Returning to Wales – the I’m-not-quite-as-keen things

posted in: For fun, South Wales, Wales | 1
A typical cloudy summer day in the South Wales hills

Our recent two-week trip to Wales was a mostly joyous experience, with some fabulous hiking, the rekindling of old memories and lots of time spent with our family.

That said, it’s rare for any trip to be without downsides –  and if someone claimed their holiday was perfect in every single way, I wouldn’t believe them.  So having agreed that 90% perfection is sufficient for a great holiday, here are some of the things in Wales I could probably have lived without.

Bulls

I’m terrified of bulls. There, it’s out there now. No matter how much Harri reassures me, I am not happy walking through a field if there’s even a sniff of a bull. The thing with bulls is that they’re known to be unpredictable. Every year, walkers are fatally injured by bulls; in fact, injuries by cattle generally were the leading cause of fatal agricultural injuries in 2023.

C’mon Welsh farmers – where were the signs (this one was taken in Somerset some years ago)

Let’s just say, I would prefer not to become one of those statistics. According to Farmers Weekly, the general rule (in law) is that it is an offence to allow a bull in a field crossed by a public right of way. There are exceptions, however. Bulls under 10 months old are allowed, as are bulls which do not belong to a recognised dairy breed (Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry). All other bulls older than 10 months are banned, unless accompanied by cows or heifers.

Farmers Weekly advises farmers to put up a sign informing people, e.g. ‘bull in field’, but warns that signage will not suffice if the bull is known to be aggressive or unpredictable (when it should not be in field crossed by a right of way).

There were bulls everywhere on our trip – and, while they were all accompanied by cows, I cannot recall seeing a single warning sign. With me refusing to step foot in the same field as a bull, this meant having to divert our onward route on several walks.

Dog poo

Could somebody please explain the logic behind bagging up your dog’s excrement in one of those nifty little bags only to leave it hanging on a branch or gate like a Christmas tree decoration? Or worse, to leave it on a bench for unsuspecting walkers to sit on as in this photograph on Mynydd Machen. Honestly, this isn’t a one-time occurrence. This well-placed gem reminded me of countless other times we’ve encountered ‘carefully’ positioned dog poo bags in the past.

I don’t think this sort of thing happens in the Algarve, though perhaps that’s because the ‘bag it and bin it’ campaign hasn’t reached Portuguese shores. Here, it’s more common for dog waste to be left on the ground to bake in the hot sun until it dries up. I think that’s probably preferable to decorating trees and benches with bags of the smelly stuff.

Really? What on earth was this dog owner thinking?

Flooded paths/large puddles

For hikers, these two offenders result in the same outcome – wet feet! The only real difference is it may be possible to weave your way around a large puddle, not so much so with a flooded path.

Nobody heads to Wales expecting hot, dry weather, not least those of us who lived most of our lives in this green, wet country. So when we encountered a flooded track about ten minutes into our very first holiday hike, we were not surprised. Fortunately, this time there was a ‘cut-through’ which involved climbing a stile, walking through a field and rejoining the track higher up.

You get used to puddles when you hike in Wales

 

This large puddle was confined to the old road so we were safe and dry on the pavement

Despite all the puddles and flooded lanes, we survived almost the whole two weeks without getting wet feet only to find ourselves ploughing ankle-deep through a muddy bog on our very last hike. This was the Wales we remembered – and loved!

Steep fields

This field was much steeper than it looks in this picture, honestly

I’m not averse to a challenging climb now and then. In fact, where we currently live the terrain is what I’d describe as ‘undulating’ and our own home sits on a plateau (albeit a smallish one).

However, what makes hiking in Wales particularly tough is the number of times the route leaves lanes and tracks to follow footpaths through agricultural fields. And those fields can be incredibly steep. And just as you conquer one, you realise there is another steep field ahead and, to reach it, you have to scale a stile that seems designed for giants. You clamber over it and are immediately faced with another steep field. Adding to the challenge is the uneven and rutted terrain of many fields and the lack of clear waymarking, which means you can aim for the top-left corner of a field only to find out the stile is tucked away in the far-right corner. In Wales this happens … frequently!

