taking breath at Poppit Sands

The changing light as dusk approached brought some rain and had me gazing out over Cardigan Bay from the cottage on the beach at Poppit Sands and reflecting on the journey thus far.

Most of the places that I’d marked on Google Earth, taken from the book ‘The Holy Kingdom’, got visited, photographed and somewhat absorbed and now I draw breath before writing about the significance of those places, what I’d missed and what I’d found.

As an aside, I did find Bethlehem (Wales) yesterday. It’s such a tiny place that my sat/nav told me that I’d reached my destination on a stretch of empty road. Bethlehem turned out to be a few hundred yards further on and consisted of a few houses and a chapel.

Gethsemane isn’t recognised by sat/nav nor Google Earth yet I’d seen a signpost a few days previously so I knew it existed. I backtracked to Nevern early this morning and still didn’t find it and so I followed a coast road, via Newport, back to Poppit Sands and there, to my delight, was the signpost – Gethsemane. I took the road, a quarter of a mile, and found perhaps six dwellings. Nonetheless, ‘perseverance furthers’ and driven by curiosity rather than technology, a small triumph was achieved.

As I looked back through the material I’d earmarked ‘for no obvious reason’ before I left Australia - ancestry details and the like - so I find a document written by my dad, probably a few years before he died. He’d gone to the trouble to transcribe, with some difficulty and from the written record, a talk given by his uncle in 1955.

I tidied it up somewhat – ‘Word notepad’ is almost impossible to read as the pages stretch sideways to infinity - and I’m sure that dad would be ‘tickled pink’ that I now find it both useful and moving. I’ll be staying in the cottage described, for a week, before heading back to Australia. I’d chosen it as a holiday rental because I knew that it had significance and had been ‘in the family awhile’ before being recently sold. I’ll forward the document below to CADW – the Welsh Historical Society - who may also find it useful.

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A talk broadcast by Wyn Griffith: I am working from an old carbon copy of the original and it is difficult to read because the carbon has run making it difficult to decipher some of the letters. I googled the place names to check the spelling.

 Chris Griffith 2:17 PM 12/04/2006.

 

WHERE SHALL WE GO?

A talk by LLywelyn Wyn Griffith

Broadcast on the Welsh BBC Home Service 10th July 1955.

 

Were you to ask me why I choose to wander around Lleyn this summer instead of making for Dolgellau and Brithdir as is my usual system, I have a host of reasons. In fact, I scarcesly know where to start. Everyone knows that it is in Lleyn that this year's National Eisteddfod is being held - in Pwllheli. Pwllheli folk say that the Lleyn is but a hinterland to their town, but don't you believe them. It is I am right: Lleyn is the head, Pwllheli the tail.

It is certain that thousands of Welshmen will go to Pwllheli for the Festival. And if they do not go to the surrounding countryside, it will be greatly to their loss as though one returned from Swansea without having seen Penrhys gwyr [The Gower]. The very place names in Lleyn - Mynytho, Llanongon, Castellmarch, Carreglefn, Aberdaron, Eulli, Rhoshirwaun, Meillionydd - they are like early morning pearls of dew on the grass.

But it was not because I wanted to take on the role of a kind of herald for the Eisteddfod, a sort of a servant of the Gorsedd to draw people to the pavilion - that was not why I spent a weekend in Lleyn and afterwards came here to talk about it. In fact, I think I can safely say - with all respect to the town and its people, that I chose the furthest place from Pwllheli:  Mynytho Rhiw,[Bardsley] in the farthest corner of Lleyn.

Whether seen close to or from afar, there is about the Lleyn headland something indescribable. Look at it from the shores of Cardigan Bay, across the sea from Barmouth or Harlech: Lleyn lies like the shoulder and arm of a maid stretching towards the West and floating lightly on the sea. Here is a picture of it from afar in the words of Tom Rowland Hughes:

“If I were an artist I would draw a wonderful picture of the sun setting over Lleyn's headland; Uwchmynydd and its rocks the portal of the night and Aberdaron's Bay golden.

Beneath the cliffs with the seagulls all wheeling above I would sit until all the colour had vanished from gull, rock, wave and hill. And then a path of precious pearls across the Sound to the Isle of the Blessed. A shaft of light in the background illuminates the Isle's secret greyness.”

And there is the "englyn" by Professor Glyn Davies describing the land, as it were, from the inside:

"Sunshine along the shores and the late sun's hues on the mountain; so is Lleyn at the end of the day; a place of peace for the soul."

But it was not poem or englyn nor anything to be found between the covers of a book that impelled me to Rhiw.

What sort of place is Rhiw? What is there to be seen or had there? A small, small village  - half a village - on the shoulder of Mynydd Rhiw, above the sea. A handful of scattered houses, heather, and gorse on the slopes, rocks forcing through the turf.

On one side, the land drops steeply down to Porth Neigwl - on a fine day the most innocent bay you ever saw. But the cemetery of the sea for small ships is Porth Neigwl [Hell's Mouth].

On the other side, the land falls gently towards Aberdaron. Small square fields, and earth walls green and flowered, every hayfield like an unironed pocket handkerchief. Bardsey rising from the sea like a dark forbidding battlement. A vast emptiness about you because you are on a peninsular between Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea. If it is very clear, you will see Ireland, and Pembrokeshire also. But the most wonderful sight is the whole glory of North Wales - in its mountains, from Yr Eifl to Cader Idris with Snowdon in between. And there is Wales before you like a map. When the mist comes, the world is lost, and you are left between the earth walls, in the eternal silence.

