Twin Towns

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Twin Towns

Twin Towns
Most towns have their odd little traditions and customs, and Cardigan is no exception. The one I love the most is Sadwrn Barlys (Barley Saturday).

Barley Saturday has been taking place since 1871 and it’s kind of like Cardigan’s version of Pamplona’s running of the bulls (only a but more low key). Traditionally it was where farmers from Cardigan and the surrounding area could hire new staff and inspect prize stallions put out to stud. The stallions would be judged and then paraded through the town led by the supreme champion.

On the last Saturday of April hundreds of people line the streets of Cardigan and watch as farmers run their stallions down the high street. And the stallions are everything from tiny Shetlands to great beasts of Shire horses.

The best ones are the ones that look like they are wild. They have a look in their eyes that is both fearful and arrogant. They almost sneer at the crowd as they rear their heads and fight against the restraint of the reins.

There have been times when the farmer looks like he has no hold over the horse and the horse veers off towards the crowd. We have seen young girls fighting to keep control over towering horses. We have witnessed stallions kicking and rearing. And last year, one stallion broke loose and was heading towards the crowd, but was stopped by a brave policeman just in the nick of time. This threat of danger just adds to the excitement.

It’s not long to the next Barley Saturday and I will take my family and join the other families of Cardigan to watch our town’s quirky little parade that marks the start of our summer.

Trevelin also has its own unique little festival and it too involves horses. When the team went to visit back in November, they were lucky enough to be there when the festival took place.

It starts with a re-enactment of the journey the first settlers made when they discovered ‘Cwm Hyfred’ (the beautiful valley) back in 1885. A group of ‘Rifleros’ climb from the town on horseback to the same spot where Colonel Jorge Fontana and his gang first spotted the valley. They recite some prayers of thanks, raise the Argentinean flag and sing the national anthems of Argentina and Wales. And then it’s back down to the town for celebrations and parades.

The town really welcomed our little howies group into their celebrations. Lydia was asked to carry the Welsh Society flowers, which was a real honour and the team were guests of honour, at a performance by the local Welsh choir.

Arfordir Araf*

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Arfordir Araf*

Arfordir Araf*
Long journeys are about discovery, finding out about new places, learning about ourselves, and learning new stuff everywhere you look. There is no doubt that you miss so much flying along roads in a car. On a bike you can stop pretty much anywhere, you drift though landscapes and miss very little.

Last year I took a break from helping Aron and Pete design and rode my bike around the coast of Britain. Wales was the first part of my adventure.

I took a few wrong turns early on, for example, riding around the Gower peninsula, a mapping error took me ten miles off route. I ended up on a beautiful hilltop with views of coast to the north and south, skylarks were soaring above me. If I had gone on the right route I would have missed it all. Just shows a wrong turn can sometimes work out pretty well.

A unique aspect of travelling up the welsh coastline is the amount of time that you have mountains on one side and the ocean on the other: the Brecons in the south, Preselis in the west and Snowdonia in the north. Anglesey is a brilliant place to ride. It has hundreds of small roads running through it and you will pass many neolithic and bronze age standing stones and burial chambers.

As with all journeys in the UK, the little quiet roads are the best. And if, like Wales, you get a good proportion of off road tracks running along the coast, there is nothing better.

I would say that anyone who sees an opportunity to take on a long journey by bicycle should grab it. You don’t know if it might come around again.

Nick Hand - slowcoast.co.uk

*Aron promises me that's Welsh for slowcoast

Pioneers - John Murray Thomas

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Pioneers - John Murray Thomas

Pioneers - John Murray Thomas
When The Mimosa set sail for Argentina on that stormy May morning in 1865, one of the 153 passengers on board was a seventeen year-old boy from Bridgend by the name of John Murray Thomas. He soon went on to become a Welsh legend in Patagonia.

Soon after landing at Porth Madryn beach, John Murray Thomas joined eighteen other men on a gruelling journey across the pampas to find the Chubut Valley – the idyllic Garden of Eden that had been sold to them when they were back home in Wales. After a few months John travelled to Buenos Aires to train as an accountant, where he met and married the daughter of one of the city's leading businessmen.

