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Who'd have guessed...?

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

...that its possible to teach your dog Welsh. Present for the dog lover who has everything.

… how difficult it is for an English speaker to pronounce the name of the lovely little Welsh town of Machynlleth – it involves a full work out of one’s tongue, jaw and larynx. Not for nothing did I hear some people refer to it as “Mach”. But it is the only place I’ve ever seen in the UK to be twinned with a town – actually a village – in Tanzania. There must be a story there, waiting to be unearthed. Rather like being told that there’s a Roman chariot buried in a field, and you’re standing at the entrance, holding a metal detector…but more on that later. And who knew that there’s a little cottage in the hills near Machynlleth to which, in 1970, Led Zeppelin’s band members retreated for three months, and proceeded to write some of their greatest material – Led Zeppelin III. This is also where Jimmy Page started writing Stairway to Heaven.

Ever seen another town in the UK paired with any town outside Europe?

…that walkers along the Welsh coast path will keep running into places associated with Dylan Thomas, Wales’ greatest poet. Apart from the Dylan Thomas centre in Swansea, see the picture below of the famous Boathouse at Laugharne, with wonderful views across the Taf estuary to the Gower peninsula. For a taste of Thomas’ poetry, take a look at Do not go gentle into that good night. Thomas also lived in New Quay, Cardiganshire, where he started his famous play, Under Milk Wood. It is set in a small, mythical Welsh town, called Llareggub, modelled on the characters and places in New Quay. Thomas enjoyed a joke with the name – spell it backwards.

Dylan Thomas (1914-53) lived in The Boathouse for the last few years of his short life. His poem 'Over Sir John's Hill" describes the view.

…that one reason sheep have those funny colours on their backs is to help check their dating status. I was walking with a man from the country and asked him about the colours. He looked at me as though I was an ignorant townie, which was indeed spot on. He explained gently: the ram has the colour put on his chest. Then a ram is let into a field full of ewes. When he has mounted a ewe, the colour rubs off onto her back. The two pictures below show the ram with blue powder on this chest and then some ewes with the resultant blue markings.

Ram, ready for action.

Well, he's clearly had his way with two ewes. And it seems that he has a rival with red powder on his chest. While there are two ewes playing hard to get.

…I asked a question which I resolved never to ask (“cold”), after an embarrassing experience 20+ years ago. It happened this time in a wonderful café/art gallery called The Mill, in a tiny village, Trefin, on the Pembrokeshire coast. (It has great ratings on TripAdvisor.) End of a long walk, where the wind was howling and the drizzle was horizontal. I was delighted to step into the haven of The Mill to have a pot of lovely hot tea and some delicious coffee and walnut cake. I looked at the paintings, and chatted to the host. It was late in the day, and so she and I were the only ones there. After exchanging pleasantries about the weather, whether the coffee cake was made on site and what there was to do in Trefin, I asked the fatal question…”So when is your baby due?” She looked at me, and…laughed…and laughed…and laughed…until the coffee cake plate almost fell off the counter. Oh dear, I could feel this had been a mistake. She explained that she was a grandmother and, no, she wasn’t pregnant. I dug my personal hole to oblivion even deeper, and said goodness, she looked so young and her skin was so smooth, she must use a great cream. No, said she, she had allergies to all creams, which gave her acne, so she just washed with water. I can’t remember the rest of the conversation, I was so mortified. Probably just looked into my tea, waiting to be swallowed up. Never again…

These steps lead to a babbling brook in the garden of the Airbnb I stayed in last night - in Criccieth. They are subject to a preservation order. Because this is where Lloyd George was baptized - the only Welsh Prime Minister of the UK to date, and one of the greatest PMs at that.

Amazing what one comes across on the Welsh coast path - here's a 6,000 year old grave, from the Neolithic period, near the village of Duffryn Ardudwy. It would have held one body, and then been covered with earth.

Finally, who would you expect to see while walking the Welsh coast in December? Let's take today as an example. Very chilly, so not many people were out. Some dog walkers. No one else walking the coast path; until recently I would see 1-2 people a day, but now that has dropped off. Builders working on houses: in nearly all cases rental homes. It is sad, but telling, to see old farmhouses being turned into holiday homes. I didn't see a single agricultural worker - although I spent 7 hours walking along and through fields. That was it, except for the one "occupation" which has surprised me. Trigger warning: gender specific comment coming. I've only ever seen men doing this: walking around with metal detectors. I see guys 2-3 times a week, detecting. Originally I wondered whether it’s really worth it – finding a few 5p and 10p coins, not to mention sardine tins and beer cans. How wrong I was! Last month a guy from Milford Haven found a Celtic chariot in a field in Pembrokeshire. The field’s location is secret, but I’m sure that I walked right past it. But the best story came earlier this week. Guy goes to see a farmer, to ask if he can “prospect” his fields. Sure, says the farmer, by the way about 10 years ago a metal detector guy found this figurine of Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Said it was a cheap Victorian copy, so I’ve just kept it in this margarine tub. The new guy takes it to a specialist, who confirms it’s a genuine 2,000-year-old Roman original, worth a lot! Now they’re trying to trace the guy who found it…

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