Of desolate ruins and Arthur's stone

2008-06-23 00:00

It’s pouring with rain and I’ve been lucky enough to find a public library with Internet facilities. Instead of getting wet, I’m warm and catching up on e-mails and other pressing matters. So far, I’ve been dogged by good weather so I have no cause for complaint, although the next few days, when I hope to cycle in the Cotswolds, look like being washed out.

A week ago, I crossed the Severn (by car) into Wales and untold kilometres and hours of clogged roads. This small island is in danger of being choked to death by traffic. If the cars aren’t roaring along the big roads like panic-stricken sardines off the KwaZulu-Natal coast in June, they’re lined up like strings of boerewors in the streets of the towns.

That the traffic flows at all is obviously thanks to the courtesy and patience of the average motorist.

It was late when I reached my destination — the Gower Peninsula — and I couldn’t find a camp site so I pitched my tent in a farmer’s field (with his permission). The next day I drove past dozens of sites. The one I chose, at Pitton Cross, on a cliff top overlooking the sea, is ideally located to get to some stunningly beautiful places on the coast. There are innumerable rocky coves of all sizes, bays with lovely sandy beaches, all tucked under the overhanging cliffs which are densely covered with flowers such as wild thyme, foxgloves, scabious, ox-eye daisies, campion, and many more.

Dense, intensely green grass fills in the gaps so bare soil is hard to find. The views are unbelievable.

At this time of year there are not many visitors so I had these magical places mostly to myself. The people on the cliff-top path are very friendly, sharing information about what to see. So it was that I came to the reputed birthplace of St David, patron saint of Wales (I’m told). It’s the tiniest ruin I’ve seen — most are colossal — just a tumbledown stone hut that may have been a stable, but carefully tidied up, neatly fenced, and with a descriptive plaque that hasn’t been vandalised.

On top of a desolate moor I came across an ancient burial mound of stones, perhaps 10 metres in diameter, just a few paces from a fallen obelisk that legend declares is Arthur’s Stone — the very one from which the “once and future king” famously plucked his sword. I keep bumping into old Arthur — first his tomb at Glastonbury, then his very own round table in Winchester, now his stone.

The forests in Wales are magnificent. I’ve been cycling along the edge of the Forest of Dean, which goes on and on. Not only are there massive trees, but plenty of replacement saplings share the floor with ferns and flowers like bluebells, which are now over.

Many wild animals still populate the forests — badgers (I haven’t seen any but one smells them), foxes, deer, birds. There is surely far more wildlife here than back home.

Not only is the habitat being cared for, but snaring and poaching in general is virtually unknown.

It’s a tonic to see flocks of sheep, untended, grazing on open fields that sometimes reach even into the villages. The new lambs are already quite big. Fowls, geese and ducks wander around like tame pigeons. There was a big newspaper poster about a sheep being stolen. No matter where one turns, the sorry contrasts with Africa are unavoidable.

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