Little by little, one travels far
If you want to know something the first thing you should do, of course, is ask the right question. When I worked in a very large hospital I was once stopped by a member of the public who asked me “How did I get in?” when what he really meant was “How do I get out?”
So when, last Thursday, I said to a bus-driver “Where do you stop in Cardiff?” I should have known that I was making a rookie error. He obligingly replied “Near the castle, then Westgate Street.” Little did I know what was in store.
The reason we were getting on a bus in Abergavenny was that we’d been invited to a birthday party in Cardiff Bay – Liz and Tony’s ‘140th joint Birthday Bash’, to be precise. The party was to take place on a boat and we needed to be at one of the quayside restaurants at 5:30pm. We’d booked a hotel room a few months back and as we’ve plenty of free time we decided that we’d make use of our bus passes and enjoy a free trip to Cardiff. Cheapskates!, I can hear you say. But there didn’t seem to be any reason not to use the bus and so we drove to Abergavenny, parked the car on a quiet street and strolled off to the bus station.
The bus was due out at 13:37 and scheduled to arrive in Cardiff at 15:00, which was ideal. Mr B had gone to buy a newspaper so I went and squinted at the various signs to track down our stop. There was a man sitting alongside one and (foolishly, it turns out) I asked him if that was the pull-in for the Cardiff bus. “No, Luv,” said he. “You want the next one, Stand 3”. Which is where I went to wait.
Mr B had been back a few minutes when the bus pulled in. As we climbed aboard I thought that I’d better just check with the driver that we were actually on the correct bus, and asked about the Cardiff stops. Satisfied with his answer, we found ourselves seats towards the back and settled down. “So which way does this thing actually go?” said Mr B – because I’d made this journey last year sometime. This makes the whole thing worse…”Llanelen, I think. Then Pontypool and Cwmbran but I’m not sure where else.” No doubt I’d had my nose in a book the entire way.
So when the bus set off through the town (a few minutes early, according to a tutting Mr B) and then through the grounds of Nevill Hall Hospital, I sat calmly looking out of the window. When the driver turned and took the road to Llanfoist, I thought to myself: “I can’t have been paying attention last time, I don’t remember this”. And when he drove through Gofilon and into Gilwern I decided that due to road works or something (don’t ask, I’m deluded), that the route had probably changed. In my defence, routes do change; many times when we were living in Cardiff we’d come back from a holiday to find bus stops had moved and there were newly hatched road junctions to enjoy.
By now Mr B was staring out of the window with a puzzled expression. “We’re actually closer to home now than we were before – why is he coming this way?” I thought about it for all of five seconds and said: “He’ll probably turn around now and go back the other way – it must be some sort of circular route.” That was just before he headed off up the A465 in the direction of Brynmawr.Our bus route…
It’s astonishing how, at times, you decide just to go with the flow. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? We’d get there eventually, even if it wasn’t quite what we’d expected; after all, the driver had confirmed the location of the stops in Cardiff. It was only when we pulled out of Ebbw Vale, still heading west, that the nasty suspicion that had been lurking finally erupted. “I’ve got a horrible feeling…” I didn’t want to say it out loud, but I had to. “I think we’re going the wrong way.”
I’ve been in situations like this before. There have been times aplenty when I’ve known that something has gone wrong and thought: “How am I going to tell him?” The last was when we’d driven across to Gloucestershire to see the Severn Bore and I’d misread the times so that we got there five minutes after the damned thing had passed and the surfers were taking off their gear. This, though, wasn’t my fault – I’d asked the driver! No matter, it was clear that we were heading for Merthyr Tydfil.
“You know what’s happened?” I said. “It’s not the route I went on last year; this must be a Cardiff-Abergavenny-Merthyr Tyfdil run. So when I asked the driver about the Cardiff stops he gave me the information but didn’t bother to say: But that’ll be after we’ve been right across to Merthyr and back into Abergavenny before finally going on to Cardiff.“
By now we’d been on the bus for 2 hours and you may be thinking what lots of our friends thought when we told them about this little adventure. “Why didn’t you get off the bus when you realized what had happened?” The thing is that our knowledge of the geography of the South Wales valleys is pretty dire (as I pointed out in last week’s post). We were a bit concerned about getting off the bus and finding ourselves completely lost, if you see what I mean. We had no idea of the time of the bus back in the opposite direction and had decided it was probably better to carry on (we were now much closer to Merthyr than to Abergavenny) and sort ourselves out when we got to the end of the line.
I was pretty cross at the devious driver but he’d left the bus at Ebbw Vale and been replaced by a tiny woman. Eventually, as we approached Merthyr, I went to talk to her as she pulled in to let off a couple of passengers. I was hoping for a bit more sense when I asked her if there was a stop near the railway station in Merthyr, but plainly our luck was still out. “I don’t even know if they’ve got a railway station,” she said. “I’m from Cwmbran, luv.”
So we were on our own. Mr B had now, belatedly, decided to track our progress on Goggle maps, and was giving me a running commentary. At Merthyr town centre we got off and headed through a shopping mall to the railway station, which does exist and is helpully pinpointed by Google. We got there at 15:20 and there was a train to Cardiff due at 15:38 – which would arrive at 16:39. For once we were unable to mess up, as Merthyr Tydfil is at the end of the line and trains from there all go towards Cardiff – I think.
We finally arrived at our hotel at 17:10, which unbelievably gave us time to check in, shower, change and get to the restaurant by 17:45. Luckily it was only 800 yards away as the seagull flies.Cardiff Bay
Looking across the bay to the Norwegian Church. Our party boat is on the left hand side
The party was great fun and it was only later when we sat down on our rented bed to take stock of the day that we re-thought the entire thing and pulled out our phones to check the Stagecoach app. And guess what? We’d been wrong (again) when we assumed that we were on the right bus but going in the wrong direction – we were actually on the wrong bus entirely. We should have caught the X3 Hereford-Abergavenny-Cardiff but had in fact caught the X4 Abergavenny-Merthyr-Cardiff. When we left the bus it pulled out of the bus station and took the rest of the lucky passengers into Cardiff, reaching the city by 16:17. So the driver wasn’t being a smart alec but was just telling me what he thought I needed to know. If we’d stayed on the ruddy thing we’d have got to Cardiff an hour earlier than we managed it by bailing out and finding a train!Cardiff – the bus we needed to avoid on the way back!
It took us 4 hours to make the trip and according to the great god Google we could have walked half the distance in that time. Still, it could have been worse – at least we got to the party and had a great time. We managed to catch the correct bus back to Abergavenny the following day and I even managed to buy a new pair of shoes without too much hassle.
I begin to wonder if we should ever go out – as Tolkein said: “It’s a dangerous business…going out your door.” But sometimes it’s ok – we took a drive to the coast last week, visiting Porthcawl and then Nash Point. And we got home in on piece, with no calamities on the way!
And yes, I am slightly embarrassed by our idiocy but I decided to share it anyway! Have a good week, folks x