An American Professor in Europe 
Summer, 2012
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Wales Retreat - Holyhead, Anglesey
                                                  28 May to 15 June
                                                                                     Including England Road Trip and Day Trip to Dublin

Flag of Wales    

Photos of the
Prof's Return to Northern Wales:

   On the train from Bangor to Holyhead

   Holyhead Port, Holy Island

The Prof at the
Airport before

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               Holyhead Mountain

           Llangefni Town Centre Clock

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             Holyhead Public Library 

        Houses along the coastal road
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            The Road to Caernarfon






   "The Prisoner" filmed in Portmeirion


        One Hut Circle among several

           Mountains of Snowdonia

                  Mountain Lake

  Shot taken from 3-great grandmother's
      grave, St. Cybi's ancient parish,

      Go to Next - Finland Tour!

Arrival in London,
     Train to Holyhead
                                   28 May

Successful arrival, no incidents, even passport control was a short line arriving in the early morning.  Met many nice people along my journey over the last 24 hours, including an ex-pat from England sitting next to me on the long flight, a very kind woman from whom I accidentally had taken her reserved seat on the train, and another woman who struck up a conversation as we waited on the platform in Chester to change trains to my destination.  These people made things enjoyable, showed interest in this foreigner, and I saw no signs of increased numbers yet due to the Olympics soon to start.  Returning a third summer, Great Britain feels like an old shoe.

    Nearly 2000 years ago the Romans crossed the stretch of water known as the Menai Strait, separating Anglesey County from the rest of Northern Wales.  During the reign of Nero, the Roman infantry crossed the strait in boats, "fording the shadows," and were met by a long line of Druids and Britons on the far shore waiting for battle.  But the people were no match for the Roman legionnaires under General Paulinus and many perished.  Meanwhile, as the Romans focused on Anglesey, the barely 20-year-old commercial town Londinium (London) was left open to the forces of the queen of the British Iceni tribe, Boudicea.  Paulinus and his troops went to stop the revolt in London, leaving Anglesey until General Agricola came back and nearly exterminated the Druids.

There are many ancient remains on the island, dating back 2000 to 3000 years, including burial chambers in Bryn Celli Ddu and Bodowyr.  The Prof''s ancestors are only a 10th of that time-frame, 200-300 years ago, and apparently ancestral lines are concentrated at the turn of the 19th century in the port town of
Holyhead on Holy Island.  Like a Mandelbrot repetitive pixelated pattern, Holy Island is in the corner of Anglesey as Anglesey is in the geographic corner of Wales (see Map).  The county offices are in Llangefni (Clan-GEF-neh).  Today Holyhead is mainly a port for crossing the Irish Sea by ferry to Dublin, something I plan to do on 13 June. 

              Rural Wales, Anglesey County, and lots of sheep!


   Railway and Holyhead beyond               View from my B&B

   All of Wales is in anticipation of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee special national holiday coming Monday and Tuesday next.  The Olympic torch passed through over 80 towns in Wales the past 6 days and is now touring England.  Here on my arrival in Holyhead, old friends let me know a giant block party on Market Street is happening this Monday.  I was pleased to visit some people I met last year and see how the year has treated them.  In this small city it seems everyone knows each other and people on the street seem to enjoy themselves and their neighbors.
     Sunshine turned to partly sunny skies today and I took the bus 30 minutes to the Anglesey Archives in Llangefni.  Every turn along this rural route revealed another stone wall, the remnants of an overgrown stone house, or a brick bridge covered in ivy and moss.  We passed by the RAF base where Prince William is assigned, yesterday fighter jets buzzed in training over Holyhead, and my stop was just up the street from the town clock.
     The thing about this area of the world is that it is like time has stopped.  They have all the modern conveniences and devices, everything you want, but the way the people treat one another is by the older traditions, when your neighbor's welfare was as important as your own.  The Welsh prefer to maintain little urbanization, the towns are underpopulated throughout, and there are more family homesteads built of stone along the rock-studded rural roads than modern architecture of cities.  Anglesey is as it always has been, both to the eye and to the heart.


