Monday, 23 August 2010


Curves ahead

For years now, my husband has been saying "We need to take Mum back to Wales."
My mother-in-law's family came from a small village in western Wales and during the war years she and her sister lived there.

I've always imagined a dramatic evacuation from London:  waving good-bye to her parents at the train station, along with the other millions of city children who were sent to the countryside in 1939.
As it turned out, the "real" story was a bit different.  Apparently, the family was already in Wales when war broke out.  My mother-in-law was thrilled at the turn of events, as it meant she would be able to go to the fair.
"Yes, we had a marvellous war," giggled my mother-in-law's childhood friend as we discussed those years.

My children and I had never been to Wales.  I don't know what we had expected, really -- something gray and wet, I suppose.  Something old-fashioned and fusty and dull.

The dramatic cliffs, the huge expanse of Irish Sea, the blue sky:  it was all such a surprise.

Setting out

The week in Wales was on the calendar for the middle of August.
As far as my oldest daughter was concerned, it was a black hole in her hectic social life.  She dreaded it and complained about it with the full force of adolescent hyperbole.
The thought of sentimental journeys, of a visit to the past, is anathema to her.  She wants only to live in the present.  The future is a bit frightening, and the past just seems irrelevant.

Over the stile

 My children's great-grandfather and great-great grandparents are buried in the village of Cilgerran.  We visited their graves.  My mother-in-law doesn't know how deeply rooted her family in Wales; like her granddaughter, she has never been that interested in the past.  It gave me a chill, though, to think that my children are part of this place.  It is there, somewhere, in their DNA.

To my fanciful eyes, Cilgerran was a bit of a Brigadoon.  For a hundred years, and maybe more, it's hardly changed.  There is Aunt Mary's house, but someone replaced the old door.  There's the Teifi River, where we used to fish.  There's the ruins of the old Norman castle, where we used to play. 

We climbed the steep path from the river to the castle, and I worried that it was a bit much for my mother-in-law.  I scolded my husband about it, but he defended himself by saying that she knew the climb was challenging.  I wonder, though, if it is difficult to remember that you are 80 when you visit one of your childhood places.  In any case, she declined to join us for our walks on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.

There is no escape route

My girls are good walkers.  Even when they were really young, I forced them to trek across Boston, Amsterdam and Den Haag -- because I like to see things by foot.  These experiences have become part of our family lore. 

We walked every day we were in Wales, but one day we hiked the 10 miles from our cottage in Moylegrove to the Newport Sands Beach.  It was a sunny day, but you could feel -- in the wind -- that a storm was approaching.  On the top of the cliffs, the wind was fierce.

The sign, above, reads:  This is a remote, rugged and challenging stretch of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.  Please keep to the path.  Avoid the cliff edge.

Stay on the path

Rather worryingly, it warns: On this stretch there are no escape routes or exit points.

Once you start down the path, you have no choice but to keep going. I couldn't help but think that, like much of life, it's better that you don't know how hard it's going to be.

Avoid the cliff edge

It's a trick of perspective, but in this picture the girls seem so far away.  I let them get a bit ahead of me -- and there they are, tiny figures on the edge of the cliff.

After what seems like a summer of too much togetherness, they will be off -- on their own -- in only two weeks.  The oldest daughter is off to boarding school, and the youngest daughter is going to Dartmoor for a geography field trip.

Rise and Fall

There's almost no cell phone coverage, or Internet access, in this part of Wales.  My husband complained that he got better coverage in Angola.  He and my oldest daughter walked around, cell phones held aloft, trying to find a signal.

Before cars, before trains, there were ships -- and then, this rugged coast was well-connected.  I read that Newport, where our walk ended, supplied the herring for Queen Elizabeth I's Navy.

These cliffs are actually part of the Preseli Mountains -- the source of the blue slate, or "bluestones" that make up Stonehenge.

This bit of coastline, near Cardigan Bay, is one of the only places in the UK where you can find dolphins and seals.  Sadly, we didn't spot any . . . although we kept looking for them.  Even without dolphins, there was more than enough to marvel over.  She might not admit to it, not now, but even my teenage daughter wasn't immune to the magic of this place.

