The first day of March is the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales. Born in the sixth century, this one-time bishop and worker of miracles is usually depicted with a dove on his shoulder and standing on a hill as in this rather nice stained-glass window.
David’s best-known miracle was the raising up of a hill (as in the window) on the very spot where he stood, though it’s unclear why, in a land which boasts an abundance of hills, this should be his miracle of choice. He lived a very simple life and when he wasn’t working miracles the Saint was a great reader and scribe and enjoyed a humble meat-free diet. The leek was possibly his favourite vegetable, becoming first his personal emblem and later that of the Welsh nation.
Today being Saint David’s day got me thinking back to last summer and a rather memorable journey I made to north Wales. Whilst Cymru is a separate country it would be misleading of me to give the impression that my journey there was an epic trek. From my home in the north of England to my destination in north Wales is less than a hundred miles, or about 90 minutes by road.
This was to be my first trip there since being a teenager . I’d been on many occasions during childhood summers, but it hadn’t left an impression; I think it mostly rained. Having heard good things about the revamped sea front, off I went with mum to partake in a quintessentially British experience: the coach trip.
My mother is a coach trip expert, travelling the length and breadth of the Kingdom with her friend and fellow enthusiast, Phyllis. I have occasionally stepped in when Phyllis has been otherwise engaged, and my limited experience has led to the following observations about coach world:
- The front seats which offer an unrestricted view through the windscreen are the most desirable and are snapped up about 5 years in advance
- Coach folks always board with at least three carrier bags filled with foil-wrapped sandwiches, thermos flasks, and family packs of crisps and mini cheddar biscuits. Invariably, they get to work on their bounty within 10 minutes of setting off
- Anybody boarding with no provisions looks under-burdened and therefore suspicious
- Coach folks often bring an assortment of coats and cardigans in case of unpredictable weather. Any garments not required at the destination can be left on board to mark ownership of seats under the watchful eye of the driver
- The driver, usually called Stan, Jim or Bill, is often well past retirement age and likes to treat his charges to a selection of Nashville Greats and Sixties compilation CDs, which are very well received by the coach audience
The sun shone for us on a glorious morning when mum and I set off for the land of dragons and daffodils, though we didn’t expect to see either of those on an average Wednesday in August. We found our seats, deposited our bags in the overhead luggage rack and got ourselves settled. We were amongst the first on board so by default became members of the welcoming party for those who joined at various stops over the next few miles. At this point I’ll explain a little about the complex but unspoken rules of coach trip etiquette. Geisha tea ceremonies seem like child’s play in comparison, and you must at all costs get it right if you want to avoid feeling an on-board coolness which won’t be coming from the air conditioning.
- New arrivals greet those already seated, not the other way around. No exceptions.
- A hearty ‘Good morning’ is the suggested salutation, but at the very least a smile and a nod are required, though this is a weak form of greeting and will provoke raised eye brows and possibly mutterings
- If you are new to coaching, know your place! Most of these seasoned gallivanters will know each other from other trips. You are new.
- If you are asked about other places you have travelled to, understand that this means on coaches and within the UK. Don’t talk about your Nordic river cruise or your wild nights in Marrakesh. They are of no interest to these good people, and you will be judged.
Fast forward through Cheshire and into north Wales, in and out of a nice but unnecessary pit stop, and onto the Welsh moors. Purple heather and sloping green hills (possibly raised by Saint David) in the distance made for a beautiful vista. Inside the coach sounds of appreciation rose as we wound our way along the serpentine roads. Being afflicted with the curse of travel sickness, I could not share in my fellow travellers’ pleasure here, and perhaps by some miracle I just about made it to our next stop, the village of Betws y coed.
Upon disembarking, our lively party headed off in little groups to the café, ice cream parlour or for fish and chips. Green around the gills and desperate to recover before getting back onto the coach I left mum to her battered haddock and went for a short stroll. We only had an hour at Betws y coed which, along with my delicate state, prevented me from exploring further, but I enjoyed watching the birds feed in the midday sun.
Back on board, and mercifully the rest of the journey to Llandudno was smooth. We arrived in fine spirits ready to walk along the promenade, paddle in the surf and relax in the sun’s warm rays. All signs of clouds had disappeared to reveal an expanse of azure sky.
Great Orme overlooked the pier and the vintage tour buses waited for their next passengers.
From time to time I spotted fellow travellers seated along the sea front or in a tea room window. There arises yet another coach trip etiquette minefield: to acknowledge or not to acknowledge? But that’s another story….