This is not our last full day in Pembrokeshire, but the day before that, the penultimate, almost. Erev penultimate. And there is a subtle shift. The sense that this is the day before the shift begins. Tomorrow, our last full day in the rented cottage out on Wales’ most extreme southwestern corner, we can count on a certain amount of rushing around. No, not rushing, just finishing. There is hardly any time pressure. And, in the end, probably there is not that much to do. We need to pack our own stuff. Sort through the remaining food. Do a final load of laundry. And, honestly, that’s about it.
I am not certain why this sense of finale so troubles me. Perhaps it has a bit to do with various childhood separations, family coming to an end with divorce. Then moving a few times. Goodbye always painful. Loss in the air. That sort of thing. And the philosophical antidote, the sense that all things, particularly good ones, come to an end…and that the finiteness of experience is what makes it experience…no, there is no talking sense here. I simply have trouble with partings.
And what are we parting from? Well, aside from very easy visits with family…they did the traveling…only one other aspect remains. Our honeymoon. For it is that. It remains that. And what sort of honey can a middle-aged couple expect, as they moon over each other? This. The clouds lifting at Pembrokeshire’s day’s end. As is often the pattern here, reading quietly on the terrace. Can one read noisily? Yes, in a way. But we are not interrupting each other, and for the most part my thoughts are not interrupting me. And in the background, in a sort of rhythmic exchange, we appreciate each other. Jane is less reticent than I in this department. But I am a good student. It is time, no better time ever, perhaps, to tell her what she means to me. And I do. And at times, surprising times, we find ways to laugh. No, they find us. Taken unawares, in a state of relaxation, minimal plans, very little agenda…a honeymoon from nothing…a honeymoon period.
Which means letting go, of course. Surely there is an inland Wales. I keep telling Jane that we really must see it. But, no, we are on the southwestern Welsh coast, and simply put, that’s where the action is. Today, we drove to a castle. The latter dotting the Welsh countryside in a greater density than McDonald’s in Southern California. Carew Castle has the impressive look of a place you might want to storm with battering rams and several hundred archers. The mill pond in front of it gives the battlements an impressive contrast, and also shimmering reflections. Other thing about the mill pond is the mill. It’s the only tidal one in the UK. At first, I could not make sense of this. Tidal, schmidal, for we were miles from the sea.
Which brings me back to my American fantasies about inland Wales. Yes, the hills do rise, and in the north they become mountains, Britain’s highest, Snowdonia. But don’t go making California-type assumptions about Wales’ coastal plain. The land is flat, and streams abound, their estuaries reaching toward the interior. So even here, in Carew’s pond, despite the landlocked appearance, maritime conditions apply. The Severn estuary and Bristol Channel, the ocean inlet that separates Wales from southwest England, has some of the strongest tides in the world. Enough to make the river itself occasionally run backwards, just west of Bristol, the famous Severn bore. So someone decided that, well, build a pond and dam it with a causeway on one side. Then open a gate to let the tidal waters rise on the other side. Until, at high tide, shut the gate and let the waters run out, driving a mill wheel. Simple enough. And just about enough for one day.
True, Jane and I did drive on to Pembroke. We saw the castle. We also saw the inside of a pharmacy, where we brought soluble aspirin, a UK specialty. Lunch outdoors, followed by some excellent cappuccinos. A losing bout with British Telecom, attempting to log on and give them £25 for their Internet services. Then a spot of exercise. For there it was, a long railing, perfectly situated, that is to say, on the left. So that I could walk and stare into…what else but another river estuary? The River Pembroke? Probably not, although the thing was easily as wide as the Sacramento River in California, our region’s biggest, I didn’t even bother with the name. Why bother? Britain is so full of rivers, their numbers rivaling only those of castles. And, true to southern Welsh form, the tide was out. And I mean out. Only the most pathetic trickle of river water sluicing down the dry center, with acres of mud curving up in all directions.
Then a meandering through the town, stopping at the local Co-op to buy a final half pint of milk. Popping into the Pembroke library…a fruitless effort. Someone really must tell them to install Wi-Fi. Then homeward. Where, back at the rental, I did what had to be done. Checked the train times. 1:25 PM from Cardiff. London at 3:33 PM. Goodbye, but not quite.