The No-Tail Tale

Ask anyone around me and they’ll tell you I’ve been destined to have a love affair with Wales for quite some time now. Not for geographic, historic, or cultural reasons. No no, my friends will begin to describe something more subtle — something shorter and slightly more…canine. They’ll tell you about the YouTube clips I send, or maybe stealthy pictures I’ve taken on my iPhone when I encounter one on the street (read: stalking to the point of going completely out of my way).

Yes, this is a post about corgis, and honestly I’m surprised it has taken me this long to bring them up on the blog. It really was not if, but when, they would materialize. And of course Wales dovetails perfectly because corgis are Welsh.

So spoiler alert, and subsequently the central motif of this entry: I did not see any corgis in Wales.

I’m going to let that sink in for just a second.

I saw many, many sheep (duh), and plenty of daffodils (their national flower). But both of these are decidedly not corgis. Instead of regaling you all with stories about how I frolicked with corgis for 72 hours last week, the following is “The No-Tail Tale: Or, Travis didn’t see any corgis in Wales.” You can deal with that title because I dealt with not finding a single corgi in Wales.

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If you’re thinking I was all but hanging my head out the window of the train car searching desperately for all of the corgis in Wales (which I wasn’t doing because I physically couldn’t), you’d be annoyingly correct. As I left England, I kept on thinking about the old adage saying that there are more sheep in Wales (and New Zealand) than people. I was sincerely hoping that it wouldn’t be sheep, but corgis.

On each the five trains (!!) I took to get from Lincoln to northern Wales, you can imagine how the tension rose as I moved further west. Each of my transfers in every far-flung town across northern England was annoyingly occult; while the UK train system is pretty great, they don’t share enough information with you on a platform — like which one you’re supposed to be on. But after mid-morning somehow turned into mid-afternoon, I found myself rolling out of Chester on the western side of England and into the literally magical land of the red dragon. If the cities, towns, and villages (which are technically discreet entities in the UK) in England’s northern countryside are all industrial, Wales is anything but: Lush grass appeared out of thin air, climbing up rolling hills on my left and covering the verdant plains towards the sea on my right. Instantly I was in paradise.

The river and town of Conwy are strategically positioned at the mouth of a long river that runs through the Valley Conwy on the eastern side of Snowdonia, one of the large parks in Wales. It boasts an impressive medieval castle–a veritable sandstone playground with a grass carpet–and city walls that you can still climb all over, which I did. It’s also home to the “smallest house in Great Britain” and, apparently, some delicious mussels.

As with many other placed I’ve visited on this trip, when I walked around the town, through the streets and this time down by a charming quay, I saw many dogs — Greyhounds, which I’ve seen all over the UK, and many Yorkies. But even if I had wanted to, I don’t think I could have paid to see a corgi. After spending many hours traveling, my first day in Wales ended without a single stumpy leg or fluffy butt in sight: Me in a pub, eating a cold pork pie, drinking “real ale” by myself in a corner, and writing in my journal. It was painfully corgi-less.

I woke up the next morning and decided that the best way to locate a corgi would be in their natural setting, so I caught a bus down into the gorgeous Conwy Valley to take a hike in the fields and mountains of Snowdonia. When I hopped off after 10 miles and about 10,000 sheep, I found myself in Dolgarrog, where I realized why–after asking everyone in Conwy how to get further into the valley–I got so many inquiries about if I was headed down “to go surfing”. I assumed it up to some Welsh concept or saying I didn’t understand, but I found out that Dolgarrog is actually home to a large “surf lagoon” that’s a popular tourist destination/training camp for surfers in the summer. So yes, in the middle of the Welsh mountains, one can go surfing. Presumably with a corgi, but I believe they only rent wetsuits for humans.

Small house, large Travis. A #JewsLookingAtViews that never made it to Instagram.

As I began looking around the Dolgarrog for the trailhead/extant corgis, I finally had the moment every traveler dreams of: Serendipitously connecting with a local who is fortuitously doing the same activity you are. All of the sudden I found myself halfway up the side of a “small hill” (it was really a mountain) with George, this fantastic and exuberant 60-year-old Welsh man who happened to also be going on a hike that morning. As soon as he found out I was in town to go hiking, he bolted across the country road toward the trail, and led me straight up through various private gardens, fields, and farms, sharing local history and late-80s and early-90s British sitcom suggestions along the way. I nodded my head and carefully placed my steps along muddy banks as I munched on a Kendal Mint Cake (literally a bar of minty sugar engineered for exactly this situation), blazing onward for the Coedty Reservoir.

It was just about this point on my trip that I began to realize it was the beginning of the end. I was more than halfway through my trip and hadn’t yet seen a corgi, so I lost patience and gave up any pretense. I tried making what I hoped sounded like an offhand comment about the lack of corgis while we were walking along the ridge of the mountain. George started laughing, and I knew exactly what he was going to say. “In the UK, only the Queen has corgis, Travis.” My heart nearly dropped off the side of the mountain.

With a very heavy heart, I continued on. When we arrived at the reservoir, we were treated to a view that was second only to the tremendous company and an impromptu picnic of a ham sandwich, pistachios, a banana, and Earl Grey tea. After chatting aboutAbsolutely Fabulous, Girls On Top, and Welsh celebrities (George is seemingly connected to every Welsh person ever), we continued on to finish our hike, passing by many more sheep, several wild ponies, even tadpoles. Even though the universe aligned for this fantastic experience, these damn dogs were nowhere to be found. I continued to not find them later on at tea, or at the pub later that night. I will say that, as a relevant side note, many people bring their dogs into pubs in Wales. Not sure if this is standard or not, but hoping to see a corgi in a pub on my second night was not completely out of the question given the precedent set on the first night.

The view for lunch: Afternoon at the Coedty Reservoir.

I want you all to understand that I looked in vain for these dogs; and as I was preparing to leave for Lincoln on my third and last day in Wales, I kept my head down — to absolutely make sure I would see a corgi if one trotted by. No corgi at breakfast, no corgi while shopping, no corgi at tea, no corgi when I forgot all of my cute Welsh greeting cards on the train platform.

Rolling out of Wales, I really felt like a canine failure. But what I’ve failed to say is that, beyond corgis, my predestined love affair with the country was realized. I absolutely fell in love with Wales. Even at the beginning of March when the country is just beginning to stir from its winter slumber, it was one of the most magnificent placed I’ve ever been. While I don’t speak the language and don’t have any Welsh ancestry, I was completely connected with the place. I felt at home in the towers of the Conwy Castle, centered while breathing in the air in Snowdonia. I tasted the sweetness of the lamb and woke up daily with several many slices bara brith. While FaceTiming my mom for her birthday, she noted that I seemed extraordinarily happy — and I was.

Unsurprisingly, I intend to go back to Wales on this trip to see more of its beauty — at least that’s the reason I’m giving people.

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