Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wales - just the beginning

After I planned my trip to Paris, Terry Ehret, who teaches the poetry workshops I go to at the Sitting Room near Sonoma State, planned a writing workshop in Wales. Last year's Sitting Room workshops revolved around the writings of Dylan Thomas - his poetry (Mondays) and his short prose (Fridays). I'd heard enough good things about the previous workshops she'd led in Ireland that I decided I'd like to do this - you know, as long as I was over there.

Home base of the workshop -
Pen y Bont (Head of the Bridge), Bala

I decided to alter my Paris trip slightly (originally planned for three months - cut back to two and a half months) so that I could spend a little more time in Great Britain - you know, as long as I was over there. I ended up wishing I'd cut it to two months so I could have had more time in Scotland, but, as I've said, I didn't know how much I'd love Scotland.

View from the bont (bridge)

It was after I decided to go to Wales that I learned about my ancestors who had come from Wales in the 1600s. I asked Terry if we could go through the part of Wales where they had lived and she agreed. But when the time came to meet up with the writing workshop group, I seriously thought about turning around and going back up into Scotland. I had become very used to doing what I wanted when I wanted and it was feeling as though joining seven people with whom I'd never lived or traveled was something that didn't appeal to me. I thought a more gradual re-entry would be better. I joined the group really reluctantly.

Bala Lake - a few steps from our door

Everyone arrived together at the Manchester (England) Airport and I came in on the train - I should say three trains. We rented two cars and Terry and Jerry (the only man in the group) were the designated drivers - agreeing to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. They'd both done it in Ireland. Each car had a human navigator with a map. One car had a GPS (but we didn't realize it for a couple of days) and the other car had two - Jerry brought the portable one from home because the focal distance to the installed one didn't work for his eyesight. It's surprising how mixed up two cars can get with two drivers, two navigators, two (different) maps, and three GPS systems!

Window of my room

We stopped in Chester for lunch and a brief stroll along the River Dee, which coincidentally begins at Bala Lake at the bridge where our house was. The drive from Chester to Bala is supposed to be just over an hour. Jerry's car made it, but ours took two and a half hours. Don't even ask! But we saw a lot of Wales on winding back roads! And Wales has signs that alert you to the dangers that are a little unnerving: "Oncoming traffic in the middle of the road." Yes, truly.

The White Lion - our wifi home base

We stopped for a light dinner at the White Lion in downtown Bala (population 1,980). Wifi was not available with the house, but there was a campground next door with it and we could use it for a weekly fee. That turned out to be pretty iffy, so the White Lion was to become our home base for wifi - which didn't always work that well either, but it was an improvement. 

Very crooked low door to my room -
I had to duck

And we all found out that we could not live without wifi! Terry had not printed out the information about places on our itinerary and had planned to rely on the internet. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn't. Some people got reception better than others, but it could only work outdoors (yes, it rains quite a bit in Wales) and we had a hot spot where we would gather - looking totally ridiculous.

Sky over Bala - first night

Everyone - except me, of course - had some degree of jet lag, so bedtime was early. Well, the next morning I lifted the lid of my suitcase and saw something brown and furry and wiggling inside - a small bat.

Bat clinging to my Parisian scarf

Luckily, I'm the cool, calm, and collected sort and I didn't scream. I enlisted some help, but we weren't very competent (I can be 3 "c's" but not 4) and I was worried about being bitten or about hurting it if I tried to pick it up. 

We wanted to shoo it out the window, but it didn't like light (obviously) and ended up burrowing deep into one of the pockets of my suitcase. We decided to leave it in my suitcase until night.

The iffy wifi hotspot at the house

Each morning we gathered to write together, unless we were going to be writing at an historical or natural site. The Welsh traditionally have a strong relationship with their plants and the primary ones have a symbol, a letter of the alphabet, and a meaning associated with them. Terry had prepared an envelope for each plant and we writers selected an envelope at random to open the workshop.

Workshop participants - left to right -
Else, Rebecca, Phyllis, Jodi, Maureen

I picked ivy (gort in Welsh). Here's what was written in my envelope: Ivy is capable of growing and spreading in any land or climate conditions. It is strong and difficult to destroy. Growing in a helix pattern, it represents the spiral of the self and the search for the self. Ivy symbolizes the soul's wandering inward and outward seeking nourishment and experience from both the inside and out to achieve enlightenment. Ivy indicates the search for self. So far, so good. Perfect for my solo adventure.

Jodi again, Terry, Jerry

Each plant also has physical, mental, and spiritual meanings. Physical: Link with others; turns out this is not the time to be alone. So, I guess that meant that I couldn't flee back to Scotland and would have to stay. Mental: Recognize group unconscious has an influence on you; absorb, go inward to learn more about the self. Spiritual: Enter group mind with joy; assist others in their spiritual journey as they assist you in yours. We all are intertwined as the Ivy; their success is yours and vice versa. Okay, I'll stay!

Bala Lake Railway

Right around the corner from the house was the Bala Lake Railway which went down to the other end of the lake and back. Our engine's name was "Alice."

Three train passengers -
one without back legs

It was a lovely introduction to Wales - a placid lake, very green hills, and lots of sheep. 

Train station at the end of the line

Before heading back, we walked up to the next little town for lunch. We got to the pub after they had stopped serving lunch, but for eight people they agreed to make us sandwiches and, of course, most of us had what was on tap.

Terry waiting for her sandwich

Else with her sandwich

The pub was across the street from a church with an old graveyard, so Else and I had to head over to take photographs. Jerry took a lot of photographs on this trip, but somehow Else and I were the ones who were always holding the group up. We took a zillion photographs and got scolded a few times.

Lovely simple church window

I was a particular problem because I would start out behind because of my knees and then I'd stop to take some pictures and I'd end up even more behind.

18th century gravestones

Skull at the base of a cemetery gate -
a recent addition, I think

We were often on a timetable - on this day, making it back for the return train - other days because of distances we needed to travel. It meant that the stroll - cultivated in Paris - sometimes was inappropriate, which was too bad. Other times we got to be more leisurely.

I'm a sucker for those old bridges

But we ended up covering a lot of ground in Wales. It's amazing how much we got to see and experience.

Wales is definitely quaint

And though it looks as though it's a small country (of course it is!), those winding roads and "oncoming traffic in the middle of the road" make it seem a lot bigger.

Countryside around the pub

And I'm awfully glad I decided to stay.

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