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If you're interested in learning more, we have several books to recommend on our Books page. We also have a documentary film available!

Taff Roberts and Wild Wales Tours was recently featured in the Winona Post! This article features great information about Taff and the tours. Please read the article at the Winona Post here.

Another article featured by the Winona Post discusses Taff's talk at the Winona Historical Society. See the article here!

A Child's Christmas in Wales Video

The Mabinogion by Hywel Roberts

The twelve rich, romantic tales that make up the collection known as the Mabinogion are the earliest prose literature written in Welsh. Although the earliest manuscripts to record these tales date from the thirteenth century, scholars agree that they contain material from an earlier period. These stories were the literature of the period, written in Middle Welsh and committed to vellum with pen and ink by Cistercian monks.

Four of the tales preserve a longer story and are known collectively as the four branches of the ‘Mabinogi’

  • “Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed” – Pwyll is the Prince of Dyfed (a Welsh county), and the story shares information about his parents and tales of his childhood and young adulthood.

  • “Branwen ferch Llyr” - Branwen, the daughter of Llyr, marries the King of Ireland.

  • “Manawydan fab Llyr” - Manawydan is the son of Llyr and brother to Branwen. Pryder and Manawydan return home from Ireland and relate the misfortunes that befell them.

  • “Math fab Mathonwy” – Math is the son of Mathonwy, and this is the tale of his and Gwydion’s conflict with Pryderi.

 

Another Mabinogion tale is about Macsen Wledig (Magnus Maximus), who was a Roman Emperor, and the ruler of Britain during the reign of Emperor Constantine I, 383-388 CE. He became the basis of a number of later Welsh legends. Whilst “The Dream of Macsen Wledig” is fictional, it is set in real locations, the main site being Caernarfon, and contains several historical allusions.

An order of the Benedictine Monks who presided in Gaul (France/Belgium) at the beginning of the twelfth century were seeking a stricter community that would be ascetic, self-sufficient, and living off the land. They formed the white-robed Cistercians, and they were invited to Britain by the Norman invaders. They built their first abbey at Waverley, Surrey in 1128 CE. The building of the abbey Ystrad y Fflur, (Strata Florida, the “Vale of the Flowers”) began on the banks of the river Teifi in a secluded vale in mid-Wales, with support from Robert Fitz Stephen, an Anglo-Norman lord, in 1164 CE. A year later it was taken over by Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd, a Welsh prince with noble intentions, who hoped that the abbey would benefit Wales and the Welsh! Lord Rhys envisioned this site, as the cultural center of the nation of Wales. Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd initiated a festival of poetry and song nearby in Cardigan in 1176 CE, that was the first

Eisteddfod of Wales!

Sadly, Lord Rhys, one of the greatest princes of Wales, died unexpectedly on the 28th of April, 1197 CE. He was beloved by the monks of Strata Florida, who wanted their patron to be buried next to many generations of Welsh princes at the abbey. However, Lord Rhys had an argument with Bishop Peter de Leia, the Bishop of St Davids, over some horses that Lord Rhys had stolen many years previously. He arranged for his body to be buried in St. David at the Cathedral of Wales, after it was lashed repeatedly, to rid him of his sins. His carved tomb in the chancel at the Cathedral dates from the 14th century, 200 years after his passing. Pastoralism was a great method to fund the abbey, and reportedly, the white-robed monks raised sheep and goats, grew oats and barley, and made their honey, mead and wine. It was a thriving concern.

After their daily prayers and labor, the Cistercians would engage with the local Welsh community surrounding Strata Florida, learning their Welsh language, and carefully scribing their literature, tales and legends onto fine vellum (goat or calf skin), a material that the monks produced at the abbey. The abbey became a literary center for Wales during the Middle Ages. Dafydd ap Gwylim (1315-1370?), one of the leading poets of Europe, would often stop by, presenting his poetry about love and the world of nature. Later, in the fifteenth century, Guto’r Glyn (1435-1493), considered one of the finest Late Medieval poets of Wales, would visit and spend time with the order of friendly monks.

During the 1401 uprising of Owain Glyndwr, it was believed that the monks at Strata Florida were sympathetic to the Welsh prince, and he had been sheltering at the abbey. On October 1st, 1401, Henry IV amassed an army of 400-500 men at Worcester, and they marched to Strata Florida and looted the abbey, drank the wine and mead crafted by the monks, and stabled their horses at the altar.

With the coronation of Henry VIII and dissolution of all the Abbeys in Britain in 1536, Strata Florida was closed down in 1539. Henry VIII’s Acts of Union in 1535 and 1542 changed the nation of Wales dramatically.

Today we must be thankful to the Cistercians for their diligent work, securing our history and ancient tales, and passing them on for future generations. Also, we thank William Owen Pugh (1795-1829) for publishing the first English translation of two of the tales and Charlotte Guest, who published the eleven Mabinogion tales in their entirety, during 1838-1845.

The “Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch” (the “White Book of Rhydderch”) is a prized possession at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. It records eleven tales of the Mabinogion. Digitized images of the book can be visited on the NLW website.

The “Llyfr Coch Hergest” (the “Red Book of Hergest”) is a slightly later version housed at the

Bodleian Library, Oxford University, England and can be viewed here.

The tales and prose of the Mabinogion are a rich national treasure, and today we need to pass them on to future generations to keep them alive. In October, 2022 here in Winona, Minnesota, in the USA, we will have our first annual “Sandbar Storytelling Festival” on the banks of the Mississippi River, inclusive of all people and nations, and yes, we will be including the tales from Wales, the Mabinogi!

References

Davis, Sioned (2007). The Mabinogion. Oxford World’s Classics.

Loomis, Richard M. (2005). New House & Guto’r Glyn in 1492.

