It’s a bittersweet time as I sit at the dining table of our holiday rental in a secluded area of the South Wales coastline, not far from the city of St. David’s. It’s Easter Sunday and we’ve just got back from a very wet and windy walk around the headland.
The reason we’ve come to the area, aside from it being a beautiful part of the world, is we’re going to visit one of my bucket list places later in the week, the island of Skomer. It may be one of the more obscure places to want to visit whilst I still have useful vision but to see the puffins, guillemots and cormorants in a virtually unspoilt natural environment is something that has always appealed to me.
This part of Pembrokeshire is somewhere I’ve visited for years, ever since meeting my wife, Kath in 2001. We would drive down at least two or three times a year to visit her family until about 5 years ago when her grandparents passed away and her parents moved north.
The drive down is so familiar – the views over the estuary as we cross the Severn Bridge, stopping for a coffee at Magor or Cardiff Gate and then a quick pitstop at Pont Abraham, coming down the long hill into Carmarthen and then overtaking as many trucks, coaches and caravans before the dual carriageway comes to an end at St Clears. The difference being that this time I’m sat beside Kath, who is driving, and trying desperately hard not to be too much of a passenger seat driver.
I started my bucket list (I really hate that term) shortly after my Cone Dystrophy diagnosis and it includes places as far and wide as Machu Pichu, watching a sunset from a deserted tropical beach, Ironbridge and, of course, Skomer. We visited Ironbridge Gorge earlier in the year and it was fascinating to see this immense structure that was at the forefront of engineering construction, paving the way for future bridge design worldwide.
With Ironbridge being at the forefront of technology, Skomer is the direct opposite, an unspoilt island off the coast of South-West Wales and home to rare sea birds. Visiting the island is by no means guaranteed, as we found out, with access being via small fishing boats landing at a rocky outcrop at the bottom of a cliff, meaning you are very much at the mercy of the weather. Our tickets had been booked for months but, even though we woke up to glorious blue sky and still waters on the northern tip of St Bride’s Bay, the circumstances on the opposite side were very different and we were regretfully informed that our trip had to be cancelled.
Although disappointing, it wasn’t the end of the world. Instead, our party set off across the headland in glorious sunshine to the next town of Solva. I’ve always found walking to be a great escape and, as it is something I can still do independently, it continues to bring much pleasure. Not to say there aren’t challenges, especially when walking along an open cliff top with a sheer 100 foot drop to waves crashing on jagged rocks below, but what’s life without a bit of life-threatening danger every so often, eh?
This, dazzling sunlight and a well-worn cane tip snagging on rabbit holes did make for an interesting walk – especially for those walking with me!
And this brings me on to the other point with my sight-loss, the reliance on others. As we grow older it is inevitable that we become more dependant on others, especially as we reach our 70s, 80s or 90s. But, at 42 years old, to be dependant on your best friend of 20 years to point out steps, roots and rocks so I don’t trip is a bitter pill to swallow. This may seem ungrateful, it isn’t, words can’t describe how grateful I am to Beth for this and I know she is proud to do it, but the constant internal anguish will always be there.
It’s bad enough having to rely on my wife, brothers and sisters, parents and friends, but that feeling is nothing compared to the anguish I have when my children see me at my most vulnerable. Whether it’s my eldest being my guide on a woodland walk or when crossing a busy road or my 9 year old automatically taking my cane as I hold the arm of a railway station assistant to board a train.
As parents, there is the natural instinct to protect our children and so for these roles to be reversed at such a young age is something I will never get used to.
Don’t get me wrong, I am immensely proud of their resilience, but I simply wish more than anything that they didn’t have to. Of course, this type of thinking is a slippery slope and as much as I have these regrets, I accept that there is nothing that can be done about it and so am simply grateful for how lucky I am to have two amazing kids.
When I first started writing this the intention was to be able to disclose the emotion of ticking off such an important bucket list location. Sadly that wasn’t to be, but it just gives us one more excuse to return to this beautiful part of the world and in the meantime I’ll simply carry on accepting and adjusting to the way things must now be.
I could leave it there, but I just can’t end on such a melancholy note so I will leave you with this thought – As I sit here drinking my morning cup of tea, I wonder just how far one blind bloke can walk (with a bit of help)? Furthermore, while I’m doing it, wouldn’t it be wonderful to meet other blind people and hear their stories and perhaps even tell my own…
That’s an adventure for another day, but until then, I bid you farewell.