Wales. More Celtic Wandering

Wales, beautiful, wild, celtic Wales. I’ve always had a predilection for the western celtic lands: visiting coastal Wales helped fill in the celtic jigsaw that is never far from my consciousness. Scotland in the north and its Hebridean islands, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and Galicia, old kingdoms fringing the same sea, facing the same way, turning their backs on the rest of Britain, France and Spain, each with their own version of Gaelic and, along with it, a cultural independence and a certain defiance.

Map courtesy of National Geographic Society and included because I love a good map. Take me to the dark green bits. You can keep the rest.

Driving from Aberystwyth, we stopped at the black stone village of  Dolgellau for lunch. The town is pronounced Doll Geth Lie or Doll Geth Lee or Doll Geth Lai, depending on whose Welsh grandmother you listen to and noting that the’ ll’ sound is made by putting your tongue in the roof of your mouth as if you are going to say an L then blowing. And then on past towns with interesting cat and dog sounds, Porthmadog and Ffestiniog, past more maddening street signs designed to keep our mouths working in unaccustomed ways, on past the quarrier’s village, Rhiwddolion, a place surrounded by mountains of slabbed slate glistening in the late afternoon sun showers, with enough slate to pave and roof the world. Our final destination was Llandudno by the sea, not so far if you drive in a straight line but we have a tendency to get distracted. ETA, what’s that?

I’m including this little beginner’s guide to Welsh because the language sounds so nice and because the presenter is so charming.

Wales is a ruggedly beautiful place, with more open farming district, and mountainous forested areas, with the highest mountain in Britain outside Scotland, Snowdonia ( Yr Wyddfa) and a much lower population density than Britain. Each village and town beckoned, dark villages made of dolomite and slate, brave working villages and some more stately.

In this part of Wales, you get a sense of ‘other’, in contrast to the picturesque villages of the border where black and white houses and inns lean precariously onto the road and into each other, those Welsh towns like the book village of Hay- on- Wye, closer to the English border districts near Hereford.

The Llandudno pier. Punch and Judy show?
Bandstand on the Parade, Pier in the distance. Llandudno, Wales

Llandudno is a seaside resort dominated by a long and wide promenade with an arc of Georgian and Victorian guesthouses facing a gentle bay. It was given the title of ‘ Queen of the Welsh Resorts,’ in 1864.  For the Australian visitor 150 years later, it is an astonishing sight. Not much has changed from those earlier times. You get the feeling that older folk come here to ‘take the sea air’ or stroll out for a cup of tea. There’s a tram ride to the top of Great Orme, a prominent limestone headland, built in the 1903. I am sure people swim here sometimes too, but we saw no evidence of that, despite it being summer and late August. The guesthouses were all full and the restaurants well patronised. Nice to visit once perhaps, just for the audacity of that big parade. I hope to return to Wales, but have a preference for her wilder, wet and darker stone places.

Saving the planet. Wind farm off the bay at Llandudno.
Walking the parade, early morning, Llandudno.

Thanks to all those readers who offered information and links to Welsh scrabble last week. The links to these may be found in the comments page of my last post on Aberystwth.

31 thoughts on “Wales. More Celtic Wandering”

  1. Wonderful post and methinks I have the ‘LL’ sound right now: what a fun ‘lesson’ ! I have ‘learnt’ a lot about Wales watching the ‘Escape to the Country’ series on TV: if someone from England wants to move over, I am driving along the country lanes and peeking into local houses with them. On a different note – I have completed quite a few years of ‘religious studies’ . . . . it is firmly believed that many secrets behind Christianity are still in hiding in all the parts you have marked darker green, right from Galicia to Scotland . . .

