Walking Welsh Winds.

South Wales reminded me of the Driftless Region of Minnesota and Wisconsin, with rolling hills, rivers, and a mixture of forest and field. Yet there was the ocean and warm gulf winds. Plants we only see indoors in Minnesota, grow along the side of roads.  Our first two weeks (April 1-28) were cold, wet, and windy.  Early on, we walked a bluster big enough to have a name. Storm Katherine pushed us up hills and made descents a struggle. It entered our bones and made the trees bend and sing. Rain came down sideways. All that water turned the world bright green, pushed up purple and yellow flowers, and filled crab apples with white blossoms. Add sheep, horses, and an occasional cow...

Walking to eat on a sheep farm

Our stone cottage on a sheep farm was so remote, locals did not recognize the address. We were four miles from convenience stores, six from a real grocery store, and five from a train station. A robust bus service schedule–still searchable online, with a stop  1.5 miles away, was no longer in service. For how long, I don’t know. A private bus service for regular commuters did not serve us.  A bicycle store on Google, six miles away, was closed. Another—same distance— we did not find out about until the last days. The bike offered to me by our landlord did not fit. We wasted hours online trying to get the bus, food delivery, and taxi services, cursing AI systems that led us on, but ultimately refused our requests.

So we walked and schemed to eat.

We had a lot going for us. We could walk those miles. A neighbor a mile away had fresh eggs. Another farmer–a three-mile trek there and back— advertised eggs and hay for sale, but when we got close we saw they had winter squash,  potatoes, onions, and garlic!  Dandelion greens abounded, still small and not too bitter. Another farmer was selling plants: pots of soft buttery new lettuce. Our landlord let us plant a garden! We found lentils on a train trip to Carmarthen. And cans of salmon. On another train trip, to Pembroke Dock, at a Lidl, we filled our cart with “French style” goat cheese, a family-size bag of almonds, and some frozen vegetables.

Two Inns, three and six-mile hikes, had a limited schedule of dinners.  We had lunch at the Carew Inn across from the Carew Castle twice. The food wasn’t great but it was a fun destination. We could see the castle a mile before we got into town, and from the far off, it felt like we discovered it. The ruins were a perfect playground for magpies. We sat at a picnic table by the river, drinking tea, and watching them dive in and out of windows and doorways.

Carew Castle

Set featured image

The Inn in Jeffreyston was open on the weekends. They had a special meal on Sunday afternoons. We ordered the salmon and prawns. The plate came with the requisite potatoes, but also a  board with three bowls of vegetables: savoy cabbage, mashed turnips, and brussels sprouts that we relished.

Jeffreyston Church

Fresh fruit was hard to come by. We missed the daily dose of pomegranates and oranges fresh off the trees we’d become accustomed to during our five months in the Mediterranean region. I thought we’d find fresh rhubarb. Dave’s theory: they pull it up so the sheep don’t eat the leaves. We settled for prunes and raisins.


In pursuit of puffins. 


                “Where do Plans go in Milford Haven? They go to wrong.”

                                                                     Docent: Milford Haven Museum, April 10, 2024


Our landlord laughed when we told him we were off for a two-day adventure to Pembroke Dock— not a destination in his book.

It was an exhausting day, carrying a backpack five miles to the Saundersfoot train station, and another five in Pembroke Dock a working-class port town on a cliff. Like Duluth, I thought. We arrived hungry. A Chinese restaurant with red décor was open. We were the only patrons. A Chinese Communist Party representative for Hong Kong was reporting on the Party conference in Beijing on a giant screen TV. She lauded the SU7, a Chinese electric car that just hit the international market, bullet trains, and other green infrastructure plans, then told listeners to study the speech of Premier Li Qiang.  We left China and entered a fog so thick, that the ocean was invisible standing on the coast.


Pembroke Dock

The second day we readied ourselves for a treat: a trip to remote Skomer Island, to see puffins!  A friend had just been there and her photos were magical. I bought ferry tickets online – about $100 for the two of us—but it seemed worth it.  We caught our first bus in Wales. Other than school kids, it was empty.

We arrived early for the ferry,  so we had a Welsh breakfast: baked beans, an egg, roasted tomato, fried mushrooms, toast, and for Dave, bacon and hashbrowns. I was eager to try the black pudding – a small dark cake not realizing the grains I could see were glued together with blood sausage.

Welsh Breakfast

While eating, I rechecked the ferry and realized we were at Milford not Martins Haven. There was no bus to Martins. After hectic maneuvering to find, and then cancel a taxi, we gave up on puffins, hoping our $100 would help preserve their habitat.

