Postcode West Day 7

Postcode West
By Colin Walford
Day Seven

Route: Llangadog to Twyn Farm
Date: Sunday May 18th 2014
Distance: 19.4m (31.2km)
Elevation: 85ft (26m) to 459ft (141m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 1263ft (385m) and 1342ft (409m)

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The road to Bethlehem ...

The rampant spring birdsong was in full flow by daylight and the rich melody incorporated itself into my dreams as I slept, so that there were a few moments of confusion for me when I came awake. I got up at nine o’clock to another bright and sunny day and took my time in completing my ablutions. There was a standpipe for drinking water at the far end of the field, near the owner’s properties, so I took a stroll there to refill my water camel. This set the white horse off on another couple of frisky circuits of his paddock, before I had a shower in the utility room and gave the dogs a bit of a fuss. Once the tent was packed away, I took a final look around and then walked through the low metal gate and back onto the lane for eleven o’clock.
The day was a hot one already and it was a perfect Sunday morning for walking. I took a road left over the Afon Sawdde and moved through the small village of Felindre. Cyclists began to stream by me at regular intervals
Postcode West Day7 Pic 1

Entering Bethlehem

and I received a variation of greetings along the hiya/hello/hi combinations. The good weather was bringing out the sunny side of people, too. The lane I was on was due to take me straight to Bethlehem, where I would be back on my official route, but I began to notice that the little toe on my right foot was hurting and I was hobbling a little by the time I’d reached the village. There was a wooden bench seat placed in an elevated position about halfway through Bethlehem. I sat down gratefully and took my boot and socks off to sort myself out. There was no obvious injury and I fared better once I’d loosened the laces on my boot and carefully replaced my socks, so that there was no crease or fold in the material. I took the opportunity to snack on a few handfuls of dried fruit and nuts for breakfast and then strolled on downhill until I’d come to the ‘famous’ Bethlehem post office. Every year, the village hosts a traditional Christmas market. A major attraction is to post Christmas cards from the village to get a Bethlehem postmark, a practice that first gained national attention in about 1965. The building itself was tucked away behind a stone wall and set back from a house next door, giving an impression that it was rather shy about its fame. Being Sunday, it was shut so there was no chance of exploring inside. I walked on.

The metropolis of Llandeilo ...

I was still on the same, continuous lane and was walking with higher ground to my left and a thick, tall hedge to my right when from behind it I became aware of a repetitive animal sound that was becoming clearer as I neared it. A pig was having a one-sided conversation with itself, oinking away on a loop that it didn’t appear to be finishing any time soon. Amused, I recorded it on Audioboo and sent it off to Twitter. Further along, the hedge ended and the ground to my right fell away to become a plain, through which the Afon Tywi (River Towy) announced itself as it joined me along the way. We moved south-west together as I continued on the Bethlehem Road and I was able to appreciate how much this river twists and loops through its landscape and how deep and sheer-sided the banks were. It was a picturesque enough scene for me to stop and take a few photographs, also snapping a couple of the town of Llandeilo which was still a way ahead, but was going to claim the title of the biggest inhabited place I would have walked through so far. This went some way in revealing just how rural my walk to the west coast was, as Llandeilo is a tiny town and I hoofed through it in ten minutes flat. There was a definite camber to the road I was on and it was putting pressure on the sore spot that was my right toe. It began to hurt more or less constantly until the road levelled out again. My brother phoned. He wanted a catch-up on how it was all going and more importantly, if I was still enjoying the walk. I was able to assure him that I was, despite some hard days over the past week and the deplorable level of fitness I’d burdened my body with at the beginning of it all.
After what had seemed like a long spell on the Bethlehem Road, but had actually been about fifty minutes, I took a right onto a dusty, gravelled track. Here, a curious stone pillar marked the entrance through a kissing gate and onto a downhill stretch that was leading me inexorably towards the Afon Tywi. I was taken straight through the middle of a farmer’s field and led to a thin bridge stretching across the river. A bunch of youths were lying on its near bank, taking advantage of the sun beating down by being stripped to the waist. There were a
Postcode West Day7 Pic 2

The winding Afon Tywi

couple of young ladies amongst their number and I wondered, as I clumped past in my worn clothing and large rucksack, whether I would come in for a bit of ribbing from the lads as they attempted to impress the girls. It seemed that I had deemed myself more important in the world than I actually was again, for they ignored me as I ascended the rise of what turned out to be quite a bouncy bridge. I was on the third and most minor bridge of three that entered Llandeilo via the river. Of more significance are the road and railway bridges, which are positioned a little further south than where I crossed and the latter of which has a fairly recent tragedy to its history. In the Great Storm of 1987 (the one that the weatherman Michael Fish infamously reassured a nation wasn’t going to happen) the floods were so severe that the river overwhelmed the third of these bridges, the railway bridge. A schoolboy and three other people were drowned when the five twenty-seven train from Swansea to Shrewsbury crashed while crossing the bridge and the bridge collapsed, dropping the train into the river.
I traversed the lesser bridge and found myself entering the railway station, crossing its tracks and joining Llandeilo via its industrial estate. Having anticipated a rare trip through a built-up area on this journey, I discovered that my association was to be a brief one. I joined the high street and went into a garage, where I bought a Magnum ice cream and a can of fizzy pop to quench a significant thirst. I took myself up a track and into a tiny caravan park adjoining fields, where I sat myself down and enjoyed my treats at leisure as the sun continued to beat down. And that was Llandeilo, or at least all I saw of it. Once I’d started out again, the track led me through the fields and over a busy A483 (T) and I was soon back into rural scenery. To be fair, I had only clipped the eastern edge of Llandeilo but, even if I had been directed through the heart of the town, I still would have been through it within, say, twenty minutes. The only other thing I can say of note about the place is that Llandeilo is the birthplace of Stefan Cush - vocalist and guitarist of folk punk band The Men They Couldn't Hang.