Soon after, he bought a ship to carry goods and passengers from Buenos Aires to Patagonia so that he could rejoin the Chubut Valley Welsh settlement.

Around that same period he began taking a prominent role in the first expeditions west. They searched for new land, for gold and other minerals. John Murray Thomas was also a pioneering photographer and took a large number of pictures documenting the early history of the Welsh settlements.

His photographs are amongst the few visual references of that time in existence and continue to be studied by scholars around the world.

A selection of John’s photos can be seen at the website for Welsh heritage and culture (search for John Murray Thomas).

www.gtj.org.uk

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Nana Aurelia, Queen of the Welsh cake

Nana Aurelia, Queen of the Welsh cake
Nana Aurelia is 92. When I was small she used to live with us and I remember coming home from school and she would have made piles of freshly baked Welsh cakes and pikelets for our tea.

She had this cast iron bakestone that she cooked the Welsh cakes and pikelets on. It was a slow process, cooking them in twos or threes on top of the bakestone. Turning them once, then twice to check that they were perfectly done.

About ten years ago my mum took over the Welsh cake baking. She used the same recipe and the same bakestone. Recently they had a new kitchen fitted and got one of those fancy induction hobs. This meant the bakestone would no longer work. So it has been passed on to me.

The bakestone is over fifty years old. It was made in the colliery where my grandfather worked. It now sits on top of my cooker and it has been put to good use. The kids and I cook piles of pikelets on Sunday afternoons. We’ve got a nice little production line going where one of us ladels on the mixture, one of us turns the pikelets and one of us transfers them to a warm tea towel covered plate.

I haven’t yet made Welsh cakes. (My mum now has an electric bakestone so she is still Queen of the Welsh cake.) But what I do have is the recipe. I’m just keeping it safe until it’s my turn to wear the crown.

Nana Aurelia’s Welsh cakes

1lb self raising flour
1/2 lb soft margarine
3/4 tea cup of caster sugar
1 cup of currants or sultanas
2 medium eggs beaten

First rub the margarine into the flour as if you were making pastry. Add the sugar and fruit and then bind the mixture together with the eggs.

Roll out the mixture like pastry and cut into discs with a cookie cutter.

Cook on a bakestone (or heavy duty frying pan with no fat) until both sides are lightly browned. Put on a rack to cool and sprinkle them with caster sugar.

Perfect with a cup of tea.

Clare Hieatt, Cardigan,
West Wales

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Old enough to know better, too young to care

Old enough to know better, too young to care
“Paul, be careful and try not to do anything stupid”... 

These were the words that my girlfriend Millie said to me with some zest as I left the house to go sledging.

My retort was “I don’t need a bloody risk assessment every time I leave the house.”

Four hours later I’m sneaking down our back path with a well and truly knackered knee, trying to figure out how to get into the house and then back out to the hospital without Millie noticing that I couldn’t walk.

It didn’t help that Pete was with me sporting a lovely black eye from his own sledging accident.

The thing is, it’s not really the first time something like this has happened, which would explain Millie’s concern.

A few years ago some friends and myself thought we would have a bash at canoeing. So we got hold of a couple of canoes and off we went to find a river. 

In fact that’s all there was in most places, roads and fields had disappeared and most of the bridges were underwater due to a severe flood. To our untrained eyes it just looked like a bit of a laugh, kind of like a rollercoaster or something.

Fast forward three minutes and we’ve hit a tree and I’m now travelling downstream, underwater, collecting branches and trees, and just about drowning.

Dai, who I was in the canoe with, is standing on top of our upturned craft, white as a sheet and screaming my name (he didn’t jump in and try to save me though).

Then there was the time we decided to paddle over to Caldy Island – which is just off Tenby where I live – in a little homemade catamaran.

We got the tides a bit wrong on that one though and turned what should have been a twenty minute jaunt into a nightmare four-hour marathon.

And then last year we got hold of a couple of very cheap sailing dinghies. So far we’ve sunk one, due to a big hole that none of us saw and had the lifeboat called out on us three times due to concerned well wishers thinking we were in trouble.

