So, we packed all the contents of our house into the back of the Fiat Punto (well, nearly all of them- The Mystery Vintage Parka Coat That Came In The Post never quite made the cut, being edged out at the last minute by The Handsome But Entirely Unsuitable For Wet Weather Brown Suede Jacket From TK Max) and headed off out of the country for Our Big Holidays For The Year- that's three midweek days in rainy north west Wales to you. Here are six things we found out on the way:
1- It takes a remarkably short amount of time to get to the far side of Wales...
Or a remarkably long time, depending on how you go about it. From Manchester, you have three options:
Option One: the coastal route, as favoured by seaside lovers and 1970s nostagists. This takes you straight along the northern periphery of Wales- through Llandudno, Prestatyn, Colwyn Bay, and various other Butlins Holiday Camp towns that used to feature with regularity on It's A Knockout. It's just a three-hour drive along the A-roads- but as it is obligatory to stop in each of the It's A Knockout towns for a stick of rock, a go on the penny falls, and a dirty weekend in a sleazy bed and breakfast run by a stern, rosy-faced matriarch named Myfenwy, it will actually take you the best part of a fortnight to get to the other end, which is not ideal if you have only booked until Friday off work.
Option Two: the picturesque mountain route. This is the one you get all excited about, poring over it on on the big map for several hours the night before. 'Let's see now, take the B45454 as far as that river, then north on this green windy one that goes round in ever-decreasing circles- oh hold on, that's Mount Snowdon, isn't it? Down here a bit then, over this level crossing, past The Scene Of A Battle, ooh, that's A Church With A Spire, I remember this from First Year Geography! Or is it a Youth Hostel? Now then, where's that bleeding B32323 got to? And how did we get to the outskirts of Birmingham?'
You don't end up taking the mountain route of course, mainly because you can't agree whether that squiggly symbol where the pages join is a Post Office, a Parish Church (Without a Spire) or just a nineteen-year-old coffee stain (without a spire). Instead, you end up taking...
Option Three: the brand new double-carriageway. Dead straight, very fast, and chock-a - block with Belgian juggernauts full of computer parts, heading for the Dublin ferry landing at Holyhead and the booming multinational Celtic hi-tech economy. Not particularly picturesque, I suppose- but hell, it gets you there in two hours flat, and if we want to get this Rainy Holiday In Wales underway before it starts raining, we'd better get a damn move-on.
2: It really does rain a hell of a lot in Angelsey.
Well, I suppose this is what you get if you have your Big Holidays at the back end of October in the far corner of Wales, but really. We spent the first hour of our holidays in the conservatory of our hired cottage, reading old magazines, playing with Frankie's train set, listening to torrential rain bouncing off the window-panes from all directions, and wondering exactly whose job it was supposed to have been to pack the Scrabble. Occasionally a deputation of cows would wander across from the neighbouring farmer's fields and have a quick peer in at us, just for a laugh.
Fortunately we are made of stern stuff, and resisted any temptation to jump straight back into the Fiat Punto and head back to Manchester. Instead we put our rain clothes on (well, Charlotte and Frankie put their rain clothes on, I put on the Slightly-Less-Flimsy-Than-The-Other-Ones Trainers and the Quite Snazzy But Entirely Unsuitable For Wet Weather Brown Suede Coat) and headed out into the downpour- off to the chip shop for a slap-up holiday dinner, via some rainy cliffs, a deserted playground, and the slightly-less scary-looking of the two village pubs. Let The Rainy Holiday In Wales Commence!
3: Mind it's a lovely place, Anglesey (when it's not raining)
On Wednesday the forecast was for sun- so we got up and out early before the cows could start laughing at us again, and spent the day careering around like little holiday dervishes. We splashed about in rock pools, sunbathed on a deserted beach, watched a lighthouse doing its spinning-round-and-round thing, and bought ice-creams, which in time-honoured fashion toppled over and melted on our shirts before we could finish them. And then on Wednesday night we all went to the pub again (only this was a proper holiday seaside pub, with wholesome-looking families, kids running about in sandals, scampi and chips, lasagne, and pints of local real ale) and chatted excitedly about what we would get up to on the Last Day Of Our Big Holidays.
4: those Weather Forecasters are really uncannily good at their job
... because, sure enough, on Thursday, it pissed down again. But we didn't care, because, like I was saying, we are made of sterner stuff than to let a bit of rain get between us and Our Rainy Holiday In Wales, and anyway, Charlotte had a nostalgic trip to go on- back to the scene of many happy childhood summer holiday memories. There was a campsite down this lane, and just as you came out into the village, a little tea-shop- the Y Gegin Fach, it was called. You don't suppose it could still be there, do you?
5: in some parts of Anglesey, time has stood still since Charlotte was a little girl
Oh, Y Gegin Fach was still there, all right. And unchanged since 1976. The same floral wallpaper, the same moth-eaten table-cloths covered in crumbs...the exact same menu, whose only concession to the change of century was the addition of 'frothy coffee' (cappuccino, I imagine, being thought of as just too urban and racy for the people of Valley, north Wales to get their heads around). We ordered beans on toast and apple pie- whose rock-hard consistency suggested it had been the centre-piece of the counter display since the Callaghan administration, at least.
The proprietor- a world-weary, well-spoken ex-Navy type- looked like he had seen better days as well. In between battling with the antique coffee machine, he skulked in and out of the back kitchen, chain-smoking Benson and Hedges and listening abstractedly to the Afternoon Play on Radio Four. It was strangely idyllic in there though. We felt the outside world couldn't reach us, our day-to-day Manchester cares were a world away. The rain battered the bay-window panes, and The Shipping Forecast came on. We settled the bill, but felt in no hurry to step back outside.
6: Contraflows have been around longer than you think.
The roadsigns are all bi-lingual, you see. But of course marginalised ancient languages don't generally have their own words for anything dating from after the Industrial Revolution, so 'Cafeteria' is 'Y Cafetyria', and Car Park is 'Y Carhh Parc' (or something, you get the idea). So Contraflow should really be 'Y Contraflo', shouldn't it?. But instead it has its own completely Welsh word, to our eyes just a jumble of vowels and consonants, entirely unrelated to the English one. From which we can only conclude that this particular way or reorganising motorway traffic during roadworks was invented by Welsh Druids sometime in the early seventh century. Who would have thought it?
Honestly, I'm not kidding. You can look it up on Google, or even go to north Wales and see for yourself. In fact I strongly recommend you do. After all, any country where it can piss down for nearly three days solid, the apple pies are served my manic depressives and date from before the privatisation of the coalfields, and the cows in the fields peer through the windows just in order to laugh at you- but at the end you still don't really want to come home- has got to have a lot going for it. If you do, can you please take the mountain route, and tell us what that funny squiggle is just where the A117 meets the B42424? I've got a fiver says it's a Branchline Train Station Without A Level Crossing, but Charlotte swears it's the remnants of a steak and kidney pudding.