Helping the World Discover Wales! by Sunne M. Marple
Hywel Roberts was born in the small village of Arthog in Gwynedd, North Wales, and Welsh was his first language. “After my family, the Welsh language is the biggest treasure in my life” says Roberts. He joined the Royal Air Force and travelled around the world, often on sailboats, and today lives in Winona, a small town on the banks of the Mississippi river in Minnesota.For over fifteen years many of the professors at Winona State University (where Roberts’ wife taught sculpture) asked him to take them to Wales. He always told them to buy an air ticket and hire a rental car, and he mentioned some spots to visit. None of them followed up. To champion Welsh culture Roberts also thought of making a film about the Welsh language, but people told him the BBC had already done that!
In 2013, out of the blue, Hywel received a call from Dai Rice, who went to school with him at Ysgol-y-Gader in Dolgellau in the 1960’s. Dai had just bought a sailboat and wanted to sail the Northwest Passage around northern Canada. In June of 2014, Dai sailed “Catryn” single-handed from Aberdovey, Wales to Greenland, where Dai’s brother Peter, another couple, and Roberts flew up to join him. The voyage lasted eight weeks, and there were many challenges on the journey. Roberts directed and filmed a documentary of the voyage “Attempting the Northwest Passage” that premiered at the “Llanberis Adventure Film Festival “North Wales and the “Frozen River Film Festival” in Winona, MN. After finishing this film, the last thing that Roberts wanted to do was to make another, but he was still inspired to promote the Welsh culture. “Wild Wales Tours & Walkabouts” emerged. “I have no idea how it started, but it ended up in my lap. The next thing I knew I was flying over the Atlantic to do research for our trips”.
“Wild Wales Tours & Walkabouts “ is now in its third year, and every spring and autumn Roberts takes guests from all over the world to visit Wales. The trips have a sustainable approach. This means that the groups are small and are educated about history, heritage, and cultural practices, and they stay in eco-friendly or family owned hotels, visiting less-touristed areas. Storytellers, musicians, historians, academics and archeologists join the guests and hikers along the way. Elen Huws, a Welsh speaker and historian, is the tour guide on the ten-day bus tour starting in Llandudno and ending in Cardiff (twenty people only) this coming September.
The Walkabouts usually run 6-8 days for eight to ten people who stay in 3 to 4-star guest houses. Hikers explore the Welsh Coastal Path and ancient paths up in the Snowdonia National Park, visiting venerable sites along the way and connecting with the locals, walking 7-10 miles per day. There are usually options for some to walk half-days, and be picked up and returned to the guest house.
“Wild Wales Tours and Walkabouts” will be sponsoring an event with the St. David’s Society of Minnesota in St Paul, Minnesota on Thursday, April 25, 7-9pm, called “King Arthur Tales from Wales and More!” Welsh native Gareth Roberts, from Llanberis - map maker, photographer, astronomer and hiking guide - will be the storyteller for the evening. His book of night photography “The Stars in their Tenderness’” was published in 2011. Gareth regularly appears on radio and TV programs in Wales, and he and his family live in the midst of the Snowdonia National Park.
To watch Roberts’ documentary “Attempting the Northwest Passage,” and listen to some Welsh singing up in the high Arctic, go to www.wildwalestours.com Click the Media button, go to Documentary, and the password is Franklin. The website also provides detailed information and registration for the next spring and fall tours.