Heart of the Country

A piece from a longer work which goes by the name of Snapshot Log. This one, Heart of the Country, describes a car journey through the heart of Wales which saw me drive from Penarth, South Wales to Snowdonia, North Wales and back again in one day, 12 hours behind the wheel.

Earlier this week we were in Wales and on the Tuesday Nov 21st, took a ride up through more or less the heart of Wales and then back again in a single day. The ride up and down was great, since I was born in Wales and am now 55 years of age, it was probably long overdue for me to get out and finally make that journey from the south to the north going straight through the heart of the country.

Leaving Penarth, we headed out on the A4232, up to the M4 eastbound for one junction until we came off and joined the A470 which, believe it or not, goes right through the heart of Wales all the way to Conwy on the north coast. It took us through or past the following places –


Merthyr Tydfil
Brecon
Builth Wells
Rhayader 
Llangurig
Llanidloes
Dolgellau


– until we got on the A487 about 10 miles east of Porthmadog, which was where we were heading. The second place was Ffestiniog, back on the A470 and further up into the hills and mountains of Snowdonia. Then after that it was a simple case of driving all the way back down the A470 until we hit the M4 at the bottom and then went west for one junction before we joined the A4232 back to Penarth. All in all it was an 11 hour trip, leaving at 8 in the morning and getting back by 7 in the evening of the same misty murky day.

So that was the route, that was the trip and it was a long time behind the wheel. It was a dark Welsh November day, grey skies brooding above us all the way up with only faint glimmers of light on the horizon, glimmers destined soon to fade. It was a drive up through the empty country, left hand Wales with a lot of hills, a lot of green and not a whole hell of a lot in the way of places and people. A trip that I was happy to make, no matter what the outcome of the intended purpose, because it was an opportunity for me to take a long drive through the country in which I was born. Not a journey I had made before, well, not in any way to remember and since I am now 55 years of age it is possible that it might not be a trip I will make again, so that makes it a once in a lifetime ride, well at least maybe, possibly. The slow crawl up from the south, into and through the empty middle, before finally hitting the high north. That is it, that is Wales, the country I was born in quite a long time ago.

dragon Wales

Welsh born me
but a life lived beyond borders
is my story,
no worries
soul haven lies within
the hills and dales
of this horny principality

Actually the southern part wasn’t a crawl at all because it is a fact the only stretch of dual carriageway that I could see on the whole route up was between Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil which went right through the crowded valleys where many a coal mine now stood abandoned to the point where you would have never known they ever existed , even if the people who worked them were still there, or at least the descendants of them. It was just as well the road was dual in that part of the trip, otherwise things might have got decidedly sticky and the journey ahead of us would have stretched out to become an extremely long one, way longer than what it was, than what it turned out to be, which was long enough. Other than that you see, the only other bit of dual on the whole ride up was the Brecon by-pass which was only a couple of miles in length, all the rest of the A470 was just a road with one lane going one way and one lane going the other, in other words classic A road territory.

Guess the fact of the matter is that under the circumstances we still made pretty good time, although there was traffic it was not too busy and it was not the case we got stuck behind many slow moving vehicles or anything like that. It was therefore relatively quick for us to get up to what turned out to be our one and only pit stop, a Texaco garage a couple of miles south of the town of Rhayader, a garage which had a Spa shop and a really rather nice sit-down Greggs tagged onto the side of it. Rather nice Greggs? Well, under the circumstances it did indeed seem to be and I guess that is all that I have to say about the matter. By the time we hit this Greggs the route had already taken us through those Welsh valleys on the A470 double stretch, up to and across the Brecon Beacons, then down the other side, past the town of Brecon before taking a left turn in the direction of and eventually through the old Welsh spa town of Builth Wells, which the Romans knew, before the land suddenly seemed to stretch out a bit and we gently climbed into hillier country.

It was then, once we were past Rhayader and on the quieter, emptier 70 mile stretch all the way up to Dolgellau, that we hit the first of what turned out to be a series of road works, road management projects, whatever it is that you want to call them, all with lots of temporary traffic lights which always without fail when we approached them were stuck on red. So this slowed our progress through what was already a long 70 miles due to the terrain on that stretch of the A470 where it was country of long wide valleys and green hills with sheep on them, hills which seemed to stretch way into the distance. The land of the Welsh middle, one or two small towns, villages, settlements and a lot of empty of space. But it wound me up, no doubt about that, the bloody road works that is, and just when I had hoped to be tanking it as well, in order to get to our place of destination.

Driving through the traffic-light country north of Rhayader was in many ways my favourite part of the trip, despite my irritation. It was the best part of the day for the weather we had as well, the horizons were clear enough for us both to enjoy good long views of the green Welsh lands we were ridin’ through. On the sound system of the Prius I had Don Henley’s Cass County playing, an album of quality songs recently released from the head Eagle, songs which fitted the terrain perfectly. Felt like there was no better introduction to that relatively unknown part of Wales than on such a broodingly dark, empty and windy deep November day. Early winter magic indeed!

don’t know what happened to me
this was the dream I was never supposed to have
drove thro’ valleys in climates impossible
for me to ever understand or see

headin’ into the back country
of the who knows what
within the land where I was born
and it was all new territory

couldn’t move from the shaken tears
my heart wanted to disappear
into its compact quest immensity

Turned out that we rolled into Porthmadog only ten minutes behind our schedule, as on that final part of road north of Dolgellau we were finally able to bomb along, make up a bit of precious time, so that when we got to the place we were going to we were not that late at all. As if to celebrate that fact, when we got out of the car the skies above finally did what they had been threatening to do for the last couple of hours, which was to break open and begin to rain.

