Postcard from the HoWL: Journey into the heart of darkness
The Bus Pass Wanderer
At the beginning of the week, we were off to Shrewsbury for a couple of nights. The destination board on the Heart of Wales Line read “Llanwrtyd Wells” and we were told that the remainder of the journey would be made by bus. At least we’d see the Sugar Loaf Mountain and go through the tunnel.
On board and heading towards Ammanford (I know, how exciting eh?) the ticket collector informed us that the bus would be waiting for us at Llanwrtyd, but the journey would take longer than the (ab)normal rail service.
The weather was grey and a little dismal as we munched our way through our sandwiches and drained our big paper cups of tea.
The first sighting of the Sugar Loaf lifted my spirits and I immediately lapsed back into those warm summer afternoons picking windberries on the steep slopes…fingers stained purple, believing we were at the top of the world.
Soon after emerging from the tunnel and passing by the florid yellow farmhouse we pulled into Llanwrtyd Station…although a station only in terms of the train stopped there and there was a tiny platform.
It was eleven o clock in the morning and the weather was in no great shape…cold grey dampness. We made a group of twelve. .with a combined age of at least eight centuries!
There were two younger males in their late forties/early fifties. We stood and stamped our feet and walked around in circles to keep warm.
Our train left us, after a too jaunty whistle and verbal reassurance from the guard and driver that the bus was on its way and would arrive very soon to continue our journey.
Off they skedaddled back down the line to Swansea. We waited and grumbled for another half an hour before some of us began making phone calls.
None of the information proffered tallied, the reason for our abandonment in the middle of nowhere (Llanwrtyd Station is not in Llanwrtyd, why would it be?) ranged from suicide on the line to a broken-down engine and the bus was on its way /there was no record of a bus.
It began to feel like the stage was set for an Agatha Christie murder mystery. There was even a lady with a maroon cloche hat in our party.
The older “gents” kept disappearing (not together) around the back of the shed to relieve themselves…old age does not come alone…
Thus we remained until, all hope almost abandoned, around the corner appeared a white minibus. We cheered. …too soon…fools that we were…
The minibus arrived to scenes of short-lived geriatric jubilation. We, all that could, rushed around to the passenger door.
Two hours of standing in desolation had naturally taken its toll on some of our party.
Nothing happened. The passenger door did not hydraulically open beckoning us into the warmth, the driver did not welcome us on board, in fact he made no eye contact, keeping his head down, filling in a form.
Occasionally this happens in the Quadrant…I think of it as power display in an otherwise tedious thankless existence, but we were so ready to elevate this man and shower him with genuine gratefulness and biscuits.
It crossed my mind that it was not our minibus and that it would just drive off into the Welsh mountain drizzle.
One of the “youngsters “tapped on the window and in his well-modulated tone asked if the driver would please open the door and let us in.
The electric window opened – imagine our shock when the driver informed him in a far less than pleasant manner that he was on a break, out of driving hours.
When our spokesperson asked him to open the door so that we could at least shelter from the inclement weather…the response was very negative and downright rude…and there was with no doubt a heavily implied racism in his response.
It was awful. I felt immediate anger and shame and a deep regret..but incredibly, we, eight centuries of creaky bones, wonky hearts and falling blood sugar levels, rose as one and surged around to the driver’s side and began rather more vigorously tapping on the door.
The door opened and a heated exchange of views took place, voices were raised and in the midst of the altercation the passenger from Gorseinon pushed the door closed and the driver started squealing. ..he was injured and in pain!
He immediately made a phone call, we could hear him through the slightly open window reporting the attack and his injury. I imagined the police station, if there was even one in Llanwrtyd, would be too small to hold us.
I was just trying to work out where we would be taken – not Shrewsbury obviously – when the passenger door opened and the luggage door opened and there was our obviously uninjured driver loading our luggage onto the coach!
We climbed aboard and the driver explained our situation: we had another fifteen minutes before we could set off, that our journey to Shrewsbury would involve calling into every station on route – fifteen I think – and that he would get us to Llandrindod Station in time to catch the next train due into Shrewsbury.
It would be much quicker of course than to remain on the coach. He would wait with us at Llandrindod until we were decanted onto the train.
We might even have time for a quick coffee at Llandod and with that he disappeared around the back of the shed as men do.
Digestives were shared around and offers of tea from thermos flasks were made as we all discussed the last twenty minutes of mayhem.
Our Afro American friend was apologised to by all of us and he was most gracious in his response. He was a CEO of a Christian charity and lived in Llangrannog and was on his way to Birmingham.
The driver returned after a vape session and off we set on a remarkable journey, well off the main road to Shrewsbury, through forest, up hill, down dale. ..and seemingly through working farmyards.
We arrived at Llandod in time for the next train, we were just about to disembark when the news of its cancellation arrived.
A male passenger got off anyway, a frequent traveller as it turns out, to fend for himself and we bade him luck in his heroic attempt to reach Shrewsbury by his own means (regular bus I imagine).
Our driver regaled us with light-hearted banter, told us about his daughter and many tales of his frequent replacement bus journeys, (always catch the 09.09 train is a good tip by the way, in winter the chances of being marooned in semi darkness in the middle of nowhere on a later train is just too horrible), of a stag smashing through the front window of the bus, he showed the station in someone’s back garden, the price of various isolated properties along the way (millions).
We all knew that he was attempting to wipe the memory of the extraordinary incident at Llanwrtyd Station from our minds. We all knew that he had misjudged us, made a terrible error, dismissed us as a raddled bunch of feeble oldies.
He dropped us off at our hotel and wished us a lovely stay. I imagined him regaling his colleagues the following day with his version of events.
Although the next time he picks up from Llanwrtyd perhaps he’ll remember us and desist from his unacceptable bullying racist attitude.
Power to the people.
Frozen and stiff
Just a final addition. We were two hours at Llanwrtyd Wells Station, standing in very cold temperatures accompanied by drizzle and mist.
We spent a further three and a half hours (give or take ten mins) on the mini bus. We arrived in our hotel in the dark…frozen and stiff…we are undeniably old after all.
Shrewsbury was as beautiful as ever and fortunately we were there for three days. Imagine how it would have been had we booked in for one night, facing the return journey the following late morning?
As it was, we had a wonderful time and I bought items of delight to adorn my festive living room.
All’s well that ends well.
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