I highly recommend procuring the services of a local guide for at least a part of your trip. Our tour guide, Idwal Jones, was a veritable fountain of information on Welsh history and culture, and of course most helpful in the matter of pronunciation and translation (www.countrylanetours.com).
Idwal is also a member of a Welsh male choir, a peculiarly Welsh phenomenon that grew out of the quarries and coal mines. Mr. Jones belongs to the Penrhyn Male Choir. At the end of the 19th century there were over 300 slate and granite quarries in northern Wales, of which Penrhyn was the largest, employing 5,000 workers. Today there are only four working quarries, and Penrhyn is still the largest, though it now employs just 500. But the choir is no longer confined to quarrymen. The 65 members, ranging in age from 17 to 77, run the gamut from doctors to bankers, lawyers, mechanics, painters, gardeners, teachers and, of course, our tour guide. We were lucky enough to sit in on a rehearsal of the choir, which has performed all over the world.
Music and poetry have played an important part in the culture of Wales since at least the 12th century, when the first eisteddfod (music and poetry festival) was held. The tradition continues today. The most important is the National Eisteddfod, the largest competitive music and poetry festival in Europe, attracting over 6,000 competitors and 150,000 visitors. The festival, which takes place the first week of August, is conducted entirely in the Welsh language. An internationaleisteddfod has been held annually since 1947 in the charming town of Llangollen. For six days in July, Choirs, solo singers, musicians and dancers from around the world gather to compete and promote peace (http://www.llangollen2010.co.uk).
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