Postcode West Day 9

Postcode West
By Colin Walford
Day Nine

Route: Hollybrook Inn to Llanboidy
Date: Tuesday May 20th 2014
Distance: 18.6m (30km)
Elevation: 82ft (25m) to 741.5ft (226m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 2592ft (790m) and 2402ft (732m)

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The village named after a pub ...

I’d set my alarm for seven thirty and got up to have a peek out of the window. The sky was a coverlet of low cloud but, for now at least, the rain was holding off. I had a shower and then went down for a hearty breakfast and to settle the bill. Once back upstairs changing into the dirty, stiffened shapes that was my walking clothing was as distasteful as I’d known it would be but after a few minutes, I was no longer aware of it.
I set off at a quarter-past nine, walking along the length of the B4301 as it began to drizzle on me with exquisite timing. I moved on through a small community, stopping at an engineering place to confirm the direction I was heading in, then crossing the Afon Gwili and making my way to the Gwili railway station. There was a single train at rest amongst a couple of handsome buildings with Georgian windows. The station was bordered by a yellow picket fence and had Victorian-style lantern lamps. The inert silver hatchback in the car park was entirely Elizabethan. I decided that I rather liked the place as I ambled through it, then over the rail track via a crossing and uphill on a lane. I stopped, as I had a good view along the shallow valley before me, which was pleasant despite the spitting rain and the sombre light of the day. An abandoned and corroding train carriage, mottled with rust, lay on a stretch of track and added a sense of melancholy to the scene. To counter-balance this and the best sight of all,
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The eco-house in Bronwydd

I overlooked a wonderful house that had a grass-meadow roof in full flower with a circular, stone chimney-pot sat in the middle; an eco-house, as I immediately christened it. Its outside walls were painted cream and it had a black stairs and balcony running around its exterior. I was admiring this, when a lorry containing cattle rumbled by and a sudden spurt of liquid faeces was ejected by one of the occupants onto the road just behind me. I was caught by a bit of splash as I frantically scrabbled out of the way. It quite spoiled the moment. Was I cursed by the rear-end activities of cows on this trip? I couldn’t seem to escape the stuff and I swore pointlessly at the back of the lorry as it pulled away. I joined the busy A484, walking north along a pavement and given a vantage point along the way I’d already come, as the road continued to climb. I could see Bronwydd below me; the community comprising of the village of Bronwydd Arms, a couple of nearby hamlets and a number of working farms scattered here and there. The village name is taken from the Bronwydd Arms Inn, which served until 1978 on the main road junction into the village. The public house and adjoining shop were demolished in March 1981. It was about ten minutes into this stroll as I neared a settlement called Cwmdwyfran, that I realised two things. One, I should have been climbing at a much steeper rate according to my map and two; I was walking almost due north, not west. It was a silly error entirely of my own making but, although a nuisance because I had to back-track a considerable distance, was easily remedied.

Marian the pilgrim ...

So it was that I left the A-road, tackling a very severe climb up a snaking lane and beginning to leave the neighbourhood of Bronwydd in my wake. The trail was so steep here, that I had to lean right forward into it as I pushed upwards. My legs began to burn fiercely, but at the same time they were used to such treatment by now. I was able to keep up a measured pace and make the top of the hill without stopping, or even feeling very tired. My breathing was fast but regular, as I rested and looked about me. The rain had stopped; the scudding clouds hurrying their burden onwards to other places. A bright yellow sign was screwed to a low garden wall next to me, a picture of a Kiwi bird on it telling me to look out for them over the next 1,000 metres. There was a dimwit moment when I actually wondered if this could be true, before realising that it was obviously a sign brought back from travels abroad. I walked on and it was lovely up here on the heights; so quiet apart from a non-threatening wind. It was also very wild and I soaked up the atmosphere as I advanced. I stopped again, in front of a property my map revealed to be named Cwmcyneifon. Here, I took a few photos and also sent an Audioboo off of me already lamenting that the end of the walk was drawing nearer. I didn’t yet want to return to the normality of going to work and grocery shopping. A car approached slowly and stopped alongside me. There were three older ladies inside and the driver unwound the window and asked if I was lost. I replied that I was fine.
“Oh, you don’t need rescuing then?” She said, with a definite twinkle in her eye. I had to smile in return.
“Not yet, but I’ll know who to ask.”
This brought forth a trio of cackles and they drove on and actually turned in to the driveway of Cwmcyneifon. I don’t know if they lived here or were holidaying, but it was a feral spot they had chosen either way. I walked on along the lane, merging with another at a fork and then going left on yet another conduit. After about twenty minute’s steady progress a church steeple slowly became visible to me and I consulted my map again, to discover that I was closing in on Newchurch. As I walked adjacent to it, I looked through metal railings and saw another walker sat in the porch entrance and that decided it. I pulled my sleeve back and saw that it was eleven-thirty. It would be as good a place as any to have a brief rest and a drink. The lady had a couple of walking poles and was sat bare-footed on the stone step,
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Marian the pilgrim

