This trip has been some time coming, the last time the van ventured off the drive was late October when we went to Cheddar, so it was some excitement that I fired up the motor mover and slowly inched the van out onto the road from its hidey hole in bright sunshine.
We set off by 10.45am and were cruising along the M4, shades on and journey blasting out of the speakers (well Herself thought it was blasting, I thought it was quiet background music).
We were pulling into the site at Cwmcarn Forest at noon. The pitches are big enough but the access road is not, so again the mover was employed to inch the van slowly back onto the pitch. And I mean slowly as I think the leisure battery on the van has not survived the winter unharmed.
Setting up was a doddle except for trying to drive the pegs into the rock hiding just 2” below the surface. After banging those in Popeye’s forearms have got bugger all on mine.
I am reliably informed that where the campsite is used to be called The Rampin, and it is here that my Bampa used to push my Mam in her pram when she was teething over 70 years ago.
A quick bite to eat for lunch before some family duties needed to be done. Nanna Coupons is from these parts and I’d promised her that I’d put some flowers on her mam and dad’s grave, so off out it was to find a florist. We drove through Cwmcarn and Abercarn and I passed many houses that looked familiar to me from my childhood when we used to come up and visit. Herself quickly grew tired of me waffling on – Uncle Harry used to live there, that was Auntie Doll’s house, oh look, the Park, Auntie Toni’s mam lives here. And that was Uncle Tom’s flat.
We didn’t find a florist, but stumbled across the cheapskate’s favourite – Aldi. I popped in to get flowers for the grave while herself stayed in the car with the dogs.
It was while I was in the store that I had a funny turn. I can’t explain it, maybe a rush of blood or something, but I bought flowers for Herself too. Not such a biggie you may say, but I gave up buying flowers for Herself roughly around the same time that I retired from dancing – 8pm on Saturday 25th April 1992 (our wedding redeption.)
After a couple of minor diversions (we got lost) we found the cemetery and I parked up Miranda on Chapel of Ease Hill. This hill has a gradient of at least 1:2 so I insisted herself remain in the car and sit in the driver’s seat so she could stand on the footbrake if the parking brake failed and Miranda lost her battle with gravity.
To my shame, it’s quite some time since I visited last and the grave took a little finding, but flowers placed and a bit of a tidy up saw me scrambling back down the slope to the car. Hills are steep around here, and one look at the back gardens tells you that you need the agility of a mountain goat to hang out the washing.
Herself then announces that she’d like to go to watch Roids play rugby this evening. I ask if she is serious, and I get the look. I pout a little and I get another look. I protest and get the look that says unless I drive her the 130 mile round trip to the game I am going to be on very good terms with Pam and her 5 mates for the foreseeable future.
Looks like I wasted that £2 on roses in Aldi afterall.
The jungle drums have been banging, because just after tea we were startled by someone poking their head through the awning. Michael and Maralyn live just down the road and popped up for a chat.
With time running short it was time to head west. We hit the M4 at Newport and set the cruise control to 85mph, and pulled into the Field of Dreams at home with 10 mins to spare. Roids’ team lost and he came off inured 10 mins from the end but we had no time to sit around and chat. The site gates are locked at 10pm so we hit the M4, pointed the car to the east, set the cruise control to somewhere North of 80 mph and made it back by the skin of our teeth.
The van is freezing as we return. Some clown had left the sky light open. Guess who got the blame. Anyway, it soon warmed up, well I thought so anyway, but Herself was having none of it and made a show of shivering under a few fleeces while I sat around in shorts and a tee shirt.
Saturday 19th April
It was a little chilly overnight, and I must confess to getting up at 4.30am and turning the heating up a notch.
The dogs allowed me a lie in until 8am then started to nag to go out. With the sun not yet peeking over the steep hillside it was brass monkeys outside, though I started feeling a little better as I made my way down through the site and noted many of the tent campers suffering the affects of mild hypothermia!
