How to unravel at half term.

I didn’t realise how tired I was until the first Saturday of half term. As an early riser I’m normally fine with being out of bed and able to function at the very least. But not on that Saturday. I still dragged myself out of my warm bed, but in truth I could have stayed there for a few more hours at least.

I’ve spent the rest of the week, from that point onwards, slowly unravelling. It’s the following Friday and I can’t recall having felt more like my age than I do now! My knees ache, my shoulder is still sore – a now months old injury that still hasn’t quite healed – my back hurts and of course I’ve managed to develop the traditional teacher’s holiday cold on top of all of this! With a list of jobs to go at, it’s been just great to feel so terrible!

One of the jobs on our list was to have my daughter’s bedroom painted. It was something I’d started a few months ago, when she was away for the weekend doing her Duke of Edinburgh expedition. So, the hope was that finishing it off wouldn’t be too big a job. Turns out that hope was – and pardon my turn of phrase here, but in my defence it couldn’t be more accurate – a load of bollocks.

Years ago I’d vowed to just steer clear of my daughter’s room. It was, in short, a shit hole – again, the most accurate term I can find – and I just got to the point where asking her to sort it out or trying to do so myself was causing too much conflict, so I stepped back. I also vowed never to have a hand in decorating it either, such was my level of dissatisfaction. But, in a moment of weakness I stepped up to the plate and began the task. Now I needed to get it finished.

I’ve tried. And I’ll keep trying. But short of taking every last bit of furniture and tat out of said room and then just painting non stop for a good couple of days, it can’t be done. If you could see said room you’d understand my reluctance to move everything out as well. I have a genuine fear that I’ll reach to get something and be bitten by some kind of small animal. Or become trapped in a giant hair ball, ending up feeling physically sick, but with a great idea for a B-movie. So, let’s just say that progress has been slow. Slow in the sense of the movement of the glaciers as well, rather than just walking pace.

Stuff has got in the way as well. You know stuff, don’t you? Cleaning ,walks, trips to deliver things to charity shops or pick up prescriptions, that kind of stuff. Not to mention ridiculous shopping trips where you stand in a shop debating whether to buy a 6ft tall light up, inflatable snowman before leaving with no snowman but the bonus of three Christmas gonks and a mirror. I mean, we’ve all been there…

I must admit that my body and mind unravelling and shutting down has made ‘stuff’ unavoidable. So, as much as I’ve reminded myself that I need to finish decorating or I need to mark books or plan some lessons for Year 11, my aching shoulder or the fact that every time I get up I get shooting pains through one of my knees, makes shopping for Christmas gonks or family sized bags of crisps all the more appealing. And before you know it you’re 4 days into the week and nothing’s got done! But your Christmas gonk game is the envy of all of your friends, who are now frankly playing gonk catch up.

On Thursday we went to a theme park in a desperate attempt to inject some fun into our week. And it was fun…for three quarters of the family. However, it felt like purgatory for me. In short, I’d prefer to spend the day working in a Siberian salt mine than being at a theme park, but sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet and go along to please the family. And I couldn’t get a flight out of Leeds/Bradford airport to Siberia at such short notice anyway.

I’ve never understood the thrill of theme park rides. To me it’s just a terrible feeling of being completely out of control and deliberately making yourself feel sick. There is no thrill. And if there is – and there isn’t – you have to stand in a massive queue for ages for the dubious pleasure. Add in that this was a theme park in North Yorkshire on a cold and windy October day and the fun was even more minimal than usual for me. I even wandered into the zoo section of the park at one point, while my family were queueing for yet more thrills and having wandered around for a good 10 minutes, I made my way back into the park having clapped eyes on not one solitary animal. Everything was sat inside where it was no doubt warmer than me. Meanwhile, my mind was unravelling, just like my body had been for the previous few days.

We did manage to order a cooker earlier in the week, so a major item was being ticked off a list there. But then we had to refuse delivery this morning when we discovered that new gas fitting regulations would mean that we couldn’t actually have it fitted! So just when it looked like we’d achieved something quite major, we had to reverse our decision at literally the last second, as the delivery men were unloading the cooker from the van! And as I stood explaining myself to them at the bottom of our drive it began to rain heavily.

