"Croeso I Gymru," Bryn says, "and put your seatbelts on, it will be a long drive." "How do I know when we are in Wales?" I inquire. "You won't be able to read the signs and besides, we will stop for a peint o gwrw. That sounded good, and by noon, I was enchanted by the land. No McDonalds or Burger Kings, just the M1s and the M5s as the English call their large highways and the small, winding roads of Northern Wales which took us through a stunning countryside dotted with tiny hamlets that date back six hundred years with pubs that were even older. By mid-afternoon I could pronounce gwrw and knew that when we went into a pub and asked for a peint o gwrw (pay-nt oh goo-roo) we would get a pint of beer.
Wales is only 260 km long and 100 km wide, with a total population of 2.9 million, fewer inhabitants than in the city of Toronto. With 350,000 in the capital city of Cardiff, you end up with a country that has lots of space, and if you believe the Welsh,
one pub for every ten houses in most villages. Here, you can mountain climb, snowboard, surf or wakeboard and anything in-between.
Village life is unhurried and simple. Picturesque stone houses, made from light grey limestone and black slate, are 400 years old on average. In Dolgellau, a village between the
Snowdonia National Park, and Cardonian Bay, we stayed at a B&B which dates to the 14th century.
In Conwy I learned Welsh history. The gritty, dark stone castle was built by the English in 1289 as an outpost in their quest to conquer the Welsh. The original town stands below the castle within a complete stone wall that encircles the buildings. Opposite the bay, the barely visible foundation of the Welsh fortress is easy to miss, yet between the two fortifications is one of the most difficult golf links I have ever played. If the sight of Conwy Castle was not enough of a distraction, the fairways, (often as narrow as a cart path) winding through
gorse, a spiny bush that you couldn't run down with a tank let alone a golf cart, proved to be most challenging. The bunkers were a delight; if they weren't five feet deep with straight walls, they were made out of concrete during WWII. It was here, by the golf course that the allies
built the landing crafts that were later used in Normandy. Concrete sections, complete with shell holes from attacking enemy aircraft, stand as silent reminders. The immense bomb craters are overgrown with wretched gorse bushes, and so imprisoned, it is easier to leave your ball where it is and take a penalty.
Further south, by the sea at the Clwb Golff Nefyn a'r Cylch or the Nefyn Golf Club, the golf challenge became more pleasing. To hikers and golfers alike, this surely must be heaven. Half of the holes play along a rugged plateau and high up above the shore of the sea. A missed ball brings you into the realm of the hang-glider crowd or a short ball that should have reached a green out on a rock might tumble and hit one of the 3 pubs or a house in the small fishing village a hundred meters below. The Nefyn course must be played once in a lifetime.
The Royal St. David Golf Club in Harlech is a different challenge. One plays along, through, over, into and sometimes around the largest sand dunes imaginable, all located directly below a medieval town and a castle that watches over every golfer.
From Harlech on it's wise to leave the coast and head inland to take in the most beautiful and scenic route through the
Brecon Beacons National Mountain Park. Here, you head south over high passes and many quaint villages and never-ending dry stone walls, toward the city of Cardiff, grandiose in design. Few cities boast larger castles than
Cardiff Castle, a more magnificent city hall or a more imposing museum. Just outside of Cardiff, barely half an hour's drive, is Newport and its Celtic Manor Golf Course where the 2010 Ryder Cup was played.
Wales is mile upon mile of beautiful, unspoiled countryside, often dotted by Celtic stone circles or the ruins of castles and monasteries. Stone walls and hedgerows stretch and end only at the outskirts of scenic, ancient villages. Millions of sheep graze beside sparkling clean brooks that beckon the angler. With unpolluted air and clear water, there is no better place to retreat from today's hectic life, mixed in, of course, with a little golf.
Alex Eberspaecher is an award-winning author and journalist with a number of Canadian and international lifestyle magazines and trade publications, and a contributor to the Toronto Star. His main focus is travel, wine and food and nature. He is a member of SATW, NATJA, TMAC and WWCC. Contact Alex at
www.winecop.com Judy Eberspaecher enjoys travel, wine and nature photography. She has been published in Centre of the City, West of the City and Good Life amongst other credits. Contact her at Judy@eberimage.ca