Thursday morning, April 7th, 2022
Such a busy day today, it is hard to believe that a week ago right now I was in New Hampshire, in my apartment, so eager to finally get on a bus, to go to an airport, to fly to Manchester England. Now it feels like the most natural thing in the world to be here in Wales, with these two dozen travelers I now consider my friends.
Sadly, this morning it was time to leave the Royal Oak Hotel and Betws-y-Coed, and travel to our next new ‘home.’ With Road Scholar though, ‘travel days’ (when we transfer to a new hotel) are never simply travel days, because there are things to explore all along the way.
Ellen and I had our bags fully packed last night, and only needed to add our nightgowns and toothbrushes to our suitcases this morning. I made sure I had all my art-kit supplies easily accessible in my green backpack when I loaded up for the day– it is amazing how convenience and simplicity are the two deciding factors on whether a sketch is attempted, or if I just settle for cellphone pictures. (Do people still use the word ‘snapshots’?)
The coaches pulled out of the hotel parking lot on this clear, crisp morning, and headed west-southwest through Snowdonia National Park one more time, to our first destination of Beddgelert.
The story behind the name of this town (which translate to “Gelert’s Grave”) is pretty grim. As the tale goes, Llywelyn the Great was out one day, and when he returned home, the cradle where his infant child should have been was empty, and his hound Gelert had blood all over his muzzle. The master, in a fit of rage, pulled out his sword and killed the dog. As the dog yelped in pain, a sound was heard from the shadows; it was the cries of the unharmed baby. Then to his horror, LLywelyn also saw the dead wolf that his faithful dog had killed while protecting the child. According to legend, LLywelyn never smiled again to the end of his days. I had to tell you the story of course, but golly, how do I segue from that to something cheerful?
We heard this story as we were pulling into the parking area at the edge of town. I knew a walking tour through the village was planned, so after quickly getting permission from our Study Leader, I was able to stay behind alone, miss the village tour entirely, and park myself to paint, listening to the River Colwyn and sketching/painting the oh-so-photogenic double-arched bridge.
This bridge is at the heart of the village, just above where the River Colwyn merges with the River Glaslyn. Seeing how accessible the river’s edge was, I walked down and filled my water pot directly from the river instead of using the water in my thermos. It pleases me now to think that the painting you see below was done using water from that self-same river. I get to take the river home with me, literally!
After everyone returned from the village tour, we were off to Machynlleth (or ‘Mach’ for short…I can see why!) at the south end of Snowdonia National Park. It is a market town with a vast square, dominated by an impressive clock tower at its center. The town’s history is documented as far back as 1291. Our Study Guide did a wonderful job of distilling the history of land wars between feudal states and fiefdoms, not to mention the ongoing struggles between English landowners and Welsh natives. It was interesting, but as I tried to follow the ‘who, what, and when’, I found myself down many rabbit-holes, and the chronology got quite mixed up. I also saw myself taking sides (!), trying to figure out who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Of course there are no such things, except in old Hollywood movies. At times like this I can feel very simple-minded.
We left the town of ‘Mach’ behind, and got on our coach headed for our next stop in the central west coast region. At the seaside town of Aberystwyth, the plan was to enjoy a light lunch at the National Library of Wales, followed by a tour of their collection: over 6.5 million books and periodicals, as well as other records of Wales’ long cultural heritage.
Well, that was the plan at least. I did stay with my group through lunch at the Caffi Pen Dinas, the Library’s café. Everything was going along just fine until I decided there was time for a second cup of tea.
That is when I spotted a man sitting alone reading, drinking tea, wearing a red, grey, and black striped beanie and a brown jacket. “No, it couldn’t be,” I thought to myself. “But that hat, it must be…”
“Michael?” I said quietly as I approached.
He turned, adjusted his glasses, then smiled.
“Bobbie? From America? It can’t be.”
But it was. I was! And from there the afternoon took an entirely different and wonderful turn.