Fortunately, we were heading downhill this time (towards Rhiwderin)

Overgrown footpaths

‘After a false start in the wrong direction, we headed uphill on a badly overgrown footpath. We stumbled through endless brambles and clambered over several fallen trees before finally emerging in the most vertical field imaginable.’

I’ve lifted those lines from my book Never too old to backpack/O Fôn i Fynwy: a 364-mile walk through Wales (which, with hindsight, would probably have benefited from a shorter title) because they sum up what walking in Wales can be like. Far too many footpaths disappear due to neglect and/or deliberate sabotage, mostly by landowners who knowingly obstruct the onward route to deter hikers. Harri used to take secateurs out with him on trail runs so he could cut back rampant brambles and nettles, but it’s just not practicable to clean up mile after mile of footpath while you are out walking.

So good on Monmouthshire Council for its Pathcare Walks initiative, which has around for several years now. The Pathcare volunteers check the promoted routes three times a year, carrying out minor maintenance tasks, including cutting back vegetation. We walked a section of the Usk Valley Walk and it makes such a difference to be able to walk through the countryside knowing that the way forward is going to be passable.

On footpaths as overgrown as this one, it’s almost impossible to work out where to put your feet

Grey skies

The Welsh countryside is lush and green – did I mention how green it is? And you don’t get green landscapes without a lot of rain, which means a lot of grey skies.

I actually wasn’t sure whether to add grey skies to this blog or whether it belonged to the ‘things I love’ category. Because, let’s face it, moody grey clouds look spectacular in photographs. And, as long as they just sit harmlessly overhead, I don’t mind them at all. It’s only when those water droplets grow large enough to empty onto we walkers below that I go right off them.

Fortunately, despite some very ominous-looking cloud cover at times, we only had two days of proper rain throughout our entire holiday.

These clouds looked threatening, but miraculously they didn’t produce any rain

Closed pubs

There are times when I feel like the built landscape of my entire younger life is disappearing. My former high school was closed back in the early nineties and the site is currently being developed for housing (undoubtedly expensive housing as it was located in one of the nicer parts of the city). My university is still standing but no longer exists as a separate entity and is now part of the University of South Wales. My old newspaper office is long gone and County Hall, my workplace for well over a decade, got concrete cancer and was demolished a few years back. But saddest of all, is the disappearance of all the pubs that played a big part in my youth, including:

The Victoria Inn, Nash Road – the place to be in the late 70s and where I worked as a part-time barmaid when I was at college

The Victoria Inn, Corporation Road – the pub opposite my then place of work and where I first played Space Invaders

The Black Horse – the closest half-decent pub to my home

The King’s Head – the place my wedding reception was held back in 1985

The Hornblower – a town centre bar you didn’t venture inside unless you were already three sheets to the wind, but great fun if you were

All the above pubs have now been demolished or renovated for housing. The Six Bells, the Engineers Arms, the Corporation Hotel, the Ferns … all have met a similar fate. I always believed country pubs stood a better chance of survival, especially the pretty ones with popular campsites across the road, so it was with much sadness that we found out the Chainbridge near Usk had permanently closed its doors (in October 2021) and is likely to be redeveloped into an old people’s home.

The perfect setting of the Chainbridge Inn made its demise more surprising

 

Postscript: this post was mostly written in jest. I love my country and these little ‘annoyances’ were a familiar part of the hiking experience before we moved to Portugal. The South Wales landscape presents a stark contrast to the relatively gentle terrain of the equally stunning Algarve, but we took everything in our stride and pushed these minor inconveniences to the back of our minds.

 

 

 


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  1. Ruth

    Such a shame about the pubs closing. On a walk once, I went into a pub (marked on my map). There was nobody at the bar in the corner. Sat down on a remarkably comfortable sofa and admired the fact the publican had decorated the room with all his family photos. Then, suddenly realised it was now a private home! Left quickly, and I don’t think the owners were any the wiser

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