We left last week, seven of us, headed for Wales. We’d been planning for months. Last year’s trip was thwarted by COVID-19. This year, Jolie and I (the elders), Dan and Sarah (son and daughter-in-law), their son Taran, 17, and two other grandchildren, Isaac, 23, and his sister Jessie, 15, went to Wales.
First some background: Sarah, PhD anthropologist by training, polymath by birth, did her junior year at Cambridge with side trips to Wales, where she fell in love. With the country, not our son. (That was earlier, in high school.) Many years later, Sarah homeschooled their four children.
Genealogical studies in the curriculum revealed family roots in Wales. Sixteen years ago she had a dream in which her two older children skidded a minivan through a deep snowdrift into Medieval Wales. Doing so saved the life of Llywelyn, last Prince of Wales, and changed the course of history in an alternate universe. To capture that dream, she started writing while the three older children studied and 2-year-old Taran napped. That early writing changed the course of her own career.
With historians as parents, Sarah comes by it naturally. “History is just anthropology of the past,” she explains. Her novels are a mix of historical fiction and fantasy. After tentative beginnings, Sarah’s novels, now numbering nearly 50, attract an international fan club on three continents, and are being translated into several languages. She publishes under Sarah Woodbury, her maiden name. Several years ago, Dan quit his full-time job and now supports Sarah’s online presence, posting Facebook and YouTube photographs and videos with historical insights about places they visit in Wales.
Back to our trip. Flying internationally in the Age of COVID is an experience of conflicting regulations. Every country has its own requirements for masking, distancing, vaccination, and testing. Before we ever entered SEATAC airport we had to have proof of vaccination, which was never checked. Brexit further complicates travel through a non-European Union nation (Iceland), making what should be seamless travel an endless paperwork exercise in uncertainty. It was a blur, but Sarah handled it all.
We arrived in Dublin Thursday on sleep-deprived jet lag and immediately visited Christchurch, begun by Danish Vikings in 1028 and destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. Immediately adjacent was the Viking Museum depicting 11th century Viking life.
The last leg to Wales crossed the Irish Sea via ferry to Holyhead on the Isle of Anglesey, northwest coast of Wales. There we rented a van and Dan added chauffeuring to his photographic chores for the next three weeks. Transitioning from right- to left-hand driving is not for sissies. It requires negating decades of behavior learned and honed to instinct.
Roads seem mostly to be old sheep trails that were paved as autos arrived. They’re narrow and winding with no parking lane in towns. Instead, people park most of a vehicle on the sidewalk with the remaining part hanging over the curb into the street. This means drivers must negotiate endlessly for right-of-way, which they do with great patience, courtesy, and many smiles, waves and nods. This provides special challenges for our nine-passenger van, which is almost as wide as a traffic lane.
Roundabouts, a fairly recent addition at home, have been fixtures here for decades. At home they’re counterclockwise. Here, clockwise. Remember to keep driving on the left! For added interest, they’ve begun painting roundabouts on the pavement, avoiding the problem of actually building them. Dan discovered this early in our journey when he inadvertently violated the protocol and was rewarded with angry honks from the driver he cut off.
So, why Wales? Apart from Sarah’s biased love of all things Wales, this country’s inherent beauty has things for all of us. The gray, never-ending rain adds beauty and sparkle when sunlight does appear. Green everything glistens in the welcome brilliance. Rocky outcrops on rugged hillsides resemble remnants of the myriad real castles, built, destroyed, and rebuilt over centuries. Wales was old before our country was even begun. Rome had already abandoned it a millennium before Europeans discovered America. Foundations of our own culture are rooted firmly in these British Isles.
Why Wales? For anyone interested in exploring those foundations, Wales is a great place to start.