Travel

Castle, cliffs and chapel

JESSICA SHORT

As a little girl growing up in Australia I always thought of Wales as a mysterious, far-away land.

My grandmother told me stories about my ancestor, Michael Henry Jones, who hailed from Wales and was sent to Australia as a convict for starting a fight in the street and knocking over a barrel of apples.

After seven years hard labour, Jones was a free man.

Now, I find myself free to roam the sleepy village of Pembroke in his home country of Wales.

My parents recently moved to the quaint village so it seems logical that I stay with them.

I cannot get over how quiet it is here. At night all I can hear is the sound of water running over the rocks outside my bedroom window.

The dim lights from Pembroke Castle across the river are the only lights I can see for miles.

It was in this castle that Harri Tudur who went on to become Henry VII, King of England, was born in one of the towers in 1457.

The castle was built in 1093 on an ancient site where prehistoric families lived on the end of the River Pennar, which formed a natural defence against intruders.

It is a tranquil place.

But what kind of place would the town of Pembroke have been in the middle ages?

I try to imagine the castle under invasion and the lively merchant community living at the edge of the river mouth.

After Pembroke Castle, I visit St Govan’s chapel in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the only coastal national park in the UK.

The cliff heads here are gigantic, reminding me of the cliffs along the coast of New South Wales back in Australia.

After three hours walking I reach the steep descent to St Govan’s chapel.

The chapel is a mystical place, built sometime between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, made of limestone and wedged between a cliff. It has an altar and a seat cut out of rock.

After a few weeks in Pembroke, I begin to realise that beautiful, historic places are the norm in Wales.

This is reiterated when I visit Snowdonia, another national park, situated in Northern Wales.

The vast, snow-covered landscapes stretch for miles. Coming from hot and dry Perth, I am mesmerised by the the ice-cold conditions and the constant bucketing of snow.

I set out early with my family to start our walk to reach Mount Snowdon – the highest peak in Wales with an altitude of 1085 metres.

After 20 minutes of walking, the bottoms of my pants are already frozen.

After two hours, we decide to turn back as the temperature has plummeted, and the sun disappeared making it harder to navigate the track.

Back in the village we find solace in a quirky café packed with tourists and locals, and lined with photographs of mountain climbers on expedition.

The Welsh are a friendly bunch and it is common to be stopped by locals keen for a chat – often about their dogs.

With hospitality like this, it is hard not to fall in love with the land and its people.

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