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Nine Days in Wales, Part Two

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Continued from Part One

As we continued our journey I noticed how things had changed with respect to the Welsh language. In my travels in Wales as a child (circa 1970) Welsh wasn’t respected by the dominant English culture and place names had been Anglicized. For example, Caernarfon was turned into the easier-for-Anglos-to-pronounce Carnarvon, and we Yankee visitors (at least this small one) never knew any better.

Now the names have reverted to their original Welsh spellings. In one seemingly oddball case, yesterday’s Conway has become today’s more Welsh-sounding Conwy, even though the town and castle take the name from someone actually named Conway. But mostly it makes sense, and perhaps the process of re-authentication has given the Welsh at least some sense of redress for past wrongs.

The next day was a busy one. Our ultimate goal was the town of Llandeilo, located at the edge of the scenic Brecon Beacons National Park and, more to the point for us, near Carreg Cennen Castle. But a friend had recommended visiting the Gower Peninsula, on the south coast. There’s a great deal to see there, but we had only a part of the day, so after a snack stop in the seaside town of Mumbles we pressed on to the village of Rhossili. Somewhere in that vicinity I misjudged the speed of a horse in the road and nearly struck its back legs with the front of the car. What a nightmare that would have been.

DSC00748-horse

I don’t think the two photos that follow do Rhossili justice. Like most everywhere else in Wales, it’s covered in grass, which is in turn covered in sheep.

Beach at Rhossili

Beach at Rhossili

The air feels crystal-clean, the water is delicious-looking, the landscape a natural wonder. The famously wet weather is also why the country is so famously green.

Sheep at Rhossili

Sheep at Rhossili

I say “wet weather” but, more precisely, it’s a highly changeable climate – a few minutes after we took these photos a brief rain shower had us drifting back to the parking lot (excuse me, the car park). A local sandwich shop provided our only sample on this trip of Glamorgan sausages, a tasty vegetarian specialty.

We wound our way back through the narrow lanes, hoping we wouldn’t meet coming the other way one of the small tourist buses we’d seen at Rhossili, and headed northward to the far west edge of Brecon Beacons National Park, a scenic and hilly part of mid-Wales where lurks Carreg Cennen Castle.

This landmark may be as difficult to attack today as it was in medieval times. Unlike many of Wales’s best-known castles, Carreg Cennen is situated not in a town but atop a steep, muddy hill reachable (on four wheels) only via a spiderweb of narrow roads, each one of which looks like it’s leading less than nowhere; only our GPS got us there.

This house on the way up the hill made up in charm what it lacked in explanation:

House near Carreg Cennen Castle

House near Carreg Cennen Castle

Brecon Beacons is a favored region for hikers, and we encountered numerous trekkers backpacking through the castle grounds. Unlike the small gift shops that constitute visitors’ centers at other castles, the one by Carreg Cennen is much like a hikers’ lodge. There were some comforts; it was here that we tasted a delicious homemade version of the fruit-laden bara brith cake that you can elsewhere buy in packaged tourist blocks.

Carreg Cennen Castle

Carreg Cennen Castle

The castle itself is a desolate ruin surrounded by acres and acres of spectacularly green farmland.

Farmland by Carreg Cennen Castle

Farmland by Carreg Cennen Castle

Its crumbled towers and walls feel right out of a fantasy novel.

Ruins at Carreg Cennen Castle

Ruins at Carreg Cennen Castle

Ruins at Carreg Cennen Castle

Ruins at Carreg Cennen Castle

Walls of Carreg Cennen Castle

Walls of Carreg Cennen Castle

It was with sadness and a full sense of the sublime that we took our leave of Carreg Cennen.

Carreg Cennen Castle

Carreg Cennen Castle

Nearby Llandeilo, where we stayed the night, is a very charming little town with (at least on that particular night)

Clock tower in Llandeilo

Clock tower in Llandeilo

absolutely nothing to do. Fortunately we were staying at the finest, most luxurious hotel of our entire adventure, where, because of the off-season, we’d been (surprise!) upgraded to a fancy four-poster room.

On a walk through town we encountered a lovely church and steeply twisting streets with charming old houses at every turn.

Houses on the hilly streets of Llandeilo

Houses on the hilly streets of Llandeilo

A walk through the churchyard made a fitting coda to our day. The hotel restaurant being closed for the evening, dinner at a local Indian restaurant (the only place open) was in the offing, but first a beer by the fire in the hotel lounge closed our day’s adventure in warm comfort.

Churchyard in Llandeilo

Churchyard in Llandeilo

In the next installment, we visit dramatic St. David’s on the west coast, then head north.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    What a beautiful place. I was there twenty years ago, and this brings me back. Thanks, Jon.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Funny you should mention the resurgence of the Welsh language in conjunction with a description of a visit to the Gower Peninsula, which is known colloquially as “little England beyond Wales”, because it has been an English enclave for many hundreds of years. You may have noticed that all of the place names there are English, not Anglicized Welsh.

    And yes, you’re right that the re-Welshifying of place names has thrown up some curiosities. For instance, the central Wales town of Montgomery (named after a Norman earl who settled there in the 11th century) has the Welsh name Trefaldwyn, which means “Baldwin’s town”. Baldwin was another Norman earl who lived in the 13th century! (I guess he must have pissed off the locals less than Montgomery did.)

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    I didn’t know Gower was thought of as a “little England,” although I did notice Mumbles was spelled Mumbles, clearly Anglo and not Welsh!