Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fishguard & St David's

DSC03571-74 panorama [ice]DSC03576-77 panorama [ice]

Today's touring was around the north coast of Pembrokeshire, concentrating on Fishguard and St David's. Fishguard is only 27 miles from Pembroke, but such a distance in Wales generally requires about an hour to traverse.

Dylan Thomas was inspired by his stay in New Quay, not far up the coast from Fishguard, to create a play for voices: Under Milk Wood. The fictionalised town was Llareggub (read it backwards) printed as Llaregyb to mollify sensitive audiences. A number of recordings* have been made of the play, most notably with the participation of Richard Burton, who also appeared in the 1972 film version. That film, also starring Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole, was shot in Lower Fishguard, where Bondi and I found ourselves this very cool morning.

*I'm most familiar with George Martin's 1988 recording, featuring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, sung contributions from Tom Jones, Bonnie Tyler, Mary Hopkin and Geraint Evans, and music settings by Mark Knopfler and Elton John.

All the spouses are honking like geese and the babies singing opera DSC03575 DSC03570 
All the spouses are honking like geese and the babies singing opera

The narrow harbour, lined with simple cottages, and framed by high headlands, immediately reminded me of the Basque port of Pasajes to the east of San Sebastian, which Bondi and I had visited in 2005.

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High upon the headland overlooking Lower Fishguard is the fort which repelled the last invasion of mainland Britain in 1797. The invasion force, consisting mainly of conscripted French prisoners, under the leadership of an American colonel were seen off by the combination of a single cannon shot, and (as legend has it) by the distant sight of Welsh women dressed up in national costume, appearing to be British soldiers. The ridiculousness of the event is probably only surpassed in recent history by the Anglo-American Pig War

Driving southwest out of Fishguard, I saw a sign for Ocean Lab, which I remembered from a tourist flyer advertising Ollie the Octopus. Hoping to find an aquarium facility, I was disappointed to find a cafe/giftshop with a room out the back housing some hands-on exhibits based on a cartoon picture of an octopus. I wondered if there was a message in the display panel that described an octopus' 1,920 suckers...

Stone circle behind the tourist information centre. Stone circle behind the tourist information centre.
The next planned stop is St David's, often referred to as Britain's smallest city, and not because it scrapes the lower dimensions of a city population or extent. It was granted city status in 1995 by Queen Elizabeth II because of its cathedral, built on the site of a 6th century monastery.

St David's Cathedral, Wales (1) St David's Cathedral, Wales (2)
Pope Calixtus 11 (1119-24) decreed that two pilgrimages to St David's were equivalent to one to Rome, although this has not had the flow on effect of inducing louche youngmen to lounge around outside the cathedral grounds on vespas while downing espresso. Fortunately the new refectory offers attractive luncheon and coffee choices that might attract pilgrims from elsewhere in the county.

DSC03595 Queen's pew cushions
20070119 Wales - Fishguard ~ St David's
The St David's refectory also hosts displays of local art. At this time it was handwoven pictures by Riitta Sinkonnen Davies, a Finnish-born textile artist living and working outside Haverfordwest.

St Justinian lifeboat station We pulled in briefly at the St Justinian lifeboat station on the coast. The storm that had erupted over the last day and swept across the country doing much damage was a little troubling when standing on the narrow coastal path overlooking this bay. Not much actual damage seemed to have occurred in Pembrokeshire, as cousin Alison said "anything that was going to blow down had done so centuries ago".
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Our return journey took us back to the coast again at Newgale beach, which is guarded from high tides by a long pebble wall. Today it was being lashed by wind and water. At the time I was listening to a performance of Berlioz' Corsair overture which was a suitably swashbuckling accompaniment.

Rounded off the day with dinner at Alison & James', with conversation lasting until at least midnight.

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