Saint Dwynwen, also known as Dwyn or Donwen, is the Welsh patron saint of lovers and her name translates as, she who leads a blessed life. She is thought to be the daughter of the legendary 5th century king of Brecknockshire (Breconshire) Brychan Brycheiniog. It is possible that her mother was Queen Rigrawst who was one of the Queen consorts of King Brychan Brycheiniog. Rigrawst was born in 468 AD, the daughter of Gwrtheyrn ap Gwidol the High King of Britain and Severa Verch Macsen the daughter of Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus. Dwynwen lived on the island of Anglesey in North Wales and her name still exists in place names such as Llanddwyn and Porthddwyn in Wales and the church of Sen Adhwynn in Cornwall.
Saint Dwynwen and The Day of Love and Friendship - Welsh and Colombian alternatives to St. Valentine's Day.
St Valentine’s Day is fast approaching; however, both Wales and Colombia have their own alternative days for the celebration of love. On the 25th of January each year, people all over Wales celebrate St Dwynwen's Day, Dydd Santes Dwynwen in Welsh, while In Colombia the third Saturday of September is the day to celebrate El Dia de Amor y Amistad, The day of Love and Friendship.
I don’t know if it is because I am getting older and my age is starting to make me feel nostalgic, or whether it is because I have lived in Colombia for too long, but these days I frequently feel an intense desire which seems to emanate from somewhere deep within me, to not only visit my own country, but to explore its shores and islands, castles and valleys, rivers and waterfalls, hills and mountains, and to really get to know Wales.
A final adventure, similar to when I was 23, and as a hippy travelled for thirteen months round South America. Then, after reading the Green Book, what started as a feint, distant wish grew into a craving that came to fruition within four years with little effort on my part. All the necessary pieces fell into place, and the adventure took its course.
Now again what was initially a thought, has now become a burning desire that never really goes away; I hold it there in the back of my mind, like an old grandfather clock you can hear ticking away in the background of an old cottage, its gentle, steady, hypnotic, rhythmic sound is always there, sometimes distracting you from what you are doing, sometimes keeping you awake at night, but always there. The thoughts, ideas, possible plans, problems and solutions are all there mixed together, and churning over in the darkest corners of my mind.
It’s common here in Antioquia, the county, where I live in Colombia, for the people to be referred to colloquially as “Paisas.” When I tell me that I have lived here for more than sixteen years they usually say, “ah ya estas Pasia,” “now you are Paisa.” The truth is, even though I have integrated into the Colombian culture, feel at home here, and generally enjoy life here, I don’t feel that it is my home. I miss Wales more and more. I love my country, and I want to get to know it like the back of my hand, while I still have the energy and determination to do so.
I sometimes say to the people I go trekking with when we think we have taken the wrong path up in the mountains that we may think we are lost, but that one is never really lost, as life puts us in the situations we need to be in, to learn what it is we have to learn. Maybe I had to come to Colombia to understand what it is I want to do in these later years of my life.
I want to explore Wales and promote its treasures here in Colombia and other Latin American countries via, my website, books and through giving talks. Last week I gave my first talk in Spanish to a group of people about my website and I enjoyed the experience immensely.
Let’s see where this desire leads me. If there are any businessmen or women out there who have the financial capacity, and desire to fund this life project, don’t be shy – contact me!
The Gower Peninsula, its Beaches, Caves and Castles, plus the Murder Mystery which was solved too late.
This morning for some unknown reason I awoke at 3:25 a.m. and found it impossible to return to the deep sleep I so much wanted. I fail to understand why that peaceful, satisfying sleep was so illusive, but at 04:00 a.m. I gave up trying to fall asleep, and got up. Having checked my emails and the news on the BBC website, I now find myself sitting in front of my computer screen writing this blog post, and it’s only 05:00 a.m.
While I was lying in bed awake, but wishing to be asleep, my thoughts turned unexpectedly to memory, and the strange phenomena of being able to remember with immense clarity, certain situations, places, people etc, and yet at the same time having huge swathes of complete nothingness in-between these seemingly illusive segments of lucid recollection.
For example, suddenly my mind was hijacked by the memory of visiting Cardiff docks with my father to see the ships that were moored there. Occasionally there were ships with the hold full of oranges, and the dock workers used to throw us some which had split from their wooden crates during the voyage. It was great fun, running along the side of the dock trying to catch the oranges they hurled high up into the air.
Why that memory suddenly came to mind at 03:30 a.m. this morning I have no idea, but it led to a string of thoughts about what I could and couldn’t remember. For example until I was five I lived in a terraced house in Malefant Street, in the Cathay’s area of Cardiff, and the only memory I have of that time is a stained glass window through which light passed, creating beautiful patterns on the floor and wall, but in fact I’m not even sure if that was in the house I lived, or in my grandparents house which was a few blocks away in Clodein Avenue.