An Englishman abroad ...

I had noted that a pub was to be visited once out of the northern edge of the town, but I somehow by-passed it without so much of a whiff of hops and carried my disappointment with me as I walked on. I was next taken over the A40 (T) and for a short while journeyed northwards, finding myself surrounded by five lively, barking dogs as I made my way through the tiny hamlet of Pen-y-banc. I was obliged to make fairly cowed soothing noises at them as I gingerly walked by on a winding, ascending lane. Thankfully, I remained unmolested and with the seat of my pants intact. It turned out to be a day of dogs, as I went through another farm later and was roundly ticked-off on that occasion by a group of four hounds, of various shapes and sizes. I continued on and in time, reached another residence named Langwm Farm and here I met a
Postcode West Day7 Pic 3

Llandeilo and the river

young lad of about seven years of age, who was to give me my first real inclination that I had become an alien as I continued west. He was on a bicycle as I walked up the track and drive towards his home. He spotted me immediately and cycled towards me with unfeigned curiosity.
“Where are you going?” he asked, all round eyes and a mop of dark hair.
“Through your farm and out over the fields.”
I’d thought I’d answered clearly enough but he just gaped at me, blankly. It took me a second or so to realise that he simply hadn’t understood my accent. He had probably never heard a Brummie twang in his young life and this, bear in mind, in an area that Welsh was still taught in schools as a first language. I repeated myself carefully and then expanded a little.
“It’s a walking path that goes right by your house. I bet you haven’t seen many people like me walk through it, though.”
He shook his head and after a moment’s thought, added a declaration, “Never.”
He shook his head again and then suddenly smiled and took off back to the house; little legs whirring as he pedalled furiously. He disappeared inside but was soon back, with his Mom in tow. She turned out to be as curious and friendly as her son and even seemed to be aware that there was a permissive path through her property. She gave me directions and I made my way through a gate and across a field, filled to the brim with her over-friendly cows and (I noted with consternation) even a couple of young bulls. They began to crowd me close enough for me to worry about having my heels stepped on and I was glad to go through another gate and into an empty field, descending towards what looked like an impenetrable hedge. This is because it was an impenetrable hedge, which also had the added obstacle of being completely fenced-off. There was no way forward, permissive path or not. I had no option but to toil back uphill and then enter the field of matey-bovines again. If anything, they were even more inquisitive second time around and I also didn’t like the way one of the young bulls kept attempting to mount anything that came his way. I took a wide detour around him. The young boy was still on his bike in the yard and gave me a creditable double-take as I reappeared. His Mom looked genuinely nonplussed when I explained that the permissive way through her land was blocked by both a hedge and a fence, as if such construction had happened entirely without their knowledge.

Sticking to the lanes ...

I made my way back through her farm and a theme was set, whereupon I stuck largely to lane-walking and avoided problems associated with permissive routes. This added extra distance and more hardship on my feet, which finished the day with a couple of new blisters as a result, but it did mean I didn’t get lost. I marched through a couple of settlements I otherwise wouldn’t have seen immediately after Langwm Farm and took a left on the lane to get me back on route at a place called Llwyncelyn. My new fondness for lanes also had me miss out a bit of a loop, which would have taken me over Penhill and at the mercy of stoat-tracks going God knew where. Instead, I sensibly turned south and then west on reliable country back-roads, circumnavigating a block of woodland and never once having to refer to my map whilst grinding my teeth. I saw a few magnificent Red Kites during the day – my first of the trip – and idly wondered when they would reach my place, back in Bridstow. They seemed to be heading that way, gradually. I continued west at a fair pace, indeed at enough of a speed that come late afternoon, I abruptly realised that my feet were very sore indeed and also that I hadn’t eaten. I hobbled into a farmer’s field with commanding, blameless views to the south. It was beautiful; just fields, woods, low hills and slanting, golden sunshine but with a tranquillity that made me yearn for something I knew not what. I prayed that I would be allowed to rest here awhile, just to eat and sit and gaze about me without being moved on by an affronted farmer. I was granted this solitude and it made me feel heaps better; laying out my bed-roll and taking my boots and socks off as I rested.
When I’d decided to move on, I looked at my map and realised that ahead of me was the blue drinking glass sign of a pub. If I did a bit more cut and pasting of my route, I could stay on the lanes and reach it, albeit via a pretty severe dog-leg. There may even be an opportunity to camp there, I thought to myself. I trooped onwards and eventually turned left, going forwards on a narrow lane with hedges on both sides and passing occasional settlements and little estates of housing. Another lone dog latched onto me at this point and I had a nervous period where it followed me faithfully and seemed ready to be curled up beside me, whenever I pitched camp later that evening. I should have known better by now not to stop and fuss every pooch that made sad eyes at me. Luckily, this individual’s devotion seemed to run dry after fifteen minutes or so and I was able to make my escape. After passing by one matrix of cul-de-sacs and properties, I took a hard right onto a bigger road and passed the Cwrt Henri school after which came a long, straight stretch that was not severely uphill but enough to bleed away my energy after a day’s walking. Finally, at a fork in the road, I reached what turned out to be not a pub, but a bed and breakfast. My heart gave a grateful leap and I dared hope for a comfortable room and a downstairs bar featuring the latest guest ale, so it was a cruel blow when I discovered that the New Cross Hotel was not only closed but evidently shut down. After a longer inspection, it turned out to be shabby and a bit of a dump, but it was hard on me at that moment to not even have the opportunity for a sit down and a beverage. I walked on unhappily, going uphill and feeling directionless. A young pregnant woman and another who I assumed to be her Mom came towards me in the opposite direction and always hopeful, I asked them if they knew of any local bed and breakfasts apart from the failed block of sadness just behind us. To my surprise, they did and gave me directions and renewed hope.

