Inspire. August.


I’ve often talked and written about how profoundly life-altering it was when I returned from my first (and at the time I thought only) trip to Wales. It was barely forty-eight hours and yet it left an indelible mark on my soul. It led me down new paths that branched off and created new adventures and journeys within these past thirty-five years. If I recall correctly, that first summer was spent working at (the now defunct) Waldenbook’s bookstore, where as an employee I received a 33% discount, and folks wonder why I had less money at the end of the summer than I started with. I was straightening and dusting books, and performing an additional wide plethora of mindless tasks when I noticed a small mass market paperback book high on a shelf. It was the title that drew my attention: Here Be Dragons. I thought it would be fantastical and in line with my hobby of playing Dungeons & Dragons, but I was to be disappointed in that, and extremely gratified to discover that it was a novel based in medieval Wales centering on the life and world of the Prince of Wales, Llywelyn Fawr.

I was drawn into this story quickly. This is the only book that I’ve owned three copies of: one that I read several times and gave to someone to read, a new copy to replace that one, and a digital copy for my Kindle. There were two subsequent novels, Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, now know more or less as The Welsh Trilogy. I was all in.

The author, Sharon Kay Penman had a way of bringing me into the medieval age, and I read the rest of her books – all of them – voraciously. Not one was a disappointment. One of the things that drew me so deep was Penman’s Author’s Notes, where she discussed and explained her researching process and she defined some of the things that seemed implausible but that had in fact actually happened.

  1. Lady Joanna’s affair, the burning of the prince’s bed, and the execution of her lover. True.
  2. Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the prince’s son was held hostage by King John and the terms of his release were detailed in the Magna Carta; yes, THE Magna Carta. True.
  3. Eleanor de Montfort kidnapped by pirates. True.

And much more.

Earlier this week, I discovered that Ms. Penman died in early 2021. I am heartbroken, but I’ve discovered her last published book, The Land Beyond the Sea, which I began this afternoon. The memories of reading her well-researched and well-developed books will continue to inspire me as I continue to gain insight into the process of writing and the joy of reading.

“We’d become aliens in our own land,” he’d warned, “denied our own laws, our own language, even our yesterdays, for a conquered people are not allowed a prideful past. Worst of all, we’d be leaving our children and grandchildren a legacy of misery and loss, a future bereft of hope.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, The Reckoning

“But in all honesty, I do not find it so peculiar a notion, that a Welshman should rule Wales.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, Falls the Shadow

“Poor Wales. So far from Heaven, so close to England.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, Here Be Dragons

“Fretting about time’s passing will not slow it down one whit.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, Here be Dragons

“for each age interprets the past in the light of its own biases.”
― Sharon Kay Penman, Falls the Shadow

Dolwyddelan Castle, built by Llywelyn Fawr (the Great) in or around the 13th century. Dolwyddelan, Gwynedd, North Wales. (I don’t imagine it looked much different in his time, especially from this angle.)

Travel – Photos – A Brief Look at My Wales


I’ve been fortunate to have visited North Wales three times. The first was randomness, the second fortune, and the third with determination. All three were spiritual and while the first began a decades old journey, all three began, and explored different aspects of that journey. All three had friends and family supporting and helping to make it happen.

Read the brief captions about the three photos I’ve chosen to represent my three visits, all steeped in more meaning than can be written in such a brief blurb, but will be explored more fully, or if not fully, then thoroughly in future days.

This photo, while taken in 2017, represents my first visit in 1987. I hiked and hitchhiked from the train in Betws-y-Coed to this youth hostel, just about center of the Llanberis Pass, a stop for hikers and climbers alike. It was my first foray into Wales, and it grabbed me in a way that many other things haven’t come close. It linked me to a place i’ve never been as if I’ve been born there. It is my soul’s homeland, and I feel the hiraeth as clearly as any native-born Welsh-person. The youth hostel at Pen-y-Pass. (c)2017-2018

Dolwyddelan Castle from the road. Taken in 2009, and representing my 2009 visit, it was also the view my family saw in 2017 when we stayed barely a mile up the road, but in 2009, this was one of my important, planned destinations: the birthplace of Llywelyn Fawr, the Prince of Wales. The castle wasn’t here, but he was born in and around this plot of land in 1178, and eventually built a motte and bailey castle on the mound here. This keep replaced that in future years.Llywelyn, and a gift from a dear friend, brought me to this place to see the places that i’d been reading about; and feeling about. The castle resides on private land, a working farm. You pay the woman at the back door, and walk through the cow gate, climbing the steep dirt path until reaching the pavement, and more hills going up and up. I wasn’t in the physical condition to go all the way to the keep. I may have tried if not for the misty rain making the slate and stone steps slippery. It was not a risk I was willing to take alone. I was still content to have reached as far as I did, and to meet some folks. I walked around for a bit, listening to the nearby stream and small rapids crashing lightly against the rocks. I discovered a snarled tree that was the perfect place for a distant photo of the castle. Looking forward to my next visit. (c)2009-2018

