Welsh Post Bus, Aberystwyth
So much of Wales' beauty and rich history lies in its quiet rural areas. Picture the scenery: A ruined 13th-century castle, one of 641 in Wales, suddenly appears alongside a country road; round a bend and a quiet lane suddenly reveals the sea below; the tiny border town of Hay-on-Wye's vast array ofsecond hand bookshops.
Travel down a country road in the south, and suddenly Corn Du and Pen y Fan, the tallest mountains in the Brecon Beacons, appear on the horizon, their summits trimmed with snow. Travel to the east, and see the Gothic windows of Tintern Abbey frame leaves in vivid shades of green. In the north, travel by train on Britain's only public rack and pinion railway up Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales.
One easy way to explore Wales' byways and hidden treasures is to rent a car. For visitors who don't want to drive, however, there are abundant options for exploring the quiet corners of our country. Wales' public transportation system makes it possible to visit even the most remote landmark.
Traveline, lets you plan and book your entire car-free journey online, well in advance. It includes full schedules for our inter-city buses and trains, and even provides walking maps to help you get to and from the stations on your route. If you are solely interested in riding the rails, the National Rail gives you full access to timetables and lets you reserve tickets and seats online. Travelers under 25, seniors, and families traveling together can purchase Railcards, offering 30% discounts. British Rail also lets you plan and book travel, including Airport Express Transfers, and even organized day tours online. But if you really want to get off the beaten path, board the Postbus.
At 7:30 a.m., four mornings a week, Richard Howells loads the mail into his bright red, 10-seat Royal Mail Postbus, in the quiet seaside town of Aberystwyth, and sets out into the countryside. He is often joined by visitors from all over the world, who pay about 3 pounds, 50 pence (approx. $7USD) to ride along with him, as he delivers the mail. Along the way, he also picks up local people, who need a lift into town to do their shopping. The locals love to chat with the visitors, who also enjoy listening to them speak Welsh with one another. Everyone has a good time.
"I've lived here all my life," Howells says. "It's quite rural and very scenic. Visitors can see really beautiful places on my routes-lovely valleys." Depending on which of the three local routes he covers, Howells may drop visitors at Devil's Bridge, where they can walk to a waterfall and even have a picnic, before he picks them up in the afternoon.
Others disembark to visit the Rheidol Hydro Electric Power Station, with its complete information center. Sometimes he even waits for passengers to do a little exploring. "I stop for 10 minutes and give them a chance to walk through the old lead mine. They can walk past the derelict houses. It's quite pretty," Howells says. "I'm not a tour guide, but if they ask questions, I try to give them good answers."
There are 15 different Postbus routes in Wales, serving some of the most remote, and loveliest, areas of the country. Postbuses are based in such popular, but somewhat off-the-beaten path towns as Llandrindod Wells, a Victorian Spa town in the east; Welshpool (home to Powis Castle) in mid-Wales; and Aberystwyth on the west coast, overlooking Cardigan Bay. The Welsh routes cover more than 8,000 miles, and carry some 2,000 passengers a year. Two years ago, the Royal Mail launched a new Postbus route, running from the market town of Brecon to Talgarth, in the region of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Many visitors start at the Post Office, early in the morning, but it is also possible to hail a Postbus anywhere along its route. The routes are loops, into the countryside to deliver the mail in the morning and back to town. The driver goes out again in the afternoon to collect the mail, once more returning to the post office. For many local residents, the Postbus is their only way to get to shops, and schools, and to see the doctor. For tourists it is an inexpensive and fun way to explore out-of-the-way places, and make new friends. Just ask Richard Howells. He now has friends all over the world.
Main photo, Britain on View © 2007; Left and middle small photos, Crown © 2007; photo on right, Courtesy of Royal Mail Postbus