           Anglesey Archives                   Neighborhood in Holyhead

     My family history work at the Archive was very successful today.  Last year the county records were closed with public facility under renovation; after a year's anticipation, I've found a facility that is state of the art and jammed with all birth, marriage, and burial records of all the people here from the last 350 years.  My discoveries today included the births of the siblings of my 3-great grandmother Elizabeth Williams Wilson (the Welsh blood flowing in me) as well as her mother's birth record from 1774 that gave me leads on HER parents (that's 7 generations!).  I will return in two days for more research.  Meanwhile, tomorrow rain is forecast and so I plan to stay in Holyhead and get some academic work done.  --TW

           Dublin ferry coming in beyond marina, Holyhead

   The British celebrations began today across the country with a 62 gun salute from the Tower of London and the classic Epsom Derby attended by Her Majesty the Queen.  TV news reminds us that the Queen has always been passionate about horse racing and quite a fine rider herself in younger years.  Locals up here in Anglesey are simply pleased to have a four-day weekend.  Tomorrow in London there is an amazing "River Pageant" long planned, like a grand parade but on the river, and they expect 1,000 vessels which is a spectacle not seen in 350 years they say.
     Yesterday I returned to the archives at Llangefni and made further minor discoveries in the microfilmed parish records, including more siblings of my 3-great grandmother yet no new clues on the origins of her husband Captain Wilson. I have plenty of leads on him to follow up during the England Road Trip over to Newcastle Upon Tyne this coming week.  This will represent my third visit to the Northeast of England, but this time by car!
     My retreat here in Anglesey is surely relaxing and we enjoyed a glorious morning without a cloud in the sky. I took a long walk with camera after breakfast down to the coastal road and marina inside the breakwater. See the photo above and the ferry in the distance making port from Dublin.  The Holyhead breakwater is the longest of all in Great Britain.  The maritime museum here is all about sea rescues over history, due to the treacherous waters of the Irish Sea off this coast.  Today's big news was renting the car ("car hire" as they say) and driving for the first time on the left side of the road!  Had more trouble shifting the new car's clutch with my left hand on these hilly streets than staying in my lane.  I drove manual trans most my life, but this is an added issue when trying to stay on the left.  It was indeed strange sitting on the right and I was painfully aware at every moment of my distance from the curb and any pedestrians.  Mainly I just followed the cars ahead of me and it worked out, but I plan to practice driving more tomorrow.  --TW 


   In the late 13th century King Edward I of England (the Longshanks depicted in the movie Braveheart) built eight castles surrounding Wales.  In so doing he brought the people of this corner of the world into submission to the English crown.  It worked.  One of more historically significant of these castles is Caernarfon Castle (Car NAR von) along the northwestern coast and well within the Welsh people’s land.  Since that time Caernarfon has been the seat of the English throne in Wales and it was here, within the stark remnants of centuries old walls and towers (see photos), where the current Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, was vested as the next monarch of the Commonwealth.
Today I drove across Northern Wales and visited the medieval castle.  Of course, there are many castles to explore across the nation, but the magnificent and towering Caernarfon along the Irish Sea seemed an appropriate place to start.  There were no tours or tour guides, simply a moderate admission and freedom to explore.  Like a little boy, I walked throughout the narrow corridors within the outer walls imagining the people who had lived here.  I peered out through the defensive window slits like an archer aiming at enemy targets below, and the view across the mouth of the Menai Strait, and climbed up the steep spiraling steps of the towers for the overall perspective using the long rope now fastened to the inner stones.  At times I wished I still was that little boy as the openings and the corridors are only about 5-1/2 feet to ceiling.


