BY: MARGARET BROWN
Margaret Brown is one of The Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years. As well as Country Matters, she also writes Point of View every week.
LEAVING PORTUGAL in warm sunshine and wall to wall blue skies, we landed at Cardiff with clouds at shoulder height and a light drizzle.
It was an excellent flight in a nearly new plane spoilt by a pig of a touch-down, and a concerted “Oooh!” from the passengers.
Checking out through security on departing Faro, my well stuffed laptop case was eviscerated and the small machine, nestling among underwear and other personal items, subjected to a thorough inspection. I was given an ‘in depth’ pat down and ended up feeling guilty of something of which I had no knowledge.
Leaving the airport in a rented Punto, the nearer we drove to our destination the heavier the rain, and on arrival the waterside town of Neyland in Pembrokeshire looked dead. Bank holiday Sunday and even the Fish and Chip shop was closed. At 8pm the pubs and Marina Café were no longer serving meals. The dog next door howled as we fought to open the front door of the house sealed and swollen after the wettest summer in living memory and I thought, “Having longed for some good Welsh rain, make the most of this soft grey sky and invisible horizon. It won’t last.” But it did.
After a good night’s sleep, everything looked much better across the Haven, generally grey and moist with the oil terminal hidden in rain except for a disembodied plume of flame. The family of frogs which a few months ago had been living in the back yard was no longer there – either they had died of a surfeit of water or made their escape.
With Nº’s one and two daughters due next day, one from the north and the other from south of England, a trip to Tesco was essential. With 22 years driving on the right apart from occasional visits to the UK, we tended to drift to the middle of the road especially exiting car parks or service stations. Riding shot gun, my gentle reminders of “Keep to the left” sometimes degenerated according to the degree of fright suffered. Motorways were less of a worry because like lemmings we were all speeding in convoy.
Having a mental block with regard to unfamiliar towns, we toured the back streets of Barry twice then took to the country for a while. Trees luxuriantly leafed and magnificently green dripped by the roadside, grazing animals surrounded by rich grass were chewing the cud each on its own warm, dry patch and wondering whether global warming was just another scare conditioning people to more government restrictions.
This holiday, more by accident than intent, coincided, for the first time, with a gathering of all the family. Any excuse for a party and what better than a pre-wedding celebration? The daughter from New Zealand is to be married sometime next year and few will make the wedding so the day was given over to meeting, eating, drinking and dancing. People appeared as unknown relatives-in-law, some of whom were total strangers we may never see again: all recorded on digital camera to be puzzled about later and forgotten. The weather held up and a smokers’ tent stood empty while the addicted enjoyed their habit, for once not isolated from the rest of us.
Thereafter the horizon disappeared under thick sea mist and a steady drizzle set in, the local sailing club just across from the house began an afternoon race in nil visibility and the dinghies disappeared from sight. By dusk all was silent, the brightly lit shore across the water blanked out. I have no idea if the car ferry from Rosslare managed to dock at 1am because all sound was swallowed up.
Having heard expatriates in the Lagos area complaining about a run of electricity pylons spoiling the view, they should see the disfigurement of the countryside in parts of South Pembrokeshire. Huge pylons in every direction laced together by a multitude of drooping wires dominate the scenery. We have not seen the source of power and presume it to be part of the National Grid, but why in this mainly rural region? With an oil refinery on one side of The Haven and a gas terminal just across the water where this natural harbour opens out into the Irish Sea may be reason enough, but how unpleasant to look upon and all in the name of progress.
The view from the office window is of docks dating from Victorian times showing little activity – dark and depressing except when the twice daily ferry ties up. Fully operational during both World Wars and now used by small motor craft servicing fuel and gas depots, the main interest is watching every size and shape of boat messing about or heading seaward.
There is a small sheltered Marina just west of Cleddau Bridge, unspoiled by modern gimmicks and entirely devoted to matters connected with sailing, fishing and relevant small industries. The excellent restaurant that serves home cooked meals and irresistible homemade cakes opens only at lunchtime now whereas last year it was a wonderfully handy place to eat supper.
A better morning on Saturday and Nº2 daughter’s short holiday almost over, so we toured a small part of this most beautiful of counties. First to St. Govan’s Chapel, an 11th century hermit’s retreat halfway down high granite cliffs reached by a steep rock stairway that for years I have avoided. With the Boss one step ahead, we made it to the bottom and into this ancient place of meditation and prayer. Separated from the pounding waves by a wide apron of broken stones, the result of numerous rock falls, it is a place of great tranquillity.
On to Pembroke to walk round the medieval castle there. Dedicated early in the 12th century to The Knights’ Templar by the current King James, it has a sizeable river-fed lake, the waters of which were controlled by a lock which for many centuries drove a corn mill. Nowadays it is home to many swans and other water birds, straddled by an ancient bridge carrying traffic into town.
Shopping mostly at Tesco and occasionally in small shops in Neyland, we have been shocked by the cost of basic necessities and sometimes forget we are no longer in the eurozone. If things remain as they are, or deteriorate further, we could not consider living back in Britain, something which was discussed with our daughters as possible in the future.
On each visit to Britain I find the quiet country places highly seductive, triggering an old nesting instinct that lies dormant but never quite disappears. On our return to Portugal, it is put on the back burner, familiar places and special friends overlaying any insecurities and we settle down once more into the comfortable groove worn by many years of happiness.