A Walk Through Wales

A WALK THROUGH WALES offers a day-by-day account of Anthony Bailey’s spring backpacking trip through western Wales. His route ran a jagged course from Cardiff, the cosmopolitan capital of Wales, located on the Severn Estuary, north-northwest some 150 miles to Bangor on the Irish Sea. His path meanders through valleys and uplands, often between the low green mountains of Wales to the east and the nearby sea to the west, taking him along ancient Roman roads, abandoned rail lines, footpaths through farmyards and sheep pastures, and motorways, avoiding for the most part the places frequented by tourists. He stays overnight at local inns, youth hostels, and bed and breakfast homes, and his descriptions of hosts and others leave an impression of a people both reserved and hospitable.

Like most travel writers, Bailey has read those who preceded him and incorporates their observations into his narrative. He cites the journey made by Archdeacon Gerald in 1188 for comments about the route and landscape. Brief remarks from Samuel Johnson recall an eighteenth century excursion to Wales, and more extensive ones from the nineteenth century novelist and traveler George Borrow, who walked through Wales in 1854, enrich the narrative.

Bailey’s account creates a complex image of contemporary Wales, its intricate history, and its myths. He describes numerous Roman remains, locales associated with the Arthurian legends, churches linked to medieval saints, and castles where Welsh nationalists like Owen Glendower made their final stands against English monarchs. Throughout one gleans an understanding of the turbulent history of the land.

Bailey’s detailed descriptions leave a vivid impression of the terrain and its flora and fauna. Further, he manages to trace the economic development of the area. An abundance of sheep continues from the past, but abandoned slate quarries and coal mines spell economic decline as well as lasting damage to the picturesque landscape. Relatively low real estate prices contribute to an influx of English retirees, and this population shift, in turn, complicates efforts to preserve Welsh identity and a separate language. Bailey paints a nostalgic picture of a land and people steeped in the past but confronting modernity with difficulty.