Walking with the Welsh language

When I started walking in Wales I felt very daunted by the Welsh names I came across everywhere. It spoiled the experience when I couldn’t pronounce the names of the places I’d been. “So where’ve you been today then?”, my wife would ask.
“Uh, somewhere near Talybont, by the Usk and the canal. You know, that place I can’t pronounce”, I would reply. Llangynidr was always an impossibility for me. I now know it’s very simply Llan-gun-i-der. Fortunately for me my wife is Welsh so I got some pointers. I bought a couple of books and learned the basics of pronunciation and a few dozen simple words, if little else yet. There are a few key rules that will make you sound a little more like you know what you’re talking about. A simple example is that the letter F is pronounced as a V, though an FF is pronounced as an F. Explaining LL is a minefield I’ll leave for others.

The same old words crop up time and time again whilst walking. Words like Pen (head of), Cwm (valley), Coed (wood), Capel (chapel), Allt (hillside), Mawr (big), Mynydd (mountain), Ddu (black) etc. These words appear in various combinations and understanding them makes walking in Wales much more enjoyable. A village near me is called Penallt (a common name), so I know it means head of the hillside. In fact I know what sort of landscape to expect before I even get there. Another example is that Cwmbran means valley of the crows/ravens. It all made sense to me as I had walked nearby at Pen y Fan (not the famous one) some time ago and was staggered at the number of crows there.

There are loads of on-line translators these days, but I recently found What’s in a name? at the BBC. I had already built up my own list, so I wish I had found this earlier.

One thing that bugs me is where a combination of English and Welsh is used. I’ve seen this so many times, but one example is the noticeboard that tell you about Mynydd Llangattock. Why would you use the Welsh word for mountain and the English word for Llangatwg? Surely it should be either Mynydd Llangatwg or Llangattock Mountain.

Terrible spelling is another thing. The toposcope in the Malverns points at Skyrid Vawr. It should be Ysgyryd Fawr or (Big) Skirrid.

Finally, an amusing log from two English geocachers I know during a trip to Wales from across the Wye. In case you’re wondering, Sir Fynwy means Monmouthshire!

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