Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Conwy, Wales, 1.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 2, 2010

We love Wales!  We set out early from Aberyswyth and drove through the Snowdonia National Park in the rain and it was just gorgeous.  The mountains are a bit grim and forbidding in a mystical kind of way, but the scenery is spectacular and thank heavens! the roads were good.  (Well, by British standards, that is!)

Our first stroke of luck was when we turned off the main road to have a cup of tea at a little place called  Dolgellau.   Not only did we get a parking spot almost straight away, but it just happened to be outside a lovely little tea rooms called Y Sospan.  It was friendly and welcoming and they served us great cakes and tea to refresh the spirit with a long drive through the pouring rain ahead. 

Our next stroke of luck was stopping at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns about half way to Conwy.  I knew about Welsh coal mines from reading How Green Was My Valley (and viewing both the old B&W film and the BBC series) but I had never heard about slate mining.  As you can see in the picture, it was pretty grim: surrounded by great slag heaps in a bleak climate, and working conditions were appalling.  Miners had to supply their own gunpowder and candles, and pay themselves to have their tools sharpened.  It was dirty and dangerous work and badly paid, and it’s no wonder that conditons like these helped the rise of socialism.  I was reminded of D.H, Lawrence’s mother and her determination that her bright boy would not go down the mine when I saw this place – and I wonder how many bright boys had the spirit crushed out of them working in mines across Wales and elsewhere in the world…

My Tim – as readers of this blog know – is a brave fellow.  Not only has he gone hot-air ballooning and flown down to Antarctica, and taken the underground mine tour when I stoutly refused to do so – he also tried out the culinary specialty of this place: it’s called Lobscaws and it’s the traditional Welsh miners’ lunch, consisting of a very small and very well stewed chunk of beef and hunks of vegetables (swedes, turnips, potatoes and could that faded yellow one have been pumpkin??) swimming in a pale stock.  I didn’t risk it, I had a very nice leek and potato soup with some delicious bread instead.  (And I finished mine, enough said?)

It’s fascinating to be in the country I was born in, and not understand a word of what’s being said or recognise any of it at all.  In Melbourne we are used to hearing other languages, of course,  but we always know what language is being spoken even if we don’t understand it.  Welsh is utterly unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and I can’t even pronounce the place names.  I have learned two words already though – ‘araf’ means ‘slow’, and it’s painted on the roads at every perilous corner, and ‘toiled’ or ‘toileden’ means ‘toilets’.  Oh yes, and  Tim’s one of the ‘hoened’ – old people, because he’s got a seniors card!

Our resting place for our last night in Wales is Conwy, and it’s a lovely place indeed. Our B&B is a cosy little place called Gwynfryn right in the middle of the old town.  We are within the old castle walls, so if any invading Brits come rampaging across the Welsh border we can defend ourselves from the battlements.  (Which we have climbed, somewhat perilously, and I was glad I was wearing my ankle brace on the slippery stairs!)

There are lots of quaint little shops and the National Trust building is the oldest one in the town, built in 1300 and no place for the vertically challenged because both of us had to duck our heads to avoid the ancient beams in the ceiling.  Tim has lots of great photos of these which I will add to this blog when we upload them at home.’

Must go! We are off to the Shakepeare Restaurant at the Castle Hotel for dinner…

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