her boots standing at attention beside her. Even from where I was, I could see that her feet were patched with plasters and she looked as if she’d been on the road for a while. I was suddenly as curious about her trip as people I’d met had been about mine. I walked back on myself as I went up the church path towards her, calling out a greeting and asking her if I could join her. She answered in the affirmative and shuffled sideways a bit on the step to give me room. Introductions were made as I stripped off my own boots and socks to give my feet a bit of fresh air. I learned that her name was Marian and she was undertaking the amazing feat of walking from Salisbury to St. David’s on some kind of pilgrim path, involving churches and other aged buildings of note. As she told me this, a little internal light bulb lit up. I had heard of a lady walking from Salisbury to St. David’s a few nights back, when I had stayed at The Lodge in Sennybridge. She had been a couple of days ahead of me at that point and I had finally caught up with her. She reckoned her walk was about 280 miles in length and when gently pressed on the matter of our respective ages, told me that she was ‘closing in on sixty’. And I had thought what I was doing was a worthy effort.
“But I didn’t do the Black Mountains or Brecon Beacons like you did,” she reminded me, “I thought ‘no way’ and steered south to avoid those.”
Something had just occurred to me, “Hang on – you must have walked through that storm about nine or ten days ago, then.” Just before I had set out, the weather had been awful and I remember being thankful for missing it. Marian laughed.
“Yes. I had to cross over the Severn Bridge near Bristol that day and it was atrocious. But, I’ve been lucky. I’ve had friends, or friends of friends, during the whole walk and have often been given a bed for the night. It’s why I have such a light pack to carry – not like the one you’re humping around.”
It was true; Marian was sporting a small and pastel-coloured rucksack that would barely have held my water camel and spare clothing. We settled down to chat for a good half an hour and there was an instant ease in each other’s company and a lot of laughter. Our conversation meandered through the subjects of foot ailments, our respective routes, strange Welsh (and double entendre) map place-names and the people we had met on the way. She had been born in New Zealand (maybe that Kiwi sign had been a prophecy) but had lived in England for most of her life and I didn’t detect any kind of an accent. We talked about our joint final destination of St. David’s and Marian reckoned that I’d get there three or four days before her at the pace I was walking.
“It’s hilly around here and I’ll be taking it easy, so you’ll be there way before me.”

Postcards in the rain ...

At about a quarter-past twelve, we decided it was time to say our goodbyes and move on. I took a photo of her in front of the church and we wished each other well, before I strode back down the path and onto the lane. She was right about our respective walking speeds and I had soon left her behind; a dwindling figure as I swept onwards, up and down minor gradients. Minor, that is, until I reached the valley of Bwlchnewydd and turned right. I was meant to walk right down the length of it and then cut up an evil-looking ravine at the far end, but I blew a mental raspberry at this poppycock and instead stuck to the lane. This involved a sharp left and an arduous ascent up the inevitable hill. The twisty path took me to a height of about 730 feet and there it straightened out and should have taken me forward with some purpose. However, a bloke was standing in the middle of the lane and acting as a guard, whilst a woolly stream of sheep streamed across it, bleating with woe. He saw me and beckoned me through as a handy hiatus occurred in the flow of livestock. I scuttled by and passed another bloke, who was guarding the road on the other side of the circus. I walked on and at some point along this straight bit, my official course sneaked in on a side-track and I was back on-route.
I reached a crossroads and went straight ahead, remembering that Marian had told me she would be turning left here, to go south to a place called Abernant. I remained on this path for a good while, just making steady progress and lost in my own thoughts. The road started to drop downhill and a belt of trees sprang up, so that I walked beneath their canopy and eased around a bend in the road. I stopped, for the scene in front of me was wonderful. The land tumbled steeply from left to right, so that on my left was a wooded slope and cliffs of broken rock that came down to the edge of the road. On my right, the ground fell away as sheer as a rock face in parts, yet thickly-wooded on the less steep slopes.
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The canopy of trees at Talog

