Bodnant Gardens and The National Eisteddfod
It is one of my absolute favourite places. The house is still lived in by the family who developed the garden and gave it to the National Trust. They are still deeply involved in its development and care. The house sits above a series of wide terraces. Huge trees frame views across to the mountains. The terraces are formal: a rose garden, full of sweet smelling David Austin roses first.
Hmm, where is the blackspot which has taken over all of mine except the tough Rugosas? I have a love hate relationship with roses. In winter and spring when they are all sticks and thorns I think they are ugly and boring. Then they overwhelm me with blossom and scent and I fall in love again. Up here on the hill is not a good home for roses other than those which are truly tough and hardy so I have restricted myself in buying new ones to rugosas, pink Roseraie de L'Hay and white Blanc Double de Coubert. Being at Bodnant is making me want to try with some David Austin roses. I wonder if that would just be cruel?
The terraces continue down, past beds planted simply this year with Cosmos Purity. So simple, so easy it even grows for me but it is lovely.
You walk on past formal ponds, the first filled with water lillies and flanked by ancient cypress trees, older than the garden, the second a long narrow pool which was apparently used as a practice place by the first man to swim the English Channel.
And after the terraces, the garden springs its second self on you: it becomes wilder, full of trees and winding paths and rushing water.
It has a huge collection of champion trees. I love that term and can hear my Lancastrian grandfather every time someone uses it. "Ee luv, that's champion" was the stock response on being shown a drawing from school (never good, not one of my talents) or a painstakingly written story. I know, I know, champion trees are not champion in the Lancashire sense, but they could be. Astonishingly this massive and beautiful tree is not one. To earn the title as horticulturalists use it a tree must be the biggest in the country but this one is champion in my grandfather's sense so that will do for me.
I have lost count of the times I have been to Bodnant now and every time I go I see things I have not seen before and marvel at how it balances its two selves. In my no doubt biased view it is one of the great gardens of the world.
And the next day a friend from Welsh class and I went to the National Eisteddfod, held this year at Bala. The sun shone, we wandered about occasionally being able to pick up a single Welsh word in a rush of the incomprehensible. I have got to a very frustrating stage with Welsh where one or two words in a sentence jump out and mean something in a sea of noise. So I know that the woman on the podium is talking about a competition but haven't the faintest idea what she is saying about it. It involves a mountain and an area and somewhere in there is a duck. Will I ever get there with this beautiful, difficult language? Dw i ddim yn gwybod: I do not know.
There is competition in the learners' tent as well as the heavy stuff in the Maes, the huge purple tent where real singers and poets and bards compete for fame and glory. We are a choir of 48 learners, all from Clwyd, sadly unrehearsed and cheerfully hopeless, but somehow Eirean, our Welsh language organiser, all smiles and patience and inexhaustible energy, conjures up a harp and a harpist and someone to drum and we rehearse outside while the other choirs are competing. We go on last. "Sing, smile!" Eirean urges and we are away, belting out our song in Welsh to the tune of "Down by the river side". The judges are smiling and tapping their feet in time with the music and it is great, we are all borne along on a tide of sound and rhythm. We come out breathless and laughing.
There is adjudication. Even learners' competitions are taken seriously at the Eisteddfod. We wait, adrenalin subsiding, hot and tired and ready for home. To everyone's amazement, including I suspect Eirean's, we are third out of the ten competing choirs.
Fabulous time, fabulous day.