A haven at Twyn Farm ...

I was tired by now and making progress on stinging feet, but I back-tracked down the hill and turned right onto a lane not far away from the school I had passed earlier. After passing by a few bungalows squatting besides the lane, I reached a drive that took me to a place called The Stables. There was a woman carefully digging something out of her front garden and I walked up to her and introduced myself, asking if there was a chance that she had a room for the night at short notice. I could tell right away that she wasn’t keen. Whether I looked a bit shabby and suspect or whether she had simply been caught on the hop and couldn’t be arsed, I don’t know, but I got the impression that there was a room going spare, but that she was very reluctant to admit this. She was irritatingly vague and indecisive to a fairly simple question, giving me the impression that she was nervous about giving me the bad news. In the end, she deferred to her husband who told me that there wasn’t a room (at least, not one I was going to see the inside of). Perhaps I’m being unfair, but you develop an instinct and I’m fairly sure that there had been somewhere for me to stay, had they wanted the custom. I stalked away in a pretty frustrated mood, wishing that she’d just said no straight off and not wasted my time. In the end, I made my way down a long country lane and onto the A40 (T). I had seen another pub sign on my map and was by now desperate for water, as my camel had run dry. The Halfway Inn is situated on the side of the A-road and not far from the bank of the Afon Tywi. It was a long walk off-route and was ultimately another cause for frustration as the place was closed.
Postcode West Day7 Pic 4

Sunset at Twyn Farm

In fact, it was next due to open on the following Tuesday. I reckoned that two days was a bit of a wait before I could get a decent drink, but at least was able to discover from the owners, who came out onto a balcony to talk to me, that there was a water pipe around the corner of the building. If nothing else, I was able to refill my camel although I did also find that I was being stared at by a family group in the car park. I was tired and cross enough to feel like asking them what the hell they were gawping at, but recognised this for the weariness it was and instead ignored them. In the end, I was forced to go back on myself again and began to make my way uphill on a country lane I had already been down. At this point, I was at a loss as to where to camp and it was six forty-five in the evening. A farmer was ploughing one of his fields and he must have noticed me limping by and stopping now and then; inspecting my map whilst wearing a series of crestfallen expressions. He jumped out of his tractor and asked me if I was okay. When I told him that I was looking for somewhere to camp, he immediately said that I could use one of his fields and indicated one to my right, on a slight incline. He told me that I could reach it via a thin belt of woodland and then asked if I needed water. I didn’t, but thanked him for his kindness. His name was Dai and he wouldn’t take any payment for the use of his land for the night. For my part, I was just grateful that I didn’t need to walk any further. Before long, he had turned towards home and I was left alone in one of his fields. I pitched tent and then looked to see where I was on my map. Dai’s place was called Twyn Farm and I sat in the entrance to my tent and watched the sunset bleed diffusely through a palette of grey clouds, as twilight birdsong once again filled the air. My day was ending as melodiously as it had begun. Eventually, a chill crept into the air as the light faded and I decided it was time to zip the tent closed and retire.
I was tucking myself into my sleeping bag, bemoaning the fact that my iPhone battery was about to run flat and that my head torch batteries and spares were completely dead, when a burst of messages came through from Twitter. On reading them, it seemed that BBC Radio Wales had somehow picked up on my journey west and had sent out a tweet, urging people on Twitter to follow my progress as I walked across Wales. As a result, I had picked up a few followers, one of whom was from a cafĂ© back in the town of Llandeilo. It was an invitation to pop in and have a free lunch on them, telling them about my journey in return. I had to kindly decline, as I’d already passed them by, but it was a nice gesture and they followed me for the rest of my journey. It was a strange but pleasing note on which to end the day.

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