Sunday, 8 February 2015

Same Smile - St David's

Same Smile, for the uninitiated, is a well meaning show on CBeebies that aims to show us that “we’re all the same but different” and that the one thing we all do when we are happy is smile. A lady called Nisha visits nurseries around the country by tricycle, taking with her a "magic" suitcase and three brightly coloured pandas called Mish, Moosh and Mogo. Every episode has a different theme, such as pets, food or music. At the start, the suitcase is opened to reveal something representing the theme of the day. Two of Mish, Moosh and Mogo are then handed over to nursery children who go off to show them a good time. Nisha is hyper-enthusiastic, apart from when she has to say the set rhyming triplet that links to a video of the panda’s adventures, during which by this point in the series she could not sound more bored: “Moosh has gone with Harry to play - For new adventures on the way - I wonder what they’ll do today?” The remaining children and panda stay in the nursery and do something "fun" linked to the theme. The children who went away then come back to tell Nisha about their adventures, although if the programme was actually realistic - based on the nursery child in our house - they would just say, "I can't remember", "We didn't do anything" or "It's a secret". The children bring a souvenir for Nisha, which she puts into the "magic" suitcase. (The suitcase isn't magic, of course. It's just a battered old thing dug out of someone's loft that's been painted with stripes and had rainbow graphics superimposed over its empty insides. Call me the destroyer of all imagination if you like.)

St David's Cathedral
Anyway, our daughter loves this programme, and one day recently Nisha visited a nursery in St David’s, Pembrokeshire. The theme of the episode was "favourite days out". The magic suitcase contained a small backpack and a picnic basket and some sunhats. Moosh and Mogo were taken to the beach to go bodyboarding, to a caravan park for a barbecue, and for a sail on a boat round the bird reserve on Ramsey Island. The children remaining at the nursery shared a picnic outside (wearing the sunhats), though the picnic seemed to consist entirely of bananas. (No bamboo for these pandas!) Nisha's souvenirs were a panda-sized wetsuit and a cuddly razorbill, if that's not a contradiction in terms.

We spent our main summer holiday in Pembrokeshire two years ago, renting a stunning cottage in the clifftop hamlet of Trefin, about six miles north of St David’s. I had never been to Pembrokeshire before, but had had it recommended as a holiday destination by several different people. And it literally took our breath away. I don't just mean the stiff coastal breezes - it is simply so beautiful that rounding a corner to a new view can make you gasp out loud. If it weren't so far to go from York with a moaning child in the back of the car, I would have been back at least five times since.

We started the week in glorious sunshine but ended it in bracing sea storms. But we still went to a different beach every day, from Caerfai to Whitesands to Newport. We mostly ended up fishing yellow snails out of rock pools. But we also watched kites buffeting in the wind and built sand engine sheds for Gordon, a new toy acquired en route for 25p at a table-top sale in Machynlleth. There was a tiny bay just down the hill from our house. It was overlooked by a ruined mill and was like a smugglers' cove straight out of Enid Blyton. My husband and I took turns to sit there in the evenings, gazing up at a stone circle on the cliffs and watching the sun (if it was out) drop into the foaming sea.
Whitesands Bay

Sand engine sheds for Gordon on Newgale Beach
(A Peppa Pig poncho was compulsory beachwear, even over a winter coat.)

Rockpool finds

Our smugglers cove near Trefin


Trefin had no shop, but as it lies on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, it still has a cafe and a pub. Although we didn't need to use either as we had arranged online for Mr Tesco (in between fiddling his accounts and ripping off small producers) to deliver a week's groceries to our cottage five minutes after we arrived. Oh, the wonders of modern technology. Before we went to Pembrokeshire I had been rather snippy about yet another self-catering holiday, since they don't serve as any time off for me, the main (=only) cook in the family. However, the kitchen in the cottage was enormous, overlooked the garden and even had an island, and this final domestic goddess feature (together with a box of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge) considerably raised my mood. As the cottage owners had young children, it was all perfectly designed for our still toddler, with easy-clean IKEA furniture, safety gates on all the stairs and a ramp of non-slip decking leading down to the garden and sandpit. There were also a few toys, but any children's books were in Welsh.

St David's is the UK's smallest city, really just a touristy village. We got a brief look at the cathedral, but our daughter had already spotted the Italian ice cream cafe and wouldn't let us linger. We got away without too many expensive trips to child-friendly attractions (waterslide parks, adventure farms, soft play lagoons etc) as our daughter was still too young for them. We did take her to a Pembrokeshire Sheep Dog show, which she still talks about to this day, but not in a positive light. This is because one of the dogs licked her on the face. But it was nothing a Freddo chocolate frog couldn't resolve, and the walk from the farm down to the Coastal Path (through fields full of a rare breed of cow) was incredible. Even though it was June, spring had come late, and the cliffs were covered in wildflowers. A sea otter leapt out of the water.

The highlight of St David's

Sheepdog show

Rare breed of cow

View from the farm boundary

We also drove down the narrow country lanes to Abereiddy, with its Blue Lagoon created by slate quarrying; to Picton Castle with its azaleas in full bloom and fairyland children's play area; to a vineyard drowning in rain; to the lighthouse at Strumble Head; and finally to Porthgain, where the fish and chips are rightly famous. Unlike the panda, we didn't make it on the boat trip to Ramsey Island as the seas were too ferocious to sail on. But I would have given anything to have been allowed to just set off walking along that spectacular coastal path and not stop until I reached Milfordhaven. As soon as you set foot on it, it was addictive. There was always the lure of what might lie around the next corner. One day, we will go back.

Blue Lagoon at Abereiddy

Picton Castle
Coastal path wildflowers

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