Again, we had the vague idea for sushi, but it wasn’t really that inspired today’s adventure. It was the simple question of “North or south?” Since we went north yesterday, we opted for south.
It’s not really like where I’m from in the States. I’m from a town where I-5 runs north and south through it, spoiling me for choice of destinations with somewhat of an ease. In going south from North Wales, you climb hills and swerve around twisting roads for hours before you get where you want to go.
Unless you want to go to King Arthur’s Labyrinth because that only took us forty-five minutes. And of course, we stopped.
Out in the middles of the Welsh valleys and forests is the tiny village of Corris, where we found not only a closed cafe, a toilet sign expressing a lady’s neediness of it (which my outlined my predicament precisely), and a locked toilet, but also a free electric car charging station.
That was about it.
I suppose showing up mid-week, mid-January, and after mid-day, we couldn’t really expect much more from an underground labyrinth and mine exploration. These are called learning moments.
We continued on, our destination to be Machynlleth, a town I was told was filled with old hippies–“the kind that did too many drugs in the ’60’s and are now husks.”
I wasn’t after husk people so much as to simply look for any potential slight alteration or differences from the Llyn Peninsula, where I currently reside. To me, going to a place is and should always be more than seeing a sight, but rather the opportunity to learn something new and possibly learn about he self. My inspiration and understanding of this philosophy of travel is nurtured by writer Pico Iyre.
When I was in English 100 some 12 years ago, my teacher had us buy his book and read his essays. I was instantly captivated by his words and background. I, to this day, still have his book. He wrote about the concept of defining home, and what it means to have your feet on multiple continents. Having grown up with one foot in Washington State and the other in North Wales, I resonated well with his essays.
We didn’t spend too much time in Machlynlleth, as it was 3:00 when we arrived. The streets were quiet and quite empty for the most part. I had seen briefly on some website that in 2015 the population was just under 2,200, and it was unofficially the ancient capital of Wales (rather than Cardiff, which actually is the capital of Wales), a declaration going back as far 1404.
I won’t lie, I was instantly drawn to the three bookstores we found coming into the village (despite it’s sizable population for the area, I can’t bring myself to call it a town). We went to the first one, which turned out a be a specialty bookstore, focusing on naturalism. There were walls lined with books only on fishing and hunting. A few shelves were dedicated to animal and plant identification as well, though the meat of the literature was on surviving off the land, making it my co-pilot’s kind of bookstore.
The following books store was more my style, and carrying only books which might appeal to the Liberal Arts student–history, political science, feminism, poetry, philosophy, books on writing, music and art. It was very difficult to not spend time in there, though the hours were getting on and I was painfully aware of the fading daylight signifying the shutting down of the village for the night.
After popping briefly into a natural foods store (where I purchased some local honey mead and a dark chocolate stout), we meandered our way into a historical looking building–with equal swiftness as the previous location. The door just happened to be open, so we let ourselves in…I wasn’t too certain how allowed we were to be in there. However, across the road was a historic looking gate which we decided to let ourselves into instead.
My co-pilot said the path on the other side of the gate lead to a stately home, something I had apparently expressed interest in a while ago but don’t recall. We followed the path to a very large building, wandered through their forest of rhododendron trees, and let ourselves into the giant house. We didn’t get terribly far as it had been converted into a cafe (which was now closed) and offices.
Over the years, I have watched Wales as a flourished tourist destination not just for the English, but for travelers from all over the world–shrivel into what my co-pilot had descried of the inhabitants of Machynlleth: a husk. Not due to excessive drugs in the ’60’s, mind, but simply to the downward-slipping economy or perhaps trends in tourism. It was outlined in the seaside town of Rhyl last night, where there were just down-trodden and dilapidated caravan sites and beach attractions that clearly hadn’t had much money put into them. Post offices have disappeared and banks have turned into tearooms and paint stores. Of course, since the recession that hit in 2009, this has been a common sight in the States as well, at least, businesses going down and some post offices. But I feel as though there has at least been some recovery at home, whereas I see very little of it in this part of the world. Now even historic sites are not preserved as they should be, but rather converted, as this estate house had been, into other things simply because there isn’t the money to keep it as a historic site. It calls into question what might happen to culture as a result of this. What will disappear along with it?