Roman remains & Welsh lessons – or “Cymraeg gwersau”

My grandmother’s family (including Great Uncle Harold) were raised in Caerleon, which is a small town just north of Newport, which is right on the Bristol Channel that separates southern Wales from England. Other than my grandmother, who moved to southern England, everyone else stayed in Caerleon.

Caerleon has an amazing history, with records dating back to 830 AD listing it as one of Britain’s 33 cities. It has the remains of Roman Fortress Isca, actual walls of a Roman bath, and some believe it may even be the location of King Arthur’s Camelot. In addition, they have excavated remains of a hill fort that dates back to the early-middle Iron Age, ~300-600 BC, and right next to the current elementary school and local library, are the remains of a Roman amphitheater. According to the 2001 census, Caerleon had just under 9,000 residents (I can claim to be related to seven of them).

Ron and I had serious discussions about getting married in Caerleon, at St. Cadocs church where my grandparents, and all great aunts and uncles were married (my parents were married in Weymouth, where my mother grew up). Sadly, I’ve attended many family funerals at St. Cadocs, but no weddings. It’s a wonderful old stone church, with parts dating back to the 12th century, and I will admit to having some dreams as a little girl of getting married there. But logistically Ron and I felt it was just too cumbersome, so we opted for Baltimore and lots and lots of friends.

Growing up and visiting my relatives, I didn’t know (or really care) about any of its history. I do remember finding it odd, however, that despite being in Wales, this area of southern Wales did not speak Welsh. Now, in the last ten years, I’ve noticed that that’s starting to change. They have started posting signs (street signs, traffic signs, grocery store directories even) in both Welsh and English, and there are some television channels in Welsh, but you never hear it spoken “down the town” or “down the pub.”

Welsh is a very interesting (strange) language to listen to. After trying to read the signs and listening to the soap operas, I came to the conclusion that it sounds a bit like Swedish, backwards. I tried to capture some of the signs I saw around, just to give a flavor. Some of the town names are good examples: Cwmbran, Croesyceiliog, Pontnewynydd, Llanyrafon, Blaenavon (this last one, my mom told me my grandmother would use as a curse word – we have no idea why but towns always seem to have a healthy rivalry with the next town, don’t they?).

(Is anyone else envisioning a large ficus ambling across the road?)