I was beneath a thick awning of deciduous branches and leaves. This whole stretch of road was immersed in emerald and even the light seemed steeped in peaceful green. This vista was alive with birdsong; a vibrant descant as Blackbirds, Robins, Thrushes and several more species staked a claim in this beauty spot. I walked through it with deep appreciation and stopped at the far end of the tunnel of trees to gaze back on it. It was a highlight of the day and I called it the ‘gorgeous gorge’ on my Twitter feed, although it wasn’t exactly a gorge. After this, there was a continual drop into a valley where the village of Talog was lodged. I discovered, with a little surge of jollity, that the village store was open for business. This was good, as I had postcards to buy and send off. I asked the lady in the shop if the village had a post office. She took me to the shop entrance and pointed outside, just as fat raindrops began to splash down on the pavement. There was a kind of mobile postal van parked in the road and it looked as if the man was starting to pack up and move on, so I dashed over and sent home some used maps. I also withdrew £100 to bolster my funds and as I stepped back out of the van, I saw how overcast it had become and it immediately began to rain heavily. It was the type of rain that seems to bounce back up off the road as the individual drops disperse. The rainstorm was filling the air with a hissing sound. I ran back to the shelter of the shop, where the lady let me write out three or four postcards I bought, sat at her counter on a wobbly wooden stool for about half an hour. Once or twice, a rare customer braved the deluge and traded cash for goods around me. I also ate a Magnum and had a drink and then the lady running the store allowed me to use it as a dressing room, as I changed into my wet gear. Given the narrow dimensions of the store, I was fairly pleased that I completed the operation without assaulting her wares.
It was about ten-past two when I went back out on the road and plodded forwards in the rain. I made my way around the circumference of a small hill and then through another wooded valley. I ignored the cross-country option of my route again, taking no risks and sticking to a lane going north. This took me uphill, where I passed another ruinous shell of a house as the rain lessened and stopped, abruptly. Today had been a sequence of climbs and dips through these vales and my map told me that this would be continuing, although the walking was very pleasant on the eye with the green hills, banks of hedge-side ferns and patches of Cow Parsley. I was brought to the tiny community of Trelech-a’r-Bettws and once through it, I began to descend into a further valley towards the small hamlet of Pen-y-bont. It was a very fine-looking place, was Pen-y-bont. Its central focus seemed to be a man-made garden, with black wrought-iron gates leading to a paved area and raised brickwork patios. On these and also in a red-painted wooden wheelbarrow, were containers of plants and it was all very neat and tidy. The dwellings round-a-bout didn’t let the side down either and all the houses were of beautiful stone and capped with roofs of that impressive Welsh slate. It was a delight to walk through, but not such a delight to try and take a short-cut in. I tried to take a track up onto a hilltop but, looking at my map now, I have no clue as to why this seemed like a good idea. The only track on my map heads off in completely the wrong direction. It would have robbed me of my breath and any chance of finding my route west, so it was a decision of temporary madness. However, the actual track was impossibly overgrown and I wasn’t able to navigate it, thank goodness.

A succession of hills and valleys ...

