Did I tell you about New Year’s Eve? No? Oh well, it was a damp squib, anyway. A drizzly apology of a celebration. As I noted in my last blog, the glorious zingy anticipation of a spiffy, memorable occasion so often dissolves into disappointment.
The scene I pictured was this; a moonlit night on Swansea waterfront, standing barefoot in the cool sand with gentle wavelets lapping at my toes as the moon’s long searchlight reflection rocks gently in the dark sea. Over to the west, the tiniest white pinpricks from Mumbles pier leading on to a curving bracelet of brighter lights of the hillside homes of Mumbles. Over to the east, there’s the brighter, harsher glow of the City centre.
I wanted to paddle in chill waters, dance on the sand, snog Captain Sensible, wave sparklers and swig champagne to welcome the New Year in.
But rain had lashed Swansea Bay for most of Saturday night, the tide was out, there was no moon and you couldn’t see Mumbles. Standing on the lumpy sand beneath the sea wall, the beach was lonely, windy, wet, black and bleak. The sparklers refused to be lit. My idealism felt like it had taken a rabbit-punch to the stomach. We turned and walked back through deserted dark streets of curtained windows, hearing the explosions of rockets and fireworks in the distance when suddenly there were church bells. It was the first time I’d ever heard bells being rung for New Year. It was quite lovely and changed everything. The drizzle subsided, the sparklers acquiesced and lit up.
Seven hours later, in the brand new light of a brand new year, we were tramping up the hill at the back of Hillend campsite, Llangennith, heading for Rhossili Down,the highest point on Gower. Wild ponies were quietly chewing the short seagrass as we passed and a lady sliding down the hill with “oopses” and “oh blimeys,” her navy cagoule hood frilled around her round pink face said “It’s like a giant wet sponge up there.”
Excellent. I’ve been up there many times but never when it has any resemblance to a bathroom accessory. It got quite windy, as it also does in bathrooms on occasion – but unlike bathrooms, windy to the point of almost being able to lean into it. I’m not sure what that is on the Beaufort Scale. Capt Sensible said a 5. I said 7. He said nah because 8 was galeforce. I must check that.
There were a few other couples up there, all dressed for the occasion and wishing us Happy New Year, all friendly-like. There was a sense of camaraderie among the few. One of the cheeriest was an older lady walking with a couple in their thirties done up in matching North Face gear suitable for Scafell Pike – possibly the mother of one of them. Mother wore a see-through rainhood, a beige belted raincoat, a skirt and flat shoes and carried a small shopping bag; Extreme Adventurewear by Peacocks.
In spite of the low cloud, the views were stunning. Inland, the Gower moorland was all russet and dark gold, while far below, the sea was retreating, a specific grey-green with long, long languorous regular waves, probably too flat for surfing.
We passed a family on their way up a steep bit – keen mum and dad forging ahead while a small knot of kids – two boys and a little girl – huffed and dragged their feet, making heavy weather of things and no doubt deeply resentful about being forced to leave the comfort of the living room and the X-box.
It reminded us of a holiday on the Isle of Arran when the kids shared a room of their own for the first time. They were the Wrong Age for such a room. It had a mini-bar, with little mars bars and packs of nuts and teeny cans of coca cola proportionally as expensive as brandy. The room also had a television with Sky TV which they had never seen before. It had The Simpsons. They lounged on the beds with utter abandon and joy, forgot to fight at all, ate and drank and watched Simpsons until they looked yellow. (No, they didn’t believe me either. So how come kids do the tooth fairy thing, yet fail to be believe an excess of Simpsons might turn them yellow? Just shows they are venal.) Suffice to say we had to shoehorn the little swines out of the room but they point-black refused to go walking or beachcombing. We reached a complex settlement involving so many hours of TV versus so many hours actually away from the hotel room, but it was fraught. The sight of junior foot-dragging brought back the pain.
That was before I realised that kids perform at their very best when they believe they can be superior. They see you struggling on the foothills of a mountain and they forge ahead like mountain goats to reach the summit before you do. They see you diving ineptly with tsunami-style splashings into a pool and they learn to swallow-dive. They see you puffing on a bike – they go on to beat you and then to beat others and sometimes win. Ours never wanted to be second place to us, which has, with hindsight, served them well. But to be honest, we were on a loser trying to overcome the Simpsons.
In Rhossili itself, The Worms Head Hotel had a warm and welcoming bar with slightly steamed up windows overlooking the magnificence of the bay. It had warm and welcoming Macallan single malt too, which to quote from Flann O’Brien from the Third Policeman had a the “heartlifted effect” common among spirituous liquors “reviving and quietly restoring the spiritual tissue.”
Fortified for the journey back towards breakfast, we positively skipped down the hundreds of little steps to the beach and the wreck of the Helvetia which still protrudes from the sands like a broken rib cage and I wondered aloud where the Worm’s Head had gone.
“That,” said Eeyore, shaking his head sadly at the cloudbank rolling in “is rain. They said it might rain.”
It was a pity he’d only had a pint. A tot of Macallan might have brightened his outlook as we strode on, battered about the westerlys by a sudden heavy squall.
“At least it’s on our backs,” I Tiggered cheerily.
“And look, isn’t it fantastic? It’s like being in a vast animated watercolour!”
It was. There was wave after wave of boiling surf rolling in from a choppy sea, green as you would be if you were out there tossing about in a boat, contrasting with still flat acres of mercurial wet sand and the drier golden sand turning dark and pitted with raindrops.
Scores of oystercatchers fluttered down and ran along peep-peeping in front of the surf. Way off in the distance tiny people walked with dogs, each a small vertical dash of dark hue with another dash of, oh, maybe Prussian blue showing their reflections in the wet sand.
Further away, the sea and sand became a mist which enveloped the rocks around the little green headland which becomes an island at high tide. The smallest splashes of colour – orange and a square of blue-green, belonged to a couple of distant kite surfers.
They had no record of my booking when we got to Eddie’s, but it didn’t matter as they thoughtfully provided me with an immediate glass of champagne to promote customer satisfaction. The big Welsh breakfast was ace, in keeping with tradition and the service was a little chaotic but very friendly and accommodating enough to notice that a second glass of champagne was unlikely to be refused.
So that was New Year. Eeyore says it’s probably all downhill from here.
Probably my favourite Eeyore quote ever:
Eeyore walked all round Tigger one way, and then turned and walked round him the other way.
“What did you say it was?” he asked.
“Ah!” said Eeyore.
“He’s just come,” explained Piglet.
“Ah!” said Eeyore again.
He thought for a long time and then said: “When is he going?”
Some images – the colours are unaltered. Note the rock – definitely the prettiest on all of Rhossili Down. I loves a bit of Old Devonian Red Sandstone quartz conglomerate, I do. It was pinker than it looks in the shot and featuring the kind of delicate lichens that favour exceptionally clean air. Note the breakfast. The empty champagne glasses are out of shot.