Travelogue - A Haunting Memory
P.S.Gifford, CA, USA
In April 2004 my family and I last traveled from our home in California back to the place of my birth- Birmingham, England. Although having lived in the States for over twenty years I still very much regard England as my real home. We still maintain our old house there, the house that I was physically born in, and this only feeds my feelings. The house itself, which has been virtually unlived in for two decades, has barely been altered and is in many ways a museum of my childhood. In fact on the day of our arrival, whilst exploring some of the multitude of old cardboard storage boxes neatly stacked in the attic, I uncovered a collection of old faded photos from the 1960s and 70s. I sat there looking at them for about forty-five minutes with tears streaming down my face, and as I left I carefully placed several of the more sentimental ones into my wallet.
My wife Sarah and our eleven year old son, Jonathan, have been to England frequently enough that they have come to consider it affectionately as their second home. Not only the actual place itself, but more importantly the people in my life -as you see I have been truly blessed to have maintained regular contact with many childhood friends and neighbors in addition to beloved family members.
We used the old house as our base, and arranged a couple of day excursions to nearby beauty spots, Stratford-upon- Avon and the enchanting Cotswolds and one longer trip to nearby scenic North Wales. In Wales we spent two remarkable nights staying in Wales' oldest hotel -The Black Buoy Inn. The building has many parts of it dating as far back as the 15th century. It is magnificently situated within the historic small town of Caernarfon, which is completely surrounded by the original stone castle walls on three sides and the roaring sea on the fourth. Whilst inside the actual Inn itself we all experienced a haunting eerie sense of its long and often brutal history (the inn was reputed at one time to have been used by pirates.) As I allowed my fingers to caress an original support beam that span our top floor room I easily envisaged the expert hands of a carpenter nailing it securely in place nearly six hundred years before.
We spent a wonderful and enjoyable time in Wales, not wishing to waste a moment. One highlight was when we took an early morning steam engine ride to the summit of Britain's tallest mountain, Snowdon, and as the old locomotive majestically shunted upwards through the clouds, just as it had done for over a century, daybreak was dawning; it made us feel as if we were traveling to the very top of the World.
In Wales we also enjoyed many hearty hikes through the nearby countryside and allowed our selves time to explore many ancient folklore mysteries and legends. As my wife and I share a keen interest in food we also earnestly consumed the splendid local faire, along with many pints of ale.
However the first day was perhaps the most peaceful and relaxing as that was when we decided to visit Portmeirion. The famous turn of the century visionary and architect Clough Williams-Ellis built Portmeirion in 1925. It is situated on its own private peninsula on the dramatic Welsh coastline, just a few miles from our hotel. Clough apparently wanted to show that 'the development of a naturally beautiful site need not lead to its defilement' He succeeded more than he could have ever imagined. These days Portmeirion is ran purely as a place for tourists to come and dream. All the quaint cottages contained within its walls are rented as part of the grand Portmeirion Hotel and the village also has several shops and restaurants. Portmeirion is surrounded by the Gwyllt sub- tropical gardens and woodlands and miles of sandy beaches. All in all Portmeirion is as place overflowing with enchantment and ambience. We were particularly fortunate when we were there it was unusually bright and sunny. In fact a cloudless blue sky was to be the perfect back drop for our glorious and curious day.
The hours were lazily consumed as we explored charming architect, and delighted in relaxing strolls along the ocean front with Sarah's hand contently cupped lovingly within mine. It was an idyllic morning, and one I shall never forget!
At noon we had decided that a cup of tea along with a fresh baked scone and clotted cream was in order. We quickly found the perfect little English traditional bakery which had views over much of the property. As we peacefully sat there admiring the view, I noticed with interest an old wishing-well, some distance away from the center of the town, and entangled within some seemingly primordial vines on a patch of overgrown grass . It looked curiously out of place within the neatly trimmed gardens so upon finishing my tea we decided that a closer look was in order, and with my son keenly at my heels we eagerly approached it .It was so unusual that I decided to take a photograph and posed Jonathan comically in front of it. A few moments later, as we were walking away, I casually tossed a penny over my right shoulder, and as I heard a splash of acknowledgement and gratitude from the old well, I closed my eyes tightly and made a wish.
The afternoon was starting to fade away and we only had another hour or so left to explore the magnificent village. Jonathan had eagerly declared all morning that he wanted to climb down an old stone path he had spotted earlier leading presumably to an isolated beach. I looked nervously at the broken steps and how quickly they descended and I was unsure as to if I wanted to risk it, yet the sparkle of adventure contained within my sons blue eyes could not be denied. So, as Sarah sat contentedly at the top of the rocks admiring the view safely perched on a well worn bench, we began our long climb downward.
I have to admit that I found it both draining and exhilarating as we crept down and when we finally arrived upon the soft golden sands, in complete solitude, I felt that it had been a small victory. I took a few moments to enjoy my success and then realized alas, there is only one drawback to having climbed down so many steps- we were now going to have to climb up them again!
In about twenty more minutes my son and I emerged panting; yet delighted from the path and my wife's beautiful smile greeted us in relieve. I sat down next to her and softly kissed her on the cheek and gradually caught my breath.
I asked her if she had been all right whilst we had been gone and she replied joyfully that a peculiar experience had occurred during our absence, as that not one minute after we had set off that she had gotten some company. A sweet middle aged lady, with the face of an angel had come and sat next to her. She went on to inform me that she presumed that she was lonely and visiting by herself, and that they soon comfortably fell into a deep conversation. It was strange, my wife continued, explaining how they talked as if knowing each other for year. In fact she told me she had only left moments before my return, or I would have gotten to meet the delightful lady for myself.
My son interrupted the conversation, as sons are prone to do, by asking for a couple of quid to buy us all ice creams. My wallet was secure within my wife's hand bag, and as she reached in to retrieve the money something made her suddenly gasp. One of those photos I had secured in my wallet had fallen out and she was staring wide eyed upon an old picture of my mother, who alas had died many years earlier. I shall never forget the remarkable words she whispered to me?
"That was the woman I was chatting with!"
My mind raced-Since discovering those photographs several days earlier, I had become obsessed with the fact that the two most important women in my life had never met. I had been dreaming of just how well they would have gotten along together. In fact I had been dwelling about it so much that when I had tossed that penny into the well I had wished that the two of them had met.
As I am writing this story down, I am printing the photographs of that memorable trip. It's a funny thing though as I was attempting to find that picture of the old wishing well to insert and as I brought it up onto my computer screen, I was rather startled by the image as it only contained one object-my son.