Tuesday, 2 July 2002

By the roadside in Wales

This will be a short report because we spent most of the day on the road, and didn't do any organized touring. Our route was a scenic one, though, and we saw plenty of beautiful scenery as we drove north through Wales, as well as plenty of sheep!

Shops in Hay-on-Wye

We also found opportunities to do some shopping, planned and unplanned. We halted for a couple of hours to get lunch in the small town of Hay-on-Wye by the River Wye; this town is widely known as a center of used and antiquarian bookselling, and its more than 30 bookstores combined with its small population probably give it the crown for most bookstores per capita in the world. The picture shows one of the many bookstores, sharing this old building with a restaurant and a souvenir shop. There was also a small plaza of stores selling the wares of local craftspeople, and I saw lots of MBCC people walking out of that with packages too.

The bibliophilic character of the town began only about forty years ago, when a local businessman decided to supplement his income, which was declining with the local economy, by selling some old books he had. His success inspired him to start a full-time bookstore, and soon others followed. His name is Richard Booth, and in town you can address him as King Richard IV; he is apparently a fairly colorful character, and dismay with government policies toward rural Wales led him to proclaim the town an independent kingdom with himself as ruler in 1974! He lives in a local castle, as befits a king, but we didn't have time to seek it out.

Cor Cymau Meibion

Later we stopped for a bathroom break at a former railway station turned shopping mall, and again many of our people walked out with packages. We then continued to the town of Mold in northern Wales, where we checked in at our hotel and then had dinner. While we ate we were entertained by a harpist, and afterward we enjoyed a concert by a local traditional male chorus, Cor Cymau Meibion. They sang several Welsh songs, including one in a style inherited straight from the days of the troubadors, and also the American spirituals "The Silver Trumpet," "Rock-A My Soul," and "When the Saints Go Marching In"! Knowing that most of their audience were themselves a choir, they invited us to sing after them, so we performed "Cantate Domino," "Poor Man Lazrus," and "Siyahamba" before we all joined in singing the Welsh National Anthem. When they found out where we were singing tomorrow, the Mecca of the Welsh musical world, they said we were really "going into the lion's den" in terms of an audience that is accustomed to the very best music; but after we sang, they said they thought we'd be well received. Here's hoping so!

To next day's adventuresTo Wednesday, 3 July 2002

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new 2 July 2002, revised 12 July 2002