Travel – One Year Ago Today in Wales


​One year ago today, we were winding our way back from Wales, over hill and dale, across the Irish Sea to stay overnight in Dublin, and then return to our home base and our cousins in Northern Ireland.

When I first went on my solo adventure to Wales in 2009, upon returning I was asked if I wanted to bring my family to see what I saw. My immediate answer was no. I didn’t want to share it with anyone, but the reality was that I also didn’t want them to spoil it for me.

Like when you set up a movie night for your best friend to watch your favorite movie, and while they’re watching the movie you’re watching them to see that they love it as much as you do…but…they don’t, and it kind of ruins the experience for you, and now every time you watch that movie again, you’ll think of your friend who didn’t like it, and wonder why they didn’t like it.

Wales could not impress them as it did me, and I did not want to see the looks on their faces of huh, so this is it.

I knew that if I wanted to visit Wales on this trip, and I did, not only to pilgrimage to my saint’s holy well, but also just to feel the land under my feet, the rocks under my fingertips, then I would have to bring them along. This was a family adventure and I couldn’t leave them behind for three days. I resigned myself to whatever they would feel, and I made peace with it.

From the ferry, we began the drive across Angelsey to cross the bridge into mainland Wales and the hour or so drive to our hotel, adjacent to St. Elen’s Well. Winding hilly roads bordered by stone walls, and there was finally a pull off to see the view, right before the bridge.

Leaning on the cold stone wall, looking out across the field that met the dry bed that met the water, seeing the Menai Bridge across the way, the mountain ahead and to the left of us, I turned to see where my family was, and there I saw it.

Their looks.

Even the kids.

They may not have had the spiritual connection or the hiraeth of homecoming, but they had amazement. It was about to drizzle, and it was grey, but judging by their faces and their eyes sweeping across the landscape, it was the brightest, sunniest day they’d ever seen.

And as we drove deeper into the towns at the base of Snowdon, their eyes only got wider. We got out several times between that first time and reaching our hotel. There were rivers to see, stone buildings, mountain views, sheep and cows, but oh the amount of sheep defying gravity on the side of the mountain.

I was glad I brought them.

They could maybe kind of understand my obsession connection.

I wasn’t even mad when they unintentionally one-upped me. It was at the point when I couldn’t do anymore climbing, so when we passed through Llanberis on our way back to Holyhead, they went up to see and take pictures for me of Dolbadarn Castle, one of Llywelyn Fawr’s. Actually, I believe that his grandson, Owain Goch ap Gruffydd was kept confined there by his brother Llywelyn the Last. So I was a little jealous, but I was still okay with it. Mostly. Now, they’ve been to a part of Wales that I haven’t. 

Maybe one day I can rectify that.

Dolbadarn Castle. Llanberis. North Wales. (c)2018

On the path to Dolbadarn Castle. Llanberis. North Wales. (c)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.