Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wales. Not whales, sadly.

From the top of the Malvern Hills

Benbow farm pond - Site of some of the earliest British LDS Baptisms

Tintern Abbey

We'll keep a welcome in the hillside.
We'll keep a welcome in the Vale.
This land you knew will still be singing
When you come home again to Wales.

For the record, I didn't write that. But Wales was a wonderful experience. We all went as a program to Wales and it was a two-day excursion. We got up at 5:15 Thursday morning, packed our breakfasts and lunches, and jumped on the coach for a few hours. Glynn was not our coach driver. Instead, we had this guy named Terry that the Shulers have talked up. Terry the coach driver is a jackass. And I'll just leave it at that.

The Welsh countryside is so green and so beautiful. In all honesty, it looks a lot like Idaho in the spring and reminded me of home. It was cool to just drive out England. Anyways. First stop, Tintern Abbey. Okay, if you haven't read "Tintern Abbey" by Wordsworth you probably should. It's uber famous. I've also hated it since the first time I read it. It was just not my type of poetry (my poetry is very different from Wordsworth's) and I didn't get why he cared so much. After having visited the site, I am now a "Tintern Abbey" convert. It's a whole different ballpark once you've been there. I took a ton of pictures, and spent most of the time there alone, to contemplate the place (I guess). Most of the trees still have no leaves, but it was gorgeous anyways. The abbey itself is massive and, as you can tell from the picture, not in use anymore today. Part of it is just the foundation of parts of the church, but there is quite a bit to be seen and the actual abbey is great. I can't really explain the spirit of the place. All I know is that it was an incredible piece of earth and Wordsworth was right to love it more than almost anywhere.

Next stop: The Big Pit. The Big Pit is a coal mine, and Wales was quite the coal mining place back in the day. The mine is no longer in use, but they still inspect it every few hours like it was because the tours take you down into it. We got hard hats with lights on them and everything. Our guide's name was Wayne and he had a great accent was hilarious. He called Jenny's boots 'passion killers' and told me the BYU baseball cap I was wearing looked stupid under my hard hat (probably true). Anyways, we went down 90 meters into the Big Pit, spent some time learning about coal mining (which would not have been much fun), and then we came out. Good times. I'm not completely sure, but I'm relatively sure that my ancestors worked in Welsh coal mines (and if not, I'm pretty sure they were farmers...and/or the Welsh mafia).

After the Big Pit we went to the Museum of Welsh Life. It was mostly outdoor, and way legit. The buildings were all old-school. I met a man who makes rugs (he really does), toured a big house that was called a Castell (total let down...what a sucky castle), and petted a cow. Then I went into the inside part of the museum, colored a picture, and headed out. We ended our Thursday trip at a hotel in Cardiff. Cardiff is a pretty good sized city, but our hotel was close to nothing, so Katie Bruce, Cam, Laura, Mary, Britin, and I ordered five Papa John's pizzas and I went to bed early. Jake was my roommate, and we're awesome/silent most of the time in our room in London, so it was a pretty chill night.

Friday we got up at 8, ate our continental breakfast, and got on the bus headed for Caerphilly Castle. Caerphilly castle is freaking sweet. SO freaking sweet. It has a real water moat, which I've been wanting to see. It even had some guard ducks in it. There probably used to be crocodiles in it, but the ducks took over in the fourteenth century. Trust me, it's history. Anyways, one of the towers leans at a steeper angle than the tower of Pisa, because it got shot by a cannon. Speaking of getting shot, they have a hands-on giant cross-bow spear shooter weapon of death thing. I probably spent 10 minutes there shooting pedestrians and making machine gun noises. Cam joined me eventually and we had a good tour of the castle. As usual, I climbed to the top of the castle and quoted Monty Python, because that's what I do. The wind was cold and blowing like crazy, but all in all it was a pretty rad castle. I'ma have a castle when I grow up. With a water moat and...ostriches. They'll mess you up.

Caerphilly Castle was the end of our secular history tour, and then we started the church history aspect of our trip. We jumped the border back into England and picked up a tour guide named Peter who did a fantastic job but talked just a little too much between stops (I have TONS of reading to do). Herefordshire was our first place of interest. Herefordshire was where Wilford Woodruff had tons of success. It's a county with a lot of farms and vineyards, famous for growing hops (which I am familiar with, thanks to beer commercials). It's very green and there is tons of open space. While we were there I couldn't help thinking how much of a sacrifice it must have been for the Welsh saints to leave such a beautiful country to settle in the Salt Lake valley. Anyways, we drove through Herefordshire and stopped at the Benbow Farm (actually called Hill farm, but famous to the Mormons because of John Benbow who was rich and sold all his things to print the BOM and take 40+ people with him to the states). There's not a lot to see besides the farm, but there is a little pond there where a good number of the early British saints were baptized. The location was beautiful (I know, I know...everything is beautiful. Get over it) and the landscape is awesome.

Coach stopped next at the Malvern Hills. You should look them up on Wikipedia, because all I'm gonig to tell you is that they're awesome. It was a good little hike up to the top of them, but the view was to die for. The wind was going crazy (Cam and I could lean back into it and be held upright pretty well) but that just made it cooler. I found some snow and chucked a snowball at Cam while Peter was talking to us. I do remember him saying that Wilford Woodruff came to the top of the hill once and watched a thunderstorm happen below him. He also wrote a poem while he was up there, which was unnamed. He was pretty dang good, and I'm glad Peter did his homework.

Our final stop was a little chapel in...somethingshire. I can't remember the name of the chapel, but I do know that it was the first LDS chapel in Britain. There is generally a couple of senior missionaries there, but not this time. Instead there is a numbered keypad on the door with a piece of paper with Mormon trivia on it for you to figure out the code (what age are you baptized? how many chapters in Enos? etc) so we got in. Inside Peter told us some good stories, then we sang the first verse of The Spirit of God in closing. A good number of people (all girls) had something in their eyes and were crying a little bit. It was a great place and the Spirit was there. I am very grateful for the chance I had to visit Wales and Herefordshire. I don't know much about the places, but I do feel a connection with them just knowing that they make up part of who I am and where I fit in the grand scheme of things. The Church is true.

KFC at a rest stop for dinner, and back into London a few hours later. Boo ya Wales.


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