Instead I walked around an additional knoll and gradually to a higher altitude once more. I went straight over a further crossroads at Groesffordd and it was whilst tramping the long stretch after this that the clouds above me began to break up and the day became brighter. Before long, the sun was actually starting to bathe the hilltops in warmth and sunlit gladness. A bellowing combustion engine suddenly ripped the serenity from the countryside, as a tractor in the field next to me started up and belched out a cloud of blue exhaust. I considered, as I moved away, how quiet rural Britain would have been two centuries before, when no such mechanical intrusions startled a walker from his contemplations. Knighted explorers like Sirs Richard Francis Burton and Ernest Shackleton hadn’t had to suffer such indignities, Arctic and Antarctic hardships notwithstanding. I was suddenly taken down off my current hill and into the valley bottom where the Afon Cynin tore through, made vociferous by a bed of rocks. The gorge I was in was extremely pretty and as I crossed the river over a wooden bridge, the opportunity was too good to pass over. I took off my backpack and sat on the bridge, with the gurgling river behind me and sunshine dappling the trees and faintly-perfumed Bluebells. It was a quarter-to five and I was hungry, so I got out one of the huge pasties I had bought the day before and ate as I soaked up the noise of the birds and the Cynin.
I enjoyed the food and the solitude
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for a while and then got to my feet once more, already resigned to the steep climb I had back out of the valley. It was a murderous one too, even by local standards, as it took me to Llanwinio and by a large farm. Straight away, I was plunged back down again into the village of Cwmbach. I had chanced it and struck out across a few fields to do this and returned to a metalled surface in time to enter the village. I didn’t loiter here, but strode on and a photo I sent off to Twitter at the time reveals how tortuous and steep the lane I used was. It was typical of the day’s walking and I was grateful for the fitness I had attained over the past week, as I felt good and strong during this passage and my hardened feet were fine. I walked over another couple of crossroads as I traversed the district of Llanwinio and then descended again, into Cwmfelin Mynach. I didn’t linger in this place either, striding steadily through as my watch hands were closing in on six o’clock. In this manner, does the walker dismiss the little villages and hamlets that are encountered and left behind and in doing so; we never get to learn about the history of a place.
It’s a good job, then, that we have the internet nowadays. This told me that Cwmfelin Mynach is a tiny Carmarthenshire village with a population of only 64 residents. The Afon Gronw runs through the centre of the village under a stone bridge and during the medieval period, the river was used to drive a corn mill. 'Cwmfelin Mynach' means Valley (cwm) of the Monks' (Mynach) Mill (Felin). It was founded in the 6th century by the Cistercian monks or Whitefriars and these monks it was, who gave their name to the nearby town of Whitland. Outside Whitland, it is the oldest Cistercian monastery in Britain; much of the limestone having being looted after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. Notable curiosities in this bilingual Welsh and English-speaking village include the practice of baptising in the river. At the lowest point in the village, persons are brought down stone steps and immersed in the Gronw. Slate was once taken from the ground here and the remnants of these quarries can still be seen, hidden within trees and vegetation. The remains of a cock-fighting bunker are visible deep in Beechwood, although the grisly practice itself has not gone on for many years. Well, at least not officially so. Sadly, the village has no public house and in recent years there have been new developments which threaten the village's ‘unique character’, which include having no mains gas or sewage treatment and every home using septic tanks. The water is pumped to the village from the reservoir underneath the Preseli Mountains. The village boasts an array of flora and fauna, most notable of which is a pair of Red Kites that lives near the village. The Caraway flower comes in summer in damp pasture near the river. It is the county flower of Carmarthenshire and is similar in appearance to the Cuckoo Flower. The dominant trees are Beech and Ash, with Sycamore and Oaks growing to a lesser degree. There you go – and I walked through this wonderful piece of history in five minutes flat, passing by two of the aforementioned disused quarries. I also went by the church which was startling to come across, as the whole building was painted the bright, light blue of a Robin’s egg.

An offer I couldn’t refuse ...

