WALES DAY 6; Diolch

story“We cheer for two teams in rugby here.”

Dr. Michael Davies has my curiosity piqued.

“Wales,” says my forty-something driver and guide, with a straight face. “And anyone who is playing England.”

He chuckles to himself, before adding “Rugby is a thug’s sport played by gentlemen here in Wales, while football (soccer to some) is a gentleman’s game played by thugs in England.”

Davies’ roots are showing. Born and raised in a small mining community in South Wales, he – like most Welsh – is passionate about many things; his family, automobiles (we toured in his 2007 Jaguar), skiing, good food, fine wine, travel, and, of course, the country’s national sport, rugby.

All of these topics, and more, have been on the table this past week as we have motored around Wales in search of the soul, spirit, identity, personality and character of the country. With a PhD in Welsh Medieval Studies, Davies certainly knows his history, adding flavour to our tour with tidbits of local legend and lore. Most importantly, he knows his people, and, in that regard, he is the ideal travelling companion.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he backtracks. “The English are lovely people – they are our neighbours after all – it is only that, like a baby brother, we have lived in their rather tall shadow for a very long time.”

I tell him that Canadians sometimes feel the same way about our cousins south of the border.

“The Welsh are not ones to shout about themselves either,” he continues, acknowledging my assessment. “We don’t blow our own horns very often, if at all. In fact, we are more inclined to be a bit self-deprecating.”

It is not false modesty, he adds.

“No, and I would not call us conservative or cautious either. Perhaps humble might be the right word. We have a humility about us that might be mistaken at times for reserve.”

I remind him that the real meaning of humility is about being right-sized, and about having a proper perception of oneself.

“Yes, that’s it; humility. In spite of everything that has happened here – all of the history, the invasions, the rebellions, the mines closing, always losing to New Zealand in rugby – or maybe because of all these things, the Welsh have a firm understanding of who we are as a people – sort of a sure sense of self without the swagger.”

That quiet confidence is a hallmark of everyone we meet en route; people here are self-assured, cultured, educated, kind, authentic, unassuming, polite and pleasant.

“I suppose that is perhaps one of the benefits of living next door to the English for all of these centuries,” smiles Davies, almost begrudgingly. “Their sense of civility has rubbed off on us.”

As such, he explains, Wales makes for an ideal destination.

“I think that when people travel – anywhere in the world – they are looking for some sense of safety and security first and foremost. They long to feel that they can trust and connect with their hosts on a deeper emotional level. Wales is – and I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing our own horn here or anything – one of the best places on the planet for that. It’s like coming home to a warm and welcoming Celtic blanket.”

As if that wasn’t enough for world-weary travelers, there is the culture of cosmopolitan Cardiff, the soft lyricism of Swansea, the history and heritage of Wales’ western coastline, the sheer and stunning landscape of Snowdonia, and the gentle lull of rolling hills and the quiet of quaint villages across the north.

“We are very fortunate to live where we do,” shares Davies. “My wife Marie and I and our children enjoy a very good life here. I count my blessings that I have such wonderful people in my life.”

As do I, Michael, as do I.