DALLAS, March 17, 2012 - Move over St. Patrick and make way for Wales’ patron, Saint David. With the luck ‘o the Irish upon us this weekend, the Welsh celebrated their lucky day on March 1, particularly in the capital city of Cardiff during the annual St. David’s Day celebration.
Having spotty ties to Saint Patrick, Saint David was said to have died on March 1, 589 with some stories alluding to the fact that he lived over 100 years. He was a Welsh Bishop and he is buried at St. David’s Cathedral in St. David’s, Pembrokeshire in the country of Wales.
Every year the Welsh take the time to celebrate their patron Saint in the country donning yellow daffodils and taking part in parades in Cardiff and the surrounding towns.
Most trips to Wales will begin in Cardiff too, a modern city by any standard with must-sees including Cardiff Castle and the National Museum. At the museum one of the current and very timely exhibitions include “The Queen: Art and Image” marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in Great Britain this year. The exhibits offers a look at 60 of the most striking images of Queen Elizabeth II throughout her reign and images offered are as diverse as photos from Annie Leibovitz to Andy Warhol.
While I was touring the Southern part Wales I also had a guide who drove and generally helped with all the most unpleasant parts of traveling like dealing with traffic, navigating the roadway and making a number hairpin turns when I decided I wanted to go from point A to C without checking in at B. The guide’s name, Gordon Hill (www.Gordonthe Guide.com) and he’s worth a call when you decide to embark upon your own visit to this magical country.
The Castles of Wales
A tidy little fact you won’t want to forget is that Wales has more castles per capita than anywhere else you are likely to visit in Europe. It’s a land full of turrets and moats so if that is your pleasure then you have come to the right place. There are 100 castles still standing in Wales and at least 300 more that have been identified as locations where they once stood.
Nearby Cardiff and a good stop on your way to the countryside is Caerphilly Castle medieval in its exterior and much the same inside as well. Its size makes it the second largest castle in Great Britain after Windsor and it’s a great chance to see the real design of a castle from this time period. Builders used a water defense (aka a moat) and other defensive measures that were so important when Caerphilly was built back in the 13th century.
I had heard of Dylan Thomas when I visited Wales, but my memory was a bit sketchy on the facts. It is estimated that Thomas is the most quoted writer after Shakespeare and at the Dylan Thomas Center in Swansea you can read a plethora about the man, Swansea was his birthplace. Another Swansea must is a visit to the home where Thomas was born at Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. You can spend the night there and have dinner or just enjoy a visit and talk with the overseer of the house, a lively woman named Annie. She will serve you tea and the famous Bara Brith Welsh tea cake in the meticulously decorated home, adorned as it was in 1914 when Thomas was born in the front bedroom.
After a trip to Swansea the next move for any Dylan Thomas fan will have to be the town of Laugharne where you should spend the night and definitely visit his boathouse and grave at St. Martin’s Church. Thomas lived in Laugharne twice in 1938 to 1940 and in 1949 until his death 1953, consequently he ended up dying in New York City. Another aside, some say Laugharne is the fictitious town of Llareggub in “Under Milk Wood,” the truth of that went with Thomas to the grave though.
The Mystical Side of Wales
One day I had Gordon the “amazing guide” take me on a search for stone circles, all things Celtic and magical wells frequented by fairies, or at least the wells are so frequented in my mind. There were some roads we traveled that were so remote and out of the way that I thought we might have stepped back in time. We found the stone circles that are must see on top of Gospel Pass above the town of Hay-on-Wye.
There is also an Arthurian connection and the legendary wizard, Merlin was said to have come from the oldest town in Wales, Carmarthen. While there are many stories regarding Merlin from the area, the most famous is the tale of the old Oak tree which stood in the center of that town for centuries. Legend goes that Merlin said “When Merlin’s tree shall tumble down, then shall fall Carmarthen town.” The stump of the old Oak tree can be found at the County Museum, which by the way is jewel and also haunted. It is said Merlin’s cave is located just two miles out of town where he has been imprisoned for eternity after one of his own spells was cast against him.
One final stop that took us off the beaten path thanks to Gordon was the Gelligaer Common and I knew I was in good company when I saw hundreds of Welsh ponies grazing. Our destination in the Common was actually St. Glydus Chapel where only a Celtic cross is left standing on the windy hill today. The cross dates from about 472 and is surrounded by myth and legend as is Glydus who was supposedly a Celtic princess who married a warring king, but over time lived happily ever after on this windy and peaceful piece of land.
Places to Stay
Thistle Parc Hotel, Cardiff
Keepers Cottage B & B, Laugharne
The Coach House, Aberhonddu/Brecon
The Llanwenarth Hotel, Llanwenarth
Places to Eat While Visiting
Mimosa Restaurant, Cardiff
The Cors Country House, Laugharne
Talgarth Mill, The Mill House, Talgarth,
For more check out Wales.
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