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Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Last Prince of Wales

We don't travel.

We meander.

We drive, and while we're perfectly capable of 12-hour days driving if we want to get somewhere (he could have been a trucker, for sure) once there, we rarely have planned too far ahead, and while we might know where we want to go or something we want to see, we take our own good time getting to it.

We have a De Lorme map for just about any state we've ever vacationed in, because we need to know the dirt roads, the gravel roads, the "not finished yet" roads. (Okay, that's a lie, we don't drive on the "not finished yet" roads. I was just checking to see if you're paying attention.)

And that's why we have four or five big spiral-bound detailed road maps and I don't know how many ordnance maps, because when we go to the UK, once we hit Gatwick we pick up a car and drive.

When we were getting ready to go to England the first time all our friends who'd been told us, "Stay in London and take daytrips out. You have no idea how much there is to see in London." And when they heard our plans, they were more than a bit dismayed. "Oh, no -- don't drive, you don't want to drive!"

So I went on a message board where people talked about travel in the UK and asked, and everyone said the same thing. Stay in London your first trip. You could stay there a year and not see everything. Anyone tired of London is tired of living. Take daytrips out if you must. And DON'T DRIVE!

Except one woman. And she said, "My husband and I don't really like London. We don't even go there any more. We always drive. If you want to drive, drive. You'll love it." And she gave us the best advice we ever got.

"Get lost on purpose. You'll see the things your friends will never see."

I've come to realize that many of us ask for advice not because we want advice, but because we want somebody to tell us it's okay to go ahead and do what we wanted to do in the first place. A dozen people saying "don't" didn't stop us. One woman, a stranger, no less, saying "do" was all I needed. (Sam didn't need that much. He's already decided. I was just trying to reassure myself that we weren't headed for disaster!)

In March 2005 we crossed the pond for the fourth time. On this particular night, we stayed overnight in a small Welsh village we stopped in just because we needed to stop. We'd never heard of it; there was nothing remarkable about it. We couldn't find a b&b and it had a small hotel so we stopped. The next morning we noticed a sign on the hotel parking lot pointing to a castle so we drove a block to the base of a steep hill and looked up.

Not much of a ruin but hidden in the midst of Llandovery, Wales. Okay, we saw it. Lets go on....

But we didn't go on. We kept standing in the mist looking up at it. We wondered if it was worth walking the steep muddy track to get to it. It wasn't far, but it was muddy. The ruin didn't look like much.

I kept looking at that hill and finally I figured why the heck not.

You see, there was this weird statue. Looked like stainless steel which was pretty odd on a crumbling hill in an ancient land. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Llywelyn the Last. An odd, modern yet other-worldly statue. Very modern and yet not as out of place as it should have been....

I climbed.

And when I got to the top on that muddy grey morning I found him. The last true prince of Wales, the last Welsh prince. A prince who died attempting to retain freedom for his land.

Still standing guard over Llandovery, Wales.

It was worth the drive.


At 10:37 AM, Blogger glatisanta said...

Hello pooks - I popped along to pay my respects to Llywelyn Ap Gruffydd Fychan myself a few weeks ago ( Gruff's telling the kids the story) . Gruff's uncle lives just down the road, and as LAGF is looking straight down at a pub (like all sensible Welshmen) that makes kids very welcome we often bump into him - next time I see him, I'll pass on your regards.

P.S: that advice about driving? Right on the nail. I haven't visited London for many years - not on purpose, just circumstance - and discover new things about this country all the time, just by taking a detour from the beaten track.

I enjoyed your post a great deal.

At 10:48 AM, Blogger J said...

You've made me all nostalgic and weepy for my semester abroad.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger pooks said...

gin -- that's a great pic! I love that angle. I wonder if the artist had just seen Lord of the Rings....

As for the driving, I'll post the instructions we were given in a later post for Yanks planning on giving it a try. But honestly -- do y'all go crazy with foreign drivers (Americans, of course) who are not used to driving on the left?

And j -- hi, thanks for stopping by. You had an entire semester? I'm green with envy. Grrr!

At 3:24 AM, Blogger Mrs. Wonderful said...

Hey, hi J!

Pooks, having just divorced a Welshman (ah, ok, so he claimed Wales but was born in London), I might owe my son's ancestors a trip over there. Are there any statues to coal miners?

At 2:43 PM, Blogger pooks said...

I'm sure they do -- it seems I've read about some but I don't remember where. In Llandovery they also had a statue of a cattle drover which I loved. Very different from cowboys over here, yet much the same.


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