Boots hit wet cement as I jumped off the bus, the weight of my pack nearly toppling me forward before I caught it and straightened up. Behind me, the country bus continued on and I looked down the hillock as it drove away. The long windy road that skirted the town was lost behind a lush green hill that in turn was lost to another and another. Wet, emerald hills everywhere.
Leaving London by train a little after sunrise, there were no less than three changes and two buses to get to this tiny village on the coast of Wales. Traveling for eight hours on public transportation suddenly made me appreciate the luxuries like personal vehicles, and my mind went to my dad’s motorcycle with sadness. I wondered how long it took to be stolen? It was a nice, vintage Harley, so maybe twelve hours?
I shook my head to clear the morose thoughts away and hefted the heavy pack on my shoulders again. Looking up to the board on the bus stop, there was a small picture map that showed I was on the edge of town.
Fishguard Town Centre - 2kms
Well, three trains, two buses, and a leg workout. I started in the direction of the pointed arrow and began to walk through the outer limits of the small Welsh town. My watch said it was 4 pm, and in April, I guessed sunset was still an hour away, maybe more. The dropping temperature showed that Wales was probably on par with Seattle's climate, but people were still out on the streets as if it was the height of summer, despite it only being a wet spring.
Large cottages with yards started to make way for cobbled streets and terraced houses bunched tightly next to each other as I moved deeper into the town. The cutesy, small terraced homes with doorways no taller than six feet began to appear everywhere, the entrances landing right onto the sidewalk.
A cute town square eventually opened up through the streets and the waterfront with a large harbor appeared on the other side. Fishing boats were coming in for the day and there were several men waiting with hoses to spray and wipe them down on the main pier. I spun around, looking at the various quaint shops and storefronts around the square and continued down the road parallel to the waterfront.
This town could have been a postcard, it was so cute.
There, about a hundred feet down. The Winchester. I spied the pub and walked down the old stone road, avoiding passing cars and eyeing the boats in the harbor on my right as more of them were pulling in. About ten boats were already anchored, and it seemed the same amount were waiting to dock. They all had the same uniform white and ocean blue paint job with a Celtic-like ‘M’ on the front bow. They looked nice, like expensive nice.
Some young men exiting the pub stole my attention as I came to the front of it and they spied me in turn, looking me up and down.
My attire definitely screamed young American tourist. Along with my trekkers’ pack, I had on some casual hiking boots, long khakis, and a long-sleeve printed GAP shirt, topped by a plain grey baseball hat. I could practically hear the David Bowie song play in their heads as they gave me the once over.
I pushed past them with a smile and squeezed in through the small doorway of the pub. Immediately on the right, was a large room with a low ceiling. The main bar, more or less empty except for a young woman cleaning glasses behind the counter. A large fireplace centered the room on the far wall and there were some murmuring voices coming from around a corner out of view.
On my left seemed to be a small dining room for no more than ten people, and directly in front of the building entrance was a stairwell and a little desk reception area, currently empty. I walked over to it and peeked through the opening in the wall.
Behind the desk showed an empty seat with books and ledgers open. A hallway behind the wall seemed to lead to a kitchen and the bar area. I tried again.
A man’s voice called out from the kitchen.
“Yep! Hang on love, be right with you!”
I leaned back and started to unbuckle my pack, letting it drop to the floor. Holy Jesus that thing was heavy. Why did I insist on three pairs of shoes again? Why did anyone need more than two pairs of shoes? Hiking boots and nice sandaled shoes, that’s all I needed. Why sneakers? When did I think I would be jogging?
Arching my back and stretching out the kinks, a young man, not much older than a teenager, passing through the bar area, holding an arm full of empty pint glasses, stopped mid-stride, openly staring at my chest.
I quickly unarched it and gave him a death glare which he returned with a knowing smile and a roll of the eyes, taking the glasses to the other side of the bar.