All in all, it’s been a fairly forgettable week. Instead of a glass of wine at night, or a beer, I’ve sat in front of the telly more than once nursing a cold and flu drink. My daughter’s room still has work to do. And it’s still a shit hole, whatever the colour or state of the walls. We couldn’t replace the cooker but managed to waste a good 10 hours or so researching one and then buying it. And , of course we also had that day at a theme park which three of the family really enjoyed while the other member slowly froze while getting ever more bored and confused. But there were gonks…Christmas gonks. So you know, it’s swings and roundabouts isn’t it? Isn’t it?

As a kind of post script to this post and week, let me tell you about the latter part of my Friday afternoon. Determined to shake off the feeling that my body had been broken by 7 weeks at work, I went out for a run. It really hurt. Towards the end I could feel pain in my right ankle, my asthma was kicking in and making me wheeze a little bit and my hamstrings were beginning to cramp up. I was fine with this though as I had ran the furthest I’d ran since the middle of August when my shoulder injury kicked in and stopped me altogether. I was delighted. So delighted that I decided to cook a fresh pasta sauce for my tea in the spirit of health and fitness. Fresh garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, some sausage and some fresh chillies. The week was finally taking a turn for the better. And then, while chopping the chillies I managed to squirt quite a bit of it into my eye. So now that doesn’t work either…

It’s not been the week I expected.

We’re all going on a summer holiday! A trip to North Wales.

Years ago, when we first visited Porthmadog, I thought the place looked tired and past its best. We stayed in a caravan that was much the same. And although we had a lovely time, I didn’t think that we’d be back in a hurry. It’s approaching a decade worth of holidays spent in the same place note though, so I guess I was wrong! And I guess this little corner of North Wales has really gotten under our skins.

For the first week of the summer holidays we holidayed once more in North Wales, staying in the village of Morfa Bychan, just outside of Porthmadog. If you’ve got children and/or are a fan of beaches regardless of the weather, then I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. You’ll find miles of sand, shallow, clear (and sometimes even warm) seas and rockpools and dunes galore to explore.

We had to stay in a new cottage this year as our usual one was booked out, possible due to Covid and the idea that people were booking breaks left, right and indeed centre following such a long period of time where they couldn’t travel. However, our cottage was a street or so away from our old place, so it was hardly like we were being inconvenienced and there was very little threat to the enjoyment of our holiday.

After my traditional annual battle with the roof box and how much I can fit in it before it just refuses to close, the 4 and a half hour drive felt like child’s play. We stopped, as we always do, in Colwyn Bay for a beach picnic and a bit of a break from the road and then headed to Porthmadog Tesco for supplies, but it was still only a little after 5pm when we got to the cottage.

There’s always an element of trepidation when you open the door of new accommodation. Even more so when the British weather means you might just end up spending full days there. So I think we were all quite nervous. We needn’t have been. The place was bright and light, with the kitchen, conservatory and living area all part of an open plan set up that made it feel very modern. All we needed to do now was unpack and settle in!

Once settled, we got on with things at pace, determined as ever, to pack as much into our trip as would be possible. We had a chippy tea on our first night, just because it was so convenient. If you visit Porthmadog, you have a wealth of choices for fish and chips, but we plumped for Chippy Dre in nearby Tremadog – – and as with past visits it was absolutely delicious.

We spent the next two days on the beach at Borth-Y-Gest which is by far our favourite spot. The weather was great – sunny and still – and so it was ideal for just lazing around on the beach. And when the beach is as picturesque as this one believe me you could just sit and stare, read, listen to music all day every day. It’s a bit of a trek along the coastal path to get there and at times, weighed down by bags, picnic blankets and various tools for beach activities, it feels like you never will but you won’t regret it.

We broke the week up with a trip down the coast to Barmouth. We did this partly because we always take a trip to Barmouth, but also because we thought that the weather was going to be rubbish and there’s plenty to do there. Well it turned into another very hot day and thus, despite the fact that we were going to spend the day in cafes, amusements and shops, we ended up spending much more time on Barmouth beach, which is another beauty. We even popped into a nearby shop to buy a new frisby just to honour the occasion. Barmouth is a popular resort with a great beach and there’s always lots to do, from taking a long walk across Barmouth bridge to spending time in the amusements or just taking advantage of the huge beach.

We stayed longer than usual in Barmouth, wandering round town, spending time on the beach and then eventually having our tea there too. This time, we chose Isis Pizzeria – – because of its excellent gluten free options and I have to say we had some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. The staff were really friendly and couldn’t have been more help and we left there with very full bellies indeed! Again, it’s a place I would absolutely recommend a visit if you’re in Barmouth or indeed anywhere even close!

