Returning to the UK following an extended stint living in Asia, many things I once took for granted suddenly began to reveal its charms. The eccentric people, the familiar culture and the undeniable familiarity of home were all suddenly that much sweeter.
Though the UK in general has a common thread running through each individual nation’s collective culture, nothing could compare to my beloved homeland of Wales. The rolling valleys and countless sheep were what I was truly longing for.
Though many aspects suddenly have new meaning to me, my Taiwanese partner was in an even more unique position. She had never been to Wales before, let alone my true heartland of Anglesey. She had no idea what to expect, only being able to visualise what I had told her. This was my opportunity to see what Anglesey really looks like from the outside looking in.
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Anglesey’s Hottest Event of the Year
Coincidentally, we’d be arriving back on Anglesey during one of the island’s most prestigious events that holds a dear place on many locals’ calenders – the Anglesey Show, or Sioe Môn as we’d call it.
The stars couldn’t have aligned better. What a way to expose Jess to a real slice of obscure Welsh culture. No other event was a better representation of local country life and the simple pleasures we find in it.
Jess, like many others who visit the UK, had a completely different perception of what life outside of London was like. Surprisingly, there was a striking difference between the streets of Chelsea and the council estates and flocks of sheep that many of us grew up amongst. More than that, the Anglesey Show was a central piece of my childhood.
It’s where my dear departed grandmother would take my ADHD-riddled self to snack on pick-and-mix and watch poorly attended dirtbike shows. It’s also where I worked as an acne-riddled teenager selling overpriced programmes to visitors before selling that hard-earned cash on the carnival rides with my friends. To me, it was the pinnacle of summer.
Anglesey’s Hottest Event of the Year
The Anglesey Show is a county fair where local farmers bring their finest creatures to be paraded as part of elaborate beauty pageants. Local businesses from across the island and beyond also come to advertise their goods and services hoping to to entice onlookers. Yet, most important of all for the younger generation, it had the island’s biggest fair with all the thrill-seeking rides an anxiety-riddled teenager would ever hope for. It’s a one-stop-shop for family fun!
We arrived at the aroma of cow shit and overpriced hamburgers to a scene that had not changed since I was a nipper. The same stalls, the same entertainment, and above all, the same faces.
For me, it was an ordinary scene, while for Jess, a Taiwanese girl who was born and raised amongst the bright lights of Taipei, it was anything but.
How odd the thought of bringing along your most beloved farm animals to showcase their beauty in the hopes of winning a first-place ribbon. We don’t advertise the latest sporting gear or innovative technological advancements, we come to see the latest farming equipment and local cheese vendors. This is not an event where we dress to the 9s, we dress for the weather. It’s peculiar, it’s unique but above all else, it packs a hell of a lot of charm.
Into the Real Valleys
As much as I wanted to take Jess to every corner of my beautiful homeland, we only had one day to spare. As such, we’d have to pick the perfect route to show her the very best North Wales had to offer. I only ever had one place in my mind – Eryri National Park, or Snowdonia if you insist.
The first pin was placed firmly in a quintessential fairytale town nestled firmly amongst the mountains – Betws-y-Coed. It has always been a place I’ve held close to my heart. As a family, we’d spend warm summer afternoons picnicking beside the waterfall or passing through while trying to find a place to sledge during the winter. It was a place of serene humble beauty and an image that defines the beauty of Wales.
We spent the rest of our afternoon winding along the awe-inspiring mountain roads that follow the peaks and valleys of this magnificent national park. One stunning vista would give way to the next, one breathtaking peak after the other. Jess spent the entire journey gazing out of the window in fascination, and I had no choice but to join her.
A Quiet Castle Town
The mountains and valleys of North Wales might be a perfect representation of its natural beauty, though there is far more history that lies beneath the surface. But how does one show that in a short amount of time, and be entertaining at that? Thankfully, there are plenty of spots right on our doorstep.
We headed straight for Caernarfon, home to one of the most iconic castles not only in Wales but in the entirety of the UK! Built during the era of Edward I, it was born out of a bitter war against Welsh princes. Twice the castle was used as the sight where the ruling King’s son was declared to be the Prince of Wales, including the now-apparent King Charles. Needless to say, the sight has become an integral part of Welsh resistance and fervent nationalism.
Yet, we weren’t here for politics, we were here for the town’s aesthetic beauty. The city walls, the ramshackle Edwardian bars along cobbled streets and of course, the stunning fortified centrepiece, all the while places alongside a sun-sparkled quay, no better place highlighted what makes Wales so magical.
A Baptism of Fire
Bringing Jess home to meet the family came with a healthy dose of concern. Her family is generally more traditional and a little more reserved, whereas my relatives can be a lot to handle even at the best of times. On top of that, she’d be meeting my entire family all at once.
Neither would she have any time to acclimate. She would take part in an event that showed the good, bad and damn-right peculiar of the entire Jones clan. What on Earth would she think? Will she be scared enough to book a one-way ticket back to Taipei? Either way, she’d have to sink or swim, and to my pleasant surprise, she took to it like a duck to water.
We arrived at the sight of two caravans and a scattering of mismatched deckchairs surrounding a central fireplace and a barbecue ready to go. Toys were strewn across the floor for the kids and two ice buckets filled clinking bottles for the grown-ups.
Under the fuel of copious amounts of alcohol and frantic reminiscing on all fronts, Jess was not only given a Welsh welcome, not even an Anglesey welcome but she was officially inducted into the Jones circle with flying colours.
A Day on The Beach
Waking up in the uncomfortable baking heat of a sunbathed caravan with a splitting headache and a throat dryer than the Sahara, we had no time to waste. With a rare amount of sun beating down on us that day, the beach was the only place to go. But which one?
As Anglesey is an island, there are plenty of pretty beaches to choose from. Traeddur Bay? Benllach? But for us, the only choice was Llanddwyn. It was yet another place that I couldn’t help but take for granted during my days on Anglesey. The beach had always been a prime spot to bring the dog on a miserable grey day, all the while not noticing the quaint little lighthouse that birthed the folktale of Santes Dwynwen (Welsh Valentine’s) or the vast mountain ranges of Gwynedd visible across the coast.
As the children paddle-boarded and the nephews drowned themselves in ice cream, we ended the perfect Welsh adventure.
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