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Land of my Fathers

April 28, 2010

On our website, we talk about having an affinity for a place before even considering moving there.  I have an affinity for Wales.

It was 40 years ago that my long wheel-base Land Rover crossed the Severn River west of Shrewsbury and took us into Wales.  I remember it today as clearly as it was then.  Softly undulating green hills were ribboned with miles of stone hedges, some seemingly going nowhere, and yet everywhere.  Roads into the villages were narrow, rimmed with brambles that went as high as the car.  Navigating them in such a large car, on the “wrong” side of the road mind you, took skill and a lot of nail-biting.  And the villages themselves were tightly compact, featuring butcher shops, bakeries, grocery suppliers, and park benches.  Lots of park benches.

Did I mention the sheep?  On every hill throughout the countryside, posh and not-so-posh sheep grazed contentedly.  It was just past lambing season and the tiny ones stayed closed to their moms and I was moved to sing a favorite child’s hymn, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” as we bumped along. 

We drove through Snowdonia, my definition of Eden, skirted majestic Mt.Snowdon holding court over the villages sprinkled below, and aimed for Caernarfon, home of the “most beautiful castle in Wales”. Prince Charles had been “invested” only months earlier, and although there were no remnants of the ceremony, just closing my eyes brought the pageantry to mind.  Caernarfon was the first castle I had ever touched in my life.  I rubbed my fingers across its storied stones until they pulsated with the castle’s history.  The ages-old castle, and the fact that it was almost 700 old, made me aware that as an American, I just didn’t know what “old” meant.

And that’s the way it went throughout my travels in Wales back in the days of living in a green Land Rover.  Old buildings.  Quaint villages.  Green hills.  Castles. History. And sheep. 

Fast forward to now, and it is those same qualities that impressed me the first time I visited Wales, that lure me back there today.  Being married to a Welshman, I’ve visited South Wales numerous times.  We’ve driven West, through once war-ravaged Swansea. Then North, to that pub-haven Carmarthen where I feasted on the most dreadful green seaweed-oatmeal stuff that appeals to the Welsh for God-knows-why, and slurped a bowl of Welsh stew made from lamb and leeks and known as Cawl.  Down and then across the Pendine Sands, where I imagined myself setting a “personal best” land speed record, then on to the seaside town of Tenby where my husband spent many an idyllic childhood summer, and I feasted on my first towering ice cream concoction known as a Knickerbocker Glory.  St. Davids, Cardigan, Newcastle Emlyn and Canarth Falls, where salmon swim up the river Teifi to spawn, were awe-inspiring in their majesty, beauty, and serenity. They represented a way of life no longer seen, acknowledged, desired nor demanded in America, yet there they were, in 21st century Wales. 

We stayed at a precious manor house-cum hotel, dined on elegantly prepared basic food, and glanced out the dining room window at the hillside lambs, grazing contentedly.  We’ve driven along many little lanes, appreciating every curve, every bramble, every oncoming lorry rushing our way. Strangely, on every trip, I was in no hurry to go back to the States.

I knew my father’s ancestors came to America on the second sailing of the Mayflower.  They came from Great Britain, and the name Briggs (my maiden name) is prominent throughout New England’s small villages. What I didn’t know was that my father’s family originated – in Wales.  So here I am, nearly 400 years later, returning to land of my fathers.  To Wales.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 19, 2012 4:03 pm

    Hi Jann,

    This story sounds so familiar to me. I have traced my family roots back to Jamestown and then as far back as William the Conqueror. I always wondered why I had such a draw to Great Britain and why I felt so at home there. My family research only verified what I suspected, that the Stewart and Richards family I belong to have very deep and important roots there. The saying “It’s in the blood.” can’t be any truer for me. Those years in England were some of the best of my life and still she calls me home.


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