The Penclawdd Cockles of Wales

Feb 28, 2017 by

In Wales, one of the oldest occupations found along the coastline is cockle gathering, a task which archaeological evidence suggests dates back to at least the Roman era.  

Penclawdd (pronounced Pen-clawth),  a seaside village in Swansea, Wales, on the Gower Penninsula, is renowned for its local cockle industry.  The Welsh clams are collected from the extensive sandy flats in the Burry Estuary and then sold worldwide as the famous “Penclawdd [or Gower] cockles.”

Cockles are small saltwater clams widely used in cooking  throughout the world, but are especially popular in Wales. 

  Here’s an unusual bit of trivia to impress your friends: In England and Wales, Magna Carta grants every citizen the right to collect up to eight pounds of cockles from the foreshore; pickers wishing to collect more than eight pounds are deemed to be engaging in commercial fishing and are required to obtain a permit from the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority.   To see what happens when cockle pickers get greedy, read this BBC story.

Though small and humble, cockles have had more than a mere fifteen minutes of fame.  In a popular song that has become the unofficial anthem for Dublin, Ireland,  a tune also covered by U2,  sweet Molly Malone wheels her barrow through the streets of Dublin, crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”    If you feel deeply contented by something, that thing (often a good quality whisky or beer) is said  “to warm the cockles” of your heart, although I’m fairly certain there are no cockle valves in the human heart.   

Even gardeners, such as the famously contrary Mistress Mary,  have a history with cockles, sometimes using the ridged shells as edging and soil conditioners in their gardens.

 

Samples of these famous cockles can be purchased at the stalls in Swansea Market and locally in the village itself.  The Penclawdd cockles are also shipped worldwide for fans of this tasty Welsh seafood. 

Penclawdd cockles for sale.

Penclawdd cockles for sale. Image by Scott Dexter

Laverbread made with Penclawdd cockles from Gower.

Laverbread made with Penclawdd cockles from Gower. Image by Smylers.

If you travel to Wales and ask for a full Welsh breakfast, you are likely to get cockles fried in bacon fat alongside your eggs and laverbread cakesCockle pie is a traditional Welsh dish and quite tasty–click HERE for a recipe to try.  

From the mid 19th century up until the 1970s in Wales, the cockles were gathered by women using hand-rakes and riddles (coarse sieves) with the help of donkey carts, often braving very hard conditions.

Some women set up stalls at local markets, while other women sold their harvest door to door. Cockles, boiled and removed from their shells (cocs rhython), were usually carried in a wooden pail, balanced on the vendor’s head, while the untreated variety (cocs cregyn) were carried in a large basket on the arm.

Now they are harvested mostly by men, still by hand, but using tractors or Land Rovers instead of little donkeys. The original small, family-owned factories in Penclawdd have been demolished and cockles are now processed in two large, modern factories in the nearby village of Crofty; the product is largely exported to continental Europe.

Sources:  For more history about the cockle women of Wales, try this wonderful blog post that has many vintage pictures of Welsh women gathering the cockle  harvest.

More stories about harvesting cockles are HERE and HERE, and more info about Penclawdd is available on Wikipedia  and on the Gower website.

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Caernarfon Weeping Window : A WWI Tribute

Nov 3, 2016 by

Caernarfon Castle in Wales has recently opened a poignant tribute to the many Welsh soldiers who died in World War I: The Weeping Window.

 

Caernarfon Weeping Window

    Caernarfon Weeping Window poppies display–Image via LonelyPlanet

The Caernarfon Castle exhibit, entitled “Weeping Window”, is made up of more than 6000 red ceramic poppies.

  The poppies were first exhibited at the Tower of London in 2014, as part of the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ memorial.

That display had over 880,000 hand made poppies, which marked every British and colonial death in the 1914-1918 conflict.

 

Artist Paul Cummins assembled the sculpture and said it had taken nearly six days to install. 

Designer Tom Piper said:

“We have got over 5,000 poppies here, representing probably a fraction of the Royal Welch Fusiliers who died in the First World War.”