That’s just our style of sailing.

If you take into account the times I’ve come home with lacerations and twists due to skating and surfing you can plainly see the need for concern.

The thing is, I can’t see myself or my friends changing that much.

I’ve just turned 35 years of age and I’m itching for my leg to get better so I can go and have a bit more fun.

It’s either that or betting shops and pubs, or whatever it is that grown-ups do these days.

Paul Anderson

Poco Bara And Other Stories

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Poco Bara And Other Stories

Poco Bara And Other Stories
In our last catalogue we told you about Pete’s long-lost cousin in Patagonia. Of course, Pete isn’t the only one with connections out there, and some of you wrote in to tell us your stories. Like Daf Palfrey, who told us the amazing story about his great-grandmother. Daf tells the story below.

Also, on the next spread Gruff Meredith, a Welsh artist/musician tells us about his experience of making an album with Welsh and Patagonian musicians in Chubut.

For over 100 years we have had the Patagonian poncho in the family. It is dyed navy blue with cream circles. It looks pretty unassuming.

It wasn’t until my family and I were given the opportunity to make a film about my great-grandmother did I realize its significance.

The poncho belonged to Elen (Nel) Davies (1870 – 1965). It was given to her as a gift from a Patagonian Tehuelche Chief when she was twelve years old.

She was only five when her parents uprooted the family from South Wales to the Chubut Valley. The crossing cost 13 pounds and they were awarded 100 acres of land. The deal was the same for all Welsh families.

For Nel, the barren land and extreme living conditions were a part of life. She quickly learned to love Patagonia, riding the planes on horseback, befriending the local tribes people, and learning how to bake delicious Welsh bread – something the natives grew to love. The tribesmen would often turn up in their droves requesting ‘poco bara’ (Spanish: a little bit; Welsh: bread) from the Welsh settlers. In return, they offered their alliance and sometimes livestock.

When her mother, Helen Davies, died in childbirth, Nel lost her innocence and freedom. She was obliged to take charge of the household and farm chores, while her father and older brothers were away on long hunting trips.

One day when Nel was alone, a Tehuelche tribe came to visit, chanting “Poco Bara”. All she had to offer them was a small dry crust. When she told them that her mother had died, the Chief dismounted his horse, took off his poncho and offered it to Nel, promising he would always be there for her whenever she needed his help – a friend for life. Normally, a chief would never dismount a horse for anybody, let alone give away his poncho.

It was a source of comfort and pride for her throughout her life.

Eventually Nel settled again in South Wales. She married, raised 
a family, and the poncho sat quietly in a drawer for years.

In her 80s, Marged Jones, my grandmother (my mother’s mother and Nel’s daughter-in-law), wrote the story of Nel’s life in two novels: Nel Fach y Bwcs and Ffarwel Archentina.

The novels became popular in Wales and a staple of Welsh speaking schools in Patagonia.

And in 2007, my family and I got the opportunity to make a film for S4C based on these two books. We decided to take the poncho back to where it originated, document the journey and illustrate passages of the books through reconstructed dramatic scenes.

My mother Eiry was the producer, my sister Lisa was acting the parts of Nel and her mother, my oldest sister Siani was operating the camera, and I was directing.

We saw the house where Nel grew up and showed the poncho to those who had read the books. The most memorable moment was when a female descendant of the Tehuelche tribe clutched the poncho, kissed it, held my mother and through tears declared an undying friendship between the Welsh and the native Patagonians.

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Dreams happen overnight, success is different

Dreams happen overnight, success is different
Lewis Jones had apprenticed as a typesetter and printer, which was useful when it came to posters and pamphlets promoting Paradise.

But he’d never been a pioneer. With Roberts he’d sailed ahead of the Mimosa to prepare for the new arrivals, but they were hopelessly short on food, livestock and shelter. The settlers had fifty head of cattle and horses, one thousand sheep, six pigs, six dogs, four oxen, a cart, two dozen ploughs, three hundred sacks of wheat and twenty sacks of potatoes. Food enough for maybe three months. And there was no fresh water nearby.

