Well, I am back from Wales. My general thoughts on the Principality remain unchanged from what they were two years ago. This time we also had rain - a steady Welsh rain - and we got lost. It was one of those walks that look fine on the map, but on the ground... Oh dear, another story altogether. Our misadventures began with a well maintained stile that led directly into an impenetrable thicket of brambles, nettles, hawthorn etc that there was no getting through. A long detour through swampy, boot-sucking, undrained fields culminated in a rather desperate breakout, via a barbed wire fence with a deep ditch on the far side and barely penetrable growth around a lost hollow way, back onto the route, along a footpath that crossed a muddy, meandering river. Except that it didn't. Where two paths met from either bank, there was no crossing. The nearest was a mile or so further along, where a footbridge was clearly marked. Already sodden to the knees and above, we wet off to find that bridge. This involved getting over a tributary stream by means of another long, muddy detour, followed by another, worse commando-style assault on a barbed wire fence, more barely penetrable undergrowth, the stream itself, and much mud - in the course of this assault, all but one of us (me, by sheer luck) fell over, either in water or mud. When our bedraggled, torn and mud-spattered crew eventually hauled ourselves out of the wood and into an open field, we realised, having got our bearing, that this gruelling detour had gained us perhaps 30 yards of progress along the river. However, we were nearing that footbridge - that much was certain.
At this point, a tractor appeared, accompanied by three excited sheepdogs. Aboard the tractor was a farmer - the first human being we had seen since the walk began. He steered towards us and stopped, and we realised with relief that he was amiably disposed and not about to order us off his land. We inquired about the footbridge. He thought a moment, then 'No' he said, 'there's no bridge. There was a bridge, but it got smashed up.' Another pause for thought. 'A tank went over it in the war and smashed it up.' So much for the Ordnance Survey map, updated 2007 - and so much for our hopes of getting across that river without having to wade it (and it really didn't look very wadable).
At this point, our walk turned into a Famous Five adventure, as the kindly farmer offered to ferry us across the river in his tractor. It was an old Massey Ferguson, with just room for two to perch beside the driver, hanging on to whatever was at hand. And so this providential farmer took us across that river, two by two, and we, tired, wet, muddy but very very grateful, resumed - and replanned - our walk. What were the lessons of this experience? That even up-to-date OS maps should be taken with a pinch of salt - at least in wild west Wales. That it is amazingly easy, in this overcrowded country, to find yourself seriously lost and up against seriously difficult terrain - and not to see a single human soul around - even when you are ostensibly quite close to human habitation. And that there are nice, helpful farmers - yes, even in Wales.
You're probably wondering about the picture. That's from St Teilo's Church, reconstructed at the superb outdoor museum at St Fagan's, which we visited on our return journey. The church has not only been rebuilt on the museum site but restored to the kind of painted polychrome glory in which it would have appeared around 1520. It works wonderfully well. There is more about it - and more images - here.