Resting (and reflecting)


Planethalder said...

Written so evocatively, you make me want to return to Wales... Delightful.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, I loved this!
What a wonderful experience for all of you. Your sweet daughter will soon discover how vital the past really is. It's what makes us who we are. How marvelous that those Welsh hills are part of her past.

steven said...

bee thanks so much for sharing this. i visited wales many times as a child and it held a strange magical quality for me then that i can't explain. seeing the scenery reminds me of how i wish to return - not necessarily to reexperience the sensation but simply because it's truly beautiful there. steven

The Bug said...


Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...


Thank-You for sharing your vacation with us. Beautiful pictures of a beautiful place!

Tracy :)

Tess Kincaid said...

Magical and indeed, very Brigadoon-ish!!

Sueann said...

Wow!! What gorgeous landscape!! Wow!!

marja-leena said...

Stunning landscape, reminds me of parts of Newfoundland, though I've been to neither! Wonderful to go back to the land of one's ancestors. Hope your mother-in-law enjoyed it!

Your mention of Dartmoor struck me for I've just been looking it up after reading lady p's post:

So many places to see...

rachel said...

You're going to miss those girls of yours when they've gone! These are the 'hard work' years of parenthood, aren't they, so much more challenging than when the children were small....

Cheryl Cato said...

Spectacular place. Thank you for sharing this with us Bee. A part of my heritage is Welsh and I would love to visit. I have been to London & to several places in Scotland (Dunoon on the Firth of Clyde & Edinburgh) and would love to go to Wales. Maybe one day. I love walks like yours. As long as the altitude is not too high (under 10,000 ft) I am a good walker!

Mr Bee said...

It was a very special time away for us. Mum had a fantastic time and even climbed the hill from the river gorge to the castle - not without a lot of wheezing but it was something she wanted to do after all those years.

To see Mum and her chilhood friend from when they were 10 together was great.

I thought an alternate title for the post might be: "Didn't we have a luverly time the day we went to Bangor!"

Thanks to my family for giving up a second week in a luxury villa in Portugal in favour of a far less comfortable Welsh "cottage".

Marcheline said...

I cannot imagine being in Wales and caring a whit about a cell phone. With cliffs and ocean and wind and sky all calling my name, how could I hear anything else?

Thank you so much for this vicarious journey to the magical land of Wales!

ceecee said...

I feel like I've just been on a summer adventure. What a beautiful country. I would have had a hard time on this hike, though - just looking at the photo of your girls out on the cliff made my stomach roll. Honestly, I have to get out of the car and walk down the middle of high mountain roads if there aren't any guardrails. But still, I never say 'No' to adventure. Who would want to miss such a view?


David Cranmer said...

Marvelous history and story told with great passion. Terrific photos.

lisahgolden said...

Thank you for taking us there, Bee. It is luverly.

And to be able to say "ruins of an old Norman castle." Like magic.

Linda said...

Please come back again. You only experienced a taster of the Coast Path and there are more Norman castles and defences to visit - built to divide Pembrokeshire, and to keep us Celts in the north of the county after 1066.

Can't promise such lovely weather always though. And it is usually windy!

herhimnbryn said...

"Chroesawa baci at Cymru."

I think that's how my Nanna used to say it!

myonlyphoto said...

Bee wow Wales is really nice place. It reminded me Nova Scotia in Canada. Hills like that are so refreshing. Thanks for sharing your story, and images. Anna :)

TBM said...

What a perfectly beautiful way to end the summer, Bee! I had to giggle when I read about your daughter and husband trying to get a phone signal, though. I'd be tempted to throw mine over the cliff...

Kristen In London said...

Bee, I ADORE Wales. We have spent lots of time there, in towns beginning with double Ls, and then I met a lovely young Welsh man and he could not stop laughing at how I pronounced that sound! I think it's a sort of cracking sound! I am glad you had such a magical time, and your girls will remember it with glee and warmth.

Mone said...

I never went to Wales but after seeing this I need to go one day for sure!