With the dogs walked up The Rampin I returned to the van to note that Herself is suffering from “first time out in the van this year itus”. She’s obviously forgotten about the talking to I gave her down in St Davids last year. There was no boiling kettle, nor was there any sizzling bacon. Looks like we are going to have to have words again just as soon as I’m feeling *brave or *foolish (delete as appropriate) enough.
We were expecting Ronnie, Roids and The Fridge (no DD as Ronnie and her parted company just after Xmas) to arrive early this evening, a phone call later established that they were due to land with us before 2pm. This news resulted in a dash to Tesco in Risca to get some food in for them before taking the dogs for a long walk along the picturesque trail at the Sirhowy Valley Country Park.
I’ve been remarking to herself about how nice it is to see the region in the sunshine. My overriding memory about this area from childhood is that it was always raining, some times drizzle sometimes thunderous, but always damp and raining.
Now, by default I usually use the bog in the van, but the severe burning sensation in my lower guts suggested I may need a proper porcelain bog with flushing water for my forthcoming evacuation. So with crocs on I waddled with clenched butt cheeks down towards to toilet block. As I neared the building I started sweating profusely. Not only was I touching cloth, but the toilets are fitted with a number coded lock. Not only can I not remember the access code, but I’ve left my phone behind on which I’ve cleverly stored the access code in the memory just in case I forgot.
The site is deserted so there is no one about to open up for me. With no alternative I set off back up the hill, waddling with butt cheeks clenched tight towards the van. Herself gives me a bemused look, but with no time to explain and sweat pouring out of me I sharply say “Just give me my effin phone!” before I turn round and waddle a little more quickly back down the hill. With 20m to go I estimate that I am now about 3cm dilated and the steps into the block are going to present me with a not inconsiderable challenge!
I did manage to tip the skip accident free, but it was bloody close!
The rabble landed at around 2pm and with giving Roids just enough time to throw a pasty down his neck first, we all piled into Miranda to do the Scenic Drive at Cwmcarn. Very enjoyable it was too as the 7 miles of single track snaked its way around the sides of the valley with attractions and view points dotted along the way.
Some of the climbs were quite steep and there were several lunatics doing the drive on push bikes. I’ll admit to taking a little sadistic pleasure from opening up Miranda’s throttle as we passed them, giving them a lung full of diesel soot as they gasped for valuable oxygen.
We stopped and looked at the villages in the valley below, and at car park 6 there is a fantastic view down to the coast at Newport below and the coast line on the Sais side of The Bristol Channel from Clevedon down to Weston Super Mare and Brean Down, with Exmoor rising behind.
It was far too chilly for Herself to consider getting out, so she was once again in “view the world from the comfort of Miranda” mode. The plan was to climb up Twmbarlum Tump and see the remains of the iron Age fort at the summit. As we rounded the bend the tump came into view in all its glory. The path goes straight up at 45 degrees for a few hundred meters. I admit to being rather relieved at being told that as 3 of the 5 car occupants were wearing flip flops an attempt at the assent was out of the question. I feigned disappointment but my bluff was well and truly called as I was told that they didn’t mind sitting in the car while I went up.
I got out of the car, stretched my calf muscles and hit the path before engineering a fall and feigning a twisted ankle just 10m into the climb.
Back at the van it was time to feed the masses (and you think Jesus had it difficult with a few fish and some bread) before the youngsters buggered off to kick a ball around leaving me to wash up whilst Herself started on the process of making herself beautiful for tonight’s party.
Which is actually the main reason for us coming this way this weekend. Our Kathy, who now lives in Windsor and whose claim to fame is that she once signed Eddie Butler’s pay slips at the BBC, has a rather significant birthday this weekend which has resulted in the social event of the year taking place at the glitzy Abercarn RFC. Rumour has it that her next door neighbours from Windsor are travelling down and stopping in our Michael’s spare room. Can’t wait to have a chat with Her Madge and Phil the Greek later.
