It was amazing to drive out of the forests in the pouring rain. It was raining so hard that the already frantic speed of the wind shield wipers wasn't fast enough for Ed to see the road too clearly. Nonetheless we safely reached the highway on our way further north, to the tip of Wales.
We had heard about a mighty castle in the medieval walled town of Conwy, on the banks of River Conwy. Ed and I had vowed to keep away from castles and medieval towns on this trip, but we had little time and the tourist information man had firmly suggested Conwy.
On the way I tried to pay attention to the words on the road signs, which had the same effect as looking into an empty void. The Welsh language has no resemblance whatsoever to English or any other known language, and any attempt I made at vociferating the words was sputtered and lost amid an unnaturally long succession of consonants. Some words that were a little more pronounceable reminded Ed and me of the names and language spoken by the horse riders of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings. There was no doubt in our minds that Tolkien was greatly influenced by all things Welsh when creating this realm.
Furthermore, we had been told that the Welsh word for Wales was Cymru. I would have pronounced it sim-roo, but who would've known it's actually pronounced kum-ree. There's actually a village in Wales really close to where we were headed named:
Don't believe me? Google it. It means "St. Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of Saint Tysilio of the red cave". That's the name of the town, and apparently there's nothing to do there except go to the train station and take a photo next to the long-ass name. On second thought, the Welsh language was probably thought out to scare off potential invaders and colonialists ...didn't work too well did it? (Source: Mr. Andrew. Hood, a wacky Welshman who I unjustly dubbed as a liar when he told me this).
Ed and I played "who can pronounce Welsh words" all the way to Conwy, where the rain had stopped but was still eructing a few left over drops from time to time. The town was quiet except for the busy road which ran straight to Deganwy on a bridge passing right next to the castle.
The inside of the castle was less preserved than the outside, which I guess for the people of the time, was good news considering it was supposed to serve as a stronghold. The outer walls were thick, tall and massive while the bare interior still held some crumbled walls and corroded gothic arches.
Turns out the castle was built in the 13th century by King Edward I of England, also known as 'Longshanks'. Edward I is best known for his conquest of Wales and his attempt at doing the same thing to Scotland. The conniving King refused to accept the Treaty of Montgomery in which Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Meaning Llynwelyn the Last) was recognized as Prince of Wales. So Edward intercepted the ship carrying Llynwelyn's bride, Eleonor de Montfort, and imprisoned her in Windsor Castle. Llynwelyn continued to refuse to pay homage to Edward, so Longshanks raised his armies and defeated the Prince of Wales. He was allowed to keep his title and his bride, but the Welsh have henceforth been subjects to the English crown.
To consolidate his conquest, Edward built a series of massive stone castles to encircle his new principality, Conwy Castle being one of them. This castle probably represented for a lot of people in the area the end to an independent Wales and the beginning of English reign.
We climbed the towers to the very top where the crows were resting, and peered out beyond the green meadows to our right and into the banks of River Conwy. The tide had left many of the wooden boats as carcasses left rotting on the sand. Not too far off we could spot an imposing storm, its violaceous swirls dominating the skyline.
About an hour after we entered the castle, we were called out as they were closing up. It had started to drizzle again so we quickly made our way through the quiet empty streets of Conwy. We stopped off in a souvenir shop to have a look at the intricate gold and silver designs of Celtic knots and medallions. I had no idea Celtic had such a strong cultural influence in Wales, but apparently the Welsh language
derives from the Celtic tongue. It's one of the few nations which today still has native speakers of Celtic. So much for my theory.....
Another fierce downpour began once again and so it was time to leave Conwy and Wales. Even though the weekend had been short, our first impression of Wales was that it harbored warm and amicable people, with an enviable heritage, a formidable language and ambrosial landscapes which are jealously kept secret...and rightly so.