A Pilgrimage to Wales — Stacy Dillon


“Wales? Well, that’s interesting.” “Where exactly is Wales?” These were the kinds of reactions I got when I told people about my travel grant for the summer. People couldn’t understand why I would go to Wales instead of England, or Scotland, or Ireland (since I was headed in that direction).

The answer sits in my family tree. One of the reasons I wanted to go to Wales is that is where my grandmother was born.

My grandmother was a formidable woman who lived to 104 years old. She left Wales for the prairies of Canada when she was in her teens, but the country and culture left an impression on her and her family that she carried with her. She was an intrepid traveler her entire life, and this pilgrimage of sorts was made in her honour.

I landed in the city of Cardiff (Caerdydd) which is the capital of Wales with a population of 346090. Cardiff was only made a city in 1905, and became the capital of Wales upon nationalization in 1955. While its history is in the coal trade, the most significant feature currently is tourism. Visitors come for the rugby matches, to visit Castle Cardiff, the BBC drama village, and for the many shops and arcades. The grounds of the castle hearken back to roman times, with a portion of the Roman wall still standing. Over time, the keep and the castle have gone through the hands of the de Clare and Despenser families, the 13th Earl of Warwick, the Herbert family, the Stuart dynasty and the Marquesses of Bute. Eventually in 1947, the castle was given to the city of Cardiff, and is run as a tourist attraction, museum, and event space.

Cardiff Castle Library

Cardiff is also known as “the city of arcades” due to the fact that it has the highest number of Victorian, Edwardian and contemporary indoor shopping arcades in any British city. This makes sense when you learn that Cardiff is also considered one of the wettest (rainiest) spots in the UK. The many arcades house coffee shops and tea houses, thrift shops and record stores (including Spillers Records – the oldest record shop in the world dating back to 1894), along with international retailers. You can very easily make your way from arcade to arcade and the Cardiff Market with short dashes in the rain between.

From Cardiff, I took the bus up to Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli Gandryll). The town itself was settled in 1135, but it was in 1961 when Richard Booth opened his bookshop. Over time Hay became the world’s largest second hand and antiquarian book center. The town itself has a population of under 2000, but boasts 22 independent bookshops. What self respecting librarian could resist the lure of this town?

Murder & Mayhem Bookstore

Bookshop at Hay-on-Wye

The Poetry Bookshop Hay-on-Wye

This box, housing my great-grandmother’s traditional Welsh choir outfit has been circling my life since I was about 10 years old. My aunt sent it to me so that Noelle could wear the outfit for her role in the 4th grade play.

My last stop was in Barry (Y Barri). Luckily the rain subsided enough for me to walk up the giant hill to Romilly Park and find my great-grandmother’s homestead. I do have to say, I felt a little nostalgic, knowing that this was a spot dear to my family.

Great Grandmother Muriel’s House

Overall, I found Wales to be an interesting, beautiful, and engaging spot. Traveling overseas alone was new to me, and made me lean into discomfort and practice the same courage that we expect of our students.  I met new people, tasted new things, and ultimately found an important piece of my family roots.