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Shamed into visiting Wales


The deciding factor, believe it or not, was my name. Bronwen, you see, is a Welsh name derived from ancient mythology and noble lineage. “How novel it would be,” I thought, “to go someplace where they won’t look at me funny when I introduce myself!” You have to understand, in the United States the name Bronwen is very rare, and on those infrequent occasions when I do meet or hear about another “Bronwen,” the other Bronwen usually spells her name wrong, using a “y” instead of an “e” at the end. That’s what you get for not knowing your Anglo-Saxon from your Welsh Gaelic. But I digress…

The typical conversation I have when meeting new people goes something like this:

“Hi, I’m Bronwen.”

“Your name’s what?”

“Can you spell that?”

“Do you have a nick name?”

And then there’s my favorite:

“That’s a name?”

Sigh.

So, I had a destination: Wales and any other parts of the British Isles I could reasonably manage within a two week period. And I would fly solo this trip, just to see what it was like to explore a new place completely on my own.

Once those decisions were made it didn’t take long to find what I was looking for: a walking tour of Wales, complete with experienced local guides, lodgings in converted manor houses, and fine dining in the evenings. To round off the packaged trip I decided to spend several days before and after in London, staying in Covent Garden at a hotel recommended by a friend who is a confirmed Anglo-phile and repeat traveler to Big Ben’s home town.

Reservations were made, checks were sent, books about Wales were ordered and read. I even hired a personal trainer to help me get in shape so I wouldn’t keel over, or worse, embarrass myself while on top of a mountain. Finally the day came and I left US soil, packed for the fog and rain and chill of England. I felt ready for anything!

They were having a heat wave.

I’m pretty sure it started as soon as my feet touched British soil.

In spite of this slight hiccup, I managed to do quite well in London. I did the tourist thing and rode around town in a double-decker bus, getting an overview of the city and its sights. I dodged pigeons in Trafalgar Square. I mastered the Tube, London’s underground railway, and soon was riding it from one end of town to the other. I took several walking tours around various parts of London using a local company called London Walks. And I discovered that the Marks & Spencer chain of stores carried clothing, so I was able to supplement my fleece pullovers and turtlenecks with a couple of blouses and t-shirts.

Life was good. I was having fun seeing the sights and meeting new people. Soon it was time to meet up with my fellow walkers and begin the next chapter of my adventures in the land of the Celts.

We met at the Bristol Parkway train station, not quite two hours west of London by national rail. I took the train over from Paddington, arriving fairly early so as to avoid potential problems meeting up with the tour group. I had some silly notion of exploring Bristol in the time between my arrival and being picked up by the tour van, but that turned out to be impractical and I found myself cooling my heels at the train station, enjoying the drab décor and watching the people as they wandered while on their way here or there. Soon, however, I recognized a yellow, boot-shaped luggage tag on the rolling suitcase of a young woman who seemed equally aimless at the moment. Sure enough, the tag was from the travel company through which I had booked the tour, and the young woman was also waiting for pick-up by the local guides.

From then on time passed more quickly. The young lady and I chatted about the trip, our expectations, where we were from ­ the usual. Then the coaches (that’s British for “vans” or “buses”, folks…) arrived, and as soon as everyone was loaded into the coaches we were on our way!

From the moment we arrived in Wales, I felt at ease. Well, almost. The walking was a tad more challenging than I had expected and I was intimidated at first by the fact that my fellow travelers were far more experienced than I was. But these things passed, and soon I felt like I could stay forever and be happy there. Maybe it was the excellent care of the guides shepherding us from one scenic stop to the next, or perhaps it was the lush greens of the trees and fields through which we walked. Or perhaps it was the fact that for the first time in years I got to just be me, without worrying about the duties and responsibilities I had left back home. Whatever the reason, by week’s end I was dreading my return to London, and even more so my return home to California.

There is something about the United Kingdom, or at least what I have seen of it, that I already miss. Partly it is the deep sense of a rich culture. Partly it is the courtesy between strangers that is unheard of in Los Angeles. Partly it is the eclectic hodge-podge of architecture, with each successive generation leaving its indelible mark upon its surroundings. Partly it is other things, things I have not yet found words to express. Britain is, of course, connected to Europe in a way that California has never been and will never be, and that connection brings with it hints of the exotic I had never experienced before. For all these reasons and more I can see myself living in Britain someday, although what part of it I cannot say.

My heart is lost in Wales, in its soft, rounded hills, in the bright greens of its fields, lakes and river ways, and in the craggy ruins of its castles which sit as silent sentinels, slumbering in that dreamy place between sleep and wakefulness, remembering their days of glory and reminding us of ages long since past. In touching their stones I felt their pride and sorrow, and briefly remembered with them those days when they had purpose and meaning, when they were loved and feared, long before the years took their toll and decay robbed them of their strength and vigor.

London speaks to a different part of my soul. It speaks to that part which craves civilization, with all its trappings, good and bad. The crowded subways and the black diesel dust somehow combine with the amalgam of architectural styles, from gothic to Victorian to modern glass and steel, adding spice to the twists and turns of the city streets and binding the eclectic collection of structures into a unique, albeit complex, whole.

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