“Now then,” the deep voice sounded again, this time standing behind his little desk inside the wall. “What can I do for you, dear?”
I ignored the young perv and turned to the older man, giving him my best all American smile. A large man well into his fifties, he almost looked comical in the small space that might have once been a closet underneath some stairs.
“Hi, I need a room. Just a single bed of you have it.”
He nodded as if expecting this and pulled his large book onto the counter between us, placing a pen on top.
“Right then, It’s fifty pound a night. Name and other details go right here, and I’ll need your Passport and credit card if you please. Just for one night then?”
I bent down to retrieve the two items from my pack.
“Uh, no, I’m not sure how long I am staying for, at least three nights though.”
The old man paused in thought, now studying me. I handed him the two and started filling in the book registry. After giving my full name, I wrote down a fake address in Tacoma because I figured I was currently homeless, and it seemed like a good idea to leave the commune out of this.
I finished with my new phone number and looked up at him, still examining me and my Passport, his eyes going back and forth between the Passport information and the real life version. He wasn’t sure, but some wheels in his head were turning while looking at my name and photo.
Giving my best smile again, I also looked him over. Sturdy, a full head of grey hair, wearing the pub uniform shirt that had the little logo on the pocket. He was a human, but he had to know about the town and the people that ran it. Heck, I bet he was a staple of their lives, somehow managing to survive here without having any other abilities to back him up. He might have been older, but the gun show under those sleeves was saying that he had survived for this long not just because of his business acumen.
Leaning over the counter towards him again, I asked,
“That’s okay, isn’t it?”
He blinked in confusion, and I took my baseball hat off, pretending to scratch my scalp, letting my long, now auburn hair spill out.
“If I stay three nights? I’ll let you know tomorrow if I need more or if I’ll be leaving.”
He stared at my dark red hair and the cheesy smile I was giving him and shook his head to focus.
“Yeah, dahl, that’ll be fine. Just let me know tomorrow and we’ll arrange it later.” He was still staring at my hair and smile, making the silence awkward. I ignored it and picked up the heavy pack again, hefting it up, signaling that I was ready.
“Okay, then, what time does dinner and breakfast start?”
Another pause from the man and he seemed to realize that he had a job to do. He picked a few keys from the rack behind him and moved around a wall to the little door, joining me in the foyer and starting up the stairs, where I followed.
“Dinner orders start from 6 and breakfast is at 8. Though it is pretty simple. There is a better cafe up the street to be honest.” The stairs leveled off and a long hallway with an old faded red carpet began. I followed him, casually looking into a few rooms that had doors open for the cleaning service.
“That’s fine, I’m a pretty simple girl.”
He grunted and stopped at a room on his left, opening it to show a single plain bed with a small ensuite and a window that stared out over the water and harbor. Perfect.
I turned and gave a thumbs up to him standing in the doorway and he tossed me the room key.
“Right, enjoy your stay then, if you need anything, someone is always downstairs, but the office shuts with last call around 1 am.”
I gave him another wide smile as he was leaving and shut the door behind him calling out.
“I’ll be down for dinner!”
As soon as the door closed, I let the smile go. That should start something among the locals. If anyone in a small town would be the gossipmonger, it would be the main barman. He looked at me like he might have recognized something, but I had to let this go slow and let them work it out themselves.
The room was small, but enough for one person, and after looking it over, I was satisfied that there was only the door and the window to come in, and it was a straight drop to the ground below. The window stuck a little, but eventually opened with some force and I leaned out to look at the harbor. The fleet of fishing boats had finished coming in and were in the process of being cleaned and unloaded.
A car horn blared on the street and I looked down the main little square I had just walked across. Three luxury black sedans rolled down the little Welsh cobble street, obviously out of place in the little village. I snorted to myself. It seemed no matter where in the world you went, there were douchebags in every corner of the globe.
The cars briefly stopped in front of the entrance to the fishing piers and a man in overalls waiting on the docks quickly entered the first car on the far side. They then continued to rumble down the road and around the corner out of sight. I sat down on the bed, satisfied that the room provided enough of a view both up and down the street and across the water.