Caernarfon Weeping Window

Cascading red poppies of the Caernarfon Weeping Window– Image via WalesOnline

Piper also said it was purely chance that the exhibit ended up looking like a red dragon’s claw.  The red dragon, of course, is a renowned national symbol of Wales.

 

Caernarfon Weeping Window

Observers have noted that the Caernarfon Weeping Window display looks like a dragon’s foot Image via Daily Post

Speaking to the Daily Post, Mr Cummins said:

“It wasn’t planned. What happened was on the last day, when they were planting the last ones, it was a bit of a rush, and there archaeological things on the site that meant we were not allowed to spike in certain places.

“You can only go down a few inches in certain places, so we had to go round those places. It’s just fate.”

Here’s a time lapse video of the installation of the Caernarfon Weeping Window:

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Ceramic poppies used in Caernarfon Weeping Window exhibit

        Ceramic poppies used in Caernarfon Weeping Window exhibit Image

The exhibit is free to the public, but tickets are limited (get them online at Caernarfon’s website here) and demand has been high.

Staff at the castle say the Caernarfon Weeping Window drew almost 40,000 visitors in just two weeks.

The stunning exhibit will remain on display until November 20, 2016.

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Celtic Halloween Samhain

Oct 31, 2016 by

Have a Happy CELTIC Halloween!

Here are few memes and videos to get you into the spirit this Samhain eve.  Just be careful which spirits you let in the door on Celtic Halloween!

 

Celtic Halloween

Celtic Halloween, when the veil between worlds grows thin…

Celtic halloween witch

Beware the Celtic witch!

 

A history of Halloween in Ireland:

 

 

Make way for zombies from Wales! Welsh band Peasant’s King just released a tribute to the ultimate Halloween video, Michael Jackson’s Thriller–that  Danny has a dang good voice for a zombie:

 

 

 

Castle Ghosts of Ireland, an excellent BBC video, explores the bewitching castles of the Emerald Isle:

More castle ghosts for Celtic Halloween, rising out of Scotland’s bloody history:

Wales has its share of haunted castles, too:

For the ancient Celts, Samhain (sunset on October 31 through sunset on November 1) was a night when then the wall between our world and the Other World thinned, allowing their ancestors to walk among their descendants.

The thinning of the veil also allowed the fairies and fae to walk in the mortal world, though, so people took precautions to protect themselves. Guizing, or wearing masks to hide your identity, was one way to avoid the fairies.   Lighting bonfires, dancing, offering sacrifices from the harvest, all were ancient Celtic customs that have evolved over the centuries into the night we modern Celts now call Halloween.

As Loreena McKennitt sings, tonight is for fun, but also for remembering our Celtic past:

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Victorian Welsh Women

Oct 21, 2015 by

Victorian Welsh women of the working class led hard lives and were rarely photographed.

The following photos, however,  show the beauty and character unique to those 19th century  ladies of Wales.

Such a lovely young woman–notice the wide variety of patterns in her garments, including plaid. She is wearing what we have come to know as the traditional dress or costume of Welsh women.  It has its origins in the rural farms of  Wales, where visitors to the country in the early 1700’s took note of the farm wives’ distinctive attire.   In contrast, women along the border with England and in prosperous towns wore English fashions.

The white cap she wears under her hat is known as a mob cap, a linen or cotton head cover with goffered (an ornamental frill made by pleating and pressing fabric ) fabric around the face.  Some  Welsh caps had long lappets which hung down the front below shoulder level.

The  most distinctive feature of traditional Welsh women’s attire is the hat, with its broad, stiff, flat brim and tall crown.  There were two main shapes of crown: those with drum shaped crowns were worn in north-west Wales and those with slightly tapering crowns were found in the rest of Wales. They were probably originally made of felt ( the hat in this photo appears to be felt) ,  but most surviving examples are of silk plush on a stiffened buckram base. A third type of hat, known as the cockle hat, was worn in the Swansea area.

First of two photos of a pair of women, identified as Sioned and Cadi.

  Here, they are dressed in their work clothes, old garments that once were new and fresh…

…like the dresses that Sioned and Cadi wear in this companion photo, also dated 1875.  The colors are dark, but the details–polka dots, velvet trim and ruffles–reveal the feminine side of these Victorian Welsh ladies.

