Wishing Wales

Snowdonia National Park is like the Wales in your head – wild, windswept and utterly beautiful
Photographer: Hashim Badani

A madcap exploration of Wales reveals glorious, dramatic landscapes complete with the obligatory fluffy sheep, legends of valour around every bend, and quite possibly the craziest, most interesting people – who like to do the craziest, most interesting things

WORDS RADHIKA LALLA
PHOTOGRAPHS HASHIM BADANI

I’m in the throes of the happiest hangover I’ve ever had. It’s definitely an odd feeling. My head’s fairly splitting, and I want nothing more than to crawl back under my floofy duvet, but instead, here I am, squinting into the watery sunlight and preparing for, of all things, a surfing lesson.
In Wales.
In September.

And yet, there are little bubbles of elation popping off within me, my face carved with an awkward grimace-grin reflecting equal parts joy and pain.

We’re on the island of Anglesey – Britain’s largest island, though, if you count the number of people here, you wouldn’t think it – and it’s Rugby World Cup time. England was playing Wales last night, and, as our guide and new friend Mike said, we absolutely had to find a pub to watch the game in. Anglesey, though a part of Wales, has a substantial English population, which means there’s going to be plenty of support for both sides wherever we stop. It’s an ego issue – Wales cannot lose to England, and England cannot lose to Wales.

Now, I know next to nothing about rugby; we caught the Wales-Uruguay game in Cardiff, and I quickly gave up trying to grasp the rules, choosing to absorb the electric atmosphere in the stadium instead. But that wasn’t a patch on the energy sparking through the tiny pub we’ve jammed ourselves into. I’ve camped out at the bar amid a swathe of bright red and green, part of Team Wales, getting completely swept away in the emotion. I still have no real clue what was going on onscreen, but I’m gnawing my lips, groaning with the crowd at every tackle, and being furiously shushed every time I ask, “That’s a good play, right?” for fear that I’ll jinx the outcome.

It’s a proper nailbiter of a game, coming down to the wire. And then, with one glorious play (I think that’s what it’s called), Wales leaps into the lead. The few minutes left on the clock stretch for eons as the Welsh corner of the pub holds its collective breath, ignoring the English supporters in their corner urging their players on. Then, the whistle blows, and the crowd erupts. I’m covered in goosebumps as I’m swept into a tide of hugging, backslapping, and spirited cheering, watching big, burly men celebrate like young lads. “I don’t care if they lose every other game, this victory’s all that matters! We might as well have won the cup!” Mike cries out, unable to keep a huge grin from splitting his face as he gets us all another round. And then another, as the revellers break out into a loud, footstomping rendition of My Delilah, which is, apparently, the de facto Welsh rugby anthem. This wave of unbridled happiness is infectious, and keeps rolling well into the night – as we stumble across the grassy field toward our plush safari tent lodge, we can still hear people singing in the next village, the joy in their voices carrying clearly in the air.

It’s a night of unabashed displays of pure joy, of loud, off-key singing and raucous dancing. Of gazing up at an inky sky contemplating the meaning of life, polishing off the last of the wine because there’s no more gin to be found. In short, the sort of brilliant night you remember for the rest of your life.

It’s also a night that perfectly captures what being in Wales, an outsider peeking in to this world, is all about for me. The history of this pocket of land, which is so entwined in its very character. The strength of personality, of identity, that is so evident in its people. For Wales is, despite an all-too-common misconception, a country with roots distinct from the British with whom they are often confused, and a seemingly innocuous question like “Why is the crown prince of England called the Prince of Wales?” can lead you down the rabbit hole into a tumultuous past. And her people, well, they’re great fans of a good time. (Even if said good time looks like an inventive way to kill yourself – but more on that later.) They seem to embrace the history that surrounds them without dwelling on it, instead, choosing to celebrate life, and the wealth of beauty (and sheep!) and relative lack of people that they’re blessed with.

Discover the adventures that lie in wait (and find out why the heir to the throne is called the Prince of Wales) in LPMI’s January 2017 issue. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.