Les Holidays Anglaise
If you don’t mind having to flush the odd, alien, pubic hair from the shower tray, and polish your cutlery before eating, les holidays anglaise take a lot of beating. I am not, you understand, referring, here, to the fortnight in an Eastbourne hotel or boarding house favoured by my parents’ generation during my childhood, when homemade knitted, or shirred-elastic bathing costumes, deck chairs and windbreaks featured alongside jelly fish, jellied eels, rolled up trouser legs and corner-knotted handkerchief sunhats.
THE POSSIBILITY OF BEING SARTORIALLY WRONG-FOOTED
No! The sort of holiday to which I refer is the touring-the-countryside, stop-a-night-or-two-here, and a-day-or-two-there variety on which we embarked earlier in the week. Typically, it includes, at some point, being sartorially wrong-footed. Leaving our south coast seaside resort home on a warm sunny morning, we were, naturally, hopeful of the arrival of summer, as a suitcase full of shorts and T-shirts testified. We had not, dear readers, expected to be living in the fleeces and socks thrown casually – more in merriment than defiance - into the back of the car as we departed.
A BRICK LOBBED THROUGH THE CAR WINDOW?
But I digress. Our holiday is not what you would call a typical touring holiday. It was a holiday with a purpose. The boot and rear of the car were loaded with an assortment of otherwise e-Bay items, destined for our daughter and her family. The kitchen TV, no longer relevant to us since the arrival of a digital service, but ideal for her WII since the removal of her bedroom set by her ‘ ex’; a once-used, now redundant gazebo, too large for our garden but eminently suited to hers; and a walking machine which, since our arrival, has been used more frequently by her youngest son than ever it was during its ten year tenure in my house: there was nothing of any great value, but enough, we feared, to attract a brick lobbed through a window were we to leave the car at the road side.
A PICNIC IN THE CAR PARK
Consequently, having consumed our English picnic in English fashion - sitting in the car in a service station car park whence a loo-break necessity had driven us – we wanted to ensure an hotel stop off the beaten track where vandals were unlikely to pursue us and our carload of goodies. We found it in a remote spot about halfway up Cardigan Bay: a long low building set at right angles to a long curved shingle beach, about a mile off the main coastal road.
A CHARMING ABSENCE OF STAFF
Since a vicious wind was blowing in off the shore, I sat in the car while my other half went to investigate. He was gone a long time, but returned, eventually, looking somewhat bemused. ‘It’s like the Marie Celeste,’ he said. ‘Not a soul in sight.’
Knowing that the male of the species is not given to great insight, I ventured forth. Sure enough, having inspected the notice instructing the erstwhile visitor to ring the bell in the event of there being no staff at reception – ‘tried that,’ my other half said smugly – I spied a second notice with a request to ring a mobile number.
‘Always the way,’ the proprietor answered cheerfully, when we got through. ‘Minute I step outside, someone arrives.’
Somehow, this casual approach, the abandoned fully-stocked cocktail bar, even the partially demolished fire-escape looming above the footings for the new extension – a long term project, we surmised – all added to the charm of the place. As did the genuinely enthusiastic entries in the visitors’ book, and the fact that the proprietor unashamedly proclaimed the establishment an accredited four-star restaurant ‘with rooms’.
WELSH LAMB TO DIE FOR
The restaurant lived up to expectation. At least, as far as the cuisine was concerned. The cloudy glassware and lack-lustre cutlery were easily dismissed by comparison with the melt-in-the-mouth roasted Welsh lamb, al dente vegetables, and sticky homemade meringues and strawberries that followed.
A post prandial walk along the shingle shore, then inward between narrow strips of land, once tended by feudal families, and back to the hotel, revealed magnificent views towards the lower reaches of Cardigan Bay on one side, and the Lleyn Peninsula on the other. Rising and falling above sea level, the latter resembles the Dragon’s Tail nomenclature by which it is sometimes known.
AN ANCIENT & MAGICAL BEAUTY
This was the view from our room. And retiring there on our return, revealed the most stunning sunset: a golden orb sinking, visibly, into a silver sea. Lying atop thick white cotton sheets on the bed and watching the transformation, I found it easy to understand why the magical beauty of this part of the world lent itself so spectacularly to pilgrimage, and to imagine a steady procession of travellers en route to Bardsey Island.
Fishing, later, around the shower tray with wads of loo paper to clean up those stray pubes, I reflected that even the most toe-cringing revulsion may be overcome. My abiding memory will be of wide open spaces, awesome celestial majesty, and the ancient history of mankind. What’s a little hygiene deficiency by comparison? Only les holidays anglaise can provide such luxury. And not even a botulism growth in my breakfast marmalade next morning could dim that.