I remember the three schools I went to, Primary, Junior and High school; I remember some of the teachers, and some of my classmates, but not all of them. I remember sport, because that was my passion, and one or two other lessons, but I don’t remember ever doing homework, though I must have, otherwise I would have been thrown out of school! I also remember the tuck shop, strategically placed by the zebra crossing which led to the primary school, and buying black jacks, fruit salads and other tempting sweets designed to tease the pocket money out of the school children’s pockets.
I have a clear memory of going to Rover Way, off Newport Road in Cardiff on a Sunday with my parents when my mother was learning to drive. There were few cars there on Sundays so it was a good place to practise. I remember walking up through Caedelyn Park, along the path behind Whitchurch Golf Course, across Rhiwbina Hill, and up through the fields to the Wenallt, from where, on a clear day, there were beautiful views across Cardiff, and out to sea. I also remember the immense joy I felt being surrounded by trees and nature, something that has stayed with me throughout my life.
One of the memories that sprung to mind in the early hours of this morning was a trip with some college friends at the end of term, when we drove to one of the beaches on the Gower Peninsula near Swansea. However, I only have two clear memories about that day, the first is that on the way back I sat in an open top sports car, and my long hair became so tangled that it took ages to brush out all the knots when I returned home. The other is that I got really sunburnt and it was agony sleeping for some nights after as my horribly red skin stung so much against the sheets of the bed. But, I don’t remember any of the people I went with, which beach we went to, what we did while we were there, or even if I had a good time, though I guess that I did.
And that dear reader is a rather long introduction to what is one of the most beautiful areas of Wales that I remember visiting during my time growing up in Cardiff – the Gower Peninsula.
As I look out across Envigado towards the mountains, it’s a beautiful sunny day here in Colombia, in stark contrast to the recent weather conditions in North America and Northern Europe. Severe snow storms swept across many states of North America last week, and weeks of incessant rain have left many parts of Britain, especially to the south, under water as rivers have burst their banks sending the flood water into towns, villages and the local houses.
You can see pictures of the recent flooding here.
It’s a sad situation for those affected, but it’s nothing new. On the 7th of January, 1928, The River Thames burst its banks and flooded many parts of central London. It happened just after midnight while people were asleep so they had very little time to react. Fourteen people lost their lives and thousands of people, predominantly those from the poor slum areas, were left homeless.
Read about the the 1928 flood here.
There is now a flood defense constructed across the River Thames called the Thames Barrier which can be used to protect London against flooding caused by tidal surges coming up the river from the North Sea.
You can read all about the Thames barrier here.
I remember visiting a church situated on the coast, not far from Cardiff, with my parents when I was a kid which had been flooded in the past. It was a long time ago and I don’t remember which church it was, though it is most likely one of two, either Peterstone Wentlooge or St Brides Wentlooge. Both churches have plaques which mark the level to which flood water rose during the Great Flood of 1607.
The reason I remember the day trip is because my mother said she could see the ghosts of people in a corner of the church, trying to escape from the flood water. My mother saw ghosts on various occasions, and was always very calm, as if it were a normal experience.
I remember once when we were on holiday in Southern Ireland, in a field where my father and I could only see a herd of cows, my mother could see people dressed as Quakers burying someone. The owner of the farmhouse where we were staying confirmed that the field had been used in the past as a Quaker burial ground.
I sometimes have premonitions; maybe it is something I have inherited from her. The night before the Twin Towers collapsed after being hit by planes in the notorious terrorist attack, I dreamt that I had to go to hospital and have both my legs amputated. The dream was so vivid, that on waking, the first thing I did was to check that my legs were still attached to the rest of my body. Luckily they were. Later when I saw the two towers collapse I realised that my legs were a symbol in the dream for the twin towers.
Was it a coincidence or was it a premonition? Usually when I dream I forget the details immediately on waking up, usually when the dream is linked in some way to something which then happens in the immediate or near future I can remember every little detail of the dream for years to come.
I have some pictures on my wall of me when I was a child. When I look at them the first thing I notice is that I look very happy, the second is that I am over dressed. In one picture I am in the garden, on what appears to be a beautiful sunny day, posing with a garden spade and bucket. From the waist down it looks quite normal as I am wearing wellington boots and shorts, well normal for a child, but had I been older it could be considered a little kinky!! From the waist up I have a shirt, a tie, a jumper and a jacket as if I were going to a formal engagement somewhere and had to look my best.
In a second picture I am posing on a bench at one end of the garden with my mother, our dog, Dinky, and our cat, Chippy. Again the weather looks good, but once again I have a shirt, a tie and a pullover. Dinky, who was a lovely dog, was given that name because when we took him home he was at first a little shy, and the first time he made any significant movement was when he put his paw out to stop a toy car one of my brother’s was playing with, the toy car was manufactured by the company Dinky, and so that became his name.
I don’t remember how Chippy got her name, but I do have a clear picture of her death in my mind. I had been to the cinema with my parents and we arrived home at night to find her dead, lying on the settee in the living room, curled up on a red cardigan belonging to my mother. There are so many things that have happened during my life which I don’t remember, or that the memories are extremely foggy, but that image of her on the sofa is as clear now as it was then.
