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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Friday, 27 May 2011

A tour of Devil's Bridge

I'm pinching this idea from Susie, who wrote a lovely post on the ordinary, day-to-day aspects of where she lives, which is Cambridge... except that when it comes to it, I'm not really pinching her idea at all. Her post is all about the non-touristy, boring bits of Cambridge. I started thinking about what I could say about where I live if I left the touristy bits out and frankly, I got a bit stuck. The thing is, whereas Cambridge has plenty of things that are not at all touristy, Devil's Bridge is built around tourism. This isn't a recent phenomenon - there was a grand estate that posh people used as a summer retreat, and the village developed from that. So here it is: The ordinary, everyday bits of living in Devil's Bridge, tourism included. I won't show you the bridge, though.

Bilingual signposts

So... Welcome to Devil's Bridge, or Croeso y Pontarfynach - take your pick. This really is a bilingual community and we're going to have to learn Welsh. We've encountered no hostility from the locals at all - quite the opposite, people here are very friendly and pride themselves on their lack of racism against the English - but the fact is that conversations go on in Welsh. For example, meetings are conducted in English (if English people are present - very generous of the locals, really), but as soon as people relax (which they tend to do quite readily), they slip into Welsh.

It's not an easy language. Quite apart from the double 'L's and the different sounds for some of the consonants (e.g. Welsh single 'f' sounds the same as English 'v'), there's the spelling. The village name, Pontarfynach, means 'Bridge of the monks' but 'monk' is 'mynach' - so why the change of consonant? Here's a close-up of that footpath sign:

If I was in Borth I might think it worth walking 18 miles to get here,
but not the other way round

Notice how the village name is spelt two different ways on the two signposts? I'm told this isn't random - there's a right and a wrong way to do this, depending on context. I can see that learning Welsh is going to be quite a major challenge. I'm not very good at languages in the first place.

Another thing about the village name is that the English name isn't even a direct translation of the Welsh. In English we have the devil whereas in Welsh we have monks. My theory is that monks actually built the original bridge, but when the English arrived here, they were so amazed at this technical achievement that they said it wasn't possible that any mortal could have built such a bridge (even if he did have God on his side) - it had to be the work of the devil! So we have Devil's Bridge in English and Monk's Bridge in Welsh. From this I conclude that it would be unwise to underestimate Welsh monks.

We have a community woodland, planted as a millenium project.

There are many signposts to the woods, in various languages

Coed y bobol is my favourite Welsh phrase so far - Wood of the people - bobol/people - do you see the connection? I love spotting links between languages, even if I'm rubbish at learning to actually speak them. I think this woodland is a lovely idea, but it's also quite amusing, as it's tiny in comparison to the acres of woods all over the surrounding hillsides.

Here's the local pub:

Hafod Hotel, Devil's Bridge

The front of the tea rooms were given a lick of paint this spring, ahead of the tourist season, but the pub sign remains illegible under moss and algae. The buildings you can see in this picture are all connected, and are the remains of the country retreat - Hafod - that the village grew up around. It's now a hotel, but there's a strong community focus. They run events like regular quiz nights (which we've yet to go to - we need some friends so we can make up a team) and live music. It's a great pub, even if we can't understand half of what people are saying.

We're very well catered for tea-rooms here. As well as the hotel, there's the station cafe and Y Caban.

I've done these establishments great disservice by not photographing them when they're open, but I get a bit embarrased taking photos of tourists. I don't know why - they take photos of my house all the time*

As you may have guessed from the picture, this is not a mainline station, but the terminus of a lovingly preserved steam railway.

steam trainWe don't wave at the trains every time any more

The railway line goes right past our house - railway empolyees even have right of access down our driveway to the railway line - and the train goes past four times a day (twice in each direction) during the summer, and eight times on busy days. The train punctuates our days; we hear the whistle as it echoes around the valley - at one point we hear the echo before the original sound - and turn to look out of the window, or over the garden hedge, as the train goes by. The passengers are mostly looking at the view in the other direction, but sometimes they look our way, and sometimes we wave.

