Tenors and tears in Tenby
My hosts reappeared at breakfast time, but were as keen to be up and out as I was. So with breakfast served, they asked me to pack up and leave at my leisure, and to post my key through their letterbox when I did so. I wasn’t far behind them. The plan was to reach Tenby that night, a distance of around forty miles, with only the little harbour light at Saundersfoot to stop at along the route.
I thought the first ten miles to Carmarthen, all uphill, were difficult enough, but what followed was a second ten-mile stretch along the main A40. It may have been largely flat, but it was fast, a dual carriageway in some parts, and no place for a bicycle. I gripped my handlebars so tight, for so long, that it took effort to release them when I finally left the main road at St Clears.
I swapped four-lane madness for single-track solitude and weaved my way back to the coast, passing through hamlets and small villages which, irritatingly, appeared to lack lunchtime pubs.
I reached Saundersfoot by early afternoon, and contrived a late lunch comprising a burger, hot dog and donut, all from the same stall by the car park. The harbour here is pretty, and these days provides shelter for rows of yachts and small craft. It was built in the 1840s and used for the export of local coal and lime. There is a circular, stone lighthouse on the far end of the south harbour wall, which dates to 1848. It’s only elven feet tall, with a modest red lamp unit mounted on top. Despite being decommissioned when the local mines closed in 1947, it was rebuilt and relit seven years later, in 1954. It currently shows a flashing red light, visible for seven miles.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) June 23, 2015
I sat on the harbour wall for a long while. A notice saying ’No Fishing’ was painted into the walkway in large white letters, but I counted four rods at least. I posted a selfie with the lighthouse online, which immediately prompted a phone call from my friend Simeon, who had holidayed here the previous summer. I liked Saundersfoot, which guidebooks would probably describe as oozing charm and character.
Tenby is just a few miles on, and I arrived with time to deliberate over my choice of guest house, as well as to find a launderette. I found a perfectly respectable, affordable room behind the main shopping street, before heading off to explore.
It would be hard to think of a more attractive seaside town than Tenby. In Norman times it was fortified, and most of the old outer walls remain, enclosing the medieval town. There was once a substantial castle here, and even now the keep tower that remains is an imposing sight. In Victorian times, Tenby was a fashionable seaside resort, and there are promenades on both sides of the old town. The centre is a maze of narrow pedestrianised streets, and many of the bars and restaurants are set up for al fresco dining. Tenby has also managed to shrug off the majority of the larger branded stores, and much of the high street is dedicated to small, independent stores of every kind.
It is charming, and while I had visited once before, on a frighteningly cold New Year’s day walk on the beach, I hadn’t appreciated what a lovely place it is. In a quiet side street, I found a launderette with a thriving fish and chip shop next door. They were owned by the same family, and all four of us waiting for our washing cycles to end had meals spread out on paper on our laps.
Making my way back to my guest house, walking among families on holiday, I realised once again how homesick I was feeling. Every family, every child, every dog walker, every dog, caused me to well up with uncontrollable sadness. I was here, in this beautiful place, and yet it felt like the last place on earth I wanted to be. It made no sense.
That’s not strictly true. It made perfectly good sense. Around half of all people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis have suffered depression, often coupled with anxiety, at some point in their lives. It has plagued me, on and off, since I was eighteen. I must have tried just about every treatment, every therapy, every medication. Some have provided more effective relief than others, but none have proved able to prevent sometimes alarming mood swings, as well as extended periods of low mood. I remember once being referred to a clinic for a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), where the counsellor I was assigned to couldn’t have been much older than twenty. I reckon I was his first referral, and each week he had me breathing slowly, talking in his relentlessly cheerful and positive tone. By week three, I started filling is his questionnaire in such a way that he soon pronounced me cured, and sent me on my way.
Tonight, I just didn’t want to spend time alone. I passed a Baptist Church, where a male voice choir was about to start an evening recital, and I didn’t hesitate to find the £5 entrance fee and a seat at the back. For nearly two hours I sat enthralled, although the recital included a number of intentional tear jerkers, and caused me to spend much of the second half sobbing as quietly as I could in the back row.