All spruced up we rolled into Abercarn and there’s a buzz about the place with the paparazzi held back behind crush control barriers. It was a great night. The beer was cheap and it flowed freely and it was so nice to have a family get together that didn’t involve the singing of hymns. This was a party Valleys stylee, but real valleys, not that shit that MTV broadcasts. It was heart warming to see Nanna Coupons and her Sis mingling with cousins they see far too rarely. Our Kathy even took to the mic herself and had the room standing with her rendition of “You lift me up” which she had dedicated to those there last night only in our hearts.
I was having a great time and was in sump mode, as the clocks turned mid night I remember the look on Herself’s chops as I asked if I had time to throw just one more down my neck before we left.
Herself was ‘Des’ tonight and knowing that the main entrance to the forest drive is locked at 10pm had asked directions as to get back through Cwmcarn itself. Exiting the car park I started to issue directions and was promptly told to STFU. As we cruised through Abercarn I started with the “Look, Uncle Tom’s flat is there!” and was again told to STFU.
Herself turned into Cwmcarn and again I tried to direct her, but was told in no uncertain terms that she knew where she was going. I shut up. It soon became apparent as we approached the sign for Pontywaun that Herself did not in fact know where she was going. I of course had to come to the rescue and guide us home. Did I get any thanks for it though?
The plan was for Herself to drop me and Ronnie off in the visitor’s car park and we would walk the dogs back to the campsite. Into the car park we rolled, confidently we let the dogs out for a run and Herself then approached the now locked metal barrier with a £40 charge to get security to open it up for you.
This was not a problem for us as as we knew they locked it at 10pm and had been given the access code to open it up after hours. As myself and Ronnie loitered while Tali pissed on all the wheels of cars parked up overnight it son became apparent that there was in fact a problem with the barrier. No matter how many times Roids punched in the code it refused to unlock.
Myself and Ronnie rocked up to rescue the situation but I’m afraid that with all the drink inside us the task was beyond our capabilities. For those of you that have seen the movie “Dodgeball” it was like the phrase that the coach used to describe the team when he first took over that involved people with learning difficulties, sexual activities and door furniture!
We failed miserably. So beaten, Herself parks up Miranda for the night and we start the trek up to the campsite with Herself and the Fridge tottering on high heels. I must have woken half the site as I under estimated the return swing on the gate and it clattered shut against the post!
We sat up chatting until 1.30am when we collapsed into our pits after a long but very enjoyable day.
Sunday 20th April
I was woken by the dogs at 9am telling me that they needed to splash their boots, so trying not to disturb everyone else, I got dressed, scraped the fur from inside my mouth and walked back down through the site, avoiding any eye contact with some very cold and tired looking tent campers!
To me relief Miranda had not been clamped so I threw the dogs into the boot and we drove further up the Rampin where they could run free. We rounded the bend and I drew up behind a queue of cars. Further investigation revealed a car parked up about 20m in front with smoke coming from under its bonnet. Just 2 mins later and it was well alight. Mr Shag should come and take a look and see how quick a fire can take hold, because sometimes the length of time it takes him to get his BBQ going, Bear Grills could have rocked up, started a fire with a flint and wet wood, cooked his fish, eaten it, doused the fire and then cleaned up with time to spare before Mr Shag throws the first burger on the rack.
Anyhows, South Wales’ Fire & Rescue Service’s finest rock up and squirt water at the car before I turn round and head down to the fishing lake nearer the site to walk the dogs.
After last nights efforts a very lazy morning was had. A few mugs of tea and some bacon and egg butties (with HP sauce) were consumed while slobbing in the van, and feeling the van shake with the massive thunder claps that accompanied the storm over head.
Early afternoon and we still have not got the mojo to go anywhere, when I see a car pull up outside our van, the occupant of the passenger seat winds down the window and I get the middle finger salute (Our Jeff, who’s the Davis’ answer to Bear Grylls)!
We spend an hour chatting over a cup of tea before my Uncle Col’s rumbling stomach takes over, and if there is one thing you don’t do in this world is delay or mess around with a hungry Davis.
