It's always better once I get going.

Wales: You Are Beautiful but Hard: 21 – 24 July 2015

21 July 2015 10:35 am, Cardiff

Cardiff makes me think of my ex-husband. It’s a Rugby place and a Doctor Who place. So it prods the scar tissue – tests the healing. I feel milliseconds of missing his friendship followed by doubts of the genuineness of that initial feeling. It reminds me of the swirling mess of thoughts and feelings I had in the weeks and months after we split. They are best left to lie.

I begin my exploration of the Welsh capital with an amazing exhibition at the National Museum.

Chalkie Davies is a Welsh photographer who was on the staff of both NME and The Face.  In the 1980s he put some of his work in a box, closed it, and waited to see how it would age. When the museum called to ask about staging an exhibition he opened that box.

These are glorious photographs of artists who are now symbols of their times but were then in their youth, in their prime.

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I walk to the pedestrianised centre of town. At the markets I sample Welsh Cakes – sort of sweet flat scones with dried fruit. Yet another yummy variation on flour, sugar and fat. I get lunch and notice many at neighbouring tables are just having hot chips as their meal – big baskets of them, topped with things, and eaten with little forks.

I pop into the city’s Cardiff Story exhibition – a telling of the history of the city through photos and mementos of citizens. Included was a “baseball bat” which looked a lot like a cricket bat to me. I’ve since looked up Welsh Baseball and it is a curious thing. Descended from rounders but codified as baseball in 1892.

It’s a lot like cricket: teams of 11, games played in two innings, runs are scored when a batter reaches a base and another as s/he reaches each subsequent base, an over-the-boundry hit is good for four runs, the field radiates from the hitting position (no foul territory). But like baseball it’s played on a diamond – albeit a smaller one. Unlike either baseball or cricket the “bases” are marked by poles. Strange … the things you learn while travelling.

I walk a long way to Cardiff Bay to gaze at the Millenium Centre and pretend to look for a rift in time then I do the most touristy thing of the whole journey so far – pay a crazy £18 for the Doctor Who Experience.

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It begins with a ridiculous children’s “adventure with the Doctor” led by a woman acting out her part to luke-warm audience participation. When I was a kid I watched some Doctor Who with my nerdy-in-a-good-way older brother – I wasn’t devoted to it but I did like it, this was in the days of Tom Baker and Peter Davison.  My now-ex-husband was a much bigger fan and when the re-boot was launched in 2005 we tuned in from the beginning.

I loved Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor – he brought a darkness to the role I really liked. The Doctor as a lonely survivor, powerful, sometimes vengeful, softened by human companionship and his special relationship with Earth. I loved David Tennant’s Doctor, too – he added a cheekiness and a difficult emotional connection with his human companions but still had a bit of the darkness, or, with him, maybe sadness. Or the stories did. Is there anything creepier than Blink (the Weeping Angels episode) or The Empty Child (“Are you my mummy?”)

Once Russell T. Davies ceased to write and produce the show, and David Tennant left, I think the show descended into family-friendly safety. It bores and depresses me. But the shift has made the thing a massive universal success and thus The Doctor Who Experience.

I, frankly, would have paid extra to skip the “adventure” and just get to the exhibition which is very cool to visit (though I think they could make it even better with the addition of more audio/video – interviews with cast and crew would be great). But: Tardises! K9! Several Tardis consoles! Costumes! The Face of Bol!

Nerding out and a bit embarrassed about it.

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Are you sensing my slight ambivalence? It was good, but expensive, and so geeky. And fun.

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A Tardis Console!

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Dr Who Costumes!
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The Face of Bol! And others!

Wednesday 22 July 2015 7:30 am

I don’t want to. It’s raining. Right now I wish I could skip ahead to arriving at Cornelia’s place in Ireland.

I know it’ll be fine. But the weather invites lying in. Reading. Sitting still.

The French family has offered me a lift to near Swansea and I think I’ll accept. If it’s still raining when I get there I might just roll into town and find a room. Sigh.

9:15 pm – Tanylan Farm Holidays Campground outside Kidwelly (Gydweli)

After my whinging start, it was a lovely day’s riding.

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And I hit another milestone: 2000 kilometres!

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The French family (Antoine, Isabelle, Gabriel and ____ – something I just can’t catch) and I cycled out together from Gowerton and are still together. It was a flat, quiet – almost entirely off-road – ride. We mostly followed an estuary of the Carmathen Bay, we rode through wetlands, and skirted Llanelli – where we lunched in the lee of an information centre/café/toilets next to a beach.

We rode through the Pembray Forest and stopped to climb a dune with a sweeping 180* bay view.  White horses in close formations galloping in – low tide – the sea was some 200 + metres away. A cyclist on the beach in the distance. A kite-flyer.  Leaving the forest, we emerged into open pastureland with cows, it was lovely.

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Then Kidwelly – home to a castle, many take-aways (kebabs, Indian, Chinese, fish & chips), a couple of pubs, and a small Spar grocery store with sad vegetables. But friendly helpful people with lovely Welsh accents directed us toward the campground.

It was nice riding with people. They assure me they are happy to have me ride along with them as we’re going the same way at a similar pace.

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11:30 pm

Just near us … a family arrived after us to their campervan. This park has a lot of simple onsite vans with extender type set ups, obviously owned by individuals as their holiday homes.

