W is for…..Wales

30th August 2020

Land of my fathers. Well, some of my fathers, at least. Denbighshire if I am not mistaken. Or Clwyd. It is rather confusing now, with the changes in administration.

I liked the old shires, but then I grew up with them. Still, doesn’t stop Wales being extremely beautiful. I just love it. We went on holiday to the Lleyn, or Llŷn Peninsular. On a clear day you could almost see down to St David’s Head.

But why is Wales called Wales? Seems obvious to me. If you are approaching from the sea up St. George’s channel (sounds dodgy to me), then you will see the generally rounded humps of the mountains or hills. If you use www.peakfinder.org you will see what I mean.

They look rather like whales rising out of the sea. Of course, it is quite possible there were more whales around Welsh waters in past centuries. So all quite reasonable.

But Wikipedia says ‘The modern Welsh name for themselves is Cymry, and Cymru is the Welsh name for Wales’, and ‘In literature, they could be spelt Kymry or Cymry, regardless of whether it referred to the people or their homeland’.

It should be obvious that ‘Kym’ or ‘Cym’ means ‘valley’; cym is in use as that today. And –ry? Obvious again, short for ‘wry’ as in wry sense of humour. And ‘ri’ in French is ‘laugh’. So put together it is ‘valley of laughs’, or with people the ‘laughing valley people’.

And there are well known ‘laughing people’ or comedians like Harry Seacombe, or Max Boyce (I know,’cos I was there!!). I had forgotten how funny he is.

There are lots of valleys too in Wales, and not much land that is flat, or relatively flat, unlike England. There is the old Monmouthshire, but that was considered as English for a long time.

But the border counties to Wales (called the Marches) have always been mixed with Welsh and English names. The Welsh and English have intermingled and intermarried.

I have known North Wales best, and never travelled to South Wales except once for a series of building inspections for the British Red Cross.

My associations with the country are mainly with holidays; spring and summer mainly, but also at Christmas time with in-laws. I consider Wales stunning at any time of the year, but in some respects the winter is almost the best. And all being well, there is snow on the tops of the mountains.

The tourists are by and large gone, only the enthusiasts and locals are there. And you can have the hills to yourself. Although to be fair, the hills that the tourist goes to tend to be the 3,000’s, those over 3,000 feet in Snowdonia.

Even then, most people seem to do the readily accessible peaks, Snowdon and Tryfan especially. Tryfan is perhaps a three hours scramble up and down if you are fit. As the A5 passes its foot, it is easy to visit, and parking is readily available, except when the world and his wife are there.

But there is plenty else to do and see, Castles, sandy beaches, waterfalls, little steam trains. National Trust houses and cottages, from Plas Newydd on Anglesey (where Rex Whistler, killed in WW 2, has his largest painting), to the Tudor Merchant’s house in Tenby.

George Burrow wrote in Wild Wales ‘scenery soon palls unless it is associated with remarkable events’. I disagree. At least, that depends on what you call remarkable events.

To me, a remarkable event may be something remarkable that occurred in my life. Such as the time I first saw the sea on the approach to Criccieth, and I remembered the Greek words ‘Thalatta, thalatta!’ ‘The sea, the sea!’.

Those words were exclaimed by 10,000 Greek soldiers as they approached the Black Sea. The story is told by Xenophon in his Anabasis.

Perhaps it might be the time my wife and I took our bicycles over the pass out of the Ceiriog Valley, and into the valley of the Dee, between Bala and Corwen. A rough track, with a deep looking pool where the route had been gouged out, no doubt by 4×4’s. We got round it though.

Or driving round the west of Plynlimon on a quiet lane, where the terrain is largely open, with wide views and the land sweeps up to the summit.

And I remember standing on Corndon Hill, very near the border with Shropshire. You could see Cadair Idris, the mountain on the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park.

I could imagine it when it was a volcano, spewing forth fire, smoke and brimstone. Much like a dragon, which Wales now has on its flag.

But there is more to Wales than the tourist’s view which is mine.

I found this link. It seems to sum up the passion someone brought up in Wales might feel. Mind you, not that I would throw my knickers at Tom Jones. That’s just pants!

 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/04/11-reasons-why-love-wales-choirs-cheese-on-toast-scenery

And I am not sure that the list of politicians does great credit to Wales. Aneurin Bevan was clearly flawed and Neil Kinnock was known as the ‘Welsh windbag’ for good reason.

And I am not sure being the most promiscuous country in the UK is anything to boast about. The Guardian can have some good articles, but this one is a bit mixed.

But, by heck, they can sing, the Welsh. The choirs are fantastic, and they can rouse the stadium at the Cardiff Arms Park. For me, I will always remember ‘Men of Harlech’ from the film ‘Zulu’.

Not to be confused with the toilets at the Welsh Mountain Zoo at Colwyn Bay, although you can sing the song there if you wish. Useful if the bolt happens to be broken on the cubicle.

They sang in the 1904–1905 Welsh Revival, when the people of the valleys turned to Jesus Christ in their droves. And this, in turn, led to changed lives and a better way of living. I found this inspiring video which you may like to watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWOMfhcpudc

There was a young girl called Mary Jones who lived close to Cadair Idris. She wanted a bible so much, she saved up her money and when she had enough, walked the 26 miles or so to Bala.

She was a teenager, said to be between 15 and 16 years old. How many teenagers would do that, even if they wanted to buy the latest iPhone!

To walk that far seems out of the question for most teenagers nowadays. Back then ‘tho, there was no other means for those with little money. So she would have been used to it, although I imagine it was still a challenge.

I walked 20 miles or so on flat terrain as part of a sponsored walk for school when I was 12-13 years old, so it is quite reasonable to see her doing it. I think this website has useful information.

https://daibach-welldigger.blogspot.com/2016/12/barefoot-to-bala-mary-jones.html

According to the website above, it resulted in the ‘publication of an affordable Bible for ordinary people to be able to buy for their own personal use.’ And ‘The first such Bible in Welsh was produced in 1805.’

The Welsh language (or should that be llanguage?) is very old, and seems very close to Hebrew. There is Pwllheli, on the Lleyn peninsular. Wikipedia say it means salt water basin. I don’t think that’s quite right.

At least, Wiktionary tells me Heli is from Helen and that as I have said elsewhere means ‘light bearer’. And angels are light bearers; they are full of light (unless they have burnt their spirits black, ‘coal black’ as Dylan Thomas might have said).

So I think as Pwll is a pool, it’s ‘Pool of the angel’, or even ‘pool of light’. But then Wiktionary says in Welsh Eli is derived from ‘olivum’ and means ‘ointment’.

But ointment is something to sooth or heal and salt can be healing. So perhaps salt water basin makes sense after all.

Jesus says ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavour, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people.’

Salt and light go together. If you think Wales has lost its way, lost its salt and light, then I can think of no better way than to go back to basics. Get a good bible translation, the closer to the original the better.

Better still, there are good online resources, such a Bible Hub, which will give you the original text as well as a translation and the phonetics.

And talking of phonetics, you can use your iPhone to read it of course. But you don’t need to phone the heavenly Father or Jesus, His Son. They are close by, waiting for you to talk to them, pour your heart out to them.

They will hold you tight too, if you let them. It is worth listening to them, of course. And when you are free of the crap that the Devil put on your soul, you will then find you can just chatter away together.

They do want disciples, ‘tho, not converts. People who will be determined enough like Mary Jones to get what she both wanted and needed.

But I can assure you, whether you are from Wales or not, and even though the going will be tough from time to time, you will have a whale of a time!!