By Grace Morgan
Stories of welcome and love in Wales, UK
In 2018, my family (my parents and all six of us kids) toured Western Europe, including Wales, and we had a marvelous time. I believe this is largely due to the friendships we formed with the dwellers of a seaside town called Harlech.
We drove to Harlech from England, and the difference in landscape was shocking. Moss-covered trees and stones dominated the landscape, dotted with abandoned structures slowly returning to the earth. As we drew closer to the sea, we began driving on narrow, winding roads with ancient stone walls, set amongst rugged hills and expansive beaches. The effect was otherworldly, and impossible to find in the United States.
Upon our arrival to Harlech (which surrounds an incredibly preserved castle!), we were unable to get in touch with our AirBnb host who lived in the US, and we went to several shops and spoke with the owners to locate our house keys. The locals knew the owner and also tried contacting him for us, but thankfully, we found someone who knew where to get the keys. Really, my dad did all the key-hunting. The rest of us sat and ate ice cream with one of the kind shopkeepers.
We went to a small church on Sunday and met many of the parishioners during coffee and biscuits. My brother and I struck up a conversation with an elderly couple named Paul and Carolyn Morgan (interestingly enough, my youngest brother’s name is also Paul Morgan) who invited us all out to see their gardens the next day. We thought it sounded really nice and gave us a plan for something to do on Monday, so we agreed to arrive in the morning.
Turns out, the couple lived in a stunning, historic mansion called Aber Artro Hall with 4 ACRES of manicured gardens! They were simply astonishing, yet they were in the early stages of their full glory since we visited in the spring. Paul gave us a tour of the house and gardens, while Carolyn prepared afternoon tea. The gardens included giant topiaries of a ladybug and frog, a vegetable garden with rows and rows of beds, a walled Italian garden bursting with sculptures and lively plants, and a carefully planned Japanese garden that transported us to the countryside of Japan. They were so thoughtful and kind, and I have never witnessed someone experience such genuine joy when sharing their work. Sadly, Paul and Carolyn have since sold the house and grounds due to some health difficulties, and the gardens are no longer available to the public for tours.
TROUBLES WITH CASH
During our stay in Harlech, my dad, brother, and I decided we wanted to see the top of Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales and located a few miles north of Harlech. The magnificent peak pokes through low clouds in the midst of Snowdonia National Park. Climbing to the summit can take 5-7 hours, and my dad’s knees couldn’t handle that much hiking, so we opted to take the 1 hour train ride instead. It was the perfect option for experiencing the beauty of Snowdon without being held back by physical limitations.
We had a wonderful time on our little adventure, but back in Harlech, my mom went out to purchase lunch from a cafe down the street. Unfortunately, she didn’t realize they did not accept credit or debit cards until after the transaction, and she only had ten pounds in cash. The shopkeeper didn’t miss a beat and directed her to the cash machine, but my poor mother (in her frazzled state) couldn’t figure out how to operate the machine since my dad usually took out cash. She returned to the cafe and apologized profusely, but they couldn’t stop the order because most of the food had already been made. But the shopkeeper simply gave my mom a warm smile and told her that the ten pounds was adequate payment until my dad returned and could help pay the full amount in cash.
Upon hearing the story, I was rather surprised that the shopkeeper allowed a random tourist she didn’t know to take several meals without paying for them, and I was grateful to her for easing my mother’s panic. Perhaps physical proximity of the buildings in the town of Harlech helps make the community feel closer personally as well.
We took a day trip to a large town called Pontypridd in the south of Wales, since my great-great grandfather was born there before immigrating to the U.S. We managed to find the neighborhood where he grew up, and visited the local museum to learn more about what the town was like when he lived there.
Unfortunately, we experienced a little snag during the trip: we left our cars in a large, public parking lot for the day, and a few hours later, my dad realized he had forgotten to remove his credit card from the parking meter. We headed back to the lot right away to see if by some miracle it was still there, but my dad was ready to freeze the credit card account. Believe it or not, the card was carefully placed on top of the parking meter in plain sight. Later, my dad checked to see if there were any unknown charges, but he couldn’t find a single one.
I think that a big reason why many people hesitate to travel is because of anxiety caused by interacting with unfamiliar people who have different cultural norms, and who might not speak much of the same language. For instance, it’s common for Americans to travel to a location where they know someone, because it gives them a sense of familiarity. But I truly hope that my experiences with kind strangers in Wales might give someone the little push they need to venture into the world.