII’s Assistant’s eggs came back to Manchester with us and got made into butties and omelettes.)
When I got home, I felt woozy – stoned even – and the only thing I’d inhaled all weekend was woodsmoke and the scent of singed marshmallows. I even managed to have a couple of dreams while I was there. That’s really switching off (or getting knocked out by the air.)
You know when people say they’re moving to the country to buy their children chickens and live happily ever after? I always thought “Twee. Manchester wins. Don’t like the country. Lonely. Bleak. Keep me here.”
I do wonder though, sometimes…