Thursday, October 21, 2010

An evening in Holyhead

There is a point along the A55 heading west that I love. It is during the descent of a steep mountain that I have barely noticed climbing. The view suddenly opens up and there is Wales; the start of the Snowdonian Mountain range and the promise of Anglesey. When I was 17 I went to Anglesey on a field trip. We had a wild time with a set of teachers almost as young as we were and even more uninhibited. What we did then - fooling around with the minibus on a beach with the back doors open, stripping the sheets off the beds and marching around in the black of night pretending to be druids, and one our number giving such a convincing rendition of a sacrificial scream on a set of standing stones - that one of the people in charge of us was, reportedly, marched into the headmaster's office on our return and given a warning. Our school was liberal and progressive - but not that liberal and progressive.

Anyway, on this field trip we did work as well as lark about, and one of the things I remember most vividly was pausing while collecting specimens on Aberffraw beach, looking up and noticing that I was probably in the most beautiful place in the world. In front of me was a magnificent sandy beach, then a small strip of sea, but beyond that Snowdonia. I have been around the world a bit since, and never seen anything I like better. So I am always glad to return to Anglesey, even though I have rarely returned to Aberffraw beach.

Last night I made the 200 mile round trip to Holyhead. Looking on a map I realised that I had travelled half the way to Ireland, Holyhead being on one of the most westerly points of Wales, and the site of the ferry terminal. I'd not been to Holyhead before. Like most places in Wales it turned out to have grey, austere buildings, particularly rich in dour non-conformist chapels with names like Bethel and Yr Tabernacl.

The place I was going to, the Canolfan Ucheldre, also had the greyness of the local stone, but also had the grandiosity of a more ancient religion.

There was a statue outside of a pole vaulter indicating its change of use to an arts centre, and I discovered that it had been the church of a Roman Catholic convent, and the people going to it had had to cover the windows of their carriages to hide the fact they were papists in this land of enthusiastic non-conformists.

I liked this statue very much.

It seemed to move as I walked round it.

Inside I met Mike Gould (and another depiction of a leaping man - a coincidence, Mike said). Mike had come to Anglesey first as a young man in the RAF, and having met his future wife there decided to stay. Later they opened this very attractive and welcoming arts centre.

But when Mike was first stationed here, Anglesey was like another country: the roads were unmetalled, and everyone spoke Welsh. Even the weather and light is different in Anglesey. The skies tend to be clearer, and as the entire countryside is raised, as if on a rocky platform, there is a great expanse of sky, especially on the western side. Holyhead itself is actually on its own island, Holy Island, which is off the main island, and on the way back I drove along a causeway joining the two - a long stretch of road skimming the sea.

I enjoyed giving my talk. The audience was enthusiastic about Patagonia, and some of them had already read Susan Wilkinson's excellent book on the Mimosa, so they were ready to hear more. I spoke behind a huge screen, and even the music on my computer was amplified. It was definitely the most technologically sophisticated and successful talk I've ever given - all this in what felt like the British Isles' furthest outposts, and one of most favourite places on the planet.


Blogger Brian Clegg said...

Clare, doesn't 'Canolfan Ucheldre Centre' contain a certain redundancy?

Thu Oct 21, 10:26:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes! Thanks, Brian - I shall amend accordingly.

Thu Oct 21, 10:29:00 am  
Anonymous marly youmans said...

Confetti! Sounds like you united many things into one good package.

Think I'll be in Aberystwyth in early May!

Sun Oct 24, 11:36:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Oh, that's great, Marly! Perhaps I'll get to meet you, then!

Mon Oct 25, 07:46:00 am  
Anonymous marly youmans said...

Yes, I hope so.

I'm doing some things at the National Library in conjunction with a solo retrospective show, but I'm thinking about going elsewhere to do a few readings (poetry, as I'll have a brand new poetry book then.) So email me any advice you have, Clare. I'm sort of fuzzy on what is possible, given public transport and distances.

Mon Oct 25, 01:54:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I certainly can help, I should think. I shall email.

Mon Oct 25, 04:55:00 pm  

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