Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wales, 21.6.90: Cross Hands and Upper Tumble

I lose track of days, but today is the day we cross to Ireland, so the date above must be correct. Was too tired to write anything yesterday or yesterday night.

Am writing this at a filthy b and b. in Cross Hands, Wales, drinking wretched tea that tastes like a cross between cilantro and dust. Cross Hands is just down the road from Upper Tumble.

We drove yesterday from Winchester ca. 1 P.M., to here by 7 P.M. In the morning, we shopped around Winchester and toured the cathedral till noon, then had lunch at the cathedral shop. The b and b in Winchester was much better—lavish breakfast of egg, bacon, toast, tomato, mushroom, juice, grapefruit. Each item was not meted out as with the Rye matron. A supercilious English couple in Winchester breakfast room, who smiled faintly and made eyes at all we said.

I had dreamt the night before that Tad D. gave me a written critique of my Singing in a Strange Land, saying it was not adequately Christian in its emphasis on pain and not joy. I felt in the dream that I carried what I called (again, in the dream) “mother pain.”

After breakfast, walked to town. Very fine, sunny morning. We walked past the Hampshire Record Office, a former church, which I would sorely like to have visited, but no time. Left K. and A. at Marks and Spencer, then walked to some new bookshop near the Kings Walk area. There I bought Edmund Gosse’s autobiography and P.L. Fermor’s Time of Gifts, which I’d been seeking unsuccessfully at home.

After that, into the bric-a-brac market on King’s Walk. Very expensive and chi-chi. Bought a butter knife, bone-handled, for 50 p and a silk scarf and woven belt for Diane. Bought myself a card that struck me, entitled “Artists’ Friend”—a picture of a bowl of goldfish.

Then to SPCK and Gilberts bookshop on the Square, and to a bakery for a coburg loaf, an iced bun, an Eccles cake (dry, tasteless, lardy), and a split cream-filled bun. After that, two cookware shops where I got a cookbook stand and jar labels. In SPCK I found Luke a birthday book and myself one, a handful of postcards, and a book on theological reflections re: AIDS.

Afterwards, tour of cathedral. The west window very impressive, but I grow weary of tourist-infested, clergy-haunted cathedrals with their entourage of sweet, decided old ladies in robes helping visitors. K. and A. and Steve insisted on having bookmarks hand-lettered by a cathedral calligraphist.

I’m torn between thinking these cathedrals awful great shows, and well-preserved shrines that still manage to maintain a religious aura. More of the former, I suspect, though I admire the Anglican ease with urging visitors gently to keep the religious in mind. But on the whole all churches in England have a sad museum quality rather than that lived-in look.

Lunch—prawns and mayonnaise on brown bread, cup of coffee. As we went out, I passed a table of one of those myriad little helpful old ladies with scatty hair. In fact, I believe she was the woman, enrobed, who greeted us earlier at the cathedral door.

She had a table full of delightful little watercolors. I bought a teak box with an oval water and meadows scene painted on front—crudely cut out, but that’s part of the charm. Also a locket of poppies for Heather M., an oval of poppies to hang on the all, and five notecards of flowers. I asked the woman to sign these, and she wrote her name on a card—Mary Rowlandson—talking distraitement all the while, as well-bred Englishwomen and Southern ones do so charmingly.

I told her I was happy to have Hampshire scenes because I apparently had ancestry here, and she said, “Yes, my mother was Scottish, too.” I think I was to infer that she feels a sense of belonging in Scotland such as I said I felt in Hampshire.

Then she said the scenes were all from the area between Winchester and Southampton, which is where I think the Batchelors came from. She asked the surname of my family, and I told her Batchelor. She said, “Yes! That’s a name one hears.” Altogether a delightful encounter.

The drive, less so. We flew through the countryside from Winchester to Wells, stopping briefly to buy strawberries just south of Cheddar. We also stopped at Wells and did a blitz tour of the cathedral, the most striking feature of which is the honey-colored façade with its many statues. I found no Godwins inside, and felt not so at home as in Hampshire.

As one reaches Somerset, the houses become cut stone, rather than what I guess is the wattle and daub construction of Hampshire. By afternoon the sky was lowering with intermittent patches of rain and a high cold wind, and this made the houses look forbidding and grim, though I imagine in full sun they would be beautiful. Most have stone walls around them, and the road from Wells to Cheddar often has stone-walled borders. In Wells, all the older part of the city seemed of this stone, with stone walls.

