The Perfect Ending
“I think I’m having a senior fart, I can’t remember the name of the place where we stayed the first night,” pipes up Em as we drive north along the coast.
“A senior fart? Should you be rolling down the window? Do you need a wipe? I think you mean either a senior moment or a brain fart, but a senior fart…that’s a stop at the pharmacy for a pack of Depends,” I told her as Mary and I laughed.
Emily joined the convent when she was seventeen, the summer after she graduated from high school. Five years later, she left for the Congo, in central Africa, and she’s been there ever since, about forty five years now. While she does speak “American” she misses a lot of the slang and gets a little confused, which is excellent fodder for the constant teasing we subject each other to. Once she called me a “dorfus.”
“Do you mean doofus or dork?” I asked, laughing.
“Well, I mean dorfus. Doofus and dork are made up words, why can’t I make up dorfus?”
A good argument and I conceded her point.
I taught her the word “chillax”, which in retrospect I wish I hadn’t, since she must have told me to chillax at least a dozen times during our trip, and I had flashbacks of Roberto telling me not to be “all United States.” She even threw in some "whatevers" from time to time. Good thing I love her so much.
We were heading up to Wales, with stops on the way at Port Isaac and Tintagel. Port Isaac is a tiny coastal town where the BBC series “Doc Martin” was filmed. Mary and I loved this series and the stunning scenery on the show was actually the initial impetus which led us to pick Cornwall as our meeting spot for the sister trip we take every two years for Em’s vacation. We walked all over the picturesque town, taking photos of all the buildings we recognized, having some tea while it rained a bit, then heading further up the coast to Tintagel.
King Arthur’s castle was said to be the ruins found at Tintagel (tin-tadge-el) and it was high on my list of must-see’s while in England. While it had stopped raining, it was still very cloudy and windy, and the sea was pounding against the rocky cliffs on which the castle is so precariously perched. I could see why the legend of King Arthur clung to this place, it reeked of magic and majesty.
After climbing all over the site and taking dozens more pictures, we continued north and east, heading inland to Clearwell, a small town on the edge of Wales, near Monmouth. We would be here four days, in a beautiful white, stone two bedroom home on a tiny lane outside the tiny town. From this location, we would explore the Roman Fort at Caerwent, the Brecon Beacons, Abergavenny, and the Wye River Valley. Tintern Abbey was a particular favorite, with something precious about the crumbling cathedral, with grass and wildflowers as its floor.
The first day we decided to take a long walk along the Wye River Valley and went into Monmouth to the Visitor’s center to get a better idea of the track to take. We were given our directions and headed out of town to the starting point across the Wye. It was a beautiful walk right next to the slow moving river, through fields of sheep and cows, woods and fields of wildflowers. Along the way, after five days of walking all over Cornwall with Mary, Em and I discovered some disturbing news about her.
“You’re real quiet Mary, are you enjoying this walk?”
“It’s OK, at least it’s flat,” she responded unenthusiastically to my question. “I just hate those hills.”
“Well, do you like walking?”
“No, not really, not aimless walking.”
“Aimless walking?! The aim is to see the scenery and enjoy being outside.”
“It’s aimless, I don’t like it much, I can see scenery from the car.”
“Emily”, I shouted back to her, “Mary thinks we’re walking aimlessly and she doesn’t like it.”
We knew she didn’t enjoy it quite as much as we did, but we had no idea until now how much she actively disliked it. We were a bit horrified, and felt bad for dragging her around.
“Why didn’t you say something before now?”
“Well, I knew you both liked it and I do want to see stuff. I liked walking on the coast, that wasn’t aimless, or to a castle or something.”
Our turnaround point was a small town on the River, but we weren’t sure exactly where to go if we wanted to do a circle and not retrace our steps, so we went into a small store to get water and information. We were given two choices; the first, along the opposite side of the river, which would be very close to retracing steps, since the river was not too wide. The other option was a walk to an overlook of the town of Monmouth.
“Mary, you decide, since you don’t like to walk.”
“Which is more direct?”
“The clerk said the overlook walk is more direct.”
“Let’s do that.”
We rested on some park benches and finished our waters and snacks, then took off, following the directions from the clerk.
We walked through the town looking for a Chiropractor’s Office, the path started just behind this office. We got to the building, walked all around it but couldn’t see markers or anything that looked like a path.
“Brooke, go ask in the Office, see if they know where the path is.”
“Why don’t you guys ever ask people stuff?”
“You’re so much better at it, it doesn’t seem to bother you at all.”
I went into the waiting room and asked the patient sitting there.
“I don’t actually live here, but if you wait, the doc’ll be out and he can probably tell you,” which is exactly what happened.
“Go up the road right here, past the Equestrian center then make sure you stick to the right hand path, not the left.”
“Thanks so much,” we all chimed in, as we started up the steep road behind the office.
We passed homes with lovely small gardens, then onto a dirt road into the woods, which then opened up into fields. It was a gorgeous walk, but every step of it was up. Mary was looking around at first, but then put her head down, trudging along. Every time we went around a corner and saw the road continuing to rise, we would hear Mary saying, “Oh my God, more uphill?!”
“It can’t be much farther up Mary, look, it levels out up there.”
But then it would only be level for a few hundred yards before the path started rising into the hills again. We steadily climbed through horse, cow and sheep filled pastures, past farms, through woods, walking for almost an hour. Emily and I felt horrible and kept checking on Mary, who was not too happy with us at this point. To make matters worse, Mary hates being out in the sun, and it was blazing strong. We’d left the mists of the coast behind us.
“I’m fine,” she’d grumble as we trudged along and Em and I tried to distract her with stories.
We finally got to a paved road and a sign that said “The Kymin Overlook.” As we walked a little farther uphill to the benches at the overlook, Mary saw a parking lot, people driving in and parking.
“You can DRIVE up here? Did you know we could have just DRIVEN up here?” she said to us accusingly.
“Well no,” we confessed, “But Mary, you chose to come this way. We were both surprised you chose the overlook route, overlooks are usually at the tops of hills.”
She was really pissed now. “I didn’t know I chose the hilly way, I thought I chose the short way, I thought I chose the way along the river.”
“We should have been more clear, we just figured you knew. But isn’t it beautiful, aren’t you glad you did it, now that it’s over?”
“NO! I’m not glad, I would have been glad to DRIVE up here and see this. I’m going to lose some toenails, I can feel it.”
That was the last of our aimless walks. Every one we took from that point on had a specific distance and purpose.
After our days of sight seeing and day tripping, we loved returning to our little home on the lane, and spent the evenings working on puzzles, playing cards, or watching the few movies that came with the house. We happened to catch market day in town and bought some used DVD’s for one pound each, and watched those too.
We headed back to London the day before our morning flight, arriving at the airport hotel so early that we decided to take a train into the city and see the Churchill Museum and walk around. It was so crowded that we had to walk single file down the streets, and after our Museum visit and a brief walk by Big Ben and the Thames, we headed back to the hotel.
We were all flying back on the same flight together, the perfect way to end my year of independence, in a sister sandwich smothered with love.