LAND OF SAINTS AND HEROES
Tan Wee Cheng's journey through the history & culture of Wales
The Invaders Arrive
"Put two Welshmen together and you always get three points of view."
After Christmas, a few of us rented a car for a week of Welsh escapade. On the way to the Welsh capital Cardiff, we made a little detour to pleasant little Bath (of Roman baths fame) and Bristol (the largest English city in the West of England \endash once a great port but not much on off er to the tourist of today) before reaching the Severn River, which forms the southern border between Wales and England. As we drove across the Severn Bridge, it suddenly dawned to us that we were entering a different country. Certainly not an internationally-recognised political entity, but a separate cultural territory. Wales is one of the four "countries" of the UK (others are England, Scotland and Northern Ireland) and the only one apart from England where its native tongue is flourishing. Indeed, we were greeted by bilingual signs the moment we entered Cymru
Click to see itinerary
As I cross the river, I remembered the story (in Peter Sager' s Wales) about a birth in the border village of Brilley, in a house that is half in England and half in Wales. In order that the child have the best possible start in life, it is to be born in England, and so the mother gave birth in the English corner of the house. Such was the status of Wales for many years after its conquest by England. It briefly enjoyed a period of wealth w hen the coal mines of the south were busy supplying the warships of the British Empire on their way to conquer the world. This was not to last, as the 20th century brought oil-powered vessels and planes. And so Wales slipped into obscurity again, only to emerge again in recent years as a popular investment destination for foreign manufacturers.
It was from the south that we began our journey - this was also where the English first invaded Wales. Soon after their conquest of England, the Norman knights made forays into southern Wales around 1070. Twenty odd miles east of where we entered Wales was Chepstow on the River Wye, where the first Norman castle in Wales was built in 1067 by Norman marcher lord, William FitzOsbern. From then on, the Normans, and subsequently the English, built a series of fortresses in southern Wales, and soon extended these northwards, until they eventually overwhelmed the fiercely independent, but deeply divided principalities of Cymru.
We passed the suburbs of the city of Newport, Wales' third largest, with only 116,000 people. It's purely an industrial city but four miles north of this city was the ancient Roman fortress of Caerleon. Known as Isca then, it was the headquarters of the Second Augustan Legion from 75 A.D. to 290 A.D. Roman general Magnus Maximus withdrew troops from Britain in 383 A.D. to help him win the Roman throne. The British Isles was thus left to the natives. It is for this reason that Welsh tradition regards him as a hero and the founder of Welsh pri ncely dynasties.
Cardiff - Europe's Newest Capital.....To The Land of Saints: Across Glamorgan & Pembrokeshire.....St David's - Saints & Pilgrims.....Mid-Wales: Heroes & Crosses.....Snowdonia (Eryri) & Gwynedd - the Real Wales.....Stones, Statesmen, 10,000 Saints & a Mysterious Isle.....Of Spirits & Castles