‘We haven’t heard the full story’
– Conversation in the Dic Penderyn, Merthyr Tydfil.
I awake with slow and heavy movements in Uplands, Swansea, a residential suburb of the city largely populated with students at the nearby university. It’s the morning after the night before, and though my head’s not aching – I wisely bowed out of the drinking around 2am – I’m feeling a bit worn out.
Remarkably, Sarah and her housemates are all up before I am. Their relative youthfulness means they can manage a few hours’ kip and be up and spritely again! My age expresses itself as a headache, one slowly assuaged with coffee and Weetabix. We talk about drugs and their legalisation. I always feel slightly surprised when I hear people discussing drugs openly, call me sheltered, but across my trip, and I guess indeed before, it’s something that I notice younger people are more comfortable, and more sensible, talking about. Most are in favour of decriminalisation, of treating drug addiction as a social and health issue, something I agree with.
‘I’m shackled here.’
– Neil, St. Clears.
Breakfast is ready!
I’m woken by a friendly shout and the smell of frying bacon in the other room, after a lovely deep night’s sleep in Tenby. Everything is good: the friendly company of Declan and Dorie, who have kindly put me up through the Couchsurfing website, which I strongly recommend to any travellers considering a similar journey. Then there’s the small town of Tenby, dotted on the south-west Welsh coast, a delight of a place to pass the time. And then there’s the prospect of a full Irish breakfast this morning. This is the start of a good day.
Matt and Morgan rouse too, and we rub our bleary eyes at the sight of a feast: scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions, baked beans, mushrooms, slices of warm buttery toast, avocado (there must be something healthy here…), black pudding, bacon and sausages for the meat eaters. There’s fresh coffee and tea too. Wonderful. We talk about the tricky business of living together with other people, of moving in as couples, and the complex etiquette of domestic work between house-mates. Everyone round the table has sufficient experience to draw on, much of it humorously negative. We’re laughing and eating together, and I wish this was the start and end of the day’s activities, but there’s some distance still to travel.
‘Let’s be honest…’
– Jeff, Haverfordwest.
I awake in my tent next to a five thousand year old memorial to a forgotten life and a forgotten way of living. Yet the large stone still stands improbably upright despite its hulking size over the smaller stones propping it up. Though the stones are in a residential area on the edge of Newport, a tall privet hedge ensures I’m secluded. A middle-aged man calls to a woman, perhaps his wife, in the distance, as he loads up an estate car with household bric a brac. Up and awake early, I pack up furtively and sneak out.
‘Are you ok there?’
‘Yes, we’re just doing a treasure hunt.’
— Meeting wanderers on a twilight path, somewhere near Newport, Pembrokeshire.
I awake inside the headmaster’s office of an old school building in Aberystwyth, a small but pretty university town by the sea. The students are still away for their summer break, giving the town a tranquil but not too desolate feel. I look out its jaunty multi-coloured Victorian terraces, so self-contained and sure of itself. Yet there’s little around Aber, and nothing in the landscape I passed earlier would suggest its existence. It’s not sucking the life out of its surrounding areas, unlike most of the major cities, nor is it desperately trying to prove a point, often badly, like many of the smaller cathedral cities. I hear the cry of the gulls in the air, and as Nia and I wander into the town for some breakfast, I can’t help noticing passers-by with a swing in their step.