A few weekends ago on a Friday afternoon, I made the long journey to a little town called Porthcawl, just outside Cardiff. I've been to Wales a handful of times in my life, including an sixth form outdoor weekend that I loathed to attend at the time, and now wish I had been more enthusiastic about it all; oh how I've changed.
Wales has since become my happy place; visiting my friends there has always brought me peace, no matter what's going back home. This weekend was no exception. Not the kind of people to party away their bank accounts, having just married last year and looking to build a life independently, Katie and Rhod (guess who's Welsh...) had created a perfect getaway space for me to escape to from time to time.
I have known Katie since I was seven, terrifyingly enough. So myself and Judy, another friend from school, tootled down the M5 for some good wholesome fun. On our first day, we took a breathtaking walk along the Southerndown for a long awaited chat. We were incredibly lucky with the weather; it felt like a beautiful spring day. This clearly meant the next stop was to dip our feet in the close by sea. (I think it's some kind of law that you need to get your toes wet if you're from the Midlands and find yourself near the sea.)
Next, a spot of high tea at Ogmore Tea Rooms, which is essentially someone's house with a converted front room. It was particularly busy when we arrived, so we were instructed to sit at the kitchen table. A little strange, but very accomodating and fantastic value. I had a sneaky view into the kitchen to watch a busy chef prepare some delicious home-cooked food; everything you could want from a tea room was present. Two crumpets, a piece of lemon drizzle cake and a whole pot of earl grey tea later, I was in a contented haze.
To top off our day, Katie had no choice but to take us to Barry Island and I found myself on an unofficial guided tour of the set of Gavin & Stacey. For those of you not familiar with it, it is British culture through and through; a must watch. For those of you who are, I purchased a tea towel from Nessa's arcade emblazoned with 'I'm not gunna lie to you, Barry Island's crackin'', and was obliged to proclaim 'Oh!' in the very spot Ruth Jones did. Needless to say, Katie was fairly ashamed of me.
On the Sunday, Katie and Rhod attend their church in Porthcawl, Grace Commuinity. As many of my friends know, my religious beliefs are ambiguous. However, I thought if I'm happy to attend a temple on top of a hill in India, I should have no qualms with going to church in Wales. I wanted to experience something so close to the hearts of Katie and Rhod, a good enough reason to go I think. And, it was a much more enjoyable than the hangover I usually feel on a Sunday morning.
I used to attend church back home, so I knew what to expect, and I have to say it was a nice experience. It is a relatively new church without a building of their own; they use a sixth form centre at the local school. Even though I have no personal ties with Christinity, it was interesting to see how this small community of people are full of hope to build and expand, and I even felt a shiver of excitement for them as it clearly bought so much joy to their lives.
On a side note, I found this interesting article this morning about incense in churches (of course not used in the Church of England, more of a Catholic ritual). Maybe I'll start attanding more for incense's psychadelic influences...
Breathing in the fresh air of Wales, regardless of attending church, invigorates me. The connection I have with this part of Britain will always keep it as a place of refuge and to discover the great outdoors. I will always thank my friend Katie for moving there.