Sadly, the train is no use at all as a means of transport. The first train of the day starts in Aberystwyth, so that's no use, and similarly the last one ends up there. We could catch the second train into town. It would take an hour to get there (vs. 20 min by car), then we'd have half an hour in town before we'd have to get the next train back again. It's not even long enough to buy fish and chips!

Bus shelter, used mainly for displaying posters.

We also have a bus shelter, but don't try to catch a bus from there. There is a bus that goes into town three times a week. If you want to catch it, you have to phone up the day before and let them know, and when it turns up, it's a car.

Plane with propellers. I don't know what it is. Ian probably knows.

Planes are quite a big feature of living here, too. We quite like these ones with the propellers. They're not too loud, they're quite cool, and they're slow enough to photograph. We're less keen on the military jets that weave in and out of the mountains, low enough that you wouldn't want to be in a double-decker bus when one flew over (that's if there were any buses round here). These are way too fast to catch on camera and are very, very loud. Every so often one goes directly overhead and so low that the noise is just overwhelming. I can understand why dogs don't like fireworks when those go over.

I can't finish my tour of Devil's Bridge without mentioning the village shop.

Village shop

They don't actually do B&B. They did for a while, but stopped. The sign predates the current owners and their period of B&Bing. Maybe they'll have another go sometime in the future, and the sign will be true again.

We go there frequently, usually just to buy milk, and we're on first name terms with the people who own it, and their daughter. They're very keen on supporting local producers, so they tend to have high-quality produce. Our neighbour who keeps bees down in the valley somewhere (too high for them up here) sells her honey there. The owners have chickens of their own and if they have a surplus of eggs, those will be for sale, too. If I have a glut of veg in the summer, I may try to sell some of it through the shop. The owners also tell us about local events they think we might be interested in. It's a proper hub of the community.


*Not because my house is particularly picturesque, but because if you stand on a certain footbridge to take photos of the steam train, my house is in the background. Ian even found a picture of the house in a book on steam railways in an antique shop. Naturally, he had to buy the book.


  1. A lovely reminder of our Easter visit.

  2. your bus comes more often than our bus does, but actually thats quite worrying seems though you are in a far more rural surroundings than I am!

    Great articles Rachel, you've been busy!

  3. ...and when it turns up, it's a car.

    I'm sorry to hear that you have less than ideal public transport arrangements but that sentence made me laugh out loud - perfect comic timing :)

    Your village looks lovely - thanks for the quick tour :)

  4. OMG - it's soooooo beautiful! It must be amazing to live amongst so much history. Here in Denver anything over 100 years old is considered ancient.

  5. Thanks for the comments, folks :-)

    I hadn't even noticed the history in this post, apart from the steam train. My house was built in 1818 and I consider that only moderately old (the first house I bought was 400 years old). I guess I do have a rather different frame of reference from yours, EcoCatLady!

  6. Aah! Love it! :-). Especially love the bus that you have to ring up in advance and when it comes it isn't a bus. Oh I wish I lived in the country (not sure I'm envying your public transport but the rest of it I am).

    And Welsh seems a scary language to me too. People tell me it isn't as bad as medieval Irish but if you're having to look as far as medieval Irish for a comparison I think that's quite telling.

  7. Hmm, not as bad as medieval Irish... that's not terribly encouraging.

  8. The plane is a C130J Hercules - the others will be a mixture of Hawks, Tornados & Typhoons.


  9. Very enjoyable! Thanks for sharing! I like learning new things and would love to visit Wales someday. Learning Welsh, now there's a challenge.

  10. Cheers, Bertie :-)

    Thanks for dropping by, Julia. I see you were inspired by Susie, too. It was very interesting to read about your hometown - it's so different from here that I had to read parts of your description a couple of times before they made sense! (no implied criticism of your writing there, I assure you)

  11. Did Ian show you SaySomethingInWelsh.com?

    I'm using it and finding it's really good. If you use this and have some radio cymru or something on to just listen to how words sound I think you'll pick up a fair bit. I have found much more entertaining and possibly more useful than the taught classes i went to (wlpan).

    And it's free!


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