So where is all this nostalgia taking us? Well there is another picture on the wall of me on a beach, I think it’s either Lavernock or Cold Knap, but I’m not sure, however, it reminds me of the trips we used to take to a sandy beach not far from Cardiff, and just around the coast from Lavernock called Barry Island.
Barry Island or Ynys y Barri as it is known in Welsh, ceased to be an Island in the 1880’s mainly due to the construction and opening of the docks when it became linked to the mainland town of Barry. The town is named after Saint Baruc, a sixth century Saint.
I remember Barry Island as a really fun place for a young kid to go. We would go for the day, either by train or by car, and pack a picnic to have on the beach, with a flask of tea, maybe some pop, which has now changed its name to a soft drink or soda, sandwiches which - as if by magic - invariably attracted sand and thus became extremely gritty, and possibly Welsh cakes, sausage rolls, rock cakes or bara brith.
The picnic things were accompanied by a bucket and spade, towels, bathing costume and sun block. As I remember, Barry Island had a typical British seaside feel to it, with shops on the promenade selling kiss me quick hats, saucy postcards and all the beach paraphernalia any young child could hope for, such as buckets and spades of all sizes, colours and shapes, inflatable rings, boats and beach balls, and various games deemed suitable for the beach, but invariably with a bat and ball of some shape and size.
Looking across the water from Lavernock point towards the English coastline of Somerset you will see two islands in the middle of the sea. The one that protrudes out of the sea more is called Steep Holm, and the other, which is not so high is called Flat Holm. Steep Holm belongs to England and Flat Holm, Ynys Echni in Welsh, is part of Wales.
This is the story of Flat Holm.
The Anglo-Saxons called the island “Bradanreolice”, which comes from an Irish word meaning churchyard or graveyard. An axe head that was found on the island is thought to date back to the late Bronze Age, between 900 and 700 BC; however, there is no other archaeological evidence to suggest that the island was settled during that time.
In the 6th century the island was occasionally the home of Saint Cadoc, the first recorded Welsh Saint, who was the Abbot of llancarfan, a village in the Vale of Glamorgan. St. Cadoc visited the island on many occasions in the late 6th century in search of a peaceful place to meditate, especially during Lent.
It is hard to believe that in the 6th century one would have to go to such lengths to find a quiet place to meditate.
Since I started researching the history of Flat Holm I have been slowly taken over by an urge to follow in St. Cadoc’s footsteps and go to the Island for a few weeks to escape from the crowds and meditate for hours and hours each day, surrounded by the sea, listening to the crashing of the waves and the cries of the sea gulls, to be at peace with the world and as free as possible from the contamination of humanity.
Three disciples of St. Cadoc, Gildas, Barruc and Gwalches also visited Flat Holm. One day Gwalches and Barruc were asked to travel to Flat Holm by St. Cadoc to retrieve a book he had left behind on a previous visit. On the way back to the mainland their boat overturned and they were both drowned. Barruc’s body was discovered washed ashore and subsequently buried on Barry Island, whilst the body of Gwalches was carried by the tide to Flat Holm and buried there.
For me it seems strange that their bodies were taken by the current in different directions. I’m no tidal expert, but I would have thought that two objects placed in the sea at the same place and at the same time would drift in the same direction, more or less.
In this week’s blog I was planning to write about my city, Cardiff, but towards the end of last week I saw some photographs which changed my tack completely and my thoughts went in a completely different direction.
In 1635, in the Welsh town of Llanrhymney, in the county of Monmouth, a boy was born to a Welsh farmer. He was given the name Henry Morgan. Morgan is a very Welsh surname, just like Jaramillo here in Antioquia, Colombia. If your name is Morgan then you definitely have Welsh ancestry, however, in Wales it’s just a last name, here in Antioquia people use the surname Jaramillo to refer to the sun, especially the older people. Why? I have no idea, maybe in the past someone with the surname Jaramillo was very bright and happy like the sun. If you know, leave a comment at the end of the blog.
Anyway back to Morgan. Henry Morgan later became Sir Henry Morgan and is famous for being a pirate, though he was not really a pirate, he was a privateer. A privateer was someone who had a paper from a representative of the British Government authorising them to fight on behalf of Britain against the Spanish, taking as payment whatever could be ransacked. So basically a privateer was a semi legal pirate, a modern day mercenary and the word could be seen as a euphemism for a pirate. At least that’s my opinion.
“No, no, no, I’m not a pirate I’m a privateer.”
“Oh, that’s OK then, I’m sorry, I thought you were a pirate.”
Once someone I knew got a job during the summer holidays from university as a road sweeper for the local council, but instead of calling himself a road sweeper he used the term - kerb beautician.
It’s like saying someone is being economical with the truth rather than calling them a liar.
Welsh, Photographer, Vegan, English teacher and translator from Spanish to English.