River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Notes from a Newcomer

October 2004

Marion tells us about her holiday in the land of her fathers

I spent last month's Indian summer, appropriately enough, in the Wild West. The Wild West of Wales, that is. The Land of my Fathers or, in my case, the land of my mother who was born and bred in Cardiganshire. I was born there too and brought up by my grandparents until I was nearly seven so, if an RAF child can ever claim to have roots, that is where mine are. The trip was planned to give Mum, now in her eighties, a chance to visit surviving school friends and relatives in the area. Our spirits rose as we drove down the A40 past Ross-on-Wye, then Monmouth and Brecon, and the land grew ever wilder and more beautiful. Say what you like, there is nothing to rival hills and valleys when it comes to scenery. (Sorry, Norfolk, but mountains will always be more exhilarating than fens!)

We travelled not only to a very different geographic area but also back in time - to a part of the world where Welsh is still the first language and the older generation keeps up a grand tradition of hospitality. Yes, they really do keep a welcome in the hillsides -and it is an especially warm one for returning expatriates! My waistline expanded as we were plied with Welsh cakes and slices of bara brith everywhere we called. As we were averaging two or three visits a day, it was no mean feat to look delighted as yet another calorie-laden plate was placed in front of us.

Out of courtesy to me, English was spoken and I was fascinated to learn - or be reminded of - many old family stories. We stayed not far from Llangeitho where my great grandmother, famed locally for her skill as a rider, went to her wedding on horseback and, to please the onlookers, rode three times round the tree in front of the church. The tree is still (just) standing but the poor lady died giving birth to her fourth child who was, rather grimly, christened on her mother's coffin - a not unusual practice in rural areas over a century ago.

Like most families, we had our fair share of characters (some saints, some sinners) whose exploits, good and bad, are still recalled. I heard the details of more than one ancient scandal and

began to fancy that Dylan Thomas (who often drank - I mean holidayed - in the area) must have based a few characters in Under Milk Wood on some of my more colourful ancestors. However, today's young generation seem to be a pretty respectable lot. Perhaps, I thought, even a touch dull after their racy forebears. Then, idly leafing through the local paper, I came across an item about one of my cousin's sons. He'd been up in court on a charge of making 'an unsolicited sexual advance'; while being cautioned by a policewoman for some other misdemeanour he'd brazenly pinched her bottom. If my pillar-of-the-community grandmother were alive what ructions there would have been. But attaboy! I couldn't help feeling glad that The West is still just a bit wild.

Marion Clarke

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