You can walk to Borth from Aberystwyth, although Beesly and I have not yet attempted it. Perhaps when it’s a little warmer we will venture up the hill, Y Consti, and wander along the cliffs above the sea. In the fall, I was lucky enough to catch a ride to Borth and stand on the shore at Ynyslas, a peat bog and estuary, about a mile and a half from the town. I was told that in the summer the sand dunes turn to wildflower meadows. It was hard to imagine flowers growing out of the brush and sand on that fall day.
“Yes,” I was told. “Even orchids grow here.”
Ynyslas (a photo from the fall, looking at Aberdyfi across the water and dunes):
“You can almost walk across the sand from here to Aberdyfi when the tide is out.”
I looked across the water at the “posh” holiday seaside town of Aberdyfi (pronounced Aber-dovey). Walking there seemed a little hard to imagine as well.
So this weekend, my friend and I approached Aberdyfi from Machynlleth. It seemed like a quiet fishing village with a handful of high-end shops and galleries. I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about and why it’s considered to be so exclusive. (The fourth most expensive town in Wales.) The most significant difference that I could see between my town and this town was that the people in Aberdyfi were wearing designer jackets and a little more makeup. But I was told that it comes to life in the warmer weather.
“Aberdyfi is a protected sailing environment. South-facing. Gorgeous.”
Yes, I see…..sort of. The truth is that my ability to assess what I see here in the UK is sometimes, well, off.
We popped into a few galleries full of starfish and seaside paintings, some with muted colors reflecting the stillness of the water, some with almost phosphorescent colors. Really? This place did not seem like one that would inspire a cheerful brightly-colored painting. (Okay, except maybe for the surfboards in the parking lot.)
“No, really,” my friend said. “Aberdyfi is a sun trap in the summer. It has a kind of pure, pressing light. It’s incredible.” Yeah, also hard to imagine on this winter day.
I’ve had to look at the landscapes here, usually standing in the rain, and be open to the fact that they are as they appear–and also as they don’t appear. “Really? Really?” I don’t disbelieve, I just question. And then I try to imagine something different than what I see, something new.
We continued on our way along the coastal towns toward Dolgellau.
I’d been hearing about the “very Welsh” town of Dolgellau, pronounced (dahl-geth-lee), for a while. Some English speaking friends of mine had told me that, even though Wales is a bi-lingual country, you don’t hear much English in Dolgellau at all. But upon entering this town of sharp-angled turns and ominous stone buildings, I had the thought that it would take a lot more than a working knowledge of Welsh to try and understand or assimilate into a town like this. It felt like a realm lost in time, encapsulated by architecture that could both protect and constrict you. The obscured sky hardly seemed to exist. It was all about the sturdy earth, the massive structures and generations upon generations of Welsh families. At least that’s how it felt to me. Hard to penetrate, even for an afternoon.
But I absolutely loved it. From the outside, I could see that it was beautiful and mysterious and charming and romantic. The tea was perfect.
I’m very aware of being an outsider, whether in Dolgellau or Aberystwyth or anywhere else in the UK. A sand dune, a wildflower field, a sun trap, a town impossible to understand….I look through my American eyes and know that, even with a shared language, there is always something I can’t quite see.
As we were driving back to Aberystwyth, my Welsh friend told me about a town close to Aberdyfi that’s believed to have been lost at sea and on some nights, church bells from the underwater town can be heard….hmmm……I guess there are things they can’t see either.