We’ve only been here three days, in Wales that is, so it’s a little soon to be making any pronouncements but nevertheless … We don’t do much in the way of holidays since we retired. Retirement is just one long holiday, right? Well, wrong actually in the last four years retirement has probably been more like work than work but the point is that because holidays only happen twice a year – in the spring and in the autumn – they are still capable of surprising us.
The first surprise is that we’re here in Wales at all. We have gotten into the habit, since we retired, four years ago, of going off to Ireland and, if I had my way, we’d be there now. However, senior management, aka, she who must be obeyed, aka, Mrs Summerhouse decreed otherwise. Yes to Ireland in the spring but no to Ireland in the autumn. Last year it was Scotland in the autumn. I thought it might be just a passing fancy and that we’d go back to Ireland twice a year, but, no and here we are. The sweetner, if that is the word, is that we’re staying in a cottage on a Welsh vineyard. A few years ago the idea of a vineyard in Wales would have been a surprise in itself but I know, through the UKVA, that Wales now has a number of vineyards which win awards and of which people are very proud. I’ll probably write more about this in a vineyard blog.
The first surprise in the vineyard though was how old the vines were, can’t remember exactly but over 25 years I believe one of our hosts – the female half – told me. The second part of the first surprise was the wind. I had been fairly happy about Mrs SH’s choice of accommodation because I wanted to compare this one Welsh vineyard to our own. I had foolishly thought that this one would have at least one similar problem to ours – too much wind. How wrong can you be? It turns out in conversation with the other, male half of our hosts, that they didn’t have enough wind which meant the vines were prone to disease, mildew and the like. He told me it cost him £220 each time he sprayed his 5 or was it 10 acres to prevent disease. He had actually pulled out a hedge surrounding one section of his vineyard in order to increase wind movement through the vines. Who’d have guessed?
You might say nothing to be learned here except that the welcome bottle of Rondo was excellent and made by a professional winemaker at Three Choirs vineyard. There was more to be learned in the area of the second surprise which came out of our visit to town on market day. This surprise related to the pups. Mrs Summerhouse was at first pleased with the many admiring looks the pups received as we walked them through the town. Her pleasure turned to apprehension when, as she was standing waiting for me doing the shopping, on two occasions, she was surrounded by groups of rather rough-looking youths eyeing up the pups. Then an old guy asked if they were working dogs and did we have their papers? Of course this is a sheep area but she was surprised to come to the conclusion that they were in danger of kidnap or dognap. From this point on she could not be persuaded to leave them for a second on their own, like in the car for instance.
Which is why they were dragged around Hay on Wye. Those of you that know about Hay on Wye will probably know it as a town of second-hand bookshops. My idea of heaven, I thought. But not so. Let me explain. For many years I have collected Wisdens, a cricket almanac. They have been published since something like 1874, not sure of the exact date but suffice it to say, the early ones are very valuable. I like to collect them but only since 1948, year of my birth. They’re still quite expensive but not for silly money. The point is I’m missing four years from ’48 to the present day – 1950, ’59, ’60, ’61. I could buy them on-line but where’s the fun in that? Much better to come across one of these in a bookshop and where better for bookshops but Hay on Wye? Well the bookshops are still there but the Wisdens are not, at least not the ones I want. I could either buy the early ones for a lot of money or much later ones, which I’ve got anyway. I was surprised – again.
I was also surprised, but only when we go back to the cottage, how many bookshops there are – 30 according to the map a nice lady gave me in one of the bookshops. We haven’t been here for probably thirty years, one forget you know. OK, I only checked out 7 or 8 but it felt like more, anyway no Wisdens. I had really thought if there was anywhere in the world I would get at least one of my missing Wisdens it would be Hay on Wye.
The other more modest surprise was on the drive to Hay on Wye from Abergavenny, where we are staying and I am writing this. The view over the Gospel Pass was outstanding, no surprise there as it’s in a National Park the Brecon Beacons / Black Mountains, but the roads that we travelled, they were a bit of a shock. We turned off the main road, as instructed in our little tourist leaflet, on to roads so narrow that meeting another vehicle was, at best, inconvenient and at worst fatal if you met them on a blind corner (they all were). Imagine my surprise then after three of four miles of this to come across a sign saying ‘single file with passing places’. What the blue blazes had we been driving on up to this point, I wondered? Then we met a vehicle coming the other way and pulled over for them to pass. What might you have predicted this vehicle would be – a tractor, a Land Rover, quad bike? No, it was a brand new Ford Mustang with about 3 inches of clearance from the ground. Knock me down with a feather. Then for several miles we were stuck behind a farm vehicle with trailer. The surprise here was that this was a real pleasure because they did all the hard work. I didn’t have to take our lives in my hands. She (as it turned out) drove at high speed forcing everything out of her (and of course my) way. I suppose the biggest surprise of all was not only that we lived to get to Hay on Wye but others on the same road also did.
So there we are, our second retirement holiday of the year and one so far, full of little surprises. Of course the biggest surprise of all will be if it turns out we enjoy Wales as much as Ireland but it’s too soon to draw that radical conclusion.