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    1. I’m glad you liked that map too Liz. I hope you enjoy Scotland- it has so much to see. We are currently staying for a week on the Isle of Skye in the most gorgeous cottage I have ever stayed in. Skye needs lots of time to enjoy its wonder- especially walks as these are weather dependent. Here’s a link to the most beautiful accommodation in the world in case you go there, http://www.tidalcottage.co.uk/

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  2. We loved our short visit to Wales and hope to return one day. We are drawn to the more rural ‘dark’ areas too. We will be in Ireland in early October. Enjoying your travels Francesca. xx

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    1. Hell Ardys, how lucky are you heading off to Ireland. I’m a bit annoyed that it’s not on the trip this time- Stuart’s Scottish heritage seems to come to the fore when we are over here. Now in the Isle of Skye and couldn’t be happier. So beautiful.

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      1. Oh! Thanks Francesca, now my English sibilant is exactly the same in Welsh – they must of invented the word. Found the dentures hidden in my uwd. Ewch â fi â dail criw.

        The Welsh language is as complicated as the 300 Aboriginal language groups of this country – but they survive!! Let’s all make an effort to learn just one of those to appreciate our brothers’ & sisters’ land, spirit, lore, culture, dreamtime, tradition, bush-tucker/medicine and songlines and respect where we are and live. Cultures are all endemic and profound – embrace them all and learn from them. Thanks to you Francesca – you are bringing this to our “western” attention and giving us awareness.
        More please.
        Love and safe travels to you and Mr T

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        1. I must admit, I know very little of our indigenous language. I guess if it’s not spoken in the districts you live in, you don’t get to hear it. Though I was very taken with seasonal terms- so many seasons in the tribal owners of NT- when I was there last, which are more descriptive and accurate. I also love the dreamtime legends, in English, and as a bush lover given to natural spirituality, relate to them very well.
          It’s the same with the numerous Italian dialects- many of these will die out slowly if the children don’t learn them.

          Oddly, as English grows and absorbs and adds new words, just as many old words disappear and some of them are wonderful terms for nature.

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          1. We “more mature” Victorians used phrases like ” Chuck a yonnie” as kids and we did – onto the roofs of our elderly neighbours! How threatened and frightened they must have felt – no phones – no cars – often no electricity – no close neighbours. In addition we took the liberty of raiding their plum and citrus trees and veggie patches after dark. We are still Aussie larrikins and should always be, but now technology has made us aware of how to portray the good, bad and absolute evil. No dark side us us oldies – me thinks. Too busy enjoying our past blessed with future plans.

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  3. The map is terrific. My heritage is Dutch/Scotch-Irish, and I would LOVE to visit Scotland, Ireland, and Wales at some point before I die. While I’m half Dutch, I wish I could claim to be entirely Scotch-Irish! Love the video with the Welsh lesson. Now, if you could just pass the toffee apple pie through the screen, you will make my day.

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    1. That toffee apple pie was a beauty. I think if you identify with your Celtic heritage more, then you can claim it. My Celtic roots, only around one quarter, always seem to be stronger, especially when I’m here.

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  4. Wonderful post, Francesca and lovely photos. I like the brooding colours of the landscape. I get so homesick for the sound of the sea drawing back over a pebbly beach. I really enjoy the Welsh accent. I had a Welsh Aunt and i still remember her voice. Enjoy your perambulations – don’t you love the old pubs!

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    1. The old pubs are hard to resist, especially the little ones with nooks and crannies. The weather here is suitably cold now- we are on Skye now. Thinking cullen skink, pasta bakes, anything with smoked fish and leeks. so much for Scottish summer.
      Pebble beach sounds are quite different from the Aussie white sand thing. A lovely sound you have conjured well. And the voice memories-sound is such a haunting sense.

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  5. Well, we personally preferred Tenby in the South as a place at the sea when being there 3 years ago (Llandudno a bit too English to be honest). I remember one curious matter, because people were speaking of really very very hot temperatures in the range of 24-25° Celsius (?!).

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  6. Great to hear about someone exploring the wilder parts of Wales.
    I grew up by Hay, which is a culture in itself – try fighting through the streets at the festival then visiting in February!- but the far West and North really give you that sense of /other/ that a short trip through the more Anglicised towns doesn’t show the casual visitor. Slate and sea with a side of hiraeth.

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