Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Day 10 - Wales Coast - Abersoch - Welsh signs and flag

Some Welsh road signs...and the Cymru flag. Y Ddraig Goch, as it called in Welsh, is probably the oldest national flag still in use. Its first official record of use was in 830, but was most likely introduced much earlier by Romans during their occupation of Britain.

Anyone want some WYAU SYTH OR NYTH for breakfast?

The dragon's rocking.

The Welsh flag...

Day 10 - Wales Coast - Abersoch - The heartland of the Welsh

North Wales is accepted as the heartland of Welsh identity, and more people speak Welsh (or Cymraeg, as locals prefer) as their first language here than anywhere else. The name Wales is the English version of the real name in Welsh, which is Cymru (pronounced "kumree"). Cymru means "the land of the comrades".

I left Harlech, and drove North West to Abersoch on the Llyn Peninsula...By now you're probably wondering how to say all these Welsh names. I don't know either, but here's a good website that explains it. The language has 28 letters, but no J, K, Q, V, X or Z (although these are "borrowed" from English).

I thought I'd upload a BBC Wales radio news report, as well as a Welsh song...have a listen. (If anyone knows the artist, please let me know!) The language grabs me, and I found myself listening to it a lot, even though I don't understand a word.

It's a beguiling sound, ancient and proud and romantic. We all know that French and Italian sounds romantic to Anglo Saxons, but Welsh is unique. Glyn Roberts from Castle Cottage in Harlech tells me how his English-speaking daughters went to a Welsh speaking school, and are fluent in the language. More than that though, they are almost fluent in French, but they've learnt it through Welsh!

I hope the Cymru culture thrives. Janet Havard from Anchor Guest House in Broad Haven told me of her Welsh friend who was forbidden in 1969 to speak Welsh at shcool! Although things are obviously way more diplomatic today, I guess there will always be a threat to the minority of Welsh speakers, as there is to all minority cultures around the world.

This is an audio file of a Welsh song on BBC Radio - click play to listen.

BBC Welsh Radio news report...sounds great, eventhough I have no idea what they're saying.

Day 9 - Wales Coast - Harlech & Snowdonia - Random fact of the day

Random fact of the day: Mount Snowdon is Britain's highest mountain outside of Scotland, at 1085 metres. The first recorded climbed was in 1639 by a botanist Thomas Johnston.

Interestingly (to me!), Mount Snowdon is almost exactly the same height as my favourite mountain - Table Mountain in my home town of Cape Town, South Africa. The mountain gods must have created them together, and the gods must have been in a really good mood, because both mountains are beautiful...Just goes to show that mountains don't have to be the highest to be the most photogenic!

Mount Snowdon...there are various walking routes to the top, but if you're feeling lazy, rather take the Snowdon Railway, which will take you all the way up to the summit, where a new visitor centre has recently been completed.

Day 9 - Wales Coast - Harlech - A castle and cottage fit for a king...

From Dolgellau, I drove to Harlech, famous for its World Heritage Site castle. And the views change again...for the better, if that's possible. (This trip is making me search hard for adjectives...must bring out that old Thesaurus of mine.)

Harlech sits high up on a hill, a town of 1000 people with a small main street. The castle dominates in the centre, where it looks west and north over a vast plain of low green hills, rising into the watercolour mountains of Snowdonia. And in the middle of these is the geometrically perfect triangle of Mount Snowdon itself. But it doesn't stop there. To the west, the town drops off steeply to Harlech Beach, 4 miles long, and St Davids Championship Golf Course, a links course, that blends well into the environment.

I am staying at Castle Cottage Harlech, and the views of Snowdon from the lounge bar will keep you from your meal. Except that the restaurant is award winning, and my starter (grilled goats cheese, avocado and pine nuts on beetroot carpaccio with pesto dressing), and my main (roasted loin of lamb and confit shoulder, served on bubble and squeak with buttered carrots and a red wine shallot sauce) quickly got me out of my chair in the lounge and into the dining area.

Castle Cottage's tag line is "restaurant with rooms", and this hints at the passion of owners Glyn and Jacqueline Roberts. The restaurant is the fulcrum around which this highly professional, yet welcoming, establishment turns. It is a family-run, luxury, five star restaurant, in a restored 17th century inn. The rooms, though, provide the double whammy. They are easily the most comfortable and sophisticated I've experienced on this trip, as well as among the slickest I've stayed in over several years of travel journalism.

From the outside, the austere stone work blends in with the rest of town, and you can easily walk past Castle Cottage without realising the potential dining and accommodation experience inside.

And something else makes it really easy to visit...although it would be number 1 on many visitors' lists of places to stay in Wales, and is definitely a "special" spot, it doesn't have the attendant formalities. I walked in with my dirty shorts and hiking boots, initially worried about pitching up at a smart spot looking like I did. But as I walked in, Glyn greeted me before I could greet him. "You must be the South African!" he said. "Only South Africans walk around in shorts all day!" I felt welcome straight away.

Check out Britain's other World Heritage Sites, and see what else Harlech has in store for you.

Harlech Castle...dating from the late 1200s.

My room at Castle Cottage Harlech...