     My second destination, driving further down the sea coast, was the famous and colorful Portmeirion where the bizarre British television drama from the 60s, The Prisoner, was filmed.  This artificial and architecturally eclectic village is fascinating because there is no other place in the world like it.  Today it was also the destination of many families on holiday, another location where one can feel like a delighted child full of curiosity and imagination.  After yesterday’s rain and wind that soaked the Queen’s jubilee river pageant on the Thames as well as my location in Anglesey, the contrasting skies cleared for a glorious day today making my drive warm and, once fully adapted to driving here, very enjoyable.
      Yes, I seem to have made the adjustment to driving on the left.  Like so many complex behaviors, it only takes some experience to switch those few habits so engrained by repetition at home.  Driving is driving, and after practicing left and right turns from the opposite side around Holy Island in yesterday’s cold blowing rain, when I took off after breakfast along the relatively new expressway across Anglesey within 20 minutes felt completely comfortable with the different orientation.  In fact, I cannot get over how “natural” it now feels to drive this way.  Tomorrow begins my England
Road Trip, so for the next update click below to a new web page and we will return to this one when I return to Holyhead. --TW

       (Wales continues below)

Road Trip across England
& Ferry to Dublin                          

UPDATE 12 June - Back to Wales
      I returned to my home away from home, Holyhead, Wales, and then yesterday I went for a third time to the county archives to finish my family history research (for now) while I still have the rental car.  The day began with some sun among few clouds, so I drove to the opposite side of Holy Island to the South Stack lighthouse and Nature Preserve for the photos you see.  I hope readers can get a sense of the tall rock cliffs down to the Irish Sea below, the only sounds to be heard in early morning were the gulls screeching and the waves crashing against the rocks.  And one cannot hear the watery percussion until standing at the top of the precipice.  There, at the edge of the world it seems, among the wind-swept meadows high above the sea, there are several ancient sites from prehistory.  Note the photo of the Hut Circles which are the only evidence left that the Druids had been here, the “Britons” as the Romans called them before their conquest, who were the Celtic peoples of the western British islands.  Neolithic and Iron Age peoples lived in this remote place in stone huts, and the historians tell us that while the Romans  of the first century over-ran the people and erased the ancient knowledge of the Druids forever, many of them intermarried with the Celtic tribes by the time they left the islands in the fifth century.


     As an important port town of the 18 and 19th centuries, Holyhead connected the Welsh with the Irish across the sea and the English to the north in Liverpool, and lighthouses became a navigation necessity.  Today the South Stack is an attraction for hikers, riders, and travelers because of its location sitting out there as though the island was built for it instead of the other way around.  The light shows the way to the Holyhead harbor for mariners, like my 3-great grandfather years ago, just around the island to the east.  Holy island is only about five miles around its perimeter.
     After a few minor successes at the archive, and before dropping off the car at the port and train station, I put 15 quid more of petrol in the tank and drove again across Anglesey 30 minutes and on into Gwenydd and the mountains of Snowdonian.  When the Romans arrived at Anglesey, or Ynys Mon in Welsh, these were the tallest mountains they had seen since crossing the Alps, but clearly of different character.  The Prof simply went up there, took some photos, and came back down following the setting sun west toward Holyhead again.  I then returned the car and in so doing gave up the freedom of directed travel that I enjoyed all week.  Now its back to train and on foot, but in future visits to Great Britain the “car hire” indeed will be the way to go.
Today was a very nice sunny day here and I enjoyed dropping by to visit new friends in their shops and cafes during those late morning hours that seem to be the only time this little town is truly alive.  As things settle down in the afternoon here, early by American standards, I made the acquaintance of some older gents at a favorite pub (well, only a little older).  In the conversation one fellow named Chris insisted I stay for another pint and bought it, so we had a long exchange about our backgrounds and general man-wisdom.  LOL  I’m going to bed early because my ferry to Dublin is at 3 am!  Only other option to stay for just the day would have been a mid-day ferry.  Click on the link below or return to the travel calendar to go to my day in Dublin, Ireland, then we’ll return to this page to finish my time in Wales for this summer. --TW

UPDATE 14 June
      Last full day in Holyhead, Wales.  Spent the day in quiet reflection.  Please see some final pictures for this page below and to the right.  --TW


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