Thursday, March 27, 2008

Trip to Wales~Part I

Two Springs past, I took a journey to the UK with my husband, my father, and my younger brother. I was on a mission. They came along to drink beer, drive, and occasionally, pick up the tab and my luggage. This is the story of

The Epic Saga of Our Trip to Wales

It was a bit of a bumpy start, trying to leave. We huddled in a glass bus shelter when we first arrived at RDU, listening to the pinging and smacking of hailstones, hoping the bus would arrive before the imminent tornado, which I later learned from Bea, actually did, only closer to home. The weather delayed all of the flights out that afternoon, so when we finally arrived in Newark, we were just in time to watch our flight leave without us. Evidently bad weather is not a good enough reason to hold the plane, and since we were headed to Bristol, England, a smaller airport, we had to wait until the next day to fly out. As you can see, we were very excited to spend an entire day in Newark. We did try to make the best of it, but it was still a drag and we just wanted to be on our way to the trip we had planned, before we spent all our money on lunch in the airport. The transvestite waiter-ess was kind of diverting, but my god - no one should spend 200.00 on four burgers, even if the condiments do come in cute little bottles (Which I stuffed in my bag, just like my mother would have done. Augh!)

As soon as we touched down, rented a car, and stowed our gear, we were on the road, headed for Wales. Okay, I confess, we did take a quick detour down to Cheddar, to have some cheese shipped to us - a costly and kind of iffy venture, and what a tourist racket! I would just eat the stuff next time. But then we were well and truly off to the Brecon Mountains area of Wales. I had booked us rooms at an immaculate B&B, located right on the Tywi River. The main part of the house had been a 16th century drover's pub, and the huge inglenook fireplace made of river rock, and the black beams supporting the ceiling were all original. I chose this place because it offered direct access to the river Tywi, one of our main reasons for being there.

I know you're just dying to ask the question, "Why did you go to Wales?", so I'll tell you. We went to Wales to conduct genealogical research on the origin of our last name. I had done online research for about two years before we went, and found three groups of one Toy family living in London and Bristol, in England,and Carmarthen, in Wales. What made them significant and worth looking into was the use of several names that not only showed up all three branches, but were also the names used by a group of Toys who settled in the Jamestown, Virginia area, prior to 1660. What makes that significant, is that it proves the name Toy is not only of English/Welsh origin, but that they were here early enough to have one of them intermarry with a girl in the Swedish colony in New Jersey.

I know, I've lost you. You're asking, "So what?" and maybe even, "What the Fu?" The reason for this convoluted explanation is that the results of my research proves that the data stubbornly adhered to by many of my fellow researchers of this family name is incorrect. Their Swedish ancestors didn't live in a cultural vacuum, and there is harder proof for cultural intermarriage producing the name Toy in the Swedish colony, than there is for it being a bastardization of a Swedish patronym.

And that is why we went to Wales. Well, that's why I went. My dad wanted to see the Afon Tywi or Towy River, my brother was there to drive like a bat out of hell and drink beer, and my husband was just "jazzed to be on the show", and to be my lovely assistant in researching, of course. What we didn't realize was that we would all come home raving about the Welsh beer. Even me, and I don't usually like to drink beer. I'm not sure what the secret to their outstanding beer is, but I drank like a proper sot the whole time and never got a headache or felt hung over. Welsh beer is awesome!

With that in mind, it shouldn't surprise you that our first stop, other than asking some poor, unsuspecting Welshman at the gas station for directions (he's probably still shaking his head!), was at a pub in the darlin' town of Llandovery. It was maybe 2 pm, so these are career drinkers hanging out in the background. A couple of them were friendly, but most of them had a hard day's drinking to do, and left us alone in our touristy-ness.

This stitch has flaws in it, but it gives you the idea of what it looked like inside.

When we toddled out of the pub and headed to the B&B, it was just a few miles down the road. I was a little worried my dad would be negative about staying in a nice place (he's got this whole "all I need is a sleeping bag and some frank-n-beans" stoic thing he likes to play), but he loved it, as did we all. Here we are upon arriving, taking time for a photo-op.

Then we headed down to the river to see our possible name originator up close and personal. We were all struck by how much it looked like Western Pennsylvania, only with more hedges and sheep, but with similar rolling hills and a lush verdancy that says home to me wherever it is. Even the rocks in the river were similar to the shale and fossil-rich rocks of our beloved Oil Creek back home. My brother went in the water and drank a handful of it, because he has a parasitic collection in his gut that keeps him from ever getting sick from bad water, the bastard. On at least one occasion I have gotten dysentery from drinking the water in his canteen, and water-borne bacteria is a personal nemesis of mine from way back.

The next day we headed into Carmarthen, the county seat and the 16th century home of the Toys I was researching. We had an appointment at the Archives later in the day, but we stopped in at St. Peter's Church to look around and see if there was anything to glean from there. Carmarthen was an odd town, ancient, crumbling buildings leaning against newer, uglier, and squat businesses. It had peaked as a town in the early 1600s, but a variety of economic pressures caused it to slide afterwards. The period I believe my ancestors left in was around 1640-50 a period when the plague was so prevalent that much of the regular government business was conducted out of town. Not hard to see why Virginia would have looked good, and there was many a Welshman who came and settled there during that time. Right inside the church doors was a Roman house altar that had been found in one of their restorations of the church. There had been a church or temple on that location since pre-Roman times, and in typical early Christian fashion, they erected their church on the site of an earlier pagan temple. This is a pet field of research for me, so don't let me get started on that digression - we'll never finish!

This is a view of what had been the south porch of St. Peter's, but is now a Lady's Chapel. This is where our boy, Humphrey Toy, was buried. At least until they turned it into a chapel - no one seemed to know where the people buried in these walls had been re-interred at, when the renovation occurred. I did find a book in the local library that had a copy of Humphrey's tomb inscription and where it had been, so at least we found that data to go with this picture.
There is more to tell, but I fear I have to break it into sections to keep it from becoming too long to reasonably read. I do hope this doesn't render me pompous. Rambling, I can live with. Long-winded, also okay. But pompous? Me? Ya think? Maybe its more like I need that serialization because I suck at writing short stories, and all my stories seem to be of epic lengths.

Coming soon; Trip to Wales~Part II

(I know- you just can't wait!)

6 comments:

Chanda (aka Bea) said...

Epic sagas call for epic story telling. Don't sweat the length. Oh, and be forwarned, Im totally going to be picking your brain when I start planing my trek back to my (not so) ancestral homeland of Ireland.

Hel said...

What fun to visit Whales with you. Sigh, if only the visit was not so short ;)

FairiesNest said...

Excellent! Next time though I want to go too!

jennifer h said...

This is really interesting, and the pictures are great. I want to go! And I want to try their beer.

flutter said...

Ok that first photo? YOU LOOK THRILLED....LOL!

maggie, dammit said...

Wait, I didn't hear anything after "I don't usually like to drink beer." What's that you say? I don't get it.

(and finally, I understand the "we_be_toys"!! I'm so smart.)

I love how alike the three of you look in the first picture. Classic.

Welsh beer is awesome indeed.