After Cwmfelin Mynach I had a gander at my map, as the evening was drawing on and I needed somewhere to stay. Having had the taste of the soft life the night before, I was rather keen to try and find another bed and breakfast. This hope evaporated as I studied the map, casting my eyes over a myriad of whorls and compressed contour lines that told me I was, basically, in the middle of nowhere. The next village around was one called Llanboidy. Entering it would mean me sticking to the road I was on and not going traipsing across fields and by woods, as I had envisaged in my construction of the route a couple of years previously. At that moment, this suited me just fine and I endured another climb out of the valley on feet that were finally beginning to complain about their lot in life. As I walked, the evening sunshine was still throwing the faces of the hills into favourable relief amongst the deepening shadows of the dells and vales. I turned left at a T-junction,
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Approaching Llanboidy

abandoning my walk for the night as I headed south and down into the basin of Llanboidy at a quarter-to seven. As I left the last hill and entered the village it quickly became obvious that the latter had seen better days and further, that those days were well behind it. Llanboidy is a village lying pooled and curdled in the bottom of its valley. The decline was not obvious from a distance, but close-up was revealed the scabrous aspect of peeling paint, rotting window shelves and crumbling brickwork. I slogged tiredly by a building that appeared to be wholly supported by its network of scaffolding, like a pensioner leaning on a Zimmer-frame. But, at least Llanboidy had a pub and I immediately entered The Lamb Inn. I was very conscious of my dirty, sweaty appearance but, equally, I was already sure that around these parts, it wouldn’t matter a jot.
The Lamb Inn was the typical spit-and-sawdust pub and three or four drinkers were strewn around a scruffy bar as I marched in. Like in the films, there was an immediate silence as everybody regarded me. Even the barmaid tore her eyes away from the TV to have a gander. I suppose they weren’t used to seeing ruck-sacked hikers this far off the beaten track. I was too tired to be put off by a potentially awkward silence, as I addressed the room in general.
“Is there a B&B, or anywhere I can camp for the night around here?”
A second or two went by and then I received a totally unexpected answer. An individual with a goatee and salt and pepper hair spoke up, his facing glowing a drinker’s red, “You can stay at mine, if you want.” I was momentarily thrown and suddenly felt very exposed with all those eyes on me. The occupants of the bar awaited my answer. I had a brief internal tussle; a fight between caution and an awareness that a slight challenge hung in the air, as they wondered whether I would accept or decline and slink away.
“How much?” I asked.
He shrugged, “A tenner.”
And that’s how quickly I submitted myself to the company of a complete stranger who, it has to be said, could be called a bit of a rough diamond. I had misgivings and my mind was still racing over this, when he suggested we have a beer and then he’d take me to his digs. I duly ordered a pint and joined my new companion at the bar. There were three other blokes in the room and also the barmaid. She, at least, seemed to immediately accept me after this bit of business and was friendly. The way she addressed the other lads and how at ease she was with them, reassured me a little. After our drink, my temporary landlord led me out of the pub and across the road. I was being taken back the way I had come and saw, with a growing concern, that he was heading unerringly towards the scaffold-laden building I had pitied earlier. Surely, I thought, he doesn’t live in this derelict dump? He surely did and took me straight up to the front door, which I was perturbed to see was hanging open. He pushed inside, nonchalantly informing me that the door had had neither a latch nor a lock in the three years he had lived there. I had just managed to book myself a run-down doss-house for the night. Ten quid for a roof over my head had seemed very good business back in the bar, but I was now beginning to feel hard done by. The door to his flat also had no means to secure it and the place itself was as messy, dilapidated and dirty as I by now knew it was going to be. He showed me to my room; a tiny box curiously strewn with a child’s toys. The baby doll’s pram and girl’s clothing hinted that there was a sad story in this man’s life, but I pitied the little mite who might be spending access time in this dump with her daddy. I had a bed, but the thin single blanket was grubby and I didn’t want to ponder too long on what it smelt of. My host told me he was heading back to The Lamb, but that I should dump my gear and join him if I felt like it. As soon as he’d gone, I sat down and considered my options.
I could put my rucksack back on and scarper back into the wilds of rural Wales, perhaps be lucky enough to find a field far enough away and pitch my tent before it got too dark. I’d already handed over the ten pounds, but I could cut my losses and put it down to (a bad) experience. Or, I could leave my expensive gear in this totally unsecured building and hope that my host wasn’t already getting a raiding party together. I could go back over to the pub and join the lads in a few pints and suss out the atmosphere. If I felt that things were twitchy I could make my excuses, grab my stuff and head for the hills. If all felt okay, then at least I had a roof over my head for the night and the promise of a shower in the morning. I could also charge my electrical gear in the room, as I could see a few plug sockets. I deliberated for a short while and then changed into my shirt and tracksuit bottoms, before stowing my rucksack away as much as possible. It seemed that I had decided to make new friends, back at The Lamb Inn.

