Searching the shops for a new pair of sandals I am reminded that footwear-retail is mainly about fashion and that foot-shaped shoes are available only at hard-to-come-by specialist outlets. Alright, my feet may be more hobbit than human but, even so, does anyone actually have pointy feet? I am back in town after a week in the country and conscious that the rugged hiking sandals that had served me well on the coastal paths of Cardigan Bay are clumsy and inappropriate in a paved environment. The search is on for a pair of man-about-town sandals.
The hiking sandals had also served as driving shoes on our tour which, starting the morning after a party in Lymington, progressed rapidly up through SW England and mid-Wales to the west coast. Here we teamed up with two friends and experienced the relative novelty of staying in B&B accommodation. It has much to recommend it – assuming that one is open to random experiences and the eccentricities of others.
The first two nights were spent in a small hotel, a typical conversion from one of the many private holiday villas built in the 1890s by Birmingham industrialists who subsequently decamped to the Continent between the wars, leaving them to be used as schools, institutes or guest-houses. Fawlty Towers comes to mind, although the service, in this case at least, was professional: John Cleese has done us all a favour. The town, Barmouth, is still a holiday resort, though past its heyday when the railway brought visitors galore whatever the weather. Perhaps it gets busier during school holidays but, in the meantime, the absence of crowds suited our laid-back mood. We lingered awhile in a pub in eager anticipation of the live music but it turned out to be a come-all-ye and our enthusiasm waned soon after the first Tom Jones impersonation.
Moving on, each place we went to had something of interest, something to delight, amuse or surprise. In Aberystwyth there is a very sophisticated Spanish deli-cum-bar and a tiny Italian cafe which makes terrific panini to take away and eat along the handsome promenade. The village of Llangranog nestles picture-perfect into a cove and its two cafés are bang up-to-date with their sophisticated menus, while just next door traditional fish-and-chips are on offer. Tywyn is a coastal town which seems short of coffee shops, so we made do with a takeaway Costa from Spar and strolled – almost alone – along the impressive promenade, refurbished with EU money. Information boards describe the sea-creatures that can be spotted, although even they were absent that day. Another board warns of the ugly-looking weaver fish that lurks beneath the sand where its poisonous spikes present a hazard to bathers’ feet.
But the peculiar intimacies of B&B were experienced at a remote, former farm-house high up on the coastal path. The landlady, a woman of about 50, lives there with her mother (whom we didn’t see). She made it clear that we city dwellers were to be pitied and that she alone held the secret to a happy, fulfilled existence. She had a yurt in the corner of her garden which she used as a meditational retreat. She also had a grand piano in a music room and one evening she entertained us before bed time with a repertoire of songs from her days as a bar-room player. She was good but seemed, I thought, rather lonely and bitter.
On our last day the weather was warm enough for the beach. One of our party took a dip in the sea but soon came out complaining of a pain in his foot. The lifeguard confirmed that it was a weaver fish sting and treated it accordingly.
“What were you thinking?” I said “You should have worn beach-sandals.”