The unexpected Wales By Barnaby...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

March 31, 2002|By Special to the Sun

A MEMORABLE PLACE

The unexpected Wales

By Barnaby Wickham

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

This day, like the first three of our vacation in north-central Wales, was packed with plans derived from travel books. We had to get from here to there so we could do this, this and that. Needless to say, two flat tires weren't part of the itinerary.

Leaving early in the morning from our B&B in Bala on our way to Mallwyd, we had been driving for an hour and had passed a thousand sheep and a total of two cars. We had been enjoying the undulating roads and the beautiful scenery, but were not seduced by it; we had other plans. And we were right on schedule.

With my wife, Kate, at the wheel, our friend Jen riding shotgun and me in the back seat, we were descending into the Lake Vyrnwy area. Perhaps distracted by the bucolic stream that ran beside us, or maybe still adjusting to driving on the opposite side of the road, Kate momentarily left the pavement.

Back on the road, the car began to list and emit the sound of a distant helicopter. We were resigned to the fact that we had a flat; we were stunned to find we actually had two. (We later learned that she had driven over the sharp edge of a slate outcropping, the mining of which has been a staple in this part of Wales for centuries. We will never look at the slate roof on our Baltimore house in quite the same way again.)

Nothing to do but change one tire, and very slowly ride on the other until we could find help. We drove this way for 50 minutes until two men in a truck motioned for us to pull over. When we explained why we hadn't been able to repair our "puncture," they helped us call our car rental company, which cheerfully promised to send a mobile tire repairman -- all the way from England.

This gave us a chance to stop and appreciate what we had been driving through. With directions from our new friends, we walked a trail that ran along the lake. We came to a bird observation facility that attracted scores of local birds but no tourists. Further along, we discovered, nestled in the trees, a small hotel that had a commanding view of the lake. We took the opportunity to enjoy a proper British tea.

Eventually, the repairman arrived and we were soon rolling again. But we never did pick up our morning itinerary, or take the tours, or visit the sights we had previously scheduled for that day. The small corner of Wales that we were rushing to get through, and never would have chosen on our own, had become the focus of our day. We were charmed.

Barnaby Wickham lives in Baltimore.

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