A striking contrast

By MARGARET BROWN features@algarveresident.com

Margaret Brown is one of the Algarve Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years.

From the lush lowlands and rolling uplands of Pembrokeshire, rich in ancient, religious and historic sites, to the desiccated hills and shrinking farmland of Algarve, the contrast could not be more striking. Having enjoyed two and a half weeks beside the Milford Haven into which both Eastern and Western Gleddau rivers flow, and where intermittent rain was driven by a cold wind for most of our holiday, the beauty of this maritime and agricultural county is supreme. The entire coastal area has been designated a National Park and the interior, although farming in Britain receives scant backing from its shambles of a government, is well cultivated and to an onlooker appears to be thriving. Many acres have been turned into camping and caravan sites without ruining the overall picture, although one of the several theme parks has buildings like an architect’s nightmare.

With relatives living nearby and having been joined by both daughters for a week, as well as our granddaughter for a couple of days, we made full use of the car we rented from Alamo. It is one of the few car hire firms which accept over eighties as clients and we treated the brand new vehicle like a rich maiden aunt about to write her will.

Shopping at Tesco was followed by a quick check for dents and scratches: narrow country lanes and overgrown hedges always a source of concern, but no damage was done. The Boss took us for some pleasant trips along the littoral which, more often than not, was swathed in Scotch mist but he had no problem with the strange British custom of driving on the left. I cannot say the same about number one daughter who, although usually an excellent if slightly hot-tempered driver, put the fear of God into me as she drove home from our favourite pub.

There must have been something funny in the fizzy water supplied by the landlord because she had no alcohol that night and does not drink when driving. Only real ales from wooden casks were sold in the bar, and sufficiently potent to dislodge one of the Boss’s front teeth which fell out on to the road as we were leaving. A local dentist in Pembroke Dock glued the crown back the following afternoon.

On another outing we visited Pembroke castle. Dating back to the 12th century, it is a mighty limestone construction of towers and battlements that dominates the land for miles around. Built on a cliff above the estuary with walls 19ft thick in places and a huge cavern beneath the Great Hall giving access to the sea, it was supplied by boat during times of siege. From there the Normans launched several campaigns against the Irish, and Henry VII was born in one of the towers in 1491AD. Almost encircled by water, it is a great place for swans, ducks and other birds and also a magnet to human visitors. The latter delighting to feed them with quantities of bread – usually white, sliced and steam cooked which turns to mush as it hits the water.

Besieged by the Welsh in the 12th century and also attacked by Cromwell in 1648AD during the Civil War when his renegade troops turned against him and occupied the castle, after two months he reduced the place to a semi-ruin with the help of plenty of gunpowder. Renovation began in Victorian times and finally was completed in the 20th century. Carried out with such skill, the castle appears as it might have circa 1220AD after William Marshal replaced the original earth and timber defences with limestone and sweated labour.

Being regular Churchgoers we decided to visit a different parish each Sunday and went first to Neyland where the Vicar was holding an ‘off-the-cuff’ Litany of his own devising, both interesting and unusual. The following week we drove to the village of Llanstadwell on the banks of The Haven, the waterside church dating back to the 6th century and in desperate need of repair but with insufficient funds and little outside help.

A baby was to be christened. Her Father was a Welshman and the Mother and her supporting family, just arrived from Poland, spoke no English. However the infant was duly blessed, sprinkled with Holy Water and drenched by her own furious tears. On the Sunday before we flew home to Portugal we drove to St. David’s Cathedral for a long and uninspiring Matins of great pomp, little participation by the congregation and for me, little spiritual satisfaction. The large choir was hearty rather than musical and dominated by a lady chorister whose piercing top notes could shatter a wine glass. Having left my glasses in the Ladies Room before the service I was unable to read the small print on the pew sheet and thought longingly of St. Vincent’s in Luz. More in hope than expectation, I had another look in the cloakroom and found my spectacles buried deep inside a bin of used paper hand towels, still in their leather case.

That apart, my abiding memories are of the countryside dressed everywhere in lush shades of green: of heavily leafed trees dripping into their roots and spring flowers everywhere, but especially in the derelict graveyard of a vandalized Church. True bluebells and Spanish hybrids, primroses and cowslips, violets and Travellers’ Joy all clustered among the drunken headstones and golden gorse everywhere.

Margaret Brown can be contacted by emailing features@algarveresident.com