Another woman dressed in traditional costume, this time standing beside a large spinning wheel. Note that her drum-shaped crown is much taller than the hat in the first photo.

 

There is a long tradition of knitting in Wales; in the 17th-19th centuries, farm women spent many hours creating woolen scarves and shawls to sell to the English and other visitors.  It provided a much-needed additional source of income for poor farm families.

 

A captivating photo of a young Victorian girl in Wales, posing with her large dog.  Her clothing is indicative of a prosperous upbringing, far different from Welsh farm women.

Beautiful hair!  Even in black and white , this woman’s long braided hair has a rich sheen.

A scene you will often find when viewing vintage photos of Victorian Welsh women: ladies having tea.  The large frills on the cap on the right are lovely, but I imagine they would seriously impair your peripheral vision.

An earlier Victorian photo showing a hand-woven shawl with long fringe, an accessory used by most Welsh farm women. The shawl could be used to cover a nursing baby, carry food or kindling, or as head cover in inclement weather.

 

A grouping of older Victorian Welsh women in traditional clothing with various hat styles.  Note that some of the mob caps have been dyed black, a mourning custom of the Victorian era. 

I love the little lady on the right–she’s barely taller than the seated women!

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Ruined Wales

Jun 8, 2015 by

Want to know where to go to see the best of ruined Wales?

 

David Hamilton has a new book, Wild Ruins, that has an extensive list of the most mysterious, most beautiful of Wales’ ruined castles, abbeys and keeps.

 

Here’s an excerpt from a Wales Online article about this new guide to exploring ruined Wales:

 

From crag-top castles to crumbling quarries in ancient forests, here’s how to find ruined Wales in all its mysterious glory with the help of author David Hamilton’s book, Wild Ruins.

The substantial remains of Neath Abbey lie on the banks of the gentle flowing waters of the Tennant Canal. It was a favourite of the Romantics and is still a very beautiful place to have a picnic. It was founded in the year 1130, and absorbed by the Cistercian order in 1147. At one time it would have been one of the largest and most powerful abbeys in Wales. You can see the extensive remains of the abbey and a 16th-century mansion.

 

Paddle in the river, climb up the steep hill to Clun Castle and relax in one of the many pubs or cafés in the village of Clun. Built in the 11th century, the powerful Marcher castle defended the English-Welsh border during the Norman occupation.

Much of the large keep still stands high on this naturally occurring knoll overlooking the Saxon village. It’s also not too far from the Offa’s Dyke Path and the Shropshire Way walking routes.

Read more here: 13 incredible Welsh ruins frozen in time forever – Wales Online

To purchase David Hamilton’s Wild Ruins, in either book or Kindle format, click HERE.

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Rare Welsh Gold

Apr 16, 2015 by

Gold is a beautiful, valuable element, and rare Welsh gold is the most precious Celtic metal of all. 

Highly sought after because of its scarcity, Welsh gold is found in only two areas of Wales: in south Wales near the River Cothi and in north Wales, in a narrow band stretching from Barmouth towards Snowdonia.

Rare_Welsh_Gold_nugget

Rare Welsh gold nugget at the National Museum of Wales. Image by J.C. Mason

Ancient Welsh princes wore great torcs of gold, possibly from Wales. The British Royal family has continued the tradition of wearing rare Welsh gold.  In 1911, Prince Edward I was invested as Prince of Wales, using regalia such as a coronet, rod, and ring incorporating pure Welsh gold. Prince Charles used the same regalia at his investiture in 1969. 

In 1923, the Queen Mother ( Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon) used a nugget of rare Welsh gold to fashion the ring for her wedding to the future King George VI. Welsh gold was also used in the wedding rings of Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales, Princess Anne, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and most recently, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

 

rare Welsh gold wedding band for kate Middleton

Kate Middleton’s wedding band is made from rare Welsh gold. Image source

Kate’s gorgeous gold band–somewhat overshadowed by her blue sapphire engagement ring– was created by Wartski, a jewelry company founded in 1865 in North Wales. Wartski has been commissioned by the Queen and other royals to create several rings from rare Welsh gold.

