Sunday, 5 July 2009

It's Saturday. Ok, We'll Go Down To Cardiff.

It's not far, only about 20 miles, shouldn't take long should it? And there are options, drive for instance. We don't run a car for numerous reasons I won't go into, but it does allow me to go all greener than thou every now and then and we save a lot of money! So we don't drive. By far the best means of transport from Aberdare is the Train, In fact the first station out of Aberdare is a ten minute walk straight downhill from where we live, incredibly convenient and a cheap day return is about £5.00, a real bargain, if you are lucky and the signals are with you and there hasn't been an outbreak of random vandalism, you are there in less than an hour. The other alternative is the bus.

I understand that the fare on the bus is somewhere close to £8.00 return, which is why most people go for the faster and more comfortable option of the train. Now I expel a deep sigh, Sarah has a free bus pass because she has a disability and because she cannot possibly travel alone her free bus pass allows her companion to travel free as well. So, when Sarah and I go out we travel by bus. We don't long journeys very often, she is at the Day Centre most days during the week, buses are hard to find on a Sundays, so Saturday is our more distant travel day and Cardiff is where Sarah likes to go.

So yesterday we went to Cardiff, for free, on the bus. I know, it's free and I should be grateful, I try to be, honestly I do! First we have to get to Aberdare. The bus stop only a few yards from our front door and there are 4 every hour, this bit is fairly simple depending on Sarah's frame of mind, fortunately yesterday it was good, she had her new camera with her and was set to photograph the day. This is just a 10 to 15 min ride, we are at the bus station in no time. The bus for Cardiff is waiting for it's moment to come into the empty bay and there is a bit of a scrum developing of passengers all wanting to be first on. It is a full size bus, this lot are not going to even half fill it, but the blue rinse brigade are out in force and determined not to be beaten to first place, the bus pulls in and they struggle on one by one and occupy all the seats toward the front, the old chaps are the next, they always go for the middle section and a few climb up the couple of steps to the elevated section at the back. Ah, the back of the bus, where all the rebellious types hang out, and where we always end up because Sarah likes sitting at the back, she likes to be able to see everyone, actually, to be precise, she sits at the very back but I have to sit in front of her, she like to give the impression that she is traveling alone, although I spend half the journey looking back answering questions. It is worth noting at this point that hardly anyone has parted with any cash to board this bus, a good 75% of passengers have got a free pass of some sort. The remaining paying customers are an assortment of teenagers and the odd mother and child. There is little or no room on this bus for pushchairs and the like, though some do struggle on, I don't envy them.

And we are off, winding our way up and down the very narrow roads that lead through Abercwmboi, Mountain Ash, Penrhiewcieber, an area mysteriously called The Tynte, Bryncynon then Abercynon on the way to Ponypridd. When they built these endless terraces nobody had any idea that every single house was going to own a car, some even two, and there is no room for garages and drives here, front doors open onto the street, and terraces don't have many gaps in them! So we have cars parked down both sides of the road and we're in the biggest bus it is possible to have here in the valleys. Bus stops are difficult to locate, and people get on and off the bus at the most convenient places for them, this is all very confusing for a Londoner like me, accustomed to London Transport, it wouldn't occur to you to ask the No31 to stop at the end of your street, or even outside your front door which happens regularly here, all very confusing. So progress is slow, very very slow.

There is a particularly bendy bit of road on a hill coming out of Penrhiewcieber and going up towards The Tynte, cars parked right round the bend on the other side of the road, and a barrier to stop you dropping on the the pavement on the left, so there only room for one vehicle to pass at a time. Yesterday as we started going up this hill bending round to the right and then the left with a few cars following, we were faced head on by a similar bus with only a couple of cars following coming down the hill. there were no parked cars to hinder progress further up the hill as the road is too narrow and has no houses anyway, so the difficult job of reversing a bloody great bus back up a hill on a sharp bend, preceded by the reversing cars began and it took a bit of time mainly because of traffic coming down the hill meeting traffic coming up the hill backwards apparently being followed by the back end of a bus. Brakes on and both driver now in the road weighing up the situation, older chap driving downward bus looks thoroughly cheesed off, younger chap driving our upward bound bus has something of a determined look in his eye, like this is not going to beat him. Passengers all mutter encouragement as he climbs back into the cab. A the bit of precision driving on his behalf and we have squeezed through the obstacles and are on our way to spontaneous applause from passengers and grateful toot toots from waiting car drivers and the extraordinary Welsh calls of "Well done Drive" since all bus drivers in Wales are mysteriously called Drive.

So up the hill, along another windy narrow street stopping for passengers getting on or off and we are in Abercynon where we descend an almost vertical hill with a sharp left into a hairpin followed by a sharp right onto a single lane iron bridge across a very rocky and fast flowing River Cynon which is a long way underneath us on its way to meet the River Taff at a very turbulent confluence you catch a glimpse of whilst rounding the previous hairpin bend. A couple more tight corners and we are on normal roads where traffic can go in two directions on the same stretch, and everybody's blood pressure returns to normal. It is downhill all the way through Abercynon, doing it on a bus is akin to being on a roller coaster with the risk of it becoming a log flume at the end. And now we are out of the Cynon Valley and on our way to Pontypridd. We've been on this bus for over an hour so far. Distance wise, we are a little less than half way to Cardiff, nerves are pretty much shattered but we are still alive. We are finally on the A470, we come off of it to go into Ponty bus station then get straight back on it again and don't stop until we get to Cardiff, this bit only takes 25 minutes, traffic willing.

In Cardiff we do whatever we need to do, this week it was taking photographs, have some late lunch and then catch the bus home, yes the whole damn journey in reverse, although Abercynon is a lot less exciting going uphill, the smell of overheating engine is a bit of a worry sometimes. It is quite a relief to get on our little local bus service home. Needless to say, I am completely shattered by the time I get in and vow that next time we are going on the train, until next time comes along and Sarah wants to go on the bus and I think, well, it doesn't cost anything, and I say "Yeah, alright, Cardiff it is. Got your pass?"

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