A little draughty don’t you think luv?” asked a smiling Welshman of me as I took my picture of the Swansea Castle. It sure did look draughty and in ruins but then it had been a Norman Castle and was first attacked by the Welsh way back in 1116. It was a wonder it was not just a pile of rubble, instead whatever was left, was standing tall, amidst the new influx of modern buildings around it. “The Welsh name for the castle is Abertawe and with all these new buildings around it, one can hardly imagine what it must have looked like earlier,” said the Welshman in his engaging sing- song welsh accent. “It stands on what used to be a clifftop, below which the river Tawe originally flowed, and its position was strategic: it commanded the lowest crossing of the river, the main east-west route in south Wales, and a good harbour. What is visible now is only a small part of the latest castle on the site, which in its heyday in the late 13th century was monstrously huge.”
Swansea is a city with an old and hoary history, but what I like about the city is its comfortable air of juggling old with the new. Around the City centre, is the popular Quadrant shopping mall which is always filled with shoppers the whole year round! Delicious smells of fresh doughnuts fill the air as families wander around shopping or eating in the open air café in the centre of the mall. In one of the shops I notice beautifully-carved wooden spoons which apparently are known as Welsh Love Spoons. Wales does not boast of a wealthy past, so young men would carve intricate handles on wooden spoons during the long cold evenings, which they would give the girl of their dreams. If she accepted then it was considered they were serious about each other. Apparently from this custom the word ‘spooning’ was coined!
Swansea is a University town and the noise and the colour in the city is obviously due to its large international student population. I have travelled and studied in the best Universities in Europe, but Swansea just amazes. Now where would one get a University along the sea? Stretching as far as the eye can see are the sands, with clouds of sea gulls chasing the fishermen poking the sands for clams, oysters and mussels. We students love to take our books and wander along the beach after class, just taking in the magnificence of the view and the skies painted in astonishing colours as the sun goes down. The beaches are strewn with shells, but do not compare in the least to our perfect beaches back home in India. No palm trees and no sunshine, makes it a slightly odd beach to our Eastern eyes!
The University of Wales, Swansea, has hundreds of Indian students taking its graduate and post grad courses. It’s a good feeling to hear Hindi, or Malayalam, even Tamil and Kannada being spoken on the campus. Most of the students from Christ College, Bangalore, are here doing the second part of the twinning Business Management programme. None of the Indian students are here to do any studies other than Accounts or Business studies. In a matter of a few days, they find the Asian store in the city centre and smells of sambhar and basmati rice or chicken curries and pulao waft out of the student village kitchens. There are a few who try the local cuisine but find it too bland.
While in Swansea I decide to indulge in pies and pasties or fish and chips at the local restaurants around town. Chicken and leek pies hot out of the oven are to die for. I also like feasting on the huge helpings of traditional fish and chips, sold downtown, wrapped in newspaper and you eat smoking hot on a cold evening. One should also sample scones and crumpets, smothered with jam or honey, with a hot cup of tea. Something I always wanted to try after growing up on a diet of Enid Blyton as a child.
Janet one of our classmates had invited us to a potluck dinner at her flat in Mumbles. We decide to hop onto a bus at the Quadrant, with its well organised bus service, to take us to Mumbles. Only in England would you find a place quaintly called Mumbles and apparently, that’s where the Hollywood film star Catherine Zeta Jones comes from. Looking at the dark eyed, dark haired Welsh in the bus, one realises where she gets her startling beauty from. We ask the bus driver to alert us as to when the bus arrived at the Oystermouth stop. You have to listen very carefully to a Welshman's accent. It’s difficult to understand and besides the cadences in his speech, he runs words, one into the other.
“Here we are luv!,” he calls out cheerfully and we all troop out into the cold November air. Looking around we wonder which way to go, when one of the passengers offers to show us the way. It’s all hills and vales in Swansea and not a very good idea to be wearing any sort of heels. We begin to climb up the steep street, obediently behind him, passing interesting sounding pubs like the 'Bull and the Bear' and ' Hogs-head' offering you a pint for free, during happy hour. “That’s where we Indians learnt it from,” says Navin, an Indian in the group! We trudge along in the nippy air, bodies bent forward to take the slope, passing a Fish and Chips shop with its inveigling odours wafting out. At the top of the hill we stopped to catch our breath and looked back.
The view was spectacular. Way down and across in the distance we could see a castle ruin. Cameras clicked and our ever obliging welsh friend told us that we were looking at the ruins of Oystermouth Castle in the distance. We stood in the gloaming and couldn’t help but suck in our breath at the beauty before us. Mumbles is in the South of Wales and Oystermouth is the Gower Peninsula's finest castle, standing on a small hill with a magnificent view over Swansea Bay. It is well-preserved, intricate and exciting to explore. Oystermouth Castle was founded by William de Londres of Ogmore Castle, early in the 12th century. And Mumbles we learnt from Janet, is a seaside resort town in Swansea.
If it’s a fine day, catch the special bus that takes you to the Gower Peninsular. It’s nature at it's pristine best. Thankfully because the Gower is in Wales which is insular and not crowded, it has remained untouched in its beauty for centuries. We could not stop shooting digi pictures of its breath taking beauty.
Swansea has a special beauty all of its own and is not crowded and scruffy like London has become. Just like the rest of England, it is a pretty little town but it's extra special because of its castles. And the sound you can never forget, is the mewing of the sea gulls flying all over the city. It is a clear and distinct mew, like the piteous call of a kitten.
So, if you plan taking a trip to the UK, take a bus from the Victoria Terminus to Swansea on the National Express. You won’t be disappointed that you decided to see something, off the beaten touristy track, in the UK.