And that's Rhiw - that's a little of what is there is to see there. But what is to be had there? There is nothing to do but live and keep house, no industry but tilling the land. It is about 14 miles from Pwllheli and were it not that electricity has at least reached here, I nearly said it was a hundred years as well. There is, strictly speaking, no seashore but you can stroll down to Porth Tego if you wish and there you will find a great beach. There is no point in my tempting you here in your hundreds - there is place only for a few to stay.

But it is high time I explained to you why I went to Rhiw. Son of John Griffith, Bryngoleu am I - and that's why. Bryngoleu is a small cottage in Rhiw, and my father's father built it, after moving from the chapel house of Pen Nebo where my father was born. My father's people are Rhiw people - back to the distant past. How do I know? We were never of importance as a family, no land owners or anything like that, without history, ordinary people that no one ever heard of.

Well, I'll tell you. My father gave me an old tobacco box, a brass box with the look of an apprentice's hand about it.

 

          "Where did it come from?" I said.

          "It was Evan, John, Robert's tobacco box." said my father.

          "And who was he?"

          "Nanw ach Evan's father"

          "Who was Nanw?"

          "My grandfather" said father, "but remember that Evan, John, Robert, John, James is who he was really, the father of Nanw".

 

Well, all this is enough to moider/toil one, but never mind. It is of little importance save for one thing. There are five generations in the name of Evan, John, Robert, John, James, and fewer between him and me, and there you have nine generations of us. Reckon thirty years to a generation and it is close to three hundred years that we have belonged to Rhiw. But, is that, in truth, enough of a reason for spending a weekend there?  If I knew who James was I should be one step nearer to Adam and Eve but I know nothing about him and I ought not to boast any more than I already have.

Do you know what they call the Rhiw folk? Not IN Rhiw, of course, Rhiw foxes - and here is one who had returned to his earth.

A place on its own is Rhiw - you will see no other town or village from it, and perhaps this has some effect on the people who live there. It was a very hard life, they had come here in the old days but things are much better now. As in every other village in Wales, there are too many chapels - three, where one would be ample. But, to be fair, they work together, and everybody turned to and worked hard to raise a village hall, and nothing remains but to use it fully throughout the year. I was exceptionally lucky - the children of the local school had a concert there on the Friday night. Singing and acting in Welsh, with a little bit of English - Welsh is Rhiw's natural speech. There are English people who have come to live in Rhiw, and I was glad to see them in the hall, enjoying the Welsh bits as much as, if not more than - the English. It was a concert to raise funds to send children to the Urdd Eisteddfod, and wasn't that a good beginning for the new hall?

But in one thing I was disappointed. Practically no Welshman or Welshwoman comes here for their holiday. Of course, some of Rhiw's youth come back to see their parents, but that is a different matter. Here is a small village of kind and welcoming people, of neat and clean houses, and strangers from England coming here year after year; some of them so fond of the place that they buy old tumbledown cottages and transform them into attractive homes. Some of Rhiw's children have returned here to live, from England's large cities, and they have built new houses and are making a big contribution to the life of the village.

But the strangers - the visitors - are all English. They are nice people and behave exactly as they should, fair play. Why don't the Welsh come here? I don't know. They could get all that the English get: the open sky, the wind from the sea and the mountains, the views, the quietness, walking the slopes and going to the seashore. They can go down to Plas yn Rhiw and see that noble house and the flowers in the gardens: walk to the top of Mynydd y Graig and see the world below them. Remembering, I hope, that we Welsh are indebted to three English sisters for putting all this in the care of the  National Trust. The Welsh would get all this if they came, but they would get something the English would not: pure unadulterated Welsh, and living and talking with people who think in Welsh. And that is a lesson and an education to all of us.

I said before that it is no use trying to persuade everybody to come to Rhiw because there is not room for them all to stay. But there are hundreds of villages in Wales whose children are spread over the earth. Let everyone, now and at once, for his holidays return to his own land and his people. Not only for his own good but for the good of his people and his land too. There is in our villages the need of a little "blood transfusion" - we might as well not pretend that this is not so - a need for new ideas, and experiences of the larger world to add to the older traditions and to make a new Wales in the age of electricity and the motor car. As I see it, the greatest danger that faces us as a nation is that the world uproots us from our soil and transplants us - sometimes in another country - to earn our daily bread. We have to raise our families far from our native soil and in so doing something is lost, a bit of the family tradition disappears from sight, even if it is not lost forever.

Well, we must make the best of the world as it is - it won't change to please us. But everyone of us has, somewhere, his own Rhiw, his village, his family, his people. And there, wherever it may be, there is something to be got that cannot be got anywhere else in the whole wide world.

If you are within reach this summer, come and have a look at the farthest end of Lleyn, the land of earth walls, of the heather and the gorse, and the flowers like many-coloured dust until you come to the sea and the craggy rocks. I know not if Wales be the "Land of White Gloves", but I do know that it is the land of "red fingers". And remember, it is of flowers I speak - not of maids with their shop-red nails.

Come and stand and meditate, as I did, on the top of the clip - Clip y gylfinir- one of the shoulders of Mynydd Rhiw - on a fine summer evening, to see the land from one sea to another, in the great silence with only the sound of the wind and the seagulls wheeling slowly in the blue sky. If you come here once, you'll return, I'll warrant you. Come here if you seek a place where the soul can find peace.