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As a child, my mom convinced me that Wales was the most beautiful place on Earth. My gullible youth led me to believe it was a fairytale land full of castles and dragons and one day I could run away there and be a princess for the rest of my life. I kept this idealistic image until I disappointingly found out that it wasn’t its own world and even more disappointingly that dragons didn’t exist.
Nevertheless, I found myself in the magical land during the cusp of my adulthood. It was the first place I ever travelled alone like a pilgrimage back to my childhood. The reality of Wales didn’t completely match my young expectations, but the more natural beauty I saw, the more I fell in love with the land. I’ve climbed the peak of Snowdon, gazed amongst the Gower peninsula, got lost in Afan Forest Park, sat upon the coast of Pembrokeshire and been enveloped in the magic of Brecon Beacons. I revelled in the endless daffodil fields, the castles on every corner and the peaceful grazing of thousands of sheep.
My childhood vision of Wales was being manifested, but as I grew up I became more concerned with the industrial heritage over its royal history. I soon understood that the true heroes of the nation didn’t come from kings and queens at all, but from people like dock workers and coal miners. It was a great land of the worker; humble in pride and resilient in injustice. Contrasting my previous images of landscape was the reality of the remained effects of industrial closures and destruction. Meeting people who shared with me the stories of their lives growing up in the midst of coal pit closures and privatization outweighed anything I had seen before. I journeyed through the Valleys of Caerphilly and Rhondda and befriended ex miners, factory workers, and activists of the 1984-85 miner’s strike. It was through these personal stories of hardship, deprivation and triumph that I reinvented my image of Wales. The amazement I felt amongst the landscape was only a fraction to the way the people inspired me. I’ll never forget the dignified way they spoke of the way they grew up and the way they had been treated whilst still speaking with great pride of the place they called home
It was an honour to be let into the lives of so many hardworking and honest people. Wales has shown me incomparable beauty and unbelievable kindness. It wasn’t the complete magical land that I envisioned as a child, but it was better than I could ever have imagined. Seeing the beauty of the land was a pleasure, but hearing the stories of the people was a deep and personal privilege that I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life.
Originally published by Buzz Magazine Wales on May 23, 2017