I discovered St. Elen’s well on a blog and was thrilled that ot represented my confirmation saint. I discovered long after returning in 2009 that the town where I spent three days (Caernarfon) was her town, and Dolwyddelan, where I’d spent a couple of hours walking around was less than a mile up the road from the hotel named for her that I must have passed on the way to the castle car park. We stayed at that hotel on this more recent trip, and the well is on the hotel property. There was some dispute on the land the path is on, but there seems to be some sort of arrangement as I had no issues other than the daily rain made the steep path a little bit slippery, but not undoable. Slow going made me take the time to stop and, not smell the flowers, but observe the vegetation, the tree branches, the cows and church next door, listen to the birds all around me, and come upon the well slowly. I could hear the water flowing before I could see the well, and it could do with a weeding, but it was still glorious, and spellbinding, and I felt the spirituality of not only Wales, but of Elen while the smells of the variety of plants were captivating, and the holy water was cold to my touch, but tasted refreshing and revitalizing. I sat for some time in contemplation. My family was very cooperative of that. (c)2017-2018

50-29 – Wales, The First Time


​When I first arrived in Wales many years ago, I didn’t know how profoundly it would affect me and change my viewpoint of everything. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the word for what I was feeling: hiraeth. Hiraeth isn’t homesickness, but a longing, a yearning for one’s homeland, and it is not so much that you know it when you feel it, but the emotion of hiraeth is so much more than its literal definition. In fact, it doesn’t really have a literal definition, but a broad emotional meaning. It’s spiritual.

Wales, that first time, was in so many ways, a surprise. I wanted to visit a castle, not realizing that the castles I associated with Wales were English castles used to subjugate the Welsh people rather than built by the Welsh to protect them and their interests.

Wales is a surprise, and never what you’d expect. If you expect rain, the sun will shine. If they say hill, they mean mountain. Their lifeblood is slate and coal, daffodils and leeks, but most of all the people. It’s palpable. No matter where you are in North Wales it seems that you can see the mountains. The English call it Snowdon, but it is Eriyi in Welsh – the haunt of eagles. So much more evocative, isn’t it? So much more poetic like the Welsh lilt and cadence.

That cadence of the Welsh tongue is much like the valleys and peaks of Wales itself. They know their history and remember their independence, although that mostly ended in 1282 with the beheading of Llywelyn the Last and the drawing and quartering of his brother, Dafydd, their blood as much a part of the land as the craggly rocks and the rivers.

My first trip to Wales came about by accident. Luck. Fate even. I was asked to join my college roommate in England. Sure, why not? Of course, there was more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. I borrowed the money from my brother, who was better at keeping his than I was with mine and off I went.

My roommate asked me what I wanted to do. My only response was, “I don’t care. I want to see Stonehenge and a castle; I don’t care about the rest. I’ll follow you.” She planned it all through trains and buses and hitchhiking, hostels and B&Bs. I followed along, collecting pictures and memories.

We made our way from London at this first day of 1987, a new year. We went westward and south and west again, and eventually entered Wales. I don’t remember crossing the border but Wales was different. Welsh had made a resurgence so all the signs were bilingual. I began keeping a little dictionary in my journal although no one made us speak in consonants. W is a vowel by the way, but that’s another memory.

Wales was different.

The air was different.

The sky was different.

The sheep were different.

It didn’t rain in Wales; at least not the Wales I was in. This was January, and Britain was grey; very grey. It held the first patch of blue sky I’d seen in the two weeks I’d been on this island. It was that perfect cloud peppered Crayola sky blue color that exists nowhere else, its reflection off the quarries deepening it and the snow evening out its perfection. It must be special.

But the sky wasn’t all that made it special. There was a feeling I’d never experienced before, not deja vu, but I had been here before. I don’t know how or if, but physically I’d never, but I was.

How can everyone not feel it?

It was overpowering. I needed to be here, high in the mountains, midnight hikes, counting the stars, not having an historical clue, but knowing that I walked in the footsteps of ancestors, of family, of specialness, feeling as though I’d taken these steps before. This wasn’t restless spirits like I’ve felt at other historical holy places; these were memories, memories of feelings.

Crazy, I know.

There was a weightlessness, a joyful singing in my soul that nothing else compares to. I only imagine this is something of the feeling that people get when they travel to Israel, but I don’t actually know.

It is my spiritual home, an ancestry I wasn’t born to, but I was called on to feel, to be a part of,  to let inside and settle into my soul. It is always there, this feeling of Wales and the Welsh, the people as much a part of the land, and as much a part of me as my own children.

When I went back almost twenty-three years later, I found the feelings still strong with only my research and readings that gave me more context and made it more tangible to breathe in. My footsteps following Welsh princes, understanding how remote a castle stronghold really was breathing the same air, wondering if I would ever understand these feelings.

Even home, I get fleeting glimpses through a looking glass – the wet colored leaves on a rural road and I forget that I’m not in Wales. The hesitation at a roundabout, confused about which way to enter it. The tree outside my church’s window when it rains – it is always a surprise and always a physical reaction and then I realize it’s through a window and I’m not in Wales. These come upon me through no special thought, but there is the realization that Wales is a part of me and who I am, and maybe one day I’ll find out why and maybe even how I have this connection.