Discovering “The Formula” in Northern Wales – Part 1

GHOSTS, GRAVES AND GOBLINS

Leonard Lea Frazer

Having never been to Wales before and knowing very little about the culture, language or history, how would I know where to begin?  When would I go?  Where would I visit?  Who would I meet?  What kind of accommodation would be available?  Was there anything in Wales that I was interested in, as a writer?  These were questions that could apply to any country.  So, was there one simple solution to cover all the angles?  Yes, by following the “Travel Writer’s Formula” I could answer all the above questions and be prepared to visit in a strange land.

The Formula is not that hard to follow.  Allow me to explain.  First, the would-be Travel Writer, like myself, needs to “study the market.”  By examining what other Travel Writers have written about a given country we can approach a story, that we will write, from a unique and different direction.   In my case, I looked for stories on Wales in back-issues of Travel Magazines, newspaper Travel sections and books at the local library.

Once I had decided I was interested in Wales as a destination and had studied the map, I  wrote to the central Tourist and Visitors Office in Cardiff,  the Welsh capital city.   In my letter I explained that I was a Travel Writer and would be grateful for the addresses of all the different District Tourist Offices in Wales. 

A few weeks later, I received a reply in the mail.  Still following the Formula, I wrote a generic cover letter that included the following: that I was a Travel Writer and would be visiting their part of Wales (here I inserted the name of a given District), I would appreciate information on attractions, transportation, accommodation and the name of a contact person that I could meet when I arrived.  With each letter I enclosed a large, self-addressed, manila envelope  (reinforced with wide clear tape) and an International Postal ticket (available at the post office) to cover return postage.  I explained that the envelope could be used for their convenience.  Copies of the same letter were mailed out to all the Welsh Districts on my list.

Not long after, I started receiving packages in the mail from different parts of Wales.  Some districts were prompt with their replies and these ones formed a new priority list.  I began to discover the fascinating stops of interest in Wales including castles, museums, geographical features, attractions and all the different hotels, cottages and Bed & Breakfast places in each area.  Bus and train schedules were also included and, in some cases, a name of a tourist officer.   

On a map of Wales I marked tourist sites that caught my interest noting their proximity to rail and bus routes.  Then, I planned my approach and potential route for a tour of Wales.  Next, I made a tentative  day-by-day schedule.  In areas where I planned to spend more time I wrote to the individual tourist office contact people to let them know the exact days I would in their area.

Although there was a possibility, simply because I was a “Travel Writer,” that I would be wined, dined, accommodated and escorted in some of the districts, I had read that, it was best to be prepared to “pay your own way.”  I was also prepared for different levels of accommodation, from 5-Star hotels to youth hostels or campsites.  I had learned that if you don’t experience it, you can’t writer about it. 

When I arrived in England to begin my journey over to Wales I had a heavy pack-sack, sleeping bag, a rolled up foamy, a tent, and a full day pack.   Back in Canada, I tested the combined weight of my gear and realized that it would be very awkward for me to carry everything all at the same time.  I pictured myself running to catch a bus or train with all that “stuff.”  So, I bought one of those “little-old-lady” shopping carts and some bungee cords.  After cutting away some unnecessary (for my purposes anyway) pieces of metal I was ready to pile all my travel necessities on top of the cart (see photo).  That little rig did the job and lasted just over three weeks.   By then there was so much wear and tear on the frame and wheels that it was beginning to fall apart.  On my last day of the trip I just took my travel-cart and tossed it into a dumpster.  I can safely say, “I had good mileage from it.”  

Besides a day journal for recording the details of my Welsh adventure, a still camera, tape recorder and cam-corder I also had a Day Planer.  This homemade book was in a tuo-tang binder with pages.  It showed each day of the planned trip following in chronological order, any map fragments or guides and just the bare essentials to help direct and remind me about what would happen on each leg of the journey.  Each day had a page of its own; a blank form that was partially filled out before embarking on the trip.  There was room on these pages for new contacts, highlights of each day including attractions, transportation, accommodation and future story ideas. 

 So, what was a typical day like on my self-made tour?  Well, on September 12, 1992, which was “Day 10” on a 22 day schedule, I met up with my guide for the day, Jenny Adams, a Ruthin Tourist Board director.  I had a rendezvous with Jenny at the Three Pigeons Pub the evening before to discuss the next day’s tour and identify any changes.  Now, we were ready for an early morning start on a Northern Wales Tour.  

After a quick look at the Ruthin Castle Hotel, in the town, we drove North on the A525 to St. Dyfnog’s Church and Holy Well.  The oldest part of the church is the 13th Century tower, although “Dyfnog,” son of a 6th Century Celtic chieftain, the church’s namesake, established a “cell” on the site of the present church and near a spring.  Dyfnog lived the life of a hermit.  He performed penance for his sins by standing under a waterfall, upstream from the well, dressed in a hair shirt and iron chains.  His actions gave the water healing powers and, in time, it fed the “Holy” well and bath and was visited by medieval pilgrims  seeking relief from scabs, itches and diseases such as smallpox.

The nave of the St. Dyfnog’s Church was constructed in two equal portions in the 15th Century from stone and mortar.  The main feature of the building is a window that was set in one of the end walls in 1533.  The “Jesse Window” is a coloured glass tapestry that shows biblical characters and traces the ancestry of Jesus Christ to Jesse, as outlined in the 1st Chapter of the Gospel according to St. Mathew.  The window was taken out and hidden in 1642 during the English Civil Wars (1642-1651), reinstated in 1661, re-leaded in 1909, boarded up and sand-bagged during the Second World War, removed again in 1986 when the wall showed signs of subsiding and put back in 1989 when the wall was rendered safe. 

On the day I visited the church the front entrance was decorated with fresh cut flowers adding to the historic beauty of the all wood covered porch.  The interior of St. Dyfnog’s also had baskets of flowers on display. 

to be continued . . .

The Jesse Window, at St Dyfnog’s Church, set in an end wall in 1533.
The Jesse Window, at St Dyfnog’s Church, set in an end wall in 1533.
The bath pool and Holy Well near St. Dyfnog’s Church, in Northern Wales is a great place to cool off on a hot day.

The bath pool and Holy Well near St. Dyfnog’s Church, in Northern Wales is a great place to cool off on a hot day.
The bath pool and Holy Well near St. Dyfnog’s Church, in Northern Wales is a great place to cool off on a hot day. The bath pool and Holy Well near St. Dyfnog’s Church, in Northern Wales is a great place to cool off on a hot day.

Leonard’s travel-cart as it looked in September of 1992.  all his travel gear, including cameras, sleeping bag, tent etc. all held in place with bungee cords.
Leonard’s travel-cart as it looked in September of 1992. all his travel gear, including cameras, sleeping bag, tent etc. all held in place with bungee cords.
St. Dyfnog’s Church, which dates back to the 13th Century.
St. Dyfnog’s Church, which dates back to the 13th Century.