On our third day we went to the Carmartheshire County Museum, which is housed in the former Bishop's Palace in Abergwili. We stopped off in Llandovery to take this picture of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Hloo-well-an ap Griffith, for the phonetically curious) after discovering his line was intermarried into the Toys. He was a lesser Welsh lord and landowner near Llandovery who led Henry IV of England all over Wales for several weeks on a wild goose-chase, looking for Owain Glendower, the other irascible thorn in the king's side and the leader of the Welsh revolters. When the jig was up, he was brutally tortured and murdered as an example to the Welsh up risers. Unfortunately for the English, his martyred death only served to solidify the Welsh cause. To this day, the Welsh are adamant about maintaining their language, their culture, and their right to govern themselves. You can see why we loved them!
The Bishop's Palace in Abergwili was the site of where William Salesbury wrote much of his Welsh translation of the New Testament, a document that Welsh historians agree was pivotal in preserving Welsh as a living language. My interest in seeing this book stems from the knowledge that Humphrey Toy paid completely for the publishing of this culturally vital tome. Granted, he was from an early printing family in England, and I believe he published it at his mother's insistence, but he still is the guy who's credited for making it happen. There is a copy of it in the United States; in the Archives of William and Mary College, in Williamsburg, VA. I'd love to know how it ended up there, as Williamsburg is mighty close to Gloucester County, VA. which was the home of another Humphrey Toy, from 1655 to about 1700. The first printing press in Virginia was also in Gloucester County, which leads to even more speculation.
Outside, on the grounds of the Bishop's Palace, we encountered some odd trees and plants as we strolled around. There were things that looked like Rhododendron bushes, only with bright yellow flowers, and oddly shaped pine trees called "Monkey Conifers". This tree was just an oak, but it made a good backdrop.
Carmarthen and the area around it is reputed to be the birthplace of the Arthurian wizard Merlin, the original spelling being Caermyrddin (Care-Myrthin); Caer, meaning fort, and Myrddin, meaning Merlin. We walked down to the fields and lilypond behind the palace, hoping to catch a glimpse of Merlin's Hill off in the near distance. This Hawthorn tree was immense and if you've ever watched the film Elizabeth, with Cate Blanchett, this is the same kind of tree she meets her new council under when she's made queen. After the Bishop's Palace, we headed down the road to Carreg Cennen, or at least, the ruins of it. The first castle built here was in the 13th century, but legend has it that Urien Rheged, a knight of the Round Table, built the first fortress here. Modern excavations have also found Roman coins and prehistoric human remains in the cave underneath the castle, so this place has been in use for some time! We stopped in at the Castell Farm below, to pay our admission fees and browse their wonderful shop of handmade crafts, which were nicer and far cheaper than anywhere else we went. I also bought some of their Caramel Sticky Bars as a quick energy burst before climbing the hill. Oh my god - they were Sin Incarnate! The climb to the top seems deceptively easy, until you've been at it for 15 minutes or so, but the view from the top is incredible. I had to stop and catch my breath when we finally made it to the top. I love the fact that we're sitting on the wall, right next to the caution sign. "Visitors are warned to take every care to avoid accidents." You think they meant sitting on the wall in a high wind? The wind was really kicking it up at the top of the ruins. My brother was standing on the opposite wall when I took this, and I swear it looked like he was going to take off and catch a mighty draft! The sun came and went all day, so sometimes we took beautiful, sunny shots, and five minutes later, the pictures would be all dark and cloudy looking. Hey, at least it wasn't hot and there was nobody up there with us, so the experience was that much more intimate and powerful. " Yes, yes, yes!" The descendant of Welsh royalty tips his hat, and we play along, because we know he's buying the first round at the pub, later on. I should never have told him about Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. There's another guy with the same name who was the last Prince of Wales, but I don't think he was the guy we're related to. Try telling that to His Royal Highness. Yeah, not so much. It was hard enough to convince him that the Welsh would be speaking their own tongue in some places. He was just astounded when he figured it out, kind of like the amazement of toddlers at Christmas. It reminded me of Steve Martin, talking about visiting France; "Its like those French have a different word for everything!" The coolest and creepiest part of Cerreg Cennen was the natural cave that sits underneath the castle. This is the beginning of the tunnels that take you down, down, down, to the cave. I think this shot is looking back up the way we came. This would be my Lovely Assistant, coming out of the tunnel above. This is the view from where my Lovely Assistant was standing. Note the bizarre little red caution sign, showing a guy slipping. My dad, after seeing this sign, responded, "Well of course he fell down. Look at how he's dancing around!" I know- he's just a Laugh Riot, isn't he?
Ahh! Entering the cave! It was so dark and slippery in there I about busted my ass twice. The floor is really uneven, as well as slick, so you can see why that little guy on the sign was looking all discomfuckulated. My brother took these shots, because he had the better camera and let's just say it; he is a far better photographer than I am!
Supposedly this spring in the cave is a magical site. I swear it - I read an entire book about sacred sites in Wales and this one is supposed to be a wishing well. You're supposed to bring a pin with you, wish on it, and throw it in the well. Our B&B hostess even asked us if we had wished while we were there. I am sad to report we did not take advantage of the wish potential of the place, but honestly? It was way too dark and creepy down there to want to hang around for long.
Coming back up and out of the cave, I stopped to take a shot of the farmlands out the window. I loved how the ancient and rough stone made an abstract kind of frame around the view. We are definitely NOT in Kansas, Toto! We're smiling but my ass is so sore right now! The wind was ripping our hair and clothes so badly, we look like we've been on a bender, but for the moment anyway, we are quite sober.
We left and repaired to a pub for the rest of the afternoon. We actually were trying to find somewhere we could get a bite to eat, but everything shuts down at 3 PM, which is just about the time your immense Welsh breakfast wears off. So there we were, hungry, in a pub, eating "crisps" (chips) and drinking pints, in an effort to stave off hunger. The outcome? Four drunk Americans scaring the hell out of the local color. I do think the barmaids liked us, at least; Tipping is not only NOT a city in China, but it isn't a city in Wales either, which didn't keep us from doing it, no sirree bob. Looking back now, I'm all worried we were Ugly Americans. Aww man! At least we tried to learn some Welsh - cwrw da! (good beer) Iechyd da! (good health) Croeso (welcome) - which is more than I can say for the Ugly Americans we met later in the week. They reminded me forcibly of the tourist couple in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, reading the philosophy trivia cards (do you know who I mean?) We did have to buy Dad a coffee mug with Iechyd da on it, so he could remember how to say it, but does that make us Ugly?
Jesus, so now I'm a pompous serializing windbag (I'm just teasing, Ray!) AND an Ugly American in the bargain as well.
Tune in next week, for the final installment of
The Epic Saga of Our Trip to Wales