Tag Archives: Welsh Language

South Wales, Port Talbot and Famous Movie Stars

Aberavon Swansea Bay

“I would like to go back to Wales. I’m obsessed with my childhood and at least three times a week dream I am back there” – Anthony Hopkins

After a comfortable night in the caravan and a full English breakfast in the morning I tentatively raised the subject of plans for the day.

I hope that he won’t mind me saying but my travelling companion is rather eclectic by nature and I knew that he had a lot of things that he wanted to show me but I was certain that he didn’t really have what you would call a schedule  to follow.  It was a tough thirty minutes or so putting a sensible itinerary together but this was essential because without a set route we would almost certainly have been driving all around South Wales in a completely ragged and hopelessly disorganised way and contributing thousands of tonnes of CO2 towards global warming.

To begin with we drove west towards Swansea because our first destination was Aberavon close to the steel town of Port Talbot and we come now to the question of the Welsh language because as an Englishman I confess that I am seriously confused about the naming of Port Talbot.

The Welsh Language Society (Cymdeithas yr Iaith) has spent several years obsessively insisting on using Welsh place names instead of English; for example Cardiff is now Caerdydd*, Swansea is Abertawe and Merthyr Tidfil has amusingly become Merthyr Tudful and this is why I am confused because Port Talbot stubbornly remains Port Talbot, curious because it is named (wash your mouth out) after an English landowning family, the Talbots, who built the port there.

Let’s think about it.  What used to be Portmadoc in North Wales has become Porthmadog  and just west of Swansea Burry Port is Porth Tywyn, so following that line of logic Port Talbot should surely be something like Porth Turbot but whilst Cymdeithas yr Iaith have zealously removed as many English place names as possible Port Talbot curiously remains Port Talbot. But then, who wants to be called after a fish in any language


Welsh is a noble ancient language but the absurd thing is that Cymdeithas yr Iaith are so opposed to anything remotely English that when there is no equivalent (traditional) Welsh word they just make one up (except for Port Talbot).  Last time I identified Tacsi and Ambiwlans, two completely unnecessary new words that have been added to the lexicon of Wales and now I present further evidence such as  ffacs (for fax), garag (garage) and compiwter (computer) but driving along today I came upon possibly the best example of all.

We drove past the entrance to a GOLF course.

The game of golf originated in Scotland and is played all over the World.  All over the World it is called GOLF, every country in Western Europe calls it GOLF (check it out if you don’t believe me – Catalan, Basque, Galician) if Scotland had a language it would almost certainly call it GOLF, but in Wales they have decided to call it GOLFF which is surely language revisionism at its most absurd.

I laughed so much I almost had to pull over and stop for fear of crashing the car!

Port Talbot Steel works from Aberavon Beach

After  some confusion and an unnecessary detour through the town we eventually arrived at the seafront and a stunning three-mile wide beach, perhaps one of the best beaches that you could ever hope to see, magnificent golden honey-comb sand only just separated from a burning blue sky by a foaming white surf, certainly one of the finest that I have ever set foot on and I walked to the shoreline and admired the views that perfectly combined natural and built environment with the Port Talbot steel works to my left and the docks of Swansea to my right, a pair of modern industrial pincers surrounding the idyllic Swansea Bay and the Bristol Channel beyond.

I could have stayed much longer, but…

… of course my pal hadn’t brought me here to see the beach because there were more important things to tell me about. Film actors!  Because Port Talbot is blessed by being either birthplace or nearby birthplace or the home to some of the film industries most famous people.

Burton Hopkins Sheen

Richard Burton was born in nearby Pontrhydyfen, Anthony Hopkins was born in Margam and Michael Sheen (born in Newport) was bought up in Port Talbot.  My friend likes these bits of information and we spoke about our visit to a local man on the promenade.  “A shame you weren’t here three days ago”, he said, “Anthony Hopkins was here shopping in the pie shop”.

Quite frankly this sounded rather unlikely to me and I thought straight away that it was a little joke at our expense.  I did some research when I returned home and it turns out to be entirely true, he was indeed in South Wales just a week before our visit.  Nevertheless, call me a sceptic if you like but I somehow doubt that Anthony Hopkins, who lives in Malibu, California and enjoys a life of fine dining experiences, has any sort of fantasies about tucking into a Peter’s Pie!


We left Aberavon and Port Talbot and made our way north-east towards the Rhondda Valley stopping on the way at the village of Pontrhydyfen to see the house where Richard Burton was born and the pub The Miners Arms which proudly displays old photographs of the actor on his many visits home including a famous return in 1972 when he took Elizabeth Taylor to meet his family while filming the movie “Under Milk Wood”.