Lupton, Hugh (2018). The Assembly of the Severed Head. Propolis.

Morden, Daniel, illustrated by Brett Breckon (2012). Tree Of Leaf and Flame. Gomer Press.

Turvey, Roger (1997). The Lord Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth. Gomer Press.

Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicles of the Princes) is also one of the most important sources of

Welsh History, and thought to have been written at Strata Florida. https://www.library.wales/

https://www.library.wales/discover/digital-gallery/manuscripts/the-middle-ages/chronicle-ofthe-

princes#?c=&m=&s=&cv=&xywh=-642%2C-1%2C3273%2C2784

Sustainable Tourism in Wales

Sustainable tourism in Wales is a much more viable alternative to the mass tourism that has 

exploited the environment and destroyed the quality of life for many locals in destinations 

around the world. For example, in the past five years Iceland has hosted millions of foreign tourists who have overrun parts of their island home, and threatened to compromise the fragile ecosystem. 

 

Mass tourism is a large and lucrative business that can drastically change the quality of life for the local population. Sustainable tourism enables travelers to make a positive impact on the environment, society, and economy. It can be defined as a management strategy for attracting international visitors, taking into full account the consequences such action will have on the environment, the host culture and its economy. Thus, in order to fully achieve this ambition, sustainable tourism practitioners should: (according to Michael Chapman in his “Guide to Iceland”) 

 

Protect and conserve the socio-cultural legitimacy of the host community, respecting their heritage, belief systems and cultural practices. The host community must contribute in return, educating their guests on how best to interact with and respect the natural environment.

 

Ensure the protection of ecological sites imperative to tourism development. This is of particular importance in Wales due to the many historic castles, abbeys, and ancient sites, going back over five thousand years. 

 

Wales has three National Parks: Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons and the Pembrokeshire Park. The parks include magnificent landscapes, habitats, villages and heritage sites, and cover twenty percent of the country. Most of the land is privately owned and people live and work there. National Parks U.K. oversees and advises the three parks in Wales, sharing experiences, and managing joint training projects within the parks. This body promotes sustainable development within the parks. 

 

Provide economic relief for host communities from profits earned through tourism development, as well as providing all suitable stakeholders with their fair distribution. 

 

CADW, a Welsh word meaning keep or protect, is the Welsh government’s agency that manages and conserves all historical and heritage sites within Wales. The Welsh government presently is managing a project to develop heritage tourism in Wales. This is largely funded by the Government and from the EU Convergence Funds. Closing local offices of tourism in Wales is detrimental to this effort and to tourism in general.

 

It would be in the interest of Wales for the Welsh Assembly to install a tourist official with knowledge of sustainable tourism to benefit the nation. This kind of office has greatly attracted overseas visitors to Ireland and Scotland in the past twenty years or so. Although there is uncertainty, we hope that initiatives like these will continue to be funded here in Wales to protect our nations heritage, culture and language.

 

Hywel Taff Roberts

Wild Wales Tours & Walkabouts L.L.C., by Hywel Roberts

 

Wild Wales Tours and Walkabouts L.L.C. was established to introduce North Americans and others to the people, culture and physical landscapes of the nation of Wales. The Lonely Planet Guide for 2017 chose North Wales as the fourth most desirable region to visit on the planet in 2017!

Growing up in Snowdonia, North Wales in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I had no idea how lucky I was to be raised in such a rich culture, surrounded by magnificent landscape. After leaving Ysgol y Gader High School in Dolgellau in 1967, with no prospects of finding work in the area, I joined the Royal Air Force. Six years later I sailed across the Atlantic on a small sailboat to the Welsh settlement in Patagonia, but ended up in Northern Maine. I met my wife Anne in Los Angeles in 1989, and the next thing I knew we were moving to the prairies in southeastern Minnesota for her teaching job at Winona State University. We are still here!!

For the past twenty years, Anne’s colleagues and many of our friends have asked me to take them to Wales. Most of them have been to Ireland, the Isle of Skye, London, Paris and many other destinations in Europe, but the truth of it is, they don't know where Wales is, or its relation within the British Isles!

Wild Wales Tours & Walkabouts was established to introduce North Americans and others directly to the Welsh people and culture, and to their own Welsh heritage, all from an authentic Welsh perspective. Our goals are to highlight the immense beauty of the Welsh landscape, the choral tradition of Wales, and the everyday lives of the people who reside in this magical nation. Our vision is to help sustain the Welsh language, and build relationships to promote economic growth. Along the way we will be entertained by story tellers, musicians and historians.

Many of our guests tell us that they would like to travel in an unhurried way, meet the Welsh people, and discuss issues of the day. Often we will be staying in the same area or town for two or three days to get to know the history and people.

In May 2017 we took our first Wild Wales Tour group to travel around Wales at a slower pace for ten days with no more than twenty people on the bus. At some locations we will have local dignitaries there to welcome us! We will board the Welsh Highland Railway in Caernarfon that will take us through the Snowdonia mountains to our next hotel in the seaport town of Porthmadog. The choral tradition in Wales, over a thousand years old, is the backbone that connects the Welsh language and culture. The Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir  from Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, won the prestigious first place at the National Eisteddfod in Abergavenny this past summer. On our bus tours in May and October, 2017, we heard them sing and meet with them afterwards!

We also will be leading Wild Wales Walkabouts for 8-10 people hiking around the Welsh Coastal Path and Snowdonia National Park. As we connect with the landscape and the amazing world of nature, we will pass through small, rural Welsh communities and the countryside that surrounds them. As we tread along we will support small businesses, stay in local B&B’s and small hotels, and eat in the local pubs. We do cater to family groups and clubs who would like us to customize their trip to Wales.

Come join us!

Why North Americans should visit Wales

Mawddach Estuary, Barmouth Bridge