We took the old road, climbing out of Cardiff away from caterwauling Culverhouse Cross and heading westward along the rolling highway through the Vale of Glamorgan. Near St Nicholas we stopped in a lay-by. Uncle Roy got out to stretch his legs and scan the surrounding countryside with his rheumy, damp eyes; a long-exiled Barry boy searching for the far off days of his youth. “Dad! Get back in!” called Jane, “It’s cold.” Beyond Cowbridge we turned south to Ewenni, Aberogwr and the coast. He wanted to see Southerndown one last time.
We parked at Dunraven Bay. Flotillas of steepling clouds sailed overhead, propelled by a chilly breeze from the north-west; but when the sun broke through it was pleasantly warm. The tide was virtually full in. “It’s on the turn Rich,” he cried, his Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm formative years still triggering excitement at a wild sea, “look at the breakers on Tusker Rock!” He and I skimmed some flat pebbles across the choppy, slapping waters, and briefly we were transported away to family summer holidays in the 1960s. Jane looked on from the slipway. She didn’t need her inhaler in the sweet, salty, seaweed-smacked spray.
We strolled up the winding path towards the cliff top and the site of long-gone Dunraven Castle¹, then diverted into the neglected but still beautiful walled gardens. There was nobody around. “They’re in the care of Vale of Glamorgan Council; that’s why they’re falling apart,” I commented scathingly. In an elegantly dilapidated glass-house Jane watered some parched pots. Uncle Roy sat on a bench in the sunshine. I carried on alone to explore the deep, songbird-serenaded woods for a while.
We lunched at the Pelican In Her Piety² overlooking Ogmore Castle³. Jane and I had baguettes; Uncle Roy cod and chips. “My treat kids,” he reassured us pair of perpetual paupers. “How’s the book going Richard?” he asked during the meal. “Well,” I replied in a weary tone, “the publisher says it will be out in September – but I’ve heard it all before.” “It’s been a long job,” he offered. “You’re telling me – but I’ve got a plan of action if he doesn’t publish this year,” I said, pushing shredded lettuce around my plate. “What’s that then?” he pressed, strategic problem-solving second nature to him after a working life on the flight decks of commercial passenger aircraft. “Ah-hah, you’ll have to wait and see,” I teased. He’s always been on my side.
We looked around the Castle. Herds of raggle-taggle horses grazed the lush watermeadows of the Afon Ewenni. A young couple were erecting a small dome tent in a distant field. “Poor blighters,” said Uncle Roy, accustomed to creature comforts after cossetted decades in Berkshire. He read the Cadw official notice board with genuine interest. “It’s twelfth century,” he observed, seeming surprised. Jane took photographs. Rare-breed chickens pecked and squabbled in the lane. “Jane! Quick! Take a look at that big cock-erel!” I jested generically. They both laughed. I attempted to cross the river on the stepping stones, but the water-level was too high and I had to turn back. “There’s a hole in my shoe and it’s letting in water,” I lobbed to my little cousin. “Traffic, Stevie Winwood, I loved that guy,” she batted back, getting the retro pop reference instantly.
We took the M4 back to Cardiff. They were getting tired. At Cardiff West services I stopped for petrol. “Here’s £20 Rich, thanks for a lovely day” he said, thrusting a note into my hand. I was pathetically grateful. “There’s Cardiff City’s new stadium to your left,” I pointed out mordantly as we hurtled past on the Grangetown Link. “The Madejski’s better,” Uncle Roy responded, mispronouncing and not really looking. “Come in for tea and Welsh cakes Dicky,” Jane insisted when we arrived at her gated Bay apartment. He soon fell asleep in an armchair.
And he will go no more a-roving…next day he returned to thoroughly British Reading, to his widower’s loneliness, and to the ritualised repetitions of old age. Perhaps, in what remains, he will sometimes hear a voice drifting into his dreams; the voice of his mam who died so young so long ago; a voice singing softly; a voice welling up through his Welsh tap-root; a steady voice to steer him safely into a final harbour.