By “The Photographer’s Assistant”
We have just turned off the M4 onto the M5 and are travelling south west through The Severn Dock area at Portlebury. We are going home to the Moor. A not infrequent miracle is taking place. The Assistant puts on her sun glasses as we travel from grim grey to a bright sky. A yellow sun and pink highlights are on display. It is warm and amazing. This is where, even the Photographer wishes he were an artist. You could be entranced by the depth and brilliance of this picture for ever. You would never see through all this depth of bright colour. It is a home coming that will never be beaten.
The Photographer adopts a cruising gear and gives a deep sigh. Home on the Moor will be wonderful. The music of Bob Seger plays loudly. It’s a kind of celebration. The Photographer had taken himself off on an assignment to the land of the Assistant’s forbears. We had been to the Welsh wilderness by the sea. Miles beyond Swansea is a flat land that has roads which stretch empty for miles, surrounded alternately by good farmland and poor farmland and edged by miles and miles of empty beaches.
This has been a difficult trip. Both the Moor and Pembrokeshire share remoteness and struggle in equal measure. The geography of both areas is challenging and both are heavily dependant on tourism to keep going. Gradually through economic stress both fight for survival in a world dominated by big city life, but some of us do better than others.
We find that even in the city of St.David’s, the local secondary school is threatened with closure and all the social and cultural loss that this entails. We are shocked by the city’s failure to keep up with our own small town. Here, on the Moor, trade flows throughout the year and as a consequence, we attract a year round tourist trade. Even at the heart of the Moor, The Two Bridges Hotel attracts a raft of visitors throughout the year, and wins prestigious awards over and above the big city competitors.
In St David’s, you will find a great many shops and tea shops are shut, waiting for Easter. Even the local woollen mill is shut at weekends. The Photographer and Assistant take every bit of food with them to provide quality eating whilst they are away. We admire the restaurant (too expensive for us , but renowned),which dares to stay open. The National Park Centre has an excellent cafe, but generally, there is a grim air of depression about the place. Take your camping stove with you for early closing day!
The photographer loads his cameras into the car, and we slip down to some beaches, where to add to the economic woes, things are not good. Newgale, a significantly beautiful and long area has been stripped of its sand, and is difficult to get onto, all the decking entrances having been completely destroyed. Trees buried under the sea for 10,000 years are now exposed for all to see, dead birds dried out bodies lie strewn along the large pebble sea defences. The pub has sand bags adorning its entrances. It’s furniture has been taken upstairs and it has that steamy shut appearance that goes with flooding. A perky cafe remains open, but the weather is awful and so typical of the area, it has a garden machinery dealer next door! This is next to one of the best beaches in Britain.
Further down the road, in the city, you can pay £4 to park on a deserted car park! You are not going to, not in this weather, not in the winter!
The next most popular beach in the city, Caerfai, has lost part of its cliff face and the access way is closed. Efforts are being made to reconstruct, but there is no one in sight today. This is a very important beach with a very large camp site attached, attracting people from all over Britain in season.
The most devastating sight which we saw was at Abereidy, where there is a loud and raucous row going on over the Authorities decision to let part of this beach go back to the sea. This beach means a great deal to many local people and we meet a couple who have travelled some way to scatter the ashes of their dog here. The sea is rough and dominating. You can sit and watch the sea in rough weather in your car forever, but don’t try to get out, unless you want to lose the door. Pathetically and sadly, people have been down to the old sea wall and laid cairns in mourning for this loss along its shelves. ( The remainder of the wall has been taken down due to Health and Safety regulations and the unprotected part of the beach with its old slate quarry ruins is disappearing rapidly ). The next time we come, we will need to walk the two miles to it along the coastal path, but if you can’t walk, you’ll never see it or The Blue Lagoon, where the sport of Coasteering first started, again.
The whole of this wonderful and beautiful area was practically empty of anyone, mainly because it was difficult to stay there in what was also some beautiful spring weather. The facilities just weren’t up to it. No wonder that the place is stuffed with visitors, thereby taking away its charm, for the small period of the year that you can visit.
When we, on the Moor, have the odd moan, about having visitors with large cars and different ways, in the midst of early spring, and when we feel that there is just too much choice in local coffee shops and pubs, give a thought to wilderness lands, where you can only maintain your life style by travelling two hours to the nearest real city to do some proper shopping. We came back to the news that the Dawlish Railway will reopen even before Easter, now that’s the stuff!
Footnote The photographer took some wonderful pictures. My most favourite is his portrait of John Knapp Fisher, who kept his gallery open despite his advancing age throughout our stay.