Somewhere in mid Wales is this wonderful place called Cwm Bi Dingle. It is green and lush. It is dry and arid. It is deep in the Brecon Beacons but it is also beside the sea. It is both hilly and flat, wet yet sunny and when I say it is in mid Wales, it is also in the south and possibly the west as well. It is wherever and whatever you want it to be but is most definitely one of the most magical places on earth. You see, no-one really knows where it is. Perhaps they once knew, but now they have forgotten and to a large extent, it really doesn’t matter. Cwm Bi Dingle is a different place for me than it is for my brother or my parents. You see, Cwm Bi Dingle exists only in our imaginations. I’d love to go back there. I can picture it now. For me, it had a moors-like quality with wild flowers which fluttered in the wind to which the moors are prone. There was the most terrific ice cream van where you could buy the whitest ice cream and where a 99 came with not one flake, but two.
When I was a young child, I was quiet and serious. This may be difficult for my current-day friends and colleagues to believe but it is true. Mr Davies, my favourite school teacher, even wrote on my report that I was too serious for my own good. My mother still has that report somewhere. I was also quite fearful about certain things, one of which was getting lost and not being able to find my way home. I once got lost while playing outside at my Auntie Gwyneth’s house. We didn’t visit Auntie Gwyneth very often so I didn’t really know the lay of the land where she lived and on trying to find my way back to her house, I was threatened by a snarling German Shepherd dog. I back tracked and walked a different way but then I got lost. On another occasion, my mother took me shopping to Cardiff and we went into a department store. We went in a lift between floors and this is my earliest memory of going in a lift. At first I thought it was magic. To go in on one floor and exit on another was both unbelievable and incredible to me. But soon my face crumpled and I began to cry because it seemed that we had left one world and entered another, one where my father and baby brother didn’t happen to be. I was so upset that this was only solved by my mother taking me down the stairs to show me that we were only on the floor above where we’d set off.
One of my parents’ preferred Sunday activities was to go for a drive. Most of my childhood, both my parents had various Ford Cortinas. I think my father had a blue mark 2, a red mark 3, a gold mark 4 and a navy mark 4 estate before eventually breaking the cycle and graduating to a Volvo. My mother had a mark 2 of indistinguishable colour with holes where the locks used to be, a back seat that shot forward whenever she braked and a radiator that overheated every time she drove it. Anyway, we would venture out in one of the many Cortinas, often with a picnic and sometimes with my grandparents in tow in their Morris Oxford. The destination was usually wherever took my father’s fancy. Now, what I would not have appreciated at this stage is that my father’s knowledge of the geography of south and mid Wales is faultless. There is nowhere he hasn’t been and he can beat any satnav directions to a destination. His job as a younger man involved driving throughout the region and he knew the roads intimately. But, his inability to state where exactly we might be heading on one of these trips and precisely when we would be arriving back at the house was always interpreted by me as us being lost. Panic would set in, my lip would start quivering and I would almost silently weep in the back seat whereupon my brother would start laughing, fuelling anger and more upset on my part. Our sister hadn’t been born at this stage but I remember later trips where she was squashed between us in her car seat and when she fell asleep, her head would always flop down onto my shoulder (never my brother’s) and leave a warm, wet patch.
It was on one of these trips that we discovered Cwm Bi Dingle. “You know where we’re going, don’t you Dad?” “We’re not lost, are we Dad?” And so it went on. “Don’t be so daft Love, we’re off to Cwm Bi Dingle”. On the next trip, we had the same old questions but I was reassured all was fine as we were off to Cwm Bi Dingle again – and again, and again. At one point I asked my parents why we hadn’t gone to the same precise part of Cwm Bi Dingle as the first time, the place where we’d had the ice creams. The answer was obvious – it was a big place and it wasn’t possible to see all of it every time we went. If I’m honest, no visit to Cwm Bi Dingle ever lived up to the first time but it didn’t matter too much because at least my father knew how to get there and, consequently, how to get home.
I don’t remember when or how I found out about this elaborate scheme. Not that it was elaborate. I think he had made this place up on a whim, in the spur of the moment but it became embedded in family history forever. Maybe there was no big revelation, just a gradual realisation that Cwm Bi Dingle was in fact a series of places. It wouldn’t be correct to say that Cwm Bi Dingle never existed as all of the places were real. It was just that they were all places with other names, none of which was Cwm Bi Dingle and they were all in different locations.
In the present day, I wouldn’t say I enjoy getting lost but it usually frustrates me rather than causing mass panic. I have a relatively well developed sense of direction and am confident I would be able to find my way home from anywhere by simply re-tracing my steps. But today I found my Cwm Bi Dingle.
I wanted to try a new cycle route so I looked up local possibilities and settled on a track of around 7.5kms. It was not a circuit so there and back would be 15kms and I vaguely thought I could do it twice to make 30kms to build up distance and stamina. Armed with the map downloaded onto my phone, off I went. I immediately went wrong even while driving there and ended up entering the track about a kilometre after the start. The track seems to connect a series of parks and each time I entered a new park I’d end up circling it at least once before finding the exit. Signage was terrible, not helped by some of the signs looking like they’d been turned around either as some sort of jape or to conspire against me. A couple of times I ended up on the main road by mistake and there were several car parks where I just went round and round until it became more obvious where I was supposed to be heading. The map on the cycle track website was not terribly clear and not all the road names were marked. A map of the area on the navigation of my phone looked totally different but did not have cycle paths marked. I ended my outward cycle when I reached the motorway! Yes, I could have continued all along the side of the motorway to where I work but it’s not very scenic and I can save that for another day. Worryingly, my map didn’t show this cycle path joining up with the one alongside the motorway but perhaps the connecting of the two is a recent event (or I went wrong again, which seems more likely).
So, unsurprisingly, my cycle trip was 13kms one way and 7.5kms on the way back. What a difference! Parts were alongside the river so there was some undulation and there were more teeny tiny hills for practice, some of which were preceded by downhill sections so I was able to gather some momentum and speed for the ascent. This is the first time I’ve cycled over 20kms and I felt I could have carried on longer if it hadn’t been for risking getting more lost but also the light was fading and it was getting dark. In the end, it didn’t matter that I may or may not have cycled along my intended route. It was the distance that was important, the fact that I really enjoyed it and that my confidence continues to grow with each outing and I begin to feel more at home in the saddle.
So, Cwm Bi Dingle is whatever and wherever you want it to be. Today it was in west Auckland but its precise location remains unknown and is irrelevant as long as you enjoy where you go and get something out of the experience. Now, where was that ice cream van with the double-flaked 99?