When July comes around I look forward to the local jazz festival which, happening just yards from home, is very convenient for dipping in and out of. I like the idea of lazy summer afternoons and balmy evenings spent sitting in the Town Hall square, supping ale while jazz fills the air, captivating unconverted passers-by and wafting over the encircling traffic. The problem, of course, is that the weather doesn't always oblige. Even in late July the square can be a wet and windy place and a retreat to the shelter of the marquee means the music has to compete with the sound of rain beating down on canvas.
This year there's a heatwave, which is good for all concerned except, unfortunately, me. A conflict of interests exists, since my partner and I agreed to pre-allocate any spells of fine weather to our "let's walk the Wales Coast Path" project, begun a few weeks ago. So, I had just time to catch an opening gig before loading up the campervan to head west over the hills towards Aberdovey. A deal is a deal - and besides, I have invested in expensive, state-of-the-art hiking sandals.
We walked two days, during which we were mostly alone. On Day One we met only one other person - a man employed to keep the path clear of undergrowth. On Day Two, where the path goes by Aberystwyth, we were joined on stretches by dog-walkers (several of whom were carrying their exhausted, heat-stricken pets) and by a few casual strollers. Only one 'serious' hiker came by - a chap who was raising money for a charity by walking not only the coast but also the inland border of Wales. I am now worried that, having spent a considerable sum on establishing the path, the authorities may follow up with a cost/benefit analysis of their investment - perhaps by using drones to spot walkers. If they do they might conclude that it's not really worthwhile spending more money on maintenance.
But if people were thin on the ground, there was an abundance of butterflies - mostly brown ones with geometrical patterns of red splashes on their wings - and judging from their playful, skittering duets it appeared to be their time of courtship. They fluttered so effortlessly around us that our own progress felt sweaty and cumbersome in comparison.
Coastal walking has its hazards. When the July sky is clear, for example, precautions must be taken against sunburn and over-heating. Having only just regrown the skin on my forearms, which had been burned off on the first outing, I made sure this time that they were smothered in factor 30. Another, less obvious problem is ankle-strain: the terrain inevitably slopes in one direction - towards the sea - and this eventually takes a toll on the joints and muscles. After enduring two such days of lopsided walking I devised a plan to compensate for the effect: in future, walk each consecutive stretch in opposite directions. This will require complicated logistical planning but should be effective.
On the evening of Day Two, while soothing my ankles with a glass of Valpolicella, I took a phone call from my pal back at home asking if I would join him for an impromptu beer-and-jazz session. "I'm in a field in Wales," I said, trying but failing to put a gloss on it.
Tootling home on Day Three, fantasising about finding an artisan bakery, a deli and a perfect spot for a picnic, we turned hopefully into the "Historic Market Town" of Llanidloes and were delighted to find that it is indeed an oasis of wholefood retailing. We joyfully stocked our larder and later, while picnicking among the isolated, romantic ruins of Dolforwyn Castle, I kicked off my sandals. I had not noticed them before but there, on the top of each foot, were geometrical patterns of red splashes.