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.

Catering for a Celtic Birthday Party

I was tempted to call this post,”Let the Winds Blow High”, as most of the ‘lads’ were keen to get kilted up for the Celtic birthday party.  Prior to the event, there was much talk about free- balling it, always a wonderful tease for the ladies. Sadly these were vain threats, tales “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. There were no Bravehearts on the day.

Getting kilted up.
Getting kilted up. Promises, Promises!

The anticipation of a themed party is as much fun as the event itself. The opportunity shops ( charity shops) were thoroughly scoured in the weeks leading up to the party, in search of kilts, tartan cloth, scarves and rugs, green clothing, Celtic knotted jewellery, Scottish bonnets and hats, and anything quirkily Celtic. It’s amazing what you can find. I wanted to come as Grace O’Malley ( Gráinne Ní Mháille ),¹ my Irish heroine, or wear a T-shirt printed with the label, “If lost, return to Jamie Fraser”, but the latter, with its Outlander reference, would have been lost on all the other party goers.

Irish Yoga
Irish Yoga T- shirt.

Our Celtic party happily coincided with the weeks leading up to St Patrick’s Day so the local $2 shops provided green kitsch galore. Online shops are a great source for Scottish flags and hanging four leaf clover strings. And red wigs were popular too.

Lassie draped in Scottish flag

Decor and dress ups were the easy part of the theme. The finger food proved far more difficult, especially given the balmy afternoon, the lack of good cooking facilities, and the general preference for Celtic style drinking on the day. I had planned to cook up some local Mt Martha mussels and stuff them with spinach, cheese and crumbs as my token nod to Brittany, but the day just disappeared. The Cornish Celts were represented with some mini Cornish pasties that I made before the event, based on this recipe. Other finger foods came in the form of sausage rolls and filled pastries. My sister whipped up some potato pancakes topped with smoked salmon, a fitting cross -Celtic food. Green coloured cocktails were popular, say no more!

Picture file below can be opened separately for a costume and decor guide to a Celtic themed party.