It feels very working class. The family group next to us includes a pile of children: Tommy in footy boots, Luca who seems a bit albino, another boy in glasses – all of them sort of 4-6. And a toddling girl.

When I just got up to go to the toilet I thought I might have stumbled over their bodies – fallen where they were – having finally exhausted themselves of running around and screaming. But the adults seem to have collected them up. I think there may be nearly 10 people between caravan and extender there. But some of the kids may come from elsewhere in the park.

When we pedalled into the park – a chatty red-faced blonde girl, maybe 7, asked where we’d come from then she stared gape-mouthed as I answered. The accent – my accent – I think was too alien for her.

It’s really, again, so very English – fitting all sorts of stereotypes of English working class holidays … a caravan park by a Welsh beach. While we were putting the tents up the Mr Whippy van came through playing … of course “Greensleeves”.

Some of the vans are strung with Christmas lights. It reminds me of home – this culture of caravanning summer holidays at the beach has been transported wholesale to Australia.

When I just went to the loo: there was the Big Dipper. It would be ridiculous to say I haven’t seen it earlier in the trip – for surely, surely I have – but I don’t recall seeing it – like that – just big, clear, dipper shaped and upright.

Thursday 23 July – 8:10 am

Either the country was invaded at dawn or there was a military exercise this morning. At 5:15 or so there was gun fire in the distance and voices. I got up to pee and there were weird trails in the sky too.

8:35 pm – Antshill Caravan Park

Well that was a fucking hard day. Beautiful in its way – quiet back roads through farms – but rolling – very rolling. A lot of climbing just to roll down the other side, around a corner, then up again. Really hard, really really hard.

I’ve realised that when I’m riding alone I stop more frequently than the French family does. We didn’t really stop at all. Only to eat our lunch in Carmathen, where we just stood around eating.

While lunching I watched a young man – maybe 20, sharing lunch with what seemed to be work colleagues (a man and a woman) in a busy shopping mall. The whole time he had his hand down the front of his trackies, and inside his undies (I could see the waistband). He seemed sober and otherwise normal – I really should have asked WTF??

Heading into St Clears late in the day I was going to leave the French and find a B&B – I was ready to pay whatever it cost. But the route didn’t go straight through town and we saw the for this campground. So here we are. The campground has a clubhouse with a pub/restaurant – dead empty but for me. I’m having a beer and Pringles – well earned – tent’s up, showered, made dinner.

I nearly wept today pushing and climbing up a hill.

It’s two months since I left Sydney.

I am thinking of Vickianne and Jim seeing me off at the airport. I miss everyone.

Rooted.

Knackered.

Shattered.

Friday 24 July 8:10 am – Anthill Caravan Park near St Clears

It’s been raining pretty much all night – certainly since before 4 am.

Last night I’d been discussing with Antoine my need of a new tent. The rain has put paid to that idea. It could be a lot worse (and the day with the puddle (link) was). The tent seams are gone so water is getting through the fly and then some drips into the tent proper. I woke – 4-ish – to find dampness on my sleeping bag so set about rearranging and putting stuff into my waterproof panniers.

Packing and riding in this is totally uninviting.

It’s not pouring but it’s solid and steady and giving no hints of letting up.

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The view from inside my tent.

The French are awake. I wonder what they’ll do.

I’m tempted to throw away the tent here.

I’m tempted to ask Cornelia if she can collect me from Rosslare on Sunday night.

I’m tempted to find out about the train from Rosslare to Wexford.

Basically I’m tired. Tired of riding. On the bike it’s good – mostly – not the climbing. Not the packing and unpacking.

7:27 pm The Lighthouse Tavern – Tenby

The daughter – Felicity – or some French name near that, had to learn the word ‘unabashed’ for school English. She knew the definition but wanted to understand it in context.

It took me about 10 minutes to come up with a good one – everything I thought of was like from a 19th century novel.

I suggested that it probably relates to bashful – “A teenaged boy might be bashful around a girl he likes, but some would be unabashed in showing their interest.”

I’ve said goodbye to them – having checked into a hotel in Tenby – which is a super-cute town with pastel houses about the beach and harbour. It’s a walled city – not sure who walled it or when – with a ruined castle on the headland.

I abandoned the tent at Anthill. It served me well – but now is dead.

From the campground we rolled into Laugharne, home to Dylan Thomas’ boatshed. An adorable village full of B&Bs. Sigh.

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Laugharne – Dylan Thomas had a boatshed here, people come to see it.

Leaving there it was a super hard climb on cold legs after a wet night – and it was still raining off and on.

And that set the tone. More climbing through beautiful wet green Welsh countryside. I was generally well behind the group but would catch up now and then.

We stopped in Saundersfoot for lunch. I had fish and chips, we went to a café for tea. Everyone was pretty ready to not ride much more today.

Out of Saundersfoot guess what? A big climb?

The sea is beautiful, however – it really is.

I bought a postcard of sunny beaches for a laugh.

Knowing I’d get a bed of some sort lifted my spirits – which have been pretty low for a couple of days.

I want to go out and see what Tenby says for itself on a Friday night.

I want to lie in bed and watch TV.

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Au revoir, my French friends – may the rain fall more lightly for the rest of your holiday.
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Hello hotel bed! Yippee – no wet tent tonight.

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