Friday, July 25, 2007 Wales at Last!

I am finally getting the hang of this blog thing! It has been difficult to figure out how to add and correctly place pictures, video clips, and so on, but I think it is finally coming together, just in time for the best part of the whole British experience, Wales.

I took Arriva Trains from Manchester, England to Tywyn, Wales with several train changes along the way. Everything went smoothly, and the train trip was comfortable and uneventful. I knew that I was headed for an isolated area that was accessible by limited bus service, by car (which I wasn't brave enough to try), on foot, or by steam railway. I ended up using a combination to get around the area.

I arrived at Tywyn Station via Arriva Trains Wales on Friday afternoon, a cool, blustery, cloudy afternoon. The gray ocean lay to the east, and to the west was a magnificent valley that was bordered on the north by the distant mountains of Snowdonia and to the south by the Cambrian Mountain Range.

I felt the way I'm sure Will Stanton must have felt when he arrived at Tywyn in Susan Cooper's Grey King, a stranger in a strange land. The thing that made me feel a little like I was a foreigner was that all signs were posted in Welsh as well as English, and I was very glad that I had practiced saying many of the place names with the help of a Welsh friend from home because to the American eye, they looked totally unpronounceable and I was afraid that I would be unable to correctly enunciate the names of places that I wanted to go when asking for train tickets, etc. Will would probably have felt the same way, having been an English boy raised near London.

The Welsh language seems to be short on vowels, and favors lots of Y's. Welsh puts one in mind of the Germanic languages because of all the sharp consonants and sibilant sounds that are involved. The double L, which makes a sound that we don't use in English, was especially challenging. One must place the tip of the tongue lightly behind the teeth barely touching the roof of the mouth and blow out to create the sound of those two letters when they are found together in Welsh words.

Anyway, once off the train, I pulled my heavy suitcase down the northbound platform and across the tracks at the crossing and along the southbound platform next to the station and out to the car park area. Out on High Street, I strolled through the center of Tywn, found something to eat at a small diner, and located the Tourist Information Center. The lady who worked there gave me maps and brochures and we talked a little about the area. An elderly British bicyclist came in to get information on some local attractions and he told me that he had come to Tywyn on holiday years before and when his wife passed away last year, he had moved to Tywyn from California.

After leaving the tourist center, I began looking for the bus stop. In the process of walking on down High Street, I spotted beds and breakfasts, just as Will mentions seeing on his first trip through town with his grownup cousin Rees. In addition, there was a news agent's shop right across the street, perhaps the same one that Susan Cooper describes Will later entering to get stamps to send a card home to his family. Once I found the bus stop, I discovered that there was only one other bus out of town to Dolgoch Falls were I was staying, and it would arrive shortly.

When I got on the bus, I just sat and stared at the scenery. The narrow roads had thick, shrubby fence rows that grew to within inches of the road. Many of the fence rows grew on waist-high banks that one could reach out and touch from a vehicle window they were so close. It was clear that there were few road shoulders upon which a pedestrian might walk, so I had a better understanding of why hikers are permitted to pass through farm fields without being accused of trespassing. The only thing that farmers ask is that they don't make too much noise and that they close all farm gates as they pass through. Many farmers have build stiles right over the fences so they don't have to worry about anyone leaving gates open.

The view of the Fathew Valley that led up toward Tal y Llyn was beautiful, bordered on both sides with steep mountains dotted with white sheep, stone fences, heather, and shoulder-high fern. There were many farms along the way, any one of which might have been that of Will's uncle in the stories. When the bus did let me off at Dolgoch Falls Hotel, the place was quaint and charming.

After meeting Graeme and Allyson, the young couple who own Dolgoch Falls Hotel, and checking into my room, I took a walk up the valley for a short distance. It was beautiful! I was right about the roads; there were many places where the roads were closely edged by fence rows and I had to keep a careful watch for cars to keep from being hit. Since I knew I was going to be walking a lot, I realized I'd definitely have to use farm fields to get where I wanted to go.
When I got back from my walk further up the valley, I strolled up behind the hotel to Dolgoch Falls. As I climbed the mountain, I came to one waterfall after another. They were magnificent and the sound was almost deafening at times.
I had a lovely dinner of leek and potato soup with crusty rolls, chicken breast with whole grain mustard, and vegetables on the side, along with a nice cup of tea at the end. I was seated in the dining room at a small table with another guest eating at another small table nearby. We exchanged small talk as Graeme served our food, and not for the last time while there, I felt as though I was stepping straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. The only thing missing from the scene was a murder or two, and thankfully, that remained the case during my stay.

I spent the rest of the evening in the hotel’s tiny pub taking advantage of their wireless Internet service. It was quite enjoyable to sit and talk with the hosts and their guests as they had drinks and chatted. Two elderly gentlemen were discussing the unwelcome effects of computerization upon the train system and I couldn't help think that had it not been for computers and the railway system, Tywyn or Dolgoch Falls.

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