Outside, the ferry that crossed the strait to South Ireland sounded it’s horn, signaling it was about to depart, and I laid back on the bed to close my eyes and listen to the sounds of a working harbor.
A man’s voice shouted out on the street and I bolted up and rubbed my eyes. The window was now dark and I squinted at my watch again. Close your eyes for a second, and wake up two hours later. I rubbed my face awake and looked out the window. The pub downstairs seemed like it was moderately full, judging by the lights and sounds coming from below.
Better get this over with for tonight.
Digging in my pack, I spritzed some lavender perfume, shook out my wavy hair, and locked the door behind me. The hallway was silent and the faint sound of laughter and music was reverberating up through the red faded carpet. At the bottom of the stairs, the main bar on my left showed a moderately full room. I scanned some of them, looking mostly like blue-collar workers, some farmers maybe, as well as fishermen. A few of them gave me the eye before I went to the front desk, ringing the little bell. From the bar, I overheard a few whispers in my direction, but stoically looked straight ahead, and a few moments later the old man was in front of me again.
“What’ll it be?”
“Just a burger and whatever house red you have open, please. Can you just put it on my card?”
He nodded and wrote the order on a little note pad, pulled out from his pocket.
“Where will you be?”
Pointing to the empty dining area opposite the main bar,
“Just in here.”
He nodded again and gave me a small smile. “Will be about ten minutes.”
“Thanks,” and I ignored the few whispers paired with more curious eyes and moved into the empty dining area. With as much casualness as I could muster, I sat and pulled out my phone, scrolling through the pictures of my recent trip to London. All typical tourist pictures, the Eye, Big Ben, Tower bridge. All showing my face and goofy poses. Perfectly poised for the purpose of showing a good time I never got to experience.
I scrolled down to the only ones I was particularly interested in, the botanical gardens, and spent some time looking through the various flowers and plants. God I missed Franny’s garden. At this time in late April, the showers might have started and things were starting to soak it up. The Coven would start clearing the forest paths, and all the roots in the Winter undergrowth would be peeking through. The younger kids and teens would be getting cabin fever and braving the thaw of the Columbia to swim in the commune’s little sheltered grotto. I sighed, yes, I definitely missed the commune land.
A burger and glass of wine were suddenly placed on the table in front of me and I looked up to see the young perv from before giving me a grin.
“One plain hamburger and the best Merlot we have.” He pointed his thumb behind him to the corner, “cutlery and condiments are over there if you like. Anything else?”
Spying the napkins he was speaking of, “Nope. Great, thanks. “
I looked down at the burger and snagged a fry. The man didn’t move and after a moment I looked back up to him expectantly.
“You just here to catch the ferry out?”
I gave him a small smile,
His eyebrows furrowed.
“Ya sight seeing then?”
I puzzled my face as if the notion hadn’t ever occurred to me before.
“I guess I’ll see some sights, yes.”
His face got even more confused and I added a clipped, “Well. Thanks for the burger,” effectively ending our conversation. Taking the hint, he turned around and walked back to the main bar while I kept my eyes forward, looking out the small window onto the street.
A few more men passed by the window and I heard them enter the pub, going into the main bar. Some whispers about a redhead reached my sensitive ears, but I dutifully ignored them. Letting people see me was the goal for tonight. Nothing else.
Taking my time with the Merlot after I had eaten, I drained the last two mouthfuls and started back up the stairs catching a glimpse of some of the men in the bar eyeing me appreciatively. Hearing my name whispered once by someone with a deep voice was a surprise, but I guessed the old barman spread the word fast in such a small town.
I should have been annoyed at the lack of client privacy, maybe even scared that my Passport might not be safe in his lockbox. But as I closed the door to my room, all I could do was smile at how fast rumors spread in a small town, this was going to be so easy.