Happy New Year from me on this blog. Bit delayed and I said it to everyone else ages ago but hey.. this has been stuck in Drafts waiting for long enough!
I hope your New Year was good. This was mine.
Buffeted by gales and storms, we drove down to Rhossili on the Gower Wales, on a dark and unpromising New Year’s Eve.
It was all my fault. I wanted to wake up on New Year’s Day, throw on some clothes and run down the steps to Rhossili Beach instead of having to drive a couple of hours to get there.
Plans this like form perfectly in my mind. It was my idea to say ‘hello’ to 2012 on Swansea beach with a full moon casting a long streak of silver all across the midnight black of the bay as the sky burst into a technicolour fiesta of fireworks. You might have guessed it was raining, dark and cold and there was no moon and no fireworks to be seen. My damp little sparkler didn’t light and then the matches dropped from my fumbling chilled fingers into the dark oblivion of the sand. So obviously that didn’t work. But this Rhossili thing ? It would, of course be perfect. Nothing could go wrong.
Our room was on the south side of an un-fussy little hotel with a rustic bar we’ve visited before and views clear across the sweep of bay to Llanelli. In the summer, a south-facing bedroom would be warm and welcome.
On this occasion, the little room with the dormer window was facing towards the Bristol Channel and into the teeth of the oncoming, unrelenting storm, which featured tile-rattling winds and lashing rain. The radiator was luke-warm. It wasn’t promising.
After the Gala Dinner and good wine, a lull, New Year fireworks and Auld Lang Syne it was time to repair to what must have been the most unhospitable room, to get some sleep. The radiator was now stone cold. I switched the light out with a pullcord hanging over the bed and slept in my clothes with the duvet and my coat over me.
The noise of the gales raging didn’t contribute much to a good night’s sleep so five hours later we were nursing luke-warm drinks – from the drinks machine - and gazing out of the breakfast room window at a range of greys.
Thick drifting cloud blotted out Rhossili Down and Worm’s Head. Rain was falling at a 45 degree angle on to the shiny wet terrace outside.
It was, frankly, dispiriting. Even more so as I had to make my own toast and tea. I don’t mind at all at home, drifting between toaster and kettle in that perfectly blank fug before you’re forced to meet other sentient life. In a hotel, however, I bloody resent paying to do it all myself.
The toast machine was one of those that conveyor-belt jobs where the toast processes as slow as a state funeral past the grill bars without browning. The resulting hot bread becomes unappetizingly soggy with margarine. Hot bread, tepid tea, pouring rain and slate-grey cloud so thick you could stir it, 2014 already needed to pull its socks up.
Later, double and triple-layered in clothes, we heading down the path towards where the Worm should be – named after a dragon because of its shape. Things looked gloomy but the wind calmed and as we watched more of the beach came into view…. long, flat, gleaming wet and studded with the sunken remains of a ship, the Helvetia.
It’s illegal to visit Rhossili without going down the steps to the beach. You never know what you’ll find. Trudging up towards me was a boy about 11 years old in full waterproofs, his hood down, hair soaking wet. Long-suffering dad was 200 yards down the path behind him. He paused to get his breath back and wish me a happy new year and waved in the direction of his disappearing son.
“He wanted to come down yer so we’ve been beachcombing in the pouring rain. Now, soon as the rain goes off, he’s had enough!” protested exasperated dad. “I s’pose he’ll be expecting breakfast now.”
What did find was a triggerfish… on the grass beside the path, it’s eyes pecked out by birds. Triggerfish are still unusual in British waters but are seen more frequently than ever. Had it really been thrown out of the sea during the storm and landed 500 metres from the surf? Maybe…. after all, a four foot cod landed up on the golf course at Porthcawl. Fins don’t get much stranger than that.
The other thing we found, apart from razor clam shells, thin tellins and the wrecks of two more ships close to the cliffs, was a stuck sheep.
It stood on a sheep-sized patch of grass jutting out from the cliff face which was about forty feet below the grassland on top of the cliff where its ovine mates were grazing.
Sheep may safely graze but some, it seems choose not to. This one had probably taken a chance on a stretch to a tasty bit of purslane and slid down the cliff where it was saved by the ledge.
I declined Capt Sensible’s suggestion to shin up the cliff, fling it over my shoulders and clamber down with it on the grounds that there wasn’t quite room for me to be stuck on the ledge with the sheep. It was definitely sheep-sized.
It was pretty clear that sheep wasn’t going anywhere, so I took a pic and called back at the hotel to let the owner know that one of his sheep needed a bit of a hoist.
Operation Sheep Rescue put into place, we headed off to Eddy’s caff at Hillend to toast the New Year with bubbly and devour a massive Welsh breakfast including battered cockles. Always worth walking the length of Rhossili in the rain for battered cockles even if, for a while, you feel more battered than any cockle. Happy New Year!
Sheep on a ledge
The view north towards Hill End and Llangennith
I only ate one sausage, ok? Just to be clear.