As the hours went on, I knew my time in Wales was dwindling, as was my time pursuing the story of Percy Bysshe Shelley alone—sans Mary. It was because of his return from Tremadoc—and his near assassination—that he visited the Godwins in London, and there he would meet young Mary, who was only fifteen the first time (if, indeed, that first time happened in 1812—no firm evidence) and was just sixteen at their subsequent meeting in 1814, which, of course, would eventually lead to Frankenstein.
Here are some edited passages from my journal about my final hours in Wales early in May 1999—and my own return to London.
9:55 Earlier this a.m., I nearly laughed aloud when I saw a 3rd or 4th grade boy (kids wear school uniforms here), his shirt untucked, his tie loose, his book bag drooping from his shoulder (I thought: “the whining schoolboy with his satchel and shining morning face creeping like snail / unwillingly to school.”)
10:06 Aboard the single car that will take me—well, I’m not sure how far …? This route—had I used it yesterday—would have gotten me here much more quickly: It’s a regular line, not a
tourist/narrow gauge. It passes about a half-mile behind the Cob,
which is, indeed, what William Madocs envisioned: usable land, sheep, stone
fences dividing pastures. The first stop is at the end of the Cob, & then
we pass underneath it.
The conductor just gave me the bad news: £40 to London—so this little side trip cost me an extra £67 for train & room, about $115—WORTH IT!
Did I mention that I took a bit of shale from the Cob this a.m.? [Where is it now?]
A strange little conversation with the owner/prop. of the hotel this a.m. Knowing I’m an
American, he asked where I’m from; I told him—& then mentioned that May 4
was an important day in our part of the world; he said he was 10 in 1970 (he
looks 10–15 year older than I) and doesn’t remember, but he did comment on the
Colorado school shootings—reminding me, as well, of the school murders in
Scotland some years ago. I said I was a retired teacher. He: “My mom’s a
retired teacher, too … Well, she was a retired teacher; she’s dead now.” And
then he told how frustrated she was at the end of her career—a science teacher;
she wanted strict discipline, could no longer achieve it. Once, as she was
reprimanding a student, he broke a beaker and shoved it toward her face,
defying her, daring her to do something. She did something: she retired. The
best part of this story is that the guy (sans a few teeth) acted out the
assault, waving before me an invisible broken beaker & daring me to do
something about it.
|Wales & shale|
10:30 We’re at the little town of Harlech—surely “The March of the Men of Harlech” is not about this little burg?! [It is: I just checked. It deals with the siege of the local castle—1761–68. Link to YouTube version of the march.]
The train must whistle repeatedly to get sheep off the tracks.
Just approached the Irish Sea so closely, I had to take 1 of my last 2 shots.
In a little shop this a.m., I bought an interesting little paperback, The Wordsworth Dictionary of British Social History, which defines things like the types of carriages—illustrated! A good little reference for £2.99.
It is just a spectacularly beautiful day on the coast of the Irish Sea—very Oregonian in places. Sheep look funny when they run: like thick cotton balls (woolen balls!) with little stubby legs that whirl like mad as they flee in terror from the sound of the train.
The sea, which comes right to the edge of the tracks, cannot soak us because of the huge piles of shale put there by engineering crews. So many of these little seaside communities feature domestic & commercial construction of stone & slate—on a real postcard day here in Wales.
Here in Barmouth is the 1st large sandy beach I’ve seen. Outside B. a lovely cantilever bridge crosses an inlet of the sea; we creep across it. And I just took my last shot from it! There are many places here that must look as they did when PBS & Harriet were here—in 1812.
An old man struggled aboard at Barmouth—a thin gentleman in a worn tweed blazer, a green knit cap pulled over his head, a cane, a little rucksack—& he was protecting with all his frail energy a bouquet of bright red & yellow & white flowers. He got off one stop later to deliver his treasure. I had tears in my eyes as he struggled by the window after leaving the train.
As we climb the mountain, the sea & the seabirds fly below us. This has got to be one of the most spectacular train rides in the world. (Do it in the a.m.—the sun is right for photos toward the sea—not that I have any film to use!) And now between the train and the sea are bright green pastures, divided in squares by low stone fences. Above us, too, are the same sheep meadows & fences, but the slope of the hill defies squaring. These fences are held by no mortar: Each foot of it was laid by hand, an inconceivable amount of labor.
An observation: Unshorn sheep know how to find shade. And I understand “gambol” for the first time, watching miles of sheep through central Wales: The frisky lambs sort of prance in an undulating, hopping run as they burn their youthful hormones. Older sheep don’t gambol; they eat.
12:55 As we move east, nearing England, the land is flattening out. The principal buildings are red brick, and it becomes evident that my little Welsh holiday is over.
2:15 About to leave Wolverhampton for London. I’ve converted my ticket to 1st class the rest of the way (an extra £33, an extra $56), but I’d been jammed in a 2nd class cabin for 4 hours & could no longer stand it. So … I’ll eat bread for supper & flagellate myself later for my sin of pride, but I’ve had enough of communal “interfacing” for one day, thank you. Right now, I am the only one in this car, and that’s the best news I’ve had all day—except, of course, for the spectacular weather along the Welsh coast of the Irish Sea.