Bennies for supper ...

The same company of ale-suppers were present and I got talking to an English guy at the bar. He was doing contract work in Llanboidy as a builder and I privately thought that he could spend the rest of his working life trying to patch the village up. Indeed, he told me that he had worked here before and was in the middle of another stretch. He made it sound like a prison sentence and he shrugged at me. “I’d prefer to be elsewhere, but I have to go where the work is.” He abruptly changed the subject, “By the way – you could have stayed at my place tonight for a tenner and the missus would have done you a cooked breakfast in the morning,” He gave me a knowing look, which I took to mean he knew exactly the living conditions I was going to ‘enjoy’ overnight. I could have done without him telling me how much greener the grass was under his roof, to be honest. The thoughts of clean bedsheets and a plateful of English to wake up to was a kick in the guts, given how my night was going to pan out.
“Well, you weren’t quick enough,” I countered, slightly nettled.
He was a former British soldier and had served during the Serbia/Bosnia atrocities in the mid-nineties. The things he had seen had left a mark on all of them and he and his army mates had run as a team from Bosnia to Plymouth after the war, to raise money for Bosnian’s affected by the conflict. I think the humanity and compassion of that is pretty amazing and told him so. Shortly, he wished me well for the rest of my walk and took an early exit. I joined my room-letter and a young guy he was drinking with who, it turned out, had been dossing with him for the past five weeks. Formal introductions were finally made and I discovered that my rescuer was known as ‘Mabbon’ and the young man (18 years old) was ‘Jonesey’. Mabbon was 42 years old, but looked older. He had the florid complexion of a heavy drinker. He also had muscular dystrophy (“Hence the skinny arms,” he told me) and I wondered whether the serious drinking had begun after the diagnosis. Perhaps not, for I also learned that he had lived rough in London for a while. We had a couple more pints and then the three of us headed back to Hotel Wonderful. It seemed as if the evening’s partaking of substances wasn’t over for the lads, for they immediately lit up a joint which they passed back and forth. Mabbon went for a comfort break and Jonesey opened the fridge to get some milk for a coffee. I could see an opened can of Tenant’s Super on a shelf.
“That’s Mabbon’s breakfast,” Jonesey smiled, “He has one first thing every morning.”
There were three sofas in the lounge and I was offered one of them with a quilt, my companions doing likewise. They were both lolling on separate sofas whilst smoking joints and Jonesey asked, “What have we got tonight?”
“Diazepam,” answered Mabbon and threw him a strip of tablets.
Mabbon offered me a Diazepam but I declined, mumbling something about needing to be fresh for the morning. He shrugged and popped it himself. It all felt a little surreal, to be honest. EastEnders was playing out another slanging match on the TV and the lounge buddies were popping pills and smoking away on the weed. Gradually, desultory conversation petered out and we all dozed off. I was tired after a day’s hard walking and any reservations about sleeping in front of rough-arse strangers were coaxed away by heavy eyelids. We woke at about midnight and each went to our own rooms. Mabbon’s place had one more trick to play on me before my head hit the stained pillow, as when I went to charge my electrical stuff overnight I discovered that none of the plug sockets worked. I was chagrined, but not really surprised. Once in bed, I reflected that the situation wasn’t such a terrible one after all. I drifted into sleep with the thoughts that the lads in the rooms near me weren’t bad sorts. They had been friendly and helpful and had given me no reason to expect something unfortunate was going to happen to me. No – they had earned my trust and I could relax and have a good night’s sleep in the knowledge that they wouldn’t be bursting in on me with baseball bats.
Besides, before I had got into bed I had shoved a full-length mirror under the door handle and braced the other end against a cupboard. No bugger was getting into my room in a hurry.

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