We made friends. This is a surprise. Sure you make friends. From school. Maybe at the Arts Centre waiting for the girls’ ballet to finish. But to make friends with another family who turned into an otherwise empty anchorage on the southern tip of the Caribbean Windward islands when our children were going crazy with loneliness? And then to see them a year later back in the UK? Hold on.
For me this is the absolute beauty of travel. Yes, the flowers were pretty. The fish very cool. The dolphin gambolling at the back of Quest in the warm Barbudan waters: treat! But now we’re back at home, it’s the friendships that stand out like Michelangelo’s. Imagine our surprise when this same boat from our lonely anchorage, the Shakespearian-inspired, Canadian-based MickBeth, said they would come and visit us this summer in Wales.
My eyebrows met each other for coffee. ‘You want to come to Borth? Borth in Mid-Wales?’
‘Well yeah, that’s where you live, right?’
It’s true. That’s where we live. But still..
Borth in Mid-Wales is mostly a one-street town. Sorry to the people living on the cliff. You got a nice view. But are you in danger of flooding from the sea across the road? Does it snow sea-foam on your windows in a storm? Flooding potential and sea foam snow. For me, this is Borth.
We got lucky. Our friends, Beth, Gwen and Robyn happened to arrive exactly on Borth’s most special day of the year: Borth Carnival. We met them at the train station. We wore masks. After they got over the mask-based shock, they reflected. ‘We thought something was up when we met a large group of nuns on the train.’ The nuns nodded politely as they passed.
It was a sunny and warm August day. We wheeled their bags to the bungalow. Within the hour, we were enjoying the sight of ‘Borth Korea’ coming down the high street. I don’t want to brag but does every village have a mechanic who builds a tank the day before and gets a special Kim Jon-un haircut just for the Carnival parade?
Borth continued to surprise. Beth looked around. ‘It’s Friday. Don’t these people go to work?’ I explained that this was an occasion that many took a day off for. The truth was I had no idea. I hadn’t been to Borth Carnival for years. We were usually away in the summer. In the playing field at the bottom of the village, people were sitting on blankets and kids were running. It was nice. Really nice.
The next day we went to the sand dunes. Ynyslas Nature Reserve. Another blue sky day. The air sharp and clear. The girls were joined by their cousin, Sam. One boy and four girls? The dynamic matched the air. Sand flew as they climbed up the dunes and ran down.
‘I love this place,’ Beth said.
I looked for the sarcasm on her face. ‘You do?’ Now I love Beth. But she’s posh. I don’t think she’s forgiven me for recommending the Road Town marina in the BVIs. I still don’t know what the problem was. Who doesn’t want to listen to roosters at 4am? Or karaoke? And yet here she is telling me she loves Borth. Quiet, windswept Borth. My head tried very hard to spin on its neck.
Sunday it was time to fish out rain jackets. We’d planned to walk the 8 miles from Borth to Aberystwyth along the National Coastal Path. Feeling like we were stuck in a giant runny nose, we left Robyn and Delph and took the older girls, Lulu and Gwen. Even so, the complaining hit sub-sonic levels before we got halfway down Borth High Street. Suddenly a white jeep pulled up.
‘I thought you might need a lift halfway,’ Jack said.
The girls squealed and jumped in. Beth and I jumped in too. Jack dropped us off at the entrance to Wallog. Wallog is the site of the Welsh ‘wall’ that runs almost 6 miles out to sea. Perfectly straight and looking as if it were built with human hands, this is one geological oddity. The legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod rings its bells here. A village built in the sea. The story was that as long as the gates were shut at high tide, the village would be safe. Then one night, they had a party, the gatekeeper didn’t close the gate and the village was tragically flooded. True? False? Beyond that. It’s Welsh legend.
The rain began to run down the inside of our shirts. Gwen had a special wet-shoe blister. Lulu wouldn’t stop yelling about the absurdity of our walking plan. ‘Are you ok?’ I asked Beth after we’d both told Lu to shut her cake hole.
‘Are you kidding,’ she said above the din of the wind and Lu’s voice, ‘I’m having the best day ever.’ And so it is. I’ll never stop being surprised. Blessed by friends.