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Published: Sunday, 10/19/2003

Inclement weather doesn't wash out good day in Wales

ST DAVID'S, Wales - It's 7 o'clock on a mid-September morning in this tiny Pembrokeshire community on the southwestern, wilder side of Wales.

And at the Old Cross Hotel in the Market Square, guests are beginning to stir, goaded into action, no doubt, by the intoxicating aromas of fresh-brewed coffee and baking bread that drift up from the kitchen. And by the relentless pounding of rain on the window panes.

``T'will be a wet one in all of Wales today” says the jaunty voice on the BBC.

By 8 a.m., most hotel guests are already at their prescribed tables in the breakfast room, fully engaged with bowls of thick, creamy porridge, tucking into platters of bacon and eggs, fried toast and tomatoes, baked beans and blood pudding. And trying to figure out what there is to do in this remote outpost on such a chilled and miserable day.

Most have already visited St David's premier attraction, the splendidly awesome 12th-century cathedral of the same name, which technically transforms this small village into a so-called city. They've wandered through the ruined, but still impressive, Bishop's Palace next door, which dates from the 15th century.

They've also poked their noses into the tourist office at the top of the street, looked in on a couple of artsy galleries, and drunk their pints of local beer at the Farmer's Arms, the nicest pub in town.

Some of the lucky ones have already taken one of the popular boat trips over to Ramsey Island to see the tens of thousands of seabirds that crowd its cliffs.

As short-term visitors to St David's - three days and out - and with a weather eye always cocked for potential atmospheric troubles, we had spent the previous 24 hours getting most of the outdoor stuff out of the way.

We had driven to a nearby farm to witness a sheep dog demonstration in which a troupe of brilliant border collies was put through its paces by its lady trainer. Sheep into pens, goats into barns, ducks into water, that sort of thing. With nothing more than a crook and a whistle.

After conversation with the well-weathered shepherdess, we dropped in at the once-thriving slate quarry port at Porthgain, just up the coast, where we scouted a couple of the excellent art galleries. We ate lunch at the convivial Sloop Inn, with its grand collection of sepia colored prints from an earlier era, then walked for a few miles, cliff high, along the famous Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, which runs for the better part of 200 miles around this most rugged of coastlines.

But now, on this particular morning, we

First stop was at Llangloffan - a farmhouse cheesery owned by Leon and Joan Downey, who in 17 years have turned a down-and-out holding into a cheesemaking establishment of international repute.

Leon put on a highly entertaining demonstration of how to turn curds and whey into finished rounds of delectable and distinctive cheese.

A few miles up the road at a woolen mill, we watched an altogether different transformation, in which raw wool from local sheep was turned into beautifully colored fabrics via an intriguing process of carding, spinning, dyeing, warping, and weaving.

Our final stop was the county town of Pembroke and its amazingly well-preserved and classic Norman fortress, full of towers and turrets, keeps and moats, battlements and dungeons. It also had authentic displays depicting the never-dull daily life of a fortified castle ... and the beginnings of the Tudor Empire.

For it was here, in 1457, that King Henry VII was born. Indoors. And out of the rain.



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