The best kind of holidays aren’t planned, they just sort of happen. The sort when you’ve “gone on holiday by mistake”, much like the two main protagonists in the fabulous Withnail and I
Well, I’ve had a few unplanned excursions like that in the past, once when a friend and I first discovered the Barge Inn in Wiltshire, and another time when we drove all the way from Brighton to Halifax overnight one Good Friday, on the spur of the moment, to go and visit someone I’d only met once before at Reading Festival.
Those were both completely unplanned trips, and surprisingly successful too. But on another occasion, my friend Trevor and I decided to go and visit somewhere specific for a change.
In the early-mid ’90s, when I was living up in Sussex, my local pub was The Wheatsheaf, and back then it was a free house.
When the owners went away on holiday, they would call in a couple of semi-retired publicans who, at that time worked as locums, filling-in for absent landlords.
This couple, Martin and Di, were consummate professionals at the pub game. The sort of people who could meet you once, and when you came back in a week later, would know your name, what you drank, who all your mates were, and what they drank too.
Everyone instantly loved them. Martin, a giant of a man with a big laugh and a gentle nature, and Di, a dizzy, glamorous, beauty who used to frequent some of the sixties’ more infamous London underworld hang-outs, with photos to prove it.
They came back to look after the Wheatsheaf on a number of occasions, and on one of these visits, Trev and I arranged to go up and visit them at their home in south Wales.
So it was, that in July of ’95, the two of us set off in Trev’s car on the trip from Crowborough to the Wild Welsh West.
You are now leaving England
The journey to Martin and Di’s went more or less according to plan, the only minor bit of excitement occurring as we drove over the Severn bridge.
It was scorching hot, and all the windows and sunroof were open as we’d just gone through the bridge toll. The change – including a £5 note – from paying the toll, was on the dashboard.
So we’re cruising across the river Severn, admiring the scenery, when a sudden gust of wind picks up the fiver, and it makes a quick bid for freedom out of the driver’s side window.
With almost supernatural cool, Trev, who has both hands on the steering wheel, one holding a cigarette, catches the note on it’s final approach to being sucked out into our slipstream, between the knuckles of the same hand holding his smoke, and calmly places it back on the dashboard.
This, we take as a good omen for our holiday to come.
Trev – in unflappable, fiver-catching pose. (note cigarette in right hand)
Arriving at our genial hosts’, we declined their kind offer of indoor accommodation, electing instead to pitch my vintage, inflatable Arctic survival tent (no, really) in their garden.
We spent a pleasant couple of hours catching up, and
taking their gigantic Great Dane for stroll being taken for a drag by their gigantic Great Dane, and then retired to the local pub.
Surprisingly, for a tiny village in South Wales, with high unemployment and no tourist trade whatsoever, we were made instantly welcome by the locals, and after a few games we were even invited to take part in the pool tournament that was about to start.
We had to decline, however, as it turned out that “We start playing tonight, (this was Friday afternoon) and the pub stays open until we finish on Sunday night”, and we had to be on our way the following day, because we had a plan.
We soon discovered that the landlady, by amazing coincidence, was from Maidstone in Kent, not all that far from where we’d come from. As we chatted to her, she asked where we were from, and Trev said we came from Sussex.
“Not you, your mate. He’s an Aussie isn’t he?” she said.
Now, I’m always getting this. I don’t know what it is, but I’m frequently mistaken for an Australian. I have a twang apparently, whatever that means.
A thought occurred to me;
“We’re driving up North, to Porthmadog tomorrow. Would I be better off claiming to be English or Australian?”
“Oh, Aussie every time” she said.
This then, was our great plan. We would drive up through the centre of Wales, through the Brecon Beacons, and on to the spectacular scenery of Snowdonia.
Our route North.
Bidding Martin and Di a fond and grateful farewell on the Saturday morning, we set off on the 150 mile journey through the mountains and valleys of Wales in the beautiful summer sunshine.
There was always music on in the car, and for some reason, I remember listening to Love Shack by the B52s as we snaked round the curving Snowdonian roads.
The trip took about four hours from what I remember, but that included at least one stop for lunch and for the odd photo opportunity. (I’ve had to reproduce the pictures from the 35mm snaps I took at the time)
Presumably Trev has a picture somewhere, of me taking this picture.
We arrived in Porthmadog early afternoon, and set about finding a campsite. We settled on the Black Rock Sands site, in the shadow of an impressively towering black mountain of rock.
That inflatable tent in full.
We spent the rest of the day setting up camp, which took all of ten minutes*, and just taking in the scenery, and the contents of a few cans.
Tomorrow was to be the day that we would reach our goal, the very reason for us making the journey in the first place.
Tomorrow we were going to visit the location of the most culty of all cult TV shows…
I fell asleep dreaming of being chased by terrifying, giant white globes. To find out why,…go to Part two.
*My inflatable tent was one that I had been given some years before, and consisted of nothing more than a single, rolled up, pumpkin-shaped, orange canvas dome, with a waterproof base with a door flap in one side. Four rubberised canvas ribs ran from the corners, crossing over at the top, where the release valve was. At one corner there was an ordinary tyre valve, so all you did was peg the four corners down, attach a footpump or compressor, and blow it up. As the ribs became rigid, the tent erected itself, and to take it down, you simply undid the valve on top and the whole thing deflated like a burst balloon.
It has sadly succumbed to age since then, and I have never seen one similar to replace it.