It must have been great to be in The Miners Arms the night Burton turned up there. Drinks all round and all of it charged to Richard’s bar bill!

I thought about this.  Everyone has to come from somewhere, however remote, however grubby, however humble.  I guess if I were rich and successful and married to one of the most famous woman in the world I’d probably want to take her back to my home town to meet the folks just as Richard did.

After Pontrhydyfen we drove to the Rhondda an area consisting  made up of two valleys, those of the larger Rhondda Fawr valley (mawr large) and the smaller Rhondda Fach valley (bach small).  We reached Rhondda Fawr and after an argument about the route headed north towards the Brecon Beacons.  My route because I was driving!


An interesting picture, Richard looks likes he wants to get it over with and Elizabeth looks as though she is ready to bail out – “I’m a celebrity get me out of here!”

* I wonder if the Welsh Language Society are aware that there are five towns in the USA (in Alabama, California, Illonois, Maryland and Tennessee) called Cardiff and none of them are referred to as Caerdydd.  If I were Cymdeithas yr Iaith I would be urgently taking that up with The United States Board on Geographic Names!

South Wales, Taking The Fosse Way to Trecco Bay


“My studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.”  –  Mark Twain, ‘A Tramp Abroad –That Awful German Language’

Just a few months ago I went to mid Wales and stayed in a caravan in Borth, near Aberystwyth.  Naturally I wrote about the experience.  In one post I talked about some things I find amusing about the  Welsh Language. I find things amusing about most languages, even English.  Just a bit of fun, nothing remotely malicious. Rather like Mark Twain I like to think.

I received a lot of negative response.  The really gross stuff with the dreadfully bad language and the most appalling racist personal abuse I deleted but some of the less offensive comments I allowed to stay attached to the post just to demonstrate how some half-wit ignorant people have no sense of humour.

Salvidor Dali once said, “Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali.”  and I rather feel like that about being English!

One responder accused me of being a “cultureless, uncouth, knuckle-dragging racist” and warned me never to visit Wales again because I would not be even half-welcome in the hillsides.  I saw the funny side in that comment because in spitting out his obnoxious bile he must surely have been looking in a mirror when he wrote it.  As his blood boiled and his brain fried I am certain that the irony was lost on him!

I ignored him and risking assault with a deadly dictionary set off in October for another caravan holiday this time in the south, to Porthcawl and the holiday village at Trecco Bay.

Undeterred, I will return to the issue of the Welsh language again later…


It was a long difficult two hundred and seventy mile journey from Lincolnshire to Porthcawl but as soon as I arrived I knew that I was going to like it there.

South Wales isn’t new to me of course, I studied history at Cardiff University between 1972 to 1975, worked a summer season at Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Barry Island and I have visited several times since but on this occasion I was travelling with my good friend who hails from the Rhondda Valley and he had promised to show me some things that I might not otherwise have expected to see.  A privileged insider’s view as it were and I was looking forward to that!

The Parkdean holiday site was neat and tidy and the caravan was equipped as though it were my home, central heating, cooker, fridge/freezer etc.  It is a big site, once, it is claimed, the largest in the United Kingdom which was once host to hundreds of holidaymaker families from the South Wales valleys.  To assist with orientation it is divided into sectors, all named after trees.  Finding the caravan was rather like being lost in a forest.  We were in the Cedars district.


This reminded me of a weekend trip to Haugesund in Norway a few years ago.  I stayed at the Hotel Amanda which is home to the annual Norwegian film festival and the whole place had a movie theme with every room named after a famous film.

I would have liked to have been allocated the Gladiator suite but we were given Shane, named after the famous 1953 Alan Ladd western (one of my favourites by the way), which although not as exciting as Ben Hur or Spartacus was a whole lot better than the Rosemary’s Baby room on the opposite side of the corridor because I could have guaranteed nightmares if we had been sleeping there.  Actually, I might have refused to attempt sleep in there at all!

This is Marilyn Monroe in Haugesund

Marilyn Monroe Haugesund Norway

It had been a long day, my pal had recommended a rather curious route which I should have challenged but was foolish enough to agree to which took us along the Fosse Way, an ancient Roman Road, almost two thousand years old and complete with all original hazards, then through the crowded and always overrated Cotswolds, a tedious crawl through Cheltenham and Gloucester with a hundred or so red lights to negotiate and then a drive through the frankly uninspiring Forest of Dean.

I am not saying the Forest of Dean is uninspiring in general you understand, just this bit of it where the road carves through.  Before going on I want to clear that up because I don’t want the good folk of Gloucestershire getting upset with me.  I am likely to have enough trouble in Wales!


