Brixton is busy, in your face kind of busy busy. Constant shouts and sirens, constant proximity to other people (in the way Sartre meant it…), constant rush and constant noise. Constant everything. I was in a desperate need of a break, so my eternal sidekick and I decided to pack our bags for the weekend and head for the hills.
For the hills of Wales.
I have driven through Wales twice: once in a car (Ford, or, FRD as the O had fallen off) with a broken and noisy exhaust pipe, and occupied by my sister, our two dogs, a Westie and a Newfoundlander, and me behind the wheel. It was a cheery and surreal, coffee and Red Bull infused, trip, and we literally sped through the whole of Wales and England to catch a ferry to France in time.
Second time I whizzed through Wales in a train when my eternal sidekick and I moved from Dublin to London. My otherwise super-hero like sidekick has a slight fear of flying, so we opted for the train and admiring the scenery from a closer distance. But I do not remember much of this journey: ferries make me seasick, trains make me sleepy, and the combination of sea-sickness medication and the comforting rattle of the train knocked me out of the game completely.
But what I saw on these two occasions didn’t make a deep impact on me: maybe because I had once lived in the most scenic part of the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides and “seen it all”, or maybe the rural west coast of Ireland and Donegal, had ruined my sensitivity for this type of a landscape. And as this type happens to be my favourite type of landscape, I have been mourning the loss of this sensitivity deeply.
So I had my doubts about Wales. Would it be just another case of mildly rolling hills dotted with the eternal sheep? Maybe a cow here and there? A pretty village with a pub and a post office? I was craving for something more, something with an awe-quality, something inspiring, something that would leave me wanting more and dreaming about it.
And ever since getting behind the wheel at the Europcar’s offices at Victoria Coach Station in central London, a good, hopeful feeling about Wales started to emerge. It might have been the case of just a slight driver-fever (as I am a sucker for driving and road trips), but there was something else in the air too. A certain kind of freshness of ideas floating around, a promise of a good trip, tingling in the stomach anticipation.
I navigated past London’s posh districts, past Natural History Museum and then out of London, hit the M4 and head for the Welsh hills.
Then, the toll after crossing the river Severn and we were in Wales. As soon as possible, I started to steer the car off the main road and took the A4042 towards Brecon Beacons National Park.
First the A4042, and then after Abergavenny A40 into the park itself, were magnificent roads, Wales was claiming its imaginary promise to me. Under the thick clouds of mid-March, you got rolling and craggy, brownish hills to look at. Specks of dark green and almost purple looking forests and pasture in the distance: tender landscape that leaves room for daydreams and awe until, when least expected, a sweep of a magnificent, snow-clad mountain rising from the horizon, and road winding its way in between the hills to reach it. When you step out of the car, all daydreams are gone in an instant and wind blows them away, here and now is enough.
Wales brought back my sensitivity to landscape, and I felt the good old rush again: this is undefined scenery, barren and arid, resisting all meanings bestowed upon it, offering an escape to the imagination blocked by the city’s constant presence.
P.S. Coming soon: more photos and a review of my first ever Airbnb experience in the heart of Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales. For now, let’s just say that I left my hat behind… although not intentionally, in a Chatwin-like manner, but metaphorically. Although the hat was very real.