I’m spending New Year in a tiny Welsh hamlet. Sat here in this damp, silent cottage, I can’t quite remember why this one raised its head over the others on the homestay website. It wasn’t a practical choice but a feeling. There are 18 houses here, one pub. One telephone box (with no telephone) that sells things from its shelves: baskets, apples, books. There’s not even an honesty box. Just put the money on the side. This cottage is filled with the sense of someone else, long gone – still very present.
We’ve been to Colwyn Bay, got lost in the traffic system, found the prom blocked by construction vehicles and diversion signs. We despaired. Drank a pint of dark ale, had some food. I thought of the mismatched nature of these Victorian towns. An old theatre becomes a boarded pound shop – the beauty still there in the architects embellishments. Then the stark plywood below sealing the windows. Concrete blocks lump themselves beside timber-framed buildings. Then the history of this village: the old well (now also concreted), the pub with its stone lions and lanterns.
On the second day here (having stayed up until 4am) it was a bit of late start, but we managed to get to the Welsh Mountain Zoo. It was a bit of a mud-bath and the red squirrels were nowhere to be seen. The bears and the tigers didn’t look happy. The view of the mountains was spectacular – and there were loads of wild birds stealing the parrot food, a Christmas feast.
Yesterday we went to Llandudno. It was a grander, Victorian seaside town: all lights from The Grand, The Duke, The Price Albert, The Cumberland and other hotels lining the curve of the coast with a coronet of lights. I still enjoy the slot machines and it was fun losing a few tuppence and 10p pieces. The sense of the the good time having passed was still there though, strongly. Maybe a feeling reserved for seaside resorts.
Today we went to Conwy Castle by accident. A turn off at the last minute and a beautiful town. The castle was atmospheric – towers, cellars, the great hall hanging in the air. Fireplaces suspended. We found a 1930’s pub – very Patrick Hamilton, brown and dingy in a facinating way. They only served cold pies (also apt) so we found a more ‘upmarket’ place for food where everyone spoke in cut-glass English accents and the ‘large’ wine was what I would call the dregs of the bottle. I loved Conwy. It’s the last day of the year tomorrow. I’m full of ghosts, tangled in the past like fishing nets. I want to look forward. I have lots to be grateful for. It will be a turbulent year, we all know that.