I am not usually that enthusiastic about motorways but boy was I glad to reach the M4 for the final thirty miles and vowed there and then to take the motorway option back home at the end of the week.  Glaciers form quicker than a journey along the Fosse Way!

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention – on the way (about two hours previously) I had taken a short detour through the town of Rugby in Warwickshire which is where I had grown up as a young boy and a teenager but I failed to generate much interest in that, not even a short walk to see a statue of the poet Rupert Brooke or to visit the Gilbert Rugby Ball Museum.

As a consequence of dashing through Rugby and then failing to find anywhere suitable for a lunch stop on the Fosse Way (since the Romans left nobody uses the Fosse Way any more so there are no pubs or service stations, not even for a Caesar Salad) we arrived in Trecco Bay a little earlier than I had imagined we would.


An odd thing was that it wasn’t raining.

If you have ever been to Wales then you probably won’t believe that so I will say it again, in fact I will shout it out loud – it wasn’t raining!  It always rains when I go to Wales but this evening there was blue sky and the prospect of a good sunset so after allocating rooms and settling in I made my way to the beach and waited for a Welsh Dragon to breathe fire and turn the sky red and after only a short while I was not disappointed.

Wales Porthcawl Sunset

Wales – Aberdovey and the Welsh Language

Borth Mid Wales Rain

“Cenedl heb iaith, cenedi heb galon” – Welsh proverb (A nation without language is a nation without heart)

The following morning it was raining. Raining quite hard as it happened and this was much more like the Wales that I remembered from family holidays when I was a boy.

After breakfast it began to ease away and by nine o’clock I was able to leave the caravan and walk again to the seafront and take the cliff top walk once more to the war memorial and look out over the bay where things looked very different today as grey clouds filled the sky in all directions.

On the way back down I spoke to a man who was hoping for better weather because he was preparing to do some repairs and painting of his house and he told me how the properties are under continual assault from the weather and from the salt water and how much work that entails in keeping properties well maintained.  Back home I like to paint my house every fifteen years or so, whether it needs it or not, but here he explained it is an annual chore.

Aberdovey Wales

By mid morning there was some improvement so we left the caravan and headed north towards the seaside town of Aberdovey on the opposite side of the estuary. I always like to go to Aberdovey because it is one of my favourite places in Wales.

A perfect seaside town with a sandy beach, a busy harbour, brightly painted houses and a small public park.  Parents with children entertain themselves in the simple pursuit of crabbing because thankfully there are no amusement arcades, no tacky tourist trains and no furious fast food diners.

As we drove around the north shore of the estuary the weather started to change for the better and by the time we had found a parking spot and wandered off in the direction of the harbour the clouds were rapidly disappearing and the sun was beginning to shine.

Aberdovey Beach

After lunch at the Dovey Inn we spent some time in the charming streets away from the seafront and left and carried on to Towyn.  Towyn is the terminus of the Talyllyn railway, which is just about my favourite narrow gauge railway in Wales but I didn’t mention this to my travelling companion because I was certain that having turned down the opportunity to take the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway just the previous day he was almost certain not to have had a Saint Paul on the road to Damascus type moment overnight and suddenly been converted into a steam railway enthusiast.

Instead we went to the seafront and sat and in the sunshine were content to sit and watch the sea and the boats before going to a supermarket for some supplies.

Tal-y-Llyn Lake Wales

We had driven here along the coastal route so we choose now to return via the country so we headed inland towards the foothills of Cader Idris mountain range and Tal-y-lyn lake.  If I was choosing to move house and live in Wales then this is where I would select, I prefer it to the north and the south, the countryside is green and gentle, the lakes are blue and serene and it is not nearly so busy.

Place names are hard to pronounce of course because trying to understand the Welsh language is like trying to crawl through a hawthorn bush without getting lacerated and as I called out the names of the villages as we drove through them and each one I got horribly wrong.

Since devolution the Welsh language fanatics have become rather like the French with their opposition to anything Anglo-Saxon and they have gone to a lot of trouble to replace as many words as possible and when they can revert them to Welsh.

When there is no Welsh word they just make one up.  For example there is no Welsh word for microwave and (you will probably have to look this up because you won’t believe me) the word they made up is ‘popty-ping’. Almost as funny is the Welsh word for ironing which is smwddio, which is pronounced smoothio It’s true.  UCNMIP, which, as it happens,  is not a Welsh word but simply means You Could Not Make It Up! (nad oeddech yn gallu ei wneud yn i fyny).

The weather continued to improve through late afternoon and after pie supper cooked in the popty-ping I made way once more to the sea and the pebble beach to wait patiently for a sunset that was preparing for a show in the west and as the sun dipped slowly down I wasn’t disappointed.

Borth Sunset