A bit of a turn in the weather – it had to come; we were holidaying in the UK after all – led to a bit of exploring. For our first grey day, we decided to stay around in the village where we were staying.

Morfa Bychan is bordered on one side by the huge Black Rock, a mountain and on the other side by Black Rock Sands, a big beach – see what they’ve done with the names there? For years my wife has fancied heading up Black Rock, but with the weather being a little grey and misty, as well as quite gusty, I managed to talk some sense into her and we decided on a stroll along the beach. Before that though, I had plans of my own.

I had decided that I was going to head out for a run during this holiday. I knew that I’d get a cooler day and was fully prepared to get up early for said run. Thus, heading out just after 7am, I had a vague route in mind. That said, a lot of the route would find me running up big, steep hills, so I just thought I’d give it a go and that if I had to walk back, having tired myself out, then that would be OK. I ended up running a 10k! I headed out of Morfa Bychan, over several big hills and then down into Borth-y-Gest, home of our favourite beach. Once there, I ran around the harbour – up another stupidly steep hill – and then back out of the village towards home. Once back in Morfa, I headed down Beach Road and onto Black Rock Sands itself, managing a few minutes of running along the sands before, with my eye on my distance on Strava, I headed home. It was fantastic to run somewhere different and every time we drove over those hills from that point on, I was able to think that I’d ran them! Suffice to say the three other people in the car got bored with that line fairly quickly!

We walked to a very quiet beach later that day. I think – if Google Maps is to be believed – it’s called Samson’s Bay and it’s right beyond one end of Black Rock Sands. We clambered up the coastal path and followed it round to the bay which sits just beyond part of Porthmadog Golf Club. We’ve explored this part of the coast before, but never really spent any time there, so today we decided we’d take some bats and balls and have a bit of fun. And apart from the odd passing walker, we had the place to ourselves for ages. Perfect!

It’s a beautiful cove, as observed by a visiting golfer the next day when we went there again and he took time out of teeing off just to stand and admire the view.

Our next day was spent at Greenwood Forest Park, a theme park voted North Wales’ best tourist attraction. It’s somewhere we’ve been before – surprise, surprise – as it’s aimed at families, so it was a place we targeted on one of our early visits to North Wales, when our children were a lot younger.

Nowadays, our eldest is probably a little too old for the park, but she still found enough to do in order to have an enjoyable and both of our kids (12 and 15, their ages not their names by the way) had a great day. The weather was very grey and the threat of rain hovered around all day, but the wet stuff never fell, meaning we could relax and enjoy ourselves easily enough. With a roller coaster powered by people – don’t ask, I’ve no idea – a couple of climbing activities, boats, a solar powered water slide, sledges, archery and all sorts of other stuff to do, there was plenty to fill the day. If you have younger children Greenwood Forest Park is a must, but even with our older pair, we had a great day.

With the end of the holiday looming and the weather not getting any better we spent our last afternoon in Porthmadog itself. After a lazy morning and another visit to Samson’s Bay, we had wanted to play crazy golf, but it was closed – no doubt Covid related – so we headed for coffee and cake instead. A natural substitution, I’m sure you’ll agree.

There are a number of places to grab a coffee, some cake or even an ice cream in Porthmadog, but we plumped for a place called Siop Coffee TH and as ever, we weren’t disappointed. The range of coffees is excellent and it’s the same with the cakes. The kids had hot chocolates and a slice of Biscoff brownie, while we had a cappucino, an americano and a flapjack each, my wife’s being both gluten free and delicious. Coffee, cake and a lovely friendly atmosphere while outside the drizzle fell relentlessly; it’s safe to say we had a great afternoon.

And then, before it even really felt like we’d settled in, it was time for us to pack everything up in preparation for heading home. We had a lovely week. North Wales, and Porthmadog in particular, is pretty much rural. It’s dominated by the sea and the mountains, making it the perfect place to relax. Having finished a tough year at work and then headed down to Wales the very next day, it was the perfect place to unwind. We may not have quite got the weather we’d have hoped for, but getting the sun for 4 days of our stay was fantastic and even when it blows a gale or rains, there’s always lots to do.

As we said goodbye to Porthmadog for another year, it was fairly safe in the knowledge that we’d be back. Locals told us that life during Covid had been a real struggle, as it had for all of us, but Porthmadog and the surrounding areas don’t seem to be struggling with staying beautiful and friendly. If you’re looking for a domestic break – or as a foreign traveler you want to discover somewhere that not a lot of people know about – then you won’t go far wrong with North Wales.

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