Westward Ho! to Wales

Worm's Head Ale
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
Continuing my exploration of Britain's extremities, I left Bristol on Monday 26 July and crossed the border under the tunnel into Wales. The objective was the smallest city in the world - St David's, a name that often appears on BBC weather maps. But first I had to visit that mini-extremity the Gower Peninsular, a district made famous by map-drawer Neil Gower (I wish I could find that postcard he drew!). I headed for Swansea, Freedom of South of Wales Flexi-Rover in my hand (but see my rant about it), and stopped off at Swansea Market for some laverbread and cockles to sustain me. Hmm, I love seaweed but the small 'teb' at £2 was far too much for me. The-hot-off-the-griddle Welsh cakes however were yummy. I only had time to pop my head into the famous Kardomah cafe, before catching the 118 bus to Rhossili. The bus journey wasn't as scenic as I'd hoped, with just tantalising glimpses of far-off bays through hedges, and it didn't go to Port Eynon either. When we arrived at the extremity, my heart sank, seeing a long long walk downhill ahead of me (and the corresponding long walk uphill back). However, an unprepossessing pub beckoned and with a pint of Tomos Watkin's Worm's Head Ale in my hand I went out into the beer garden at the back to be presented with the most amazing sight! Bar Helvetia (named after the 1887 wreck on the beach) of the Worm's Head Hotel must have one of the world's most outstanding views.

After an unsuccessful trip to find the Mumbles and a night at the excellent Alexander Hotel in Uplands (£35 a night), I set out west again (a train ride with wonderful views of the coastline) to the ancient city of Carmarthen, my base camp for St David's. But first, to get my steam railway fix, I made a bus detour to Bronwydd Arms - no not a pub, but the station for the Gwili Steam railway. As I puffed down the 1/4 mile hill from the bus stop, the train was just about to leave, but a chap in a hi-vis very kindly made it wait until I'd bought my ticket (£4 with senior and Rover discounts). The train was in two halves: the front were all having an optional cream tea; the rest were in the back two carriages. At the end of the line at Danycoed I discovered we were being hauled by Haulwen, a Vulcan Foundry 0-6-0ST, and there were several other industrial locos dotted about in various states of repair. After an apple slice in the cafe and a tour of the signal box, I headed back to the smart Spilman Hotel (£54 a night).

Wednesday 28 July was St David's day, so I got a train to Haverfordwest (which had another castle and looked like a nice place to visit) and the 411 bus to St David's. After a near miss head-on with a white van on the narrow roads and some spectacular views at Newgale, we arrived at the village. I was expecting a mini-cathedral like the one in Kirkwall, Orkney, but just down a lane, in a dip was the full-size deal! Plus a ruined Bishop's Palace behind. I had a very nice bowl of tomato and basil soup in the refectory and a walk round - the misericords and roof caught my eye. The real extremity on the coast looked like a long walk away, so as I had a while to wait for the bus back, had a pint in the only pub in the city, The Bishop's.

Thursday I was heading back to Swansea to stay with my friend from late-1960s Guildford, Loppy, but for a bonus trip decided to head to Tenby, a place I'd seen on the tv programme Coast, and the most popular place in the whole of Wales, judging by how ramjam packed with kids the two-carriage diesel was! At Tenby I discovered a cafe with a fabulous view, appropriately called Caffe Vista, had a quick whizz round the town and back onto the train for Swansea and a coffee with Loppy and her friend Julie in The Mumbles. And Friday it was the long journey home, changing at Cardiff and Bristol. Job done! Some great views and a steam train.

Other extremities:

John O'Groats and Orkney

Margate and Ramsgate


PS. Obviously, I didn't set out from Westward Ho! This Devonshire village has the only place name in the UK with an exclamation mark. Unfortunately, the Transport font, designed by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert between 1957 and 1963, used for all UK road signs, doesn't have an exclamation mark!

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