It was forty miles across the pampas to the Vale of Chubut. The young men set out first on foot and some of the women, children and supplies were sent down by boat along the coast until it met the estuary. Here they founded the settlement of Rawson.

It didn’t help that few of the settlers were experienced farmers or hunters. They tried and failed to grow a decent crop of wheat and barley. But the native Indians were keen to trade with them and taught them how to hunt and handle wild horses. After two years of hardship, many of the settlers were ready to pack up and leave, but were persuaded to stay one more year.

That next season, they worked out how to irrigate their crop from the river. By 1873, they were shipping wheat to Buenos Aires along with rhea feathers traded with the Indians. Three tons of feathers could earn them as much as one hundred tons of wheat. (Fashion, eh?)

By 1875, new settlers arrived from the US and Wales and the population doubled. Businesses were built, new machinery and equipment arrived: ploughs, reapers, threshers, mills. A dairy industry was built.

By 1883, there were 1350 settlers living along the banks of the Chubut, most of them Welsh or their descendants. And they were running out of land to cultivate. It was time to go West.

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My dad's dad's long-lost brother's daughter

My dad's dad's long-lost brother's daughter
So one night I’m having dinner with my parents and my Dad asks, “How’s work, what are you working on?”

“We’re just starting a new catalogue,” I say. “It’s all about the Welsh colonies in Patagonia.”

“Oh yes? My cousin Rachel is over there, you know,” he says in a matter-of-fact way.

“What?”

“Yeah, you had family emigrate out there.”

I nearly choked on my spaghetti. I know my aunts, uncles, cousins and whatnot in Australia and America but thought that was it, to be honest.

Turns out my granddad, Albert Davies, had a brother named Howel who went out to Patagonia in 1925 and married an Argentinian girl. Their daughter, Rachel, was born in 1930.

“Can we get hold of her?” I ask.

“I only met her once,” he said. “But we never really kept in touch.”

He went on to tell me about a time in the mid-60s when he was twenty-something and there was a knock at his door.

It was a young lady he’d never seen before, claiming to be his cousin from Patagonia. She was visiting Wales in order to trace her family history and had managed to track him down. He’d had no idea he even had a cousin on that side of his family.

At first she spoke to him in Welsh with a strange Spanish twang in her accent. But after realising my Dad couldn’t understand a word of it she resorted to broken English.

She stayed for a few days before returning to South America. Then they sadly lost contact.

“Great, I’ll get Anna to phonebook her when she gets to Patagonia,” I say. Bit like finding a needle in a needlestack, I think.

Anyway, we passed the name on to Arturo, our Patagonian guide.

“Oh I know Rachel Davies,” he says. “She lives in Gaiman.”

Surely not the same one? It can’t be. Not that easily? I mean, how many Davies’s must there be out there? It’s a big country. With quite a few Welsh people. With Welsh names... like Davies.

“I’ll arrange a visit,” Arturo says.

I passed on the vague details that my Dad could remember about that side of his family, just so we knew if we had the right person or not.

Anyway, when Anna got to Patagonia she was taken to a large farm in Gaiman to meet this Rachel.

They all had a sit-down and a cup of tea. Anna remarked straight away on how she looked like me – except much older and a woman.

Rachel confirmed that she did grow up in Patagonia and did indeed visit Wales during the mid-60s and did indeed travel to South Wales and did indeed meet my Dad, so was in fact my Dad’s long-lost cousin. Crazy huh?

Anna passed on my Dad’s contact details to her and the next day Rachel called him and they had a good old chin-wag for the first time in forty-something years.

My Dad has since learned quite a bit from her about his family history and I am now his favourite son. They are planning a reunion this year.

Genealogy is cool, isn’t it?

Pete Davies, Head of art at howies

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Sometimes you have to travel a long way to feel at home

Sometimes you have to travel a long way to feel at home
High tea. Three o’clock in the afternoon. A tradition inherited from the original settlers. Endless tea and three sittings of cake, all made by Rosa. Arturo and Rosa’s Farm, Trevelin , Patagonia.

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