Trying to make the most of it, we walked the length of a coastal path, had lunch, and were about to figure out the return bus when we noticed a tiny history museum. It was not impressive. An exhibit on natural gas production and transport paid for by the company ran like an ad.  The exhibit on deep sea fishing was not much better: Working conditions and environmental factors in both exhibits were glossed over or omitted.Luckily one of the docents took a fancy to us.

“Have you heard of Nantucket?”

We were familiar with the elite Massachusetts island off Cape Cod.

The docent continued, telling us a tale of reverse immigration that brought the whaling industry to Milford Haven in the 19th century. Whalers in Nantucket recrossed the ocean, became British citizens, and processed their New England catch in Milford Haven to avoid London taxes. “London had more lamps than any city in the world”, lit with Nantucket whale blubber, processed in Milford Haven. The whaling business prospered until someone discovered coal provided a brighter light than whale fat. In Milford Haven, whaling was replaced by deep-sea fishing. The port here is a sunken valley and riverway underneath the ocean making it unusually profitable for deep-sea fishing.

Milford Haven


In typical boom/ bust fashion, they fished until there were no fish left. The only thing that allowed the port to repopulate was when Germans mined the harbor in World War I and again during World War II.

“The fish are gone again today. We need an enemy to mine the harbor again,” said the docent, joking, but not joking.

The other docent, listening in on the conversation, said he used to be a deep sea troller. “Now I won’t go near a boat unless the water is like glass.” He wasn’t joking. His shoulders shivered— a man who knew trauma on the water. He made me feel better about missing the boat on this windy day.

The river under the ocean also makes Milford Haven one of only a handful of ports deep enough to float natural gas tankers. This tiny remote hamlet became key in the transnational shipment of natural gas after the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt in 1967, when the Suez Canal was closed to transnational oil companies, leading them to scramble for other ways to transport Middle East oil to European and American markets.  For a while, the natural gas industry was a major source of jobs in Milford Haven, but today, as the shipments continue, much of the work is mechanized.

Have there been oil spills? Yes indeed, though none are mentioned in the museum displays. During one, the docent told us, sea birds, including puffins, were drenched in oil. The company tried to clean the birds, despite being told by scientists that they could not survive because they had ingested the oil, and the kindest thing to do would be to kill them and end their suffering. The oil company was more concerned about the look of oil-soaked birds.

Docents, Milford Haven museum

South Wales Coal mining

Our docent in Milford Haven told us, his father told him, “Do whatever you want, just don’t be a deep sea fisherman or a coal miner.”

In Saundersfoot there was a great little museum on the coal industry. Workers’ lives were front and center. Four things struck me:

  1. The British industrial revolution was fueled by Welsh workers who, like all primary source economies, received none of the profits as a community, or as workers. All added value happened in London.
  2. Throughout the 19th century, up until WWII, coal was the major industry of Wales. The lovely green fields, atop rolling hills dotted with sheep, were once jagged mountains, cash cows for industry; London’s source of coal, tin, steel, and iron. Welsh bodies were maimed and shortened to change this landscape.
  3. The industry destroyed human bodies. People did not live past 45. Teenagers developed the coal miners’ hump, looking like elderly women with degenerative scoliosis. Children and women were desired as workers because they were short. Babies, “as soon as they could walk,” spent twelve-hour days, seven days a week in mines. Those children fueled an empire.
  4. In the late 1800s, the workers formed a miners’ federation that fought for wages, health and safety, age requirements, and shorter hours. In 1945 they formed the National Union of Mineworkers, which engaged in national strikes in 1972. 1974 and 1985. Thatcher closed the mines rather than negotiate with the workers.


The museum in Cardiff—big and glitzy, with high ceilings and displays with bells and whistles—did a lousy job of telling the story of workers. Corporate money for museums comes at a cost to content.

Former coal tunnel, Saundersfoot, Wales

Protesting the war on Gaza in Wales and making friends.

In Wales, we used Facebook to connect with people opposing Israeli genocide in Gaza. A group in Carmarthen that had a vigil in a central square every Saturday. On April 6 we walked to the train station, went to the vigil, had lunch, bought groceries in Carmarthen, and carried them back. It was an exhausting day, 12 miles of walking, and more socializing than we had done in months.

