Towns / Cities Visited: 105
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 9,402
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,924,106
Today had been planned as a rather uneventful travel day to reach our accommodation at the top of Wales, but given the long conversation we had had with our hosts the previous evening, we were heading out for a somewhat more interesting itinerary for the day. With our list of places to visit in hand; the names of which were mostly in Welsh, made me feel somewhat dyslexic, and looked like a cat had walked across a keyboard; we headed out to visit a church and a series of tiny beaches on the west coast of the country. Our first stop for the day, which was within the realm of pronunciation, was St. David’s. This small but quaint country town had come with a glowing recommendation, and thus we parked the car and made our way to the main drawcard, St. David’s Cathedral.
There has been a church on this spot since St. David, the patron saint of Wales, founded the monastic community here in 589 AD. Although the community was raided many times, including by the vikings, the area was so well respected that even the early kings noted its religious and intellectual importance, and helped to protect and rebuild it after the attacks. It was an important place of pilgrimage in the 12th century, after the new cathedral was built on the site under the leadership of Bishop Bernard, to such an extent that the Pope decreed that two pilgrimages to St. David’s was equal to a pilgrimage to Rome, and three pilgrimages was equal to one pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This beautiful building was expanded and improved over the centuries, including a number of restorations between the late 18th and early 20th centuries, which has left it as the stunning building it is today.
As we neared, it was spectacular to see the aging stones which sing of times gone by, and the gilded clock high up on the central tower, reminding us that time marches forward despite us. We had never even heard of the cathedral before yesterday, and yet when we walled inside we were ecstatic that we took the recommendation to visit. As you walk through the door, it is impossible not to be taken aback by the breathtaking wooden ceiling. We have become so used to the vaulted stone ceilings of most of Europe’s aging houses of god, that to see this more medieval style left us a little floored. As you look down from the ceiling, your eyes fall upon the carved wooden figure of Christ on the cross which hangs above the perfect intertwine which is the wooden organ with its shining metal pipes. The way the light wood plays alongside the cool stone is a subtle but powerful show of nature’s raw beauty.
As we moved into the choir, we were met with a even more spectacular ceiling looking down at us from high up in the tower. The wooden fan vaulting is painted brightly with coloured crests and a blue cross dotted with depictions of the sun, and lit gently by the gothic windows just below it. The altar behind here is backed by gilded artwork depicting the crucifixion and a number of saints. The ceiling above this area is also wood, painted brightly with a dainty but intricate pattern, and decorated with yet more crests. The aging stone shrine to the side houses the supposed relics of St. David, and despite the fact that carbon dating has dated them from some 600 years after his death, many people still make pilgrimages to the tomb. There are many other beautiful memorials and carvings that adorn the interior, countless stained glass windows, and even a crest inlaid into the floor from the 14th century.
With the church done and dusted, we headed outside to visit the other unique draw to this location; the Bishop’s Palace. This crumbling ruin which is bigger than the cathedral itself was constructed in the 14th century under the direction of Bishop Henry de Gower. It would once have been a massive and intimidating residence, but even so, by the 16th century, thanks to the reformation of the church, the roof was stripped of its lead, and the building began its decline into disrepair. Despite its ruined nature, as you wander around the sight you can still catch glimpses of some of the medieval architecture; from pointed arches, to sweeping staircases, and an intricate circular window which has been reconstructed to depict its former glory. There are also a number of information panels which help explain what each room was used for; the history of the Bishop’s, and their mildly disgusting wealth and power; and what their life would have been like in centuries past. I will never understand how the members of the highest echelon of the church justified needing such a large and expensive residence, when they simultaneously preached living a humble life in service of god to their poor flock.
Our time in St. David’s was coming to an end, but we walked into the heart of the town to quickly grab some lunch before heading on our way. Discovering that the pastie has a rival in these parts, called the oggie, we decided to purchase one of each and see which was better. There seems to be a long running disagreement about which came first, but much like the chicken and the egg argument, I will just end it by saying it really doesn’t matter as they are both delicious.
Back in the car we tumbled and headed on our way to begin the beach hop. Our first stop was Aberporth, and although the weather was not as favourable as the previous day, that didn’t take away from our pleasant surprise to find ourselves standing on a sandy beach, as opposed to the stony seasides we had become accustomed to. The little sheltered bay was truly picturesque, and as we stood atop a rocky outcrop which looks down over the cove, we watched as a group of people moved their sailboat to the oceans edge for a day out on the water. Given the ominous dark lining the edges of the clouds, we were fairly confident that they would be enjoying H2O from both above and below during their adventure.
Driving a little further up the coast, we found ourselves at another tiny beach, with a Welsh name my vernacular still struggles to pronounce; LLangranog. This cute cove is hugged by dark cliffs, seemingly visited by humans and dogs at a ratio of 1:1, and covered with both sand and pebbles in perfect harmony. A small rivulet cuts through its centre, on its leisurely way to meet the crashing white caps of the waves rushing to the shore.
The next stop was at a much larger town, with a much easier to pronounce name; New Quay. As the rain began to fall gently upon us, we walked down to the harbour side where small boats in neat rows bob lazily in its sanctuary. Our stay was brief, and before long we made it to the last beach on our itinerary; Aberaeron. Given the three sandy beaches we had just come from, it was surprising to find ourselves crunching along a black stone shore. Despite the hardness of the terrain, there was something inexplicably picturesque about the smooth edges of the stones, worn away by time and motion. It calmed me to stand, just us, looking out to the distant horizon, listening to the constant crash of water.
With the day getting on, and more than two hours still to drive before we reached the top of Wales, we bundled back into the car. Luckily for us the drive was improved immensely by the absolutely stunning scenery of Snowdonia National Park that we were passing through, and which we would be exploring in depth the next day. Eventually we made it to our accommodation in a small town of who’s name makes me feel dyslexic every time I look at it, and which I am fairly sure I will never be able to pronounce without thoroughly offending all native Welsh speakers; Dwygyfylchi. We were staying in a small but fully equipped bungalow out the back of a family’s home, and it was nice to have our own private space to enjoy a home cooked meal and spend a quiet night together.
As I thought about the days travels, and the names of the places we had been, I couldn’t help but dwell on how much respect I have for people who live with dyslexia, and doubly so for those of whom struggle with it and yet are also bi or multi lingual. I cannot imagine how hard and frustrating it must be to try and complete an education with such a challenge in the way, let alone trying to learn another language with unfamiliar words, and unfamiliar spelling. Their persistence and determination is admirable to say the least, especially when I do not share their difficulties and yet can still only speak fluently in English. I am lucky to have a first language shared by so many on this Earth, and I have been reminded of this luck often on our travels. To all of you who become frustrated with and abusive towards immigrants or visitors in your home country who struggle to master your language, but who battle on ahead anyway; who are still learning, and making the effort despite the language barrier; shame on you. If you want people to improve, remember that they will never do so when shown scorn or anger. Support them, help them, build them up, and remember that there are always more ways to communicate than solely through spoken and written word.