Between Wells and Cheddar, we stopped briefly in Wookey. I looked quickly through the church and churchyard for Godwins, finding none, but did photograph the church. The inside was spooky.

After this, stopped beside the road atop a hill to photograph the beautiful countryside. The rolling hills were simultaneously bathed in spots of sunlight and crowned with dark rain showers. Very green and lush and lots of sheep.

From this time, tired and dispirited. Stopped to get a pound of cheddar in Cheddar, only 88p. One of the nicest market crosses I’ve seen there. Bristol ugly and industrial, and the road around it to the Severn Bridge seemed interminable. I thought how many of my ancestors must have taken leave of England as they floated down the Severn.

We took the M5 interstate up to its end past Swansea, so I really can’t say much re: Wales. It was cold and rainy and getting late, so my impressions are not too happy. Lots of heavy industry in and around Swansea area, contributing to this.

At the interstate end, we stopped at a tourist information-cum-gasoline-cum-gift shop station. The information post was closed, so we went to the gift shop. It was full of short, stout, dark, elderly Welsh folks gabbling away, much more animated and much louder than the English. Steve said in the bathroom the little old Welshmen sang and locked arms to walk out.

Cross Hands is dismal. Has rained all morning. Has rained all night and morning. The town is a series of ugly rowhouses and dingy shops. The b and b is attached to a greasy fish and chips shop, and is dirty and smelly—apparently a Welsh truck stop, but we needed a quick place. Steve and I walked through town to Upper Tumble last afternoon and went into the Bethany Chapel, a Methodist church at top of the hill—the only church in town.

I think as we enter Celtic territory of Dr. Johnson and Boswell as they traveled in Scotland—the incessant complaints of English travelers that the more Celtic the area, the dirtier. Conversely, our breakfast this morning was much more lavish than in England, particularly in Kent.

The accent is fascinating, up and down as one is always told. And the eyes of people—far-away blue—are eerie. I had nightmares all night that A.’s ostentatious cross necklace made a woman who was a witch hostile, and only I perceived she was a witch. This I think in response to my sense of the eeriness of the landlady’s eyes—and exacerbated by the fact that I woke up in the night to hear women talking loudly in Welsh outside the window.

I also dreamt a woman leaned against my ear and told me, as though I’m foolish not to realize it, that I’m psychic. This was frightening, because it meant I had to acknowledge my intuitions, even when they warn me of something unpleasant ahead.

I also dreamt I was in a kind of line-up of people standing before Catholic priests in Arkansas, and I got picked out for notice as a theologian. In the dream, I saw how ugly transformations had been made in an Arkansas chapel, and I attributed the problems to clericalism—Arkansas Catholics not seeing times have changed.

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2:40 P.M. aboard Fishgard-Rosslare ferry waiting for departure. We left Cross Hands about 9 A.M. after huge breakfast of fried eggs, bangers, bacon, tomatoes, toast, marmalade, and tea. Drove an A road (40?), then got off on a B (4313) to Fishgard. The B road drive was lovely—narrow lanes all built up of banked earth and grass, sheep galore, vistas of rain-bathed hills draped in fog.

Fishgard a lively little town. Cold and driving rain. We walked and had coffee and bara brith, then to a pub where we had minestrone and ploughman’s lunch, with cider.

Then we shopped a bit. Very nice little bookshop where I got a Dylan Thomas card, a dark Welsh coast scene, and alphabetical posters for the children. I had managed to fill out all my postcards from Winchester as K. and A. went on about food (what is it?) and bathrooms (are they clean?), so mailed them, including a Dylan Thomas to Karen.

I feel boat motors beginning. Large cliff to my left, hillside with houses ahead.

In the Fishgard pub, we met a cute pair of English sisters, presumably spinsters. They were having tea, and were from Bath. Talked in duet—one saying something and the other finishing. As is usual in such maiden-sister duets in the South, one a touch horsey-aggressive masculine, the other submissive and coy. The latter kept pointing demurely up and saying she found it hard to travel because “I don’t like to go up there.” Weathered brown faces and iron-gray chopped hair. They looked like my Snead cousins with their gray eyes, and indeed, through their Godwin blood, the Sneads may have roots in Wells-Wookey.

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4 P.M. Out in the Irish sea. I napped a bit as we departed—left Fishgard ca. 3:15.

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