After we had attended to our business in Porthmadog and Ffestiniog which by the way didn’t add up to much more than a hill of beans, it was a simple retracing of the path we had taken to get up there. I had thought before going back down the A470 again, to maybe shoot off onto the A458, but it wouldn’t really have done me much good, done us much good, as we would still have had to wind our way back down to the bottom of Wales, only in a way which was more complicated than the one which we had only just recently come up on. Therefore under the circumstances I thought it was best to stick to what you know, especially when you don’t really know anything.

By the time we left Ffestinniog up in the mountain country of Snowdonia it was coming up to around 2.30 in the afternoon and already the day was drawing in, all due to the grey, windy, wet November weather which as far as I was concerned was still more than a little fantastic. We had more or less two hours of driving whilst it was still light, and this took us back to our one and only service stop those few miles south of Rhayader where we once again pulled up to the Greggs in the petrol station. We stopped so as to buy a cup of tea to share as we sat in the car and ate a couple of tasty Welsh cakes whilst washing them down with the brew which was nice and hot. Back on the road again after a quick filling up of the gas at the Texaco around 4.40 or thereabouts, it took us another 2 hours or so before we reached Cardiff, picking up just for good measure the tail end of the Welsh valleys evening rush hour along the way.

So that was it basically, our trip up through the middle of Wales, south to north and then north to south again all in one day, a dark November day where the skies were grey and the rains came down.

as if asleep in another world
and now stepping out of the daydream

I see how stupid I have been
to have never touched the dragon’s tail

Meditation this morning was a 162 but it took a long time to do, maybe the breathing was deeper, maybe my mind was clearer, but the simple fact of the matter was that the background noise of ceaseless thought generation was much more in the realm of stillness than what is usual. It was time once again to fix my vision on what appears from out of the realm of the 3rd Eye. After a night of sleep with body rested, it seemed like the only worthwhile thing to do, with new morning energy now available to me.

sacred mountains – all in the mind

take that journey
see what you can find
it is all in the realm of the nuthin’ to do

collapse those plans
 goin’ out to conquer the world
with torches of accumulation,
let instead infinity blue

wash you over thru’ an’ thru’

Still thinking quite a bit about that trip we made through the heart of Wales last week, heart of Wales on the left hand path, well that at least was how it seemed to me. Hilly green empty of Welsh places in the dark light of a late November day where the breezes blew but not enough to freeze you, where the rains came which would most certainly soak you and the light faded by 4.30 so that the day felt like it was almost through. Main thing I have been thinking about since I made that trip is just how little I know about my own country, or at least when I say that, I mean the country in which I was born. It is like I have only just woken up to the fact there are so many places to see there and that if I had to add them all up I would have to say I still haven’t been to many of them, well I have been to quite a few of course, but not really so many to say I know them well. So here I am, 55, born in Cardiff, Wales back in ’62 but still ignorant, pig ignorant, of much of my home country and I guess this realisation has intrigued me, made me want to discover more, drive those roads through the valleys and vales, seek out all those little known places on the maps, find them, drive on through and see what I make of them all.

Maybe one day before it is all too late, I will be able to do that, make some extensive excavations of the Welsh core which lies beneath my feet each and every time I go down from London to Penarth in order to see my parents, sister and nephew. Must make the opportunity happen, to come down so as to get an eyeful of this little land of wonder, because in many ways it is very different to England, both in terms of terrain and by way of the fact there are no motorways which run through the middle of it, north to south or south to north. There are many roads, yes, but they are not the same as motorways and because of that the country of Wales, although small, is actually bigger than what it appears to be. If you drive up from the south to the north, taking in, say, just one stop along the way, you are still going to be lucky if you manage to do it in anything under 5 hours. By way of contrast, England is full of motorways and if they are clear then 5 hours will pretty much cover it in regard to whatever direction you may wish to go. Wales is on the edge, much more empty of people once the cities, towns and valleys of the south have been left behind, and because of that, while not exactly wild, untamed or anything like that, it still retains for me at least, a sense of mystery. This is mainly because there are so many places in Wales that you are only ever going to be able to see if you specifically make the decision to go there, as they are off-track so to speak and therefore not liable to be casually passed through as if by accident. You have got to know they are there, then you have to make the conscious decision to get in whatever your chosen vehicle of transportation might be and actually visit them.

feel like a mutt
for simply not realisin’
there was so much to see
in the country I was born
in the year before ‘63

Guess there are plenty of people who are in Wales and who also don’t really know that much about it as well, but by the same token there are no doubt plenty of people born there who most certainly do know quite a bit. I guess I would be happier if I were one of them, one of those who know, but if I want to make that happen I have to get into action because life goes fast. It is interesting though, to have at least had this realisation, even if –

time is on the slip slide
no one knows the future
all is just a mystery,
so if you have plans
get out to go to
what you want to see!

Whether I will or not, well that of course might be an entirely different matter. So yes, that little Welsh trip has made an impression on me, the one I did through the heart of the country.

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