Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Delights of west Wales hamlet well worth long trip to get there

The road from London to Lawrenny can be long and bumpy - especially if you make the trip by train, as we did recently - because Lawrenny is nothing more than a tiny hamlet on the farthest reaches of western Wales.

We'd been invited to this remote Pembrokeshire outpost by Tim and Jane Davis, retired physicians who had built their retirement home here and wanted us to visit.

Tim was a good friend from boarding school days who had once lived a couple of streets away in North London. We spent a good part of our teenage years together, playing cricket and soccer in the park, haunting the local coffee bars and cinemas in our raggedy duffel coats with their "Ban the Bomb" buttons, and writing terrible poetry in the style of our literary heroes of the moment - T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett.

After school, Tim embarked on a long and highly successful medical career, hooking up with Jane along the way.

It was 50 years before we met up again.

By then, the Doctors Davis had almost finished renovating an old Welsh farm house with fine panoramic views over an estuary and a romantic, flower-filled garden. They added a spacious country kitchen, an active inglenook, a fine wine cellar, and enough guest rooms to accommodate any friends willing to make the considerable effort to get there.

To reach Lawrenny without a car you really have to take the busy train from London's Paddington Station to Swansea, stopping at places like Reading, Swindon, and Bristol.

It's a good three-hour journey, much of it paralleling the River Thames. And the brief snap shots we got of the many locks and riverside meadows and pleasure boats were sweet reminders of two hikes I'd already taken down this softly flowing river.

As we weren't expected in Lawrenny until the next afternoon, we stopped off for the night in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, a city we'd never been to before but had heard good things about.

What we found was an interesting, tourist-friendly city that definitely is on the upswing. Its Tourist Office was well stocked and obliging, while its main shopping street was filled with intriguing antique alleys, covered markets, and a wide choice of pubs and restaurants, ethnic and otherwise.

Add some particularly impressive stand-up Victorian architecture, a reconstituted docklands, the world-famous Cardiff Arms Park sports stadium, and a 12th-century moated and crenelated castle, and this place is certainly worth an extended visit.

Next day, after two more train rides and a 10-mile, twisting drive along narrow country lanes between tall hedgerows and sheep-filled fields, we finally reached the Davis domain and the beginning of two days of nonstop activity.

There was a quick tour of their renovated house and garden, and a walk through the village consisting of post office/shop, 11th-century church, youth hostel, and feudal farm. We followed that up with a long, muddy slog up and down steep forest trails and river banks to reach the Lawrenny Marina - and the only pub for miles - where the beer was Brains Bitter and the talk was strictly nautical about expeditions to the islands of Skomer, Skokholm, and such.

Another day, another hike: Six miles on the sensational Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, over towering cliffs and fields of skylarks, across long sweeps of pristine, empty beaches and a river, home to several nesting swans.

We had a tapas lunch in the pretty market town of Narbeth, and an unforgettable stop at their favorite local watering hole filled with a cast of exotic Welsh characters that would have made Dylan Thomas proud!

And when we finally said goodbye to our hosts at Narbeth Station and flagged down our little single carriage train, we had seen and done enough to believe that Wales - and Pembrokeshire, in particular - was probably the perfect place to settle down and spend one's retirement years.

We're not envious, of course. Not really.

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