They set off to find a pub for lunch and we hit the road to Ebbw Vale and its Festival Field shopping mall. Only half the shops are open because it’s Easter Eggs Day, but Herself still manages to lighten my wallet in Rugby Heaven and The Mountain Warehouse before I take out a re mortgage on the house to pay for refreshments in Costa. Herself hints at another Coffee, I get up to leave taking my wallet with me.
While Ronnie points car west and home, Herself and I head back down the valley towards Cwmcarn, stopping briefly at the very cold and very windy nature reserve at The Cwm, just north of Crymlyn. The road surface was that poor I think it may have loosened a few fillings in my mouth!
Back on site with it being quite dismal by 5pm and tipping with rain I put on my Mongo hat to do my outside jobs and remark to herself that this is more like the Abercarn that I remember.
We spend the evening cwtched up in the van while the torrential rain hammered on the roof and Herself prepare an excellent evening meal of Sirloin steak with new potatoes roasted in garlic. With dishes cleared away I was just about to start sleeping it off when a bit of an emergency caught up with us. Herself had run out of wine.
It is now just gone 9pm on Easter Sunday. We stepped out of the toasty warm van into the cold damp forest air and set off on our own little Easter Egg (Wine) Hunt. Down Nant Carn Rd (Uncle Harry and my Mam used to live here mind) and through The Park into Cwmcarn Village – Nothing open. Onto Pontywaun – nothing open, through Cross Keys –nothing open, and into Risca we rolled where in the distance I saw a mirage. As we neared I said to Herself “No, it can’t be.”
We were both unsure, but as we closed in, there it was, out of the darkness came the glow of a Spar shop, and the bright lights indicated that it was open. Not sure how long for though, so Herself exited the car Starskey and Hutch stylee before I’d stopped and came out a few moments later full of smiles clutching a bottle of wine, chews for the dogs and a bag of wine gums for me.
Risca was like a sub tropical resort compared to Cwmcarn, and a quick look on Miranda’s dash confirmed that it was a full 2 degrees C warmer down here. Back at the van I promptly proceeded to demolish the wine gums before falling asleep in front of the TV. I woke up at 11.30pm and announced I was tired and going to bed forthwith.
It has stopped raining.
I slept like a log last night, which probably equates to Herself not getting much shut eye due to my snoring. Don’t worry, she’ll let me know later. It’s still not raining so we may be in with a shout of packing away a dry awning later.
I wake the dogs at 8:30 to take them out again up The Rampin, no burning cars this morning, just the glorious colours of the forested steep hillsides before returning to the van to start breaking camp.
We’re done, dusted and hitting the road by a little before 11am joining the streams of traffic heading down the valley and onto the M4 for a day out in either Barry Island or Porthcawl. The tow home was uneventful and problem free.
I remember Auntie Doll saying to my mam many years ago “See, our Pat, you’re better off in Llanelli out of this bloody dark and damp shithole.” Having seen the area in all of its beauty this weekend (3 of the 4 days in bright sunshine) I’m not so sure.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time this weekend feeling rather nostalgic, cruising the streets where Uncle Harry, Auntie Doll, Auntie Peg, Uncle Tom and Auntie Bessie used to live, as well as the houses that my Bampa and Nanna brought up my mam. All those characters are long gone now (except my mam) and the houses occupied by new families. Maybe it’s my age, I don’t know, but those memories will last forever. Auntie Doll’s fire half way up the chimney, Auntie Peg coaxing our Kathy to play the organ for us, Uncle Harry doing his coin in a paper bag trick (missing fingers and gurning), Cripper coming down the stairs in Auntie Bessie’s after his Saturday afternoon bath and Uncle Tom looking in Mam’s bag to see if she’d baked a cake for him.
It was lovely to see cousins in real life on Saturday, even if our Kathy had us choked as she sang for departed cousins, aunties and uncles, some long since gone and others more recently leaving a raw pain.
Lovely, lovely weekend, and thanks to Our Kathy for making it so special.