It being St. David's Day, I am reminded of my trip to Wales back in 1994. I had never been to Wales before then, which is staggering in itself. I came over from the States with my first wife, our son Charlie, who was not quite four, and our friend Susan from California. We managed to pack a lot into the 3 weeks we were here - a whirlwind trip around the country, a day trip to France, a ferry to Ireland, and not to mention my Gran and Grandad's Golden Wedding, at which I had to be the MC, for some obscure reason. But it was the trip to Wales that really sticks in my memory. We had rented a car, a Renault Clio, at Gatwick, and drove ourselves down. We took off on a trip around the country and went to places like Oxford and Cambridge and Stratford-On-Avon and then, North Wales. We stayed in B&Bs along the way, and our first night in Wales was spent in Llandudno. We wanted to have a good takeoff point for the trip to Portmeirion. My wife and I were big fans of Portmeirion pottery, which of course is no longer made there but in Stoke-On-Trent. However, I was interested in seeing the village at Portmeirion for the architecture, and for the fact that it was the setting for one of the coolest shows ever, The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan. It was a beautiful place, very pretty and a bit spooky too.
Well, we all enjoyed traipsing around the gardens and admiring the Italian-themed buildings, and after that it was off to the Isle Of Anglesey. I said we couldn't come to Wales without seeing the longest place name in the British Isles, now could we?
So we drove to a little town on Anglesey called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantisiliogogogoch. It's important to remember that in Welsh, the 'll' makes a kind of cross between a 'ch' and a 'th' sound, but almost like blowing a bit of air into your cheeks when your jaw is slightly apart. (I'm trying to describe what I'm doing to make the sound). So 'pwll' is pronounced somewhere between 'porch' and 'porth'. Remember to not pronounce the R either! It's sort of like Chlan-vire-porth-gwin-gith-go-geh-ricch-weern-dro-bor-chlan-dis-ilio-gogo-goch. What it means is this: "The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's of the red cave".
Here's a pic of the sign at the railway station, where of course we went, because it is the longest railway station place sign in the world:
As you can see, it is round, and the place name goes around the wall on the inside, which is just visible also in the pic. Inside there is a little station where you can get your passport stamped. Here's mine, on the right.
The next thing was to go to Holyhead and take the ferry across the Irish Sea to Dun Laoghaire and visit Dublin, have a pint or two of Guinness, and head back to Holyhead. We stayed the night there and the next thing on the agenda was Blaenau Ffestiniog. Why? I was hoping you would ask.
Blaenau Ffestiniog has a narrow gauge railway that was built in the late 1860's to connect all the slate quarries in the area. It goes 13 and a half miles, through steep hills and beautiful valleys, so green, I never thought that shade of green was possible in nature. We got there fairly early in the morning and, what do you know? There was an Early Bird Special. A special carriage with a glass roof and chairs that swiveled to give panoramic views. I seem to recall cups of tea and a snack included too. What could be better? We wound through the hills, past little stations with wonderful evocative names - Tanygrisiau, Minffordd, Tan-Y-Bwlch, Porthmadog... ah, it was almost like being pulled by Ivor The Engine himself. I half expected to see Jones The Steam at the footplate, and Dai Station on the platform. Hauling a load of coal to Grumbly Gasworks...
Ah, great times. We had a wonderful trip, but I think that train ride is what will always stay with me.