One of the oldest of Wale’s gold mines is the Dolaucothi Gold mine in Carmarthenshire, Wales.  Dolaucothi was established by the Romans more than 2000 years ago, and continued to produce gold until 1938. In 1941, the mine was donated to the National Trust, which now runs guided tours through the old mines.

The Gwynfynydd Gold Mine in Dolgellau operated from 1860 to 1998. Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a large gold ingot from this mine on her 60th birthday. The mine’s owners used to give guided tours and allow visitors to pan for gold; the Gwynfynydd mine was closed to the public, however, because of potential liability and pollution regulations.

rare welsh gold from clogau mine

Rock containing rare Welsh gold from the Clogau mine. Image source.

One of the most well known Welsh mines is Clogau (pronounced Clog-eye), also called the Clogau St David’s mine in the Dolgellau gold mining area. Located in Bontddu (bont-thee), in north west Wales, Clogau was the largest and most productive gold mine in the Snowdonia area between 1862 and 1911.  The officially recorded output between 1862 and 1911 was 165,031 tons of gold ore from which 78,507 ounces of gold was extracted.

rare Welsh gold dragon brooch

Clogau Welsh dragon brooch containing rare Welsh gold. Image source.

The Clogau mine was re-opened in 1989 by the founder of jewelry company Clogau Gold of Wales, Ltd, but reclosed in 1998.  Clogau Gold continues to produce beautiful gold and rose gold jewelry with Welsh and Celtic motifs, although the pieces only contain “ a touch of rare Welsh gold extracted from the Clogau St. David’s Gold Mine.Welsh gold is chemically similar to other gold, but its scarcity means Clogau and other jewelry makers are forced to use only a scant amount of Welsh gold or else risk depleting all supplies. Clogau says it keep records of all rare Welsh gold used in its jewelry and marks each with a dragon hallmark and authenticity certificate. True Welsh gold is not a rose gold ( an alloy of gold and copper), but rather the typical yellow of any other pure gold.

rare Welsh gold clogau

Nuggets of rare Welsh gold from a recent exploration in the Clogau area. Image source

 

There are no active gold mines in Wales today, making rare Welsh gold one of the most expensive and sought after metals on the planet. In fact, the total world supply of Welsh gold is thought to be small enough to fit in an overnight bag. More valuable than platinum, Welsh gold sells for more than three times the official bullion price in London.

If you are interested in owning a small piece of rare Welsh gold, make sure to do your homework before you purchase anything. Check out a company’s proof of authenticity for its gold pieces, and try to find out what constitutes a ‘touch’ of Welsh gold.  Consider auctions when sourcing pieces–you might get lucky and find a truly unique piece of Welsh gold jewelry.

Most importantly, remember– not all that glitters is truly rare Welsh gold.

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Richard Burton, Man of Wales

Nov 10, 2014 by

Richard Burton, the great Welsh thespian, was born on this date, November 10, 1925, in Pontrhydyfen, South Wales.

 

The son of a coal miner, Burton was born as Richard Jenkins,  the twelfth of thirteen children.  He grew up in a working class, Welsh-speaking household; in fact, the majority of Pontrhydyfen’s inhabitants speak Welsh as their first language.

 

 

 

 

Richard Burton came to be regarded as one of the greatest acting talents of his day, although he never received an Oscar ( despite being nominated seven times for an Academy Award) and was never knighted.  To see a synopsis of 6 memorable performances by Richard Burton, read Wales Online’s new tribute article HERE.

Burton certainly enjoyed the limelight, but didn’t view his profession as a higher calling:

The Welsh are all actors. It’s only the bad ones who become professional.
Richard Burton

After playing King Arthur in the Broadway production of Camelot, Burton replaced another actor as Mark Antony in Twentieth Century-Fox’s Cleopatra (1963). It was on the set of Cleopatra that he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor (both he and Taylor had spouses at the time), beginning a tempestuous love affair that would intrigue the public and the media for decades.

 

 

Burton died at age 58 from a brain hemorrhage on 5 August 1984, at his home in Céligny, Switzerland, and is buried there.

To read more about Richard Burton’s life and achievements, visit the Official Richard Burton website HERE.

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