Firstly, apologies to anyone reading this whose name is Tony Blair because the blog is not about you. It’s about a 11 year old girl called Alex and a plea to anyone who’s thinking of visiting Wales to 1) stay away at the moment and 2) realise there’s more to the country than Snowdonia and Pen-y-fan. Back in 2005 my niece Alex came to stay for a weekend during the summer school holidays. Alex was a sophisticate, used to watching television, playing computer games and generally having a very sociable and expensive to maintain lifestyle. Losing these activities for a weekend would be acceptable but before Alex was due to return home, a childcare crisis arose and she ended up being in residence for 5 weeks. Suddenly the absence of television, computer and friends became more of a challenge.
Until, that is, we came up with a game called Tony Blair is Banning. The premise went along these lines: Tony Blair (then Prime Minister and a perfect candidate to be nominated as a spoilsport) was taking it into his head to ban things but was allowing people to indulge in their favourite whatever it was just once more. Over the summer we did Tony Blair was banning films, books, holiday destinations, 3 course meals, sweets, chocolate bars and even pizza toppings. The list was long and very creative but the one thing Tony Blair didn’t ban was favourite places in Wales. Given that so many of us are having to adapt to a new reality when it comes to being outside, I thought I’d bring to this month’s blog a virtual tour of Wales and the art it has inspired me to make – like the Unlost Places piece I left on the Glamorgan Ridgeway.
The Gower Peninsula
Back in 2017 I was doing an MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts and it was a visit to the Gower Peninsula which started my interest in mapping metaphysical features of landscape. This was the first piece which combined poetry and stitchery.
“Heavy, heady scented steps
perfume the path, the moment.”
Just a couple of weeks ago I walked from Reynoldston to Penmaen via Arthur’s Stone. My mate Kevin who has a workshop at the Gower Heritage Centre told me that King Arthur kicked a pebble across the estuary. When it landed, the stone was so proud of how it had got there that it grew in stature to the size it is today.
Afan Argoed Country Park
I love this place. In some of the toughest times I’ve had personally, being able to park the car at the edge of the forestry and just stare across the valley or wander up and down the wooded paths has brought priceless moments of peace and tranquillity. This was a watercolour I did when I realised that being good at art (and I’m not) doesn’t matter unless you think it does. If you’re feeling a little bit – or a lot – stressed by life at the moment, I urge you to get a pencil, sketchpad and some paints and just start making marks.
Small Indy Shops everywhere
Talking of tough times, losing a Mum can be one of the worst and in 1996 I realised that one of the things I was going to miss was the surprise (and often weird) Christmas present mine used to leave under the tree. I rang a small fabric shop in Monmouth and explained my predicament. The lady I spoke to said she’d be very happy to put a little of parcel of fabric together for me, on condition I didn’t open it until Christmas morning. Came the big day and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when unwrapping revealed not just fabric but beads, threads, raffia and feathers all colour coordinated with a beautiful fat quarter of fine cotton. I called the doll I made from it all “What a day I’ve had!”, one of my Mum’s favourite sayings. That shop may have closed down but I’ve now found the wonderful Sew Lovely in Barry to fill the gap.
St Non’s Well
St David’s in Pembrokeshire has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, not just in Wales, so it’s worth walking the mile or so out of town to St Non’s Well, a holy site dedicated to David’s mother. I recommend sitting with your back against the 6th Century chapel walls, having a picnic of orange juice and fresh made bread bought from the High Street bakery and looking out across the Irish sea. A truly spiritual experience.
I stop off here every time I go to visit the very regal cat Bramble Murgatroyd at the wool shop called Knit One that she runs in Dolgellau. Anyway. Favourite place. In the world. Enough said.
I went to Anglesey for the first time on holiday last year and we nearly didn’t bother going into Newborough Forest because we weren’t sure it was going to be worth the car park money. What a mistake that would have been! Not only was Anglesey a revelation (for some reason I had expected it to be grey and urbanised) but Llanddwyn is amazing, with pine forests, sand dunes and great views across the Menai Strait to the mountains. It was the site of one of my early pieces of Unlost Places art, long since prey to the restless waves.
Hello, you’re probably thinking, what culvert? Any of them, truth be told. South Wales is littered with water logged tunnels thanks to the drainage issues left by the Industrial Revolution and the multitude of coal mines. Back in about 2003, I had to do a bridging project between studying for Creative Textiles 1 and Creative Textiles 2 with the Open College of Arts. I chose to make an art doll based on a folk tale about mine fairies called Coblynnau. They supposedly lived in dark tunnels and tapped on the walls to show where the best mineral seams were to be found but as I live next to a long abandoned brick works, I gave mine a sliver of clay to hold rather than a lump of coal. If you’re even remotely interested in Psychogeography, any of the South Wales valleys is worth a visit. If you choose the Rhondda, then call in to the wonderful Workers’ Gallery in Ynyshir to see some of the best contemporary art in a vibrant community setting.
The Brecon Beacons from Black Mountain to Black Mountains
When I finally decide to move from Scarecrow Cottage, the Brecon Beacons is one of the places where I’m thinking of pitching my tent. I grew up splish-sploshing across the bare moorland streams of the Black Mountain in the west but as an adult I orienteered, ran and walked through the lovely forests and rugged hillsides of the Black Mountains further east. I often visit Brecon town with its beautiful cathedral and gorgeous little museum – it nestles in the shadow of Pen-y-fan. All in all, I’m grateful that hordes of visitors spend their time trudging up and down the Pont-ar-Daf track because it means the rest of the Brecon Beacons National Park is quiet and unspoilt for people like me.
I grew up in Aberavon where the long golden sands sweep around to form the southern edge of Swansea Bay. Quite why Aberavon and its neighbours, Morfa, Porthcawl and Llantwit Major aren’t on the same tourist itinerary as the Gower and Pembrokeshire is a bit of a mystery. It has to be said that Wales has some of the best beaches in the UK and one of the best coastlines in the world.
“Teg edrych tuag adref”
I suppose the upshot of all this is that our current situation should serve as a reminder to not take things, places or people for granted. Perhaps playing a game like Tony Blair is Banning would help us all to appreciate what we’ve had and what we’ve got. Dyna Gymru i mi – lle gorau yn y byd i fyw.