Our Lass and I have just spent a pleasant week on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. After brief visits to the area during Second Born's spell at nearby Swansea University, we thought we ought to see the place properly and explore it at our leisure. As Britain's first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Gower has a myriad of habitats, rugged coasts, sandy beaches and some jolly decent tea shops.
We were fortunate enough to discover Swallows Nest, a gem of a self-catering cottage, just outside the village of Burry Green and were made to feel very welcome by the owners, Philippa and David. Whilst it was a little early for the Swallows to put in an appearance, we were hoping for plenty of other early Spring wildlife.
The let was Friday to Friday, so I booked an extra day's holiday and rose early to pack. By 10 o'clock, we had breakfasted, completed our preparations and the car was loaded. Things were going well. Too well, as it turned out. The roads were reasonably quiet, as the holiday getaway hadn't really kicked in, so we detoured to Snowshill Lavender in the Cotswolds for a spot of lunch. Unfortunately, it wasn't open for the season yet, but undaunted we nipped down the valley to Snowshill Manor to visit the National Trust restaurant instead. It too was shut, until the following day. Hmmm, there's a bit of a trend here.
Pushing on, we discovered that the B4077, our intended route, was also closed due to resurfacing work and we had to follow a lengthy diversion. Just before reaching the M5, we regained our original route and looked forward to a well-earned rest at the Little Chef in Ashchurch.
Nope, it was closed, as part of the restaurant chain's reorganisation. Oh well, there was nothing for it but to push on down the M50 passed Ross-on-Wye, the A40 through Monmouth and onto the A449 towards Newport. On the B4235, near Usk, we knew of a cracking pub and restaurant, the Rat Trap Inn, and felt sure that our long-awaited pitstop was just around the corner. It was shut. On a Friday lunchtime? We were starting to become a little fractious by this point, believing that we had somehow upset the food gods, as all our favourite watering holes were closed.
We frantically retraced our steps and drove into Usk, missed the signs for the car park, turned into the last side street at the end of the town, parked hurriedly and fell into the first eatery we found on Bridge Street.
It was called La Cantina and the sound system was gently broadcasting a track by Enya. The friendly staff and soothing décor helped to lower our stress levels further. Time to relax! After an excellent meal of local ham, eggs, hand cut chips and salad, we felt in the holiday mood once more. Before continuing our journey, we wandered a little way along the banks of the River Usk. The afternoon sun was pleasantly warm, Chiffchaffs were calling from the woods on the opposite bank and, on a stony island in the river, four Goosander were quite unconcerned at our presence.
The remainder of the trip was thankfully uneventful, as we careened westwards along the M4 to the strains of Within Temptation's 'The Unforgiving'. Who says there's no place in a wildlife blog for symphonic goth metal? Though I had to be careful not to drive '...faster and faster and faster.'
Arriving on Gower, we popped into a supermarket for some provender to see us through the weekend, but we needn't have worried. When we pulled up at the cottage, Philippa and David had provided an unexpected welcome pack of local produce plus two bottles of wine. We unpacked and settled into our new surroundings, before wandering up the hill behind the cottage to take in the view from the common land on Ryer's Down.
To the north was the estuary of the River Loughor, to the west the hills of Rhossili Down, to the east the ridge of Cefn Bryn and to the south was a view of the cottage set amidst rolling farmland.
The low evening sun lit up the feathers of Ravens as they glided along the ridge beside us, their glossy black plumage at odds with their sombre "r-a-w-k" calls. This is a wild place, with a wilder peace than we're used to, but we welcomed the change and the rest.
* Amherffaith ac dirdynnol is approximately 'Imperfect and tense' in Welsh.