Following on my last post …
So we had booked a car with Hertz. The question was, which one of us was actually going to drive it when it came time to leave the lot. I asked Deb if she had prepared herself for driving and she said, in effect, ‘hell no, I was just going to deal with it when it happened.’ OK, so that’s not too reassuring. The alternative of course, being me. I, however, had being trying to psych myself up for it, imagining driving on the left, remembering those high-hedged, blind-curved, very narrow bicycle paths of rural Cornwall they call roads. I figured I was as ready as I was going to be. And it had been my idea, this motoring in Wales, so what could I say?
After we had resolved the insurance issue we got the keys to our brand new Ford Focus. We stowed our luggage, which filled the boot; checked the interior for head room and leg room; had the agent show us the controls; got new and shorter directions to reach the M4 roadway … and then we walked down the road for a coffee. This required a jolt of java .
Fortified, we returned, adjusted the seats, belted ourselves in, turned key in ignition, revved the engine, and with the Hertz agent guiding us onto the roadway, we took a deep breath, and we were off, with the agent’s last words trailing away behind us, “Just remember, you don’t want the curb on your shoul-derrrrr!” We got to the corner; I made my first right turn, across traffic since I am now on the left, and promptly pulled into a parking lot because I had forgotten to adjust the mirrors … and I needed another deep breath.
Driving on the left wasn’t as much of an adjustment as I thought, although I did take to repeating out loud, “I’m turning left, tuck it in,”, or “I’m turning right, cross the traffic”. We had already agreed that the passenger was not permitted to sight see or rubber neck, AT ALL, but was assigned the responsibilities of navigating and reading all the signage enroute to keep us on the straight and narrow.
Narrow was the most difficult thing to get used to. These roads have no shoulder and there is absolutely NO wiggle room. In addition to the already narrower-than-we-are-used-to lanes, they still allow street parking in the villages … on both sides … on the same stretch. Often times Deb’s caution of ‘keep to the left’ was responded with, “There isn’t any left, there’s just right down the middle!”
We had anticipated sharing the driving, alternating each day. So on day two Deb assumed the driver’s seat and I became navigator / sign reader. I failed in my assigned duties – our destination of Carreg Cennen was approximately 18 miles from our overnight stop of Llandovery, and yet inexplicably it took some three hours travelling time with me navigating. So it didn’t take us long to decide that we each had our strengths. In addition, Deb was better at sitting in what I came to refer to as the suicide seat – when I was the passenger I found myself sitting with a rather severe lean to the right. So I became chauffeur and Deb became navigateur. Under her direction we only missed one exit from all those round-abouts in our week of touring.
Understand that distances in Britain are different from Canada. In the great expanse of Canada we can drive the straight and wide 401 for hundreds of miles in a few hours. Wales, on the other hand is quite a compact little country—just 160 miles from north to south, and a mere 50 miles from east to west and it is impossible to drive very much of it without having your eyes glued to the road ahead because the terrain is constantly changing and presenting a new challenge—a blind curve … a hidden entrance … an oncoming bus. Always comforting was the traffic sign we often saw declaring “oncoming traffic in the middle of the road.” As an aside, interestingly a fellow we chatted with who had driven in our country said he found our roads intimidating because they were so wide!
Now my theory is that they just paved over all the meandering horse and foot paths worn into the countryside over the centuries, retaining each curve and bend and every rise and fall, and declared them a road system. This way, it makes their country seem bigger because it takes so long to get anywhere. I said more than once that I was sure two miles in Wales was further than our 2 miles … which of course is true as it turns out since our two ‘miles’ are measured in kilometres and are therefore really only 1-1/4 miles.
During our exploration of our little corner of Wales over the next six days we travelled quite a few supremely narrow two-way roads that we would truly label bicycle paths, each a snake-like winding route of blind curves over hill and dale. Added to that mix are invariably very high, as in perhaps 10 feet, and very thick hedgerows reaching their branches out to scratch your brand new rental. Many of these roads inexplicably have curbs, off of which one’s tires can bounce when one hugs the left too much and which can cause that “Whoa S—” feeling as your vehicle rebounds and your knuckles turn white. Also met a rather fast moving van who hadn’t seemed to expect to find anyone on his road—we both hit the brakes and came as close to nose to nose as I wanted to get.
Overall I enjoyed the experience of motoring in Wales, but admit at the end of the day when Deb would head for the restorative cup of tea, I was pouring a rye and ginger.