I didn’t think I was doing anything remarkable or that I would ever be the subject for conversation until I stopped off at a small campsite on my way to Dolgellau. On my arrival, a little chap wearing a tweed hat and pushing a wheelbarrow directed me to a pitch and told me not to worry about paying as the owner would be along later. Within an hour, I got a visit from one of the couples staying there.
“I hear you’re driving this thing on your own. How are you managing it?” asks Mr.
The little chap with the wheelbarrow must have duly noted my singledom and passed on the word. I tell Mr I’d found the camper’s size a bit intimidating at first but I’m used to it now.
Following much shaking of his head, Mr says, “Well, I take my hat off to you but you do know you have to have a special license to drive one of these, don’t you?”
Gulp. What? Where? Who? Why? “Eh?”
“Oh, yes! You have to have a medical to get the license – camera oop the bum, the whole works. I know ‘cos I thought of getting one of these big motor-homes.”
“Then, after all that, he goes and gets a caravan instead!” says Mrs, laughing indulgently.
“I’m sure that can’t be right,” say I, hoping to god it isn’t. “No one said anything to me about needing a special license.”
“It’s true. Anything over 3.5 ton and you have to have a medical!”
“Ah, well, I don’t think it’s as big as that!” I say, not actually having a clue how much the damned thing weighs.
“Surely is!” he says.
I decide I’m bored with this conversation now and want to retire to my van and hold my head in my hands but Mr is not to be deterred.
“Look here! It’ll tell you somewhere in the cab,” he says, opening my cab door. “Here you are!” he says wiping the dust and dog hair off the said information label.
I hold my breath as he hunkers down and pushes his glasses up his nose and peers; then he rubs the label and squints at it again, as though he can’t quite believe what it says.
“Ah! Well, it’s a 3.1, so you’re alright,” he says, avoiding my cool gaze and not apologising for causing me unnecessary anxiety.
“Anyway, what’s the height of it, eh? The width? Do you know? You need to know these things or else you’ll find yourself without a roof when you go driving under a low bridge. See?” His questions come at me like bullets from a machine gun.
“Yes, of course. I know,” blag I, making a mental note to look up the dimensions again in the manual as soon as he’s gone, and praying he won’t put me to the test because they’ve gone clean out of my head.
No sooner has Mr departed than the owner stops by.
“I hear you’re driving this on your own!”
I bristle slightly and brace myself. I don’t think they can get much passing-through trade here.
“Um, well, yes.”
“Jolly good for you! I think it’s marvellous!” he says, beaming with bonhomie.
As the owner walks away, I feel a momentary glow of pride; thinking ‘gosh, aren’t I the one’. Then my feminist brain kicks into gear and I think how sexist the whole thing is. A man on his own, doing what I am, would never illicit such remarks or get a lecture about things he may not know, or congratulations upon his ability to do it. I feel like I’ve entered a time warp.
I know Mr know-it-all probably meant well. He belongs to that generation of older men who think women are delicate creatures who need to be looked after and aren’t capable of doing the things men do. I’m hoping I’ve disabused him of some of his illusions; though, in all fairness, he did give me a timely reminder to memorise those dimensions, but don’t tell him I said so.
Then, uppity and independent old thing that I am, I’m off to Dolgellau and driving past the mountain of Cader Idris in all its brooding, massive majesty. I used to gaze at this fabulous landmark of a mountain, over on the distant horizon, when I lived in the east of Wales. Up close, it fills me with awe.
I fall in love with Dolgellau, where at last I feel I have entered a proper Welsh town. Here, you will be reminded that Wales is indeed another country. You will hear the lovely, lilting, Welsh language spoken all around you and all the shops have Welsh names.
In the region of Wales I come from you don’t hear so much Welsh being spoken. Welsh was my mother’s first language but she never spoke it to her children. At school, she was punished for speaking her own language and taught she must speak English or not speak at all. Thus, my generation were robbed of their heritage, language and culture via parents who had been brainwashed from childhood that Welsh was inferior. So I have a deep and abiding gratitude to those who held tight to their language and didn’t let anyone persuade them not to, and passed on their language to their children with pride. If not for them, the Welsh language would not now exist.
I buy real bread and a heavenly home-made Bara-brith in the bakery, and am offered a cup of tea while browsing in the inspiring little wool shop. Here I meet two lovely ladies who are fellow (what is the female equivalent?) spinners and we spend a half hour enthusing over hand-spun yarns. They tell me that Dolgellau once had a thriving woollen industry, and that at least one house in Dolgellau still has a weavers shed at the top reached by a spiral stone stairway which the weavers used to use so as not to disturb their employer when going to and from their work. Before the decline of the woollen industry, which occurred in the first half of the 19th century due to the introduction of mechanical looms, annual output was said to be worth between £50,000 and £100,000.
The other thing Dolgellau was once famous for was its large community of Quakers. Apparently, following a visit from George Fox in 1657, many inhabitants of Dolgellau converted to Quakerism. Many emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1686, led by Rowland Ellis, a local gentleman-farmer, because of the persecution they suffered (persecution was suffered by all dissenting religions in Wales). The Pennsylvanian town of Bryn Mawr was named after Rowland Ellis’s farm near Dolgellau. So now you know.
Dolgellau is possibly one of the least spoiled towns I’ve encountered and I love that it has preserved its Welsh identity and language. But oh, how I would have loved to have been a passenger in the motor-car of H. V. Morton in 1932, for while I, in 2014, celebrate how comparatively unspoiled it is, he was lamenting the changes which had led to the exchange of pony for local omnibus as a mode of transport for the locals. He describes the market square crowded with farmers and their labourers on a Saturday afternoon;
They wear breeches and leggings, caps or bowler hats. Most of them are shaggy as mountain ponies; some fair, some small and dark as Spaniards, some tall and fair, rawboned as Highlanders. Now and again local girls, walking two by two, pass and re-pass among the herd of men, and occasionally they turn to smile back at some chance remark in Welsh which is flung at them……I look at them and miss the ponies on which I feel they should have ridden to market. But they have come in from miles around on motor-omnibuses. It is a grotesque thought.
The descendants of those farmers of which he spoke now each own their own motor car, of course, and land-rovers, all of which are crammed into the parking spaces on the square or in the car park – an unimaginable thing in H.V. Morton’s time.
I can only imagine what thoughts he may have had should he have seen women driving around the country alone in motorised homes on wheels, let alone driving buses, trains, lorries….
From Dolgellau I’m off to Barmouth ….see you there.
Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.
You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.
Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd
The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd
Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK
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