One of the things about traveling with someone else, anyone else; is that they may have strong memories of having been there before--without you. Sometimes this is engaging and you squint to imagine this person you're looking at now, being in this place the two of you are standing in; then. Interesting becomes irritating if their previous experience took place with someone they felt very fondly towards who was not their mother. Fortunately Tom has traveled only to the UK with me, some of our offspring and their offspring-- and his friend Joe. Most of our memories are our memories.
Tom and Joe bicycled through the UK after college (a very long time ago). Every now and again he mentions that they passed this way, down this road (Stonehenge, Oxford, Chepstow, Abergavenny) and went to that pub. It wasn't until this autumn that he felt a strange but insistent pull to return to the insular Wye Valley's Symonds Yat, and it wasn't until we missed the turn off the B4432 that he clued me in to why we were driving backwards.
"We're going where?" It's hard to get excited about visiting a place called Yat. It's even harder when you pull in for what the Other Half insists will be a five minute stop, and he has a falling out with the parking meter. It requires coins, we are low on coins and we are in the Middle of Nowhere. Worse, there is a painfully well behaved auto queue behind us of booted hikers who clearly ai m to spend more than five minutes at the Yat, and they do have coins. Since I am driving, I leave Tom to figure it out and drive into the Forest where it turns out the parking lot is not actually very near the parking meter. By the time Tom shows up (he borrowed some coins from someone behind us who thought he had an 'interesting' accent, "You're not from around here, are you?") I am away up the ridge, looking for the promised Wye Valley view.
Symonds Yat lies in England a blink away from Wales. Tom had a bike tire blowout here on that sepia trip which required much bike pushing, a float across the Wye by hand pulled ferry, and a friendly repair on the west side. It's odd, these moments of memory, when you are instantly transported to who you were then. A couple of twenty-one year olds swooping their bikes down the hills through the cool arborage of the Forest of Dean going fast, too fast, and the inevitable rock in the road.
We are on a large rock at Symonds Yat East, on the Gloucestershire side and Tom's ferry took him to Symonds Yat West, which is Herefordshire. It is all very green and sheep friendly, but the woods behind us are vaguely reminiscent of state parks in Missouri, which always seem to carry a faint aura of doom. A sign tells us we might see adders, falcons, deer or dormice and warns us away from the sometimes savage wild boars. We crunch leaves for awhile on a circular forest loop, climb a hill and gain the view. Limestone cliffs carved by the rushing Wye drop down to green valleys and cliff hugging villages. Tom thinks he sees the repair shop that fixed his flat, but surely those middle aged mechanics are today's village ancients.
We have tea at the park cafe and avoid the school children on a forced march who have made it no farther than the cafe picnic tables. The hot tea is good, and we settle on a bench with our feet on a fence overlooking Wales. If we were birders, or horticulturists or photographers or anything other than wow here we are tourists, we would have a focus to our view. But we are resigned to just looking. I am very nearly past being tremendously annoyed at being hijacked to Symonds Yat.
A short bridge hangs over the road to the ferry but it's not until later that we follow its single track to the shore. The ferry is Not In Service after the great winter rains that cause the Wye to rush madly through its channel and flood the verdant valley. Back on the B4432 Tom looks keenly for the very spot his bike tire blew but is not sure if it was after this bend or on that straightaway. Eventually he turns his back on his young self coasting down that hill, headed enthusiastically towards the rest of his life. We emerge into the real world, dodge an oncoming lorry headed for the A40 and carry on.