Alyson | New England Living said...

"Once you start down the path, you have no choice but to keep going. I couldn't help but think that, like much of life, it's better that you don't know how hard it's going to be." - Love that comparsion, Bee!

You and I are very similiar in interest in the past, in our ancestry. I find it fascinating and I do believe our DNA is filled with our ancestors experiences.

My great-grandma Owens was from Wales and I've always regretted not going there when I lived in the UK. I'm just going to have to plan a trip soon. It is so stunning there!

Relyn Lawson said...

Oh, Magic is right. Perfectly right.

I love the way your mother-in-law said that they had a lovely war. As though it were a living, breathing thing. I guess, to those who survived it, it is.

I don't know how to tell you what an excellent post I think this is. Or, how much I love your writing.

Once you start down the path, you have no choice but to keep going. I couldn't help but think that, like much of life, it's better that you don't know how hard it's going to be. This, my friend, is one of the great Truths of life.

Meri said...

Such a beautiful capture of experience, mixed with musings and photos. And so much truth - it is definitely good that we set out without knowing how difficult the path ahead might be, knowing that there are no escape routes. We've got to find a path through it all, always minding the cliffs.

Nancy said...

What a beautiful place to spend time. I will add this to my bucket list.

I always made my girls go on vacation with us every year, sans friends, and I was always glad I did. Sisters enjoyed each other and we enjoyed them. They always had a good time, even with all the initial complaining.

Lucy said...

Such a beautiful coast, beautifully related. In weather like this there's nowhere like it.

Bonne rentree to you and the girls!

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Lovely post. I would like to say you were in Wales and didn't come to see us but I know it would have been quicker to go back to England than to come from West Wales to the Clwydian hills! Try our part of Wales next time maybe? Now that my kids are in their twenties they talk fondly of the family holidays as teenagers. At the time I don't remember them being that keen, at least in advance!

JaneyV said...

I just got back from Wales myself. We went a bit further north to The Snowdonia National Park. It was breathtakingly beautiful. We had some sunny weather and an awful lot of the wild, wet and windy kind but it didn't matter a bit. My husband and I were totally enthralled with the place. The children would have preferred more beach and less scenery and the big complaint for them was that the Irish Sea wasn't wavy enough. It seems that the Atlantic coast is far more attractive (well it's certainly in my blood so I suppose I've passed it on). Pembrokeshire is very beautiful too but much softer than North Wales which in places looked like Yellowstone.

Thank you for taking us with you on your trip. It was really stunning.

PS Tell Sigmund that the cellphone coverage in North Wales is fabulous!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful memory making for your family,Bee.

Ann said...

Wonderful memory making for your family,Bee.

Fantastic Forrest said...

As always, fab post.

We loved our brief time in Wales. But this walking behaviour (TEN MILES?!) of yours is very worrisome.

I am always extremely timid about being on top of cliffs. When my two are within a quarter mile of the edge, I admonish them to get back. Yes, I am a wimp.

Sarah Laurence said...

I was looking forward to your Wales photos and reflections and I’m not disappointed. I just got back from my double-barreled vacation. Wales looks quite like Devon and Cornwall – especially with those scary cliff walks.

I love how nature helps us parents reconnect with our older children. Technology becomes a wall except in this post where it is a portal.

Once the kids are settled into these first days of school I shall catch up with you. Summer ran away with me.

elizabeth said...

How did I miss your post, dear Bee.
How hopeless and remiss of me.
Anyway, I found your cliff walk terrifying and exhilerating at the same time.Reminds me a lot of Cornwall. So nice to see the girls together.

Again abject apologies.

christina said...

there is such beauty, in this post. how very lucky, to see such gorgeous country.

SH -ic said...

oh yes tks for sharing this .. i ve been to wales and I love it . wish you a lovely stay in Berlin cant go becaus I stay in f
nö for holidays .which I urgently need .. but may be one day we can do a blogcamp in Hambutg . looking forward doing this .. warm regards from me love andrea

Barrie said...

I'd love to visit Wales. Actually, I'd love to visit anywhere you write about. ;)