Every winter holiday, my family made the drive to my grandfather’s home for an early Christmas. When greetings died down and my father and his brothers would get into conversation, year after year my grandfather would sneak me off into his study and reveal pages and scrolls of his research about our family’s heritage. I read names under dim lighting, breathed in the musty air released from old books, and followed his thin fingers over names and linage charts.
My wide-eyed youthful wonder never translated to mature inquiries with my grandfather. While I was in college, he passed away.
I always knew when I had another chance to venture across the Atlantic, I would go to the village in Wales our family came from as a sort of personal pilgrimage. When a friend got engaged, moved to England, and announced her wedding date, Matthew and I started planning our 12-day trip with Wales as a priority.
We arrived in London late in the afternoon and went straight to our hotel just outside of Euston Station. Before the run rose the next morning we were boarding a train for Wales.
About 5 and a half hours from London, we approached our first stop in Wales. Dyffryn Ardudwy is considered an optional stop, so we had to request it when our tickets were checked. Dyffryn is a small town of about 1,500 people with a single main road off the beaten trail. Nearly everyone besides the train staff had no idea what or where it was when we mentioned it. We stepped off the train with one other person and found ourselves in a quiet sea of green. The train pulled away and we were left alone on the narrow platform. Behind us were farms, rolling countryside, and the ocean; in front of us we could only assume was the center of town. The only road coming from town intersects the train tracks with closed gates on either side of the track, forcing any driver to get out, open both gates, and repeat the process on the other side (which we witnessed while waiting for the train to Barmouth).
We headed into town while I scanned the road ahead of us for a sign of churches. My great grandfather was the last of our family born here, but it was my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather that has the true acclaim: Parchedig (Reverend) Richard Humphreys, 1791 – 1863, whom I’m told still has the translations he did of scriptures into Welsh being used. I had no idea what I was hoping to find other than experiencing a place whose name I had known for years. The only thing I had was the town’s name with no clue if the building he practiced in still stood, what it was even called, or if any public trace of him still existed. We trekked up and down the main road of the village, saw a few land marks, and almost called it quits. I was tired and starting to settle with there not being much I’d be able to find without knowing what I was looking for. I dragged my feet, but started making my way back to the train stop.
Then Matthew pointed up a road called Ffordd y Capel – Chapel Road. I couldn’t help but to laugh. Instead of turning into town, if we had kept going straight from the station (Station Road turned into Chapel Road once it crossed the main street), we would have walked right up to it.
A large chapel appeared across the road from its graveyard. We looked at each other with a glimmer of hope that we could find some record of names and dates that would match what I knew. I wandered up to the church, which was locked, and wandered through the gravestones along the side of the building. I cut my exploration short, worried of disturbing the unorganized headstones, and Matthew and I crossed the road to check the graveyard. We found some interesting engravings and markers, but nothing we were looking for. We considered leaving again and took a few steps down the road back toward the train station.
A nagging feeling that wouldn’t leave me alone made me stop and brought me back to the side of church.
I stepped carefully, following what I could only interpert as an overgrown path, along the building to a small backyard.
Next to headstones, an old tomb stood out.
I tried to distingush the worn letters carved into the stone’s surface.
My heart caught in my throat.
YMA Y CLADDWYD Y PARCHEDIG RICHARD HUMPHREYS OR DYFFRYN…
If my footsteps were guided, I’d like to believe my grandfather stood laughing with me in triumph when I, teary eyed, once again ran my hand over a string of Welsh as I had when I was a child in his study.
I miss you, grandpa Don.
I’m so grateful for all those moments you took the time to show me what your were passionate about.
We left Dyffryn to spend the night in Barmouth, a 10 minute train ride south, that sits on the water as a resort town. Dyffryn had one hotel that had no vacancies. The hotel typically caters to those backpacking through Snowdonia National Park, which Dyffryn sits on the edge of – an adventure for an eventual future trip back to Wales. Barmouth reminds me of the quaint, small beach towns in Florida with novelty shops, cafés, and seasonal homes. We spent our time wandering the streets and shops, purchasing small gifts for family, and getting a feel for the town caught between the hills and the ocean.
On our last morning after check-out (we usual make our trips with only a backpack each) we walked the endless stretch of beach, squishing our toes into the sand, and kicking at the cold water before catching the train to Cardiff.
We spent about 3 days in Cardiff. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was already feeling at home. Wales reminds me so much of Seattle. The weather tends to be cool, the rain keeps the landscape green, mountains and hills expand along the horizon, and spending so much time in coastal towns kept me from missing the ocean.
We spent Halloween tiredly sipping drinks in the almost empty hotel bar. We always seem to be traveling on or around Halloween, and it was a sweet memory to think that 3 years prior, we were packing for our first trip together – to Seattle.
To be honest, we had no game plan. We looked online and in the maps given to us by the hotel, but the main focus seemed to be on shopping. There is a large mall and several arcades – narrow, covered alleys – with shops and cafes lining them. We lazily spent our time walking along St. Mary Street and Victoria Place, and eventually made our way to Cardiff Castle. The only planned thing we had was to visit Cardiff Bay for the Doctor Who Experience (thankfully, since it close a year later). It began with a half an hour interactive experience that was a lot of fun. After the experience, you enter a two-story museum with original set pieces and costumes from Classic Who through the most recent episodes.
Every where we went in Wales, there was a unique type of magic to be found.
I’m missing Wales already. I feel so fortunate to have been within its borders and to have surrounded myself with some of the magic it’s long held over those who’ve known it.
“To be born Welsh is to be born privileged.
Not with a silver spoon in your mouth,
But music in your heart and poetry in your soul.”
– lines from “In Passing,” Brian Harris, 1967