The vigil sponsors were a coalition of two groups, one pacifist and religiously based, the other secular and self-identified as “more radical.” About twenty people showed up. Two days earlier,  the Israeli Defence Forces murdered seven volunteers with World Central Kitchen. Three of them were from the UK.  Some vigilers held signs referring to these martyrs.  One woman from the “radical” group, asked me how the Israel Lobby in the US had gotten so powerful that it could direct Congress. I told her that while there is an Israel Lobby it is not the reason behind US funding Israel’s war on Palestinians. A better understanding of US policy toward Israel would examine US oil and strategic interests. She gave Dave leaflets to hand out. The passersby were neither hostile nor interested. It did not seem as though there was a general awareness that this was an issue people should be concerned about.

The mic was not working, so there were no speeches but we chanted and sang. They had a song in Welsh that they sang every week–new words to an old sea shanty in a minor key. It made me cry. One woman had been to Minneapolis in the 1980s, a special guest for a gathering of Welsh folk musicians. She remembered a bus driver who could not understand her pronunciation of “St. Paul.”

Two weeks later I saw the notice of an emergency rally in Haverfordwest, twelve miles from us. I  took a chance and asked if anyone was passing close to us who would give us a ride. Alex Gavin answered my call. We are friends now, but that morning when he got in his car to pick us up we were strangers, and from the USA, no less. He took the greater chance. The MP for Pembrokeshire, Steven Crabb, is the Chair of the UK organization: “Conservatives for Israel” Much of the demonstration was focused on him.


On the Beach: Saundersfoot and Freshwater East and West.

At the end of the month, we made it to the beach in Saundersfoot, six miles from our farm by road, but only three as a seagull flies. It is hard to describe how different it felt after three weeks of communing with sheep. The road was crammed with cafes, souvenir shops, ice cream trucks, humans and their dogs. The beach had the largest tide I have ever seen. You could see it coming in and going out, like someone was filling and emptying a bathtub. We could hear it change course! At low tide, we walked two miles out to a rock formation. At high tide there was no beach at all. There was a walk long the cliff in the woods where a coal mine used to be and got us deep into woods with glorious views of the sea.

Dolby the House Elf’s resting place. Freshwater Pembroke Dock

A few days later, Alex, our new friend from the Palestine Solidarity Network offered to take us on a trip to a more wild beach: Freshwater East and Freshwater West, on either side of the town of Pembroke. The dunes and vast beaches reminded me of Cape Cod, but the sheep farms and liquid natural gas processing plants nearby told us we were not on Nantucket.

We found the resting place of the Harry Potter character Dobby the House Elf, where visitors had left painted stones and pairs of socks. Some messages declared their solidarity with elves. ( Sad that the Harry Potter author—she who must no longer be named—believes in rights for fictional non-humans, but campaigns against the rights of  real living transgender people, creating pain that undercuts her contribution to children’s literature. 

We got to share a cup with Alex and his wife Sue. The two met twelve years ago online, and their love is palpable. Our drinks were not alcoholic, but after weeks of talking only to each other and sheep, the chance to converse with like-minded people was an intoxicant.  And now, we have friends in Wales.

Alex leading us.


On language and the struggle for Independence in Wales, and everywhere.  

In Wales, every official sign is in Welsh and English. Cymru first. This official embrace of language appears to be a big win for the cause of self-determination in Wales, but looking closer, and doing a bit of reading, it seems that this is an example of co-optation that goes back to the 1980s.

In the 1960s the Welsh language flourished and so did calls for independence. By the 1980s many of the young people who spoke it had to leave as the mines closed and fisheries contracted due to over-fishing. So began a transmigration. Welsh-speaking working people left to find employment in London as the coal, tin, and slate industries died, and Middle-class British pensioners moved to Wales for a simpler, cheaper retirement in the countryside.  This diluted the number of Welsh speakers. Then in the 1980s, British conservatives embraced the idea of conserving the Welsh language as a strategy for diluting and coopting the calls for independence. It became a cultural project devoid of politics. They sponsored Welsh TV and Radio programs and required dual language signage,  and took credit for preserving a precious piece of UK history.   

(We did not hear Welsh in the pubs or streets of Pembrokeshire. We had to get to Cardiff to hear Welsh spoken, by a group of elderly women in a café, and by a group of young people on the street.

The Welsh Independence Parties today ( Plaid Cymru, Propel, Gwlad, and the Wales Green Party)  do not all dwell on language, embracing Welsh and non-Welsh speakers. They also talk about railroads, infrastructure, and social services. Wales has voted Labor Party for 100 years. Another way of looking at it: Wales is a central pocket of  Labor Party support for the UK. Without Wales, the party would wither. Our friend Alex said he supports independence for Wales and his native Scotland, as a means of separating from the reactionaries in control in Westminster today. He told us that ironically, people voted against independence because they didn’t want to break from Europe. Then came Brexit..

In nearly every place we have gone, independence and the new chapters of old boundary