A favourite question amongst friends and family to both myself and Mr B is always “When do you think you’ll come home to Wales?” The reply remains a constant “I’m not sure”. For whilst I can’t deny the low house prices are a huge attraction, along with easy access to both beaches and the countryside, now doesn’t feel like the right time to return. Yet every few months as we trundle down the M4 for a visit my heart strings start to pull and we finding ask ourselves the same question.
We both still have family and friends living in the area so we normally plan our trips around special occasions and this time was no exception. Mr B was invited to a party in Cardiff on the Friday night so I decided to travel back also to enjoy the bank holiday weekend. I escaped London early on Saturday morning to avoid the traffic and after the relatively quick journey back I headed to the out of town shopping centre with my little cousin. After a quick stroll around the shops it was time for lunch, we looked around the uninspiring food court before choosing Ed’s Diner, my cousin enjoyed her chicken goujons and I was pleasantly surprised with the pulled pork sandwich which was decent for the price. The shops here are good if you’re looking for bargain designer goods and I picked up some great walking boots for our upcoming Scottish adventure from one of the many outdoor specialists.
We then popped into Bridgend town centre as I wanted to pick up some local cheese and Welsh Cakes from the market. Upon arrival the town centre was deserted and I left feeling disheartened after realising just how much the town centre has changed in the four years since I left. Not so long ago the town centre was a thriving place, independents sat beside major chains but now the independents are closing and major chains have pulled out leaving behind charity shops, mobile phone shops and pawn brokers. With the growth of the out of town shopping centre and the creation of pedestrian zones the council have effectively killed off any trade. I was most disappointed to see the historical buildings that have been renovated to a very high standard (and at some cost) still sitting empty because businesses can’t be persuaded to take on the leases. But what baffled me most was the fact that I’d failed to get a reservation in any of the restaurants for Saturday evening. If smart restaurants can survive, why can’t shops? There is clearly a huge gap in the market and the council must react soon to help inject some much needed life back into the town centre and revitalise trade.
Whilst I was shopping Flo was enjoying a country walk with Mr B. They walked around Parc Slip nature reserve (http://www.welshwildlife.org/visitor-centres/parc-slip-visitor-centre/) taking advantage of the tranquillity and fresh air before retreating to the balcony of Cefn Cribwr rugby club to recover with a cold beer. The balcony sits in sunny position and has great views of the Bristol Channel, perfect for a sunny afternoon. Flo loves the peacefulness of the country, there is little to distract her and the sparsity means she can run with freedom.
With no plans for Saturday evening and Mr B still recovering from the Friday night we opted to take Flo to the beach for some sea air. The coastal path was very quiet despite the fact it was a beautiful sunny evening and we walked from Porthcawl to Sker. Flo loved exploring the rock pools and it gave Mr B and I time to reflect in the natural beauty of the area. On the drive back to my parents house we stopped for a quick drink at the Angel pub (http://www.theangelinnmaudlam.co.uk/. We were pleased to see that they had local beer from the Gower (http://gowerbrewery.com/) on cask and Flo was happy basking in the heat from the fire recovering from the shock of the icy cold water. This traditional country pub with flag stoned bar area is fast growing a local reputation and had it not been for the lack of public transport we would have stayed for more than the one and probably would have been tempted to walk the short distance to the Prince of Wales pub (http://www.princekenfig.co.uk/). Another local gem this pub has a lot of history and the landlord can normally be tempted to tell tales of old.
Sunday brought rain… lots of rain! After visiting my grandparents we donned our coats and walking boots to take Flo to Bryngarw Country Park (http://www.bryngarwhouse.co.uk/en/park/). We all enjoyed the walk, especially Flo who had her first swim in the extremely clean river that runs through the park. Cold and wet we were happy to see that the café was open and even better was the fact it had a covered terrace where we enjoyed a coffee and attempted to dry up a little before getting back in the car. We wished that we hadn’t eaten such a big breakfast as the sandwich platters looked very tasty and great value for money. We will definitely walk here again and stop for lunch on future trips.
In the evening we met friends in Cardiff for dinner, we had planned to have a drink or two in either the Coach or Nolton Corner (both in Bridgend Town Centre) before catching the train but the dreadful weather curtailed our plans and we went straight to the train station instead. Upon arrival in Cardiff, where the weather was much better, we walked through the busy centre to the restaurant. We enjoyed a fantastic tasting menu with matching wines at the Laguna restaurant in Park Plaza hotel, but we were very perturbed at the fact there was effectively a nightclub in the adjacent open plan bar meaning that we had to raise our voices rather loudly to hear each other.
Unfortunately there was no let-up in the rain on Monday so we decided to travel back to London after a quick breakfast at my parent’s house. I was disappointed to have missed out one final beach walk but I have further trips planned over the course of the summer so hopefully there will lots more opportunities for coastal walks.
Every time I see the ‘Croeso y Cymru’ sign just after the Severn Bridge tolls I smile and on the return journey to London I let out a sigh; this time was no different. I’m grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to live and work in such a great city, it’s certainly made me appreciate the beauty of Bridgend more than I ever did when I lived there. It was hard to leave my family and friends in 2012 and it still is hard knowing that I can’t just pop in for a cup of tea and a chat. But this trip has confirmed to me that although a piece of my heart will always be in Bridgend, there is also now a piece that belongs to London and the answer to the question remains “I’m not sure”.
Mrs B xx