Aberdaron is at the very tip of the Llyn peninsula, and a stunning place. We visited because of a guidebook recommendation, but also because we recently joined the National Trust and liked the sound of its small museum, Porth y Swnt (and to meet up with old friends also staying in the area). The museum was small but excellent - great audio guide, really good children's activity pack, lots of interesting exhibits. While in Aberdaron, we visited its rather charming and very old church of St. Hywyn, where the poet RS Thomas was the priest for a decade. I believe that Thomas wrote his great poem The Bright Field (which happens to be the theme of this year's Greenbelt Festival) during the time he served in Aberdaron. Thomas wrote:
I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering afterCynan Evan-Jones, talks of "the cliffs of Aberdaron and the wild waves on the shore".
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
But enough of the beauties of Aberdaron. The next day, we travelled up on the Ffestiniog railway from Porthmadog to its destination, Blaenau Ffestiniog, a very different place. The railway was built to carry slates from the mines down to the sea. Now it carries tourists who like steam trains (including our very excited five year old) up a lovely valley - a really good ride. And then it ends in Blaenau Ffestiniog, a town that grew on slate mining and is now thoroughly post-industrial, with less than half of its peak population and hardly any slate still mined. It has all the hallmarks of a post-industrial town: properties in the estate agents are eye-wateringly cheap and a drab, depressed feeling surrounds it. The people are working hard to reinvent it as an outdoor centre, to use the mines for high-adrenaline activities, but to me it didn't feel like a happy place at all. We found an excellent second-hand bookshop and the occasional attempt to make art out of the place but otherwise I was glad to get back on the train.
power and beauty. The country is rich in natural beauty, in resources, in a people of versatility and poetry. But the powerful (the Welsh elites themselves as well as the English) have treated it very badly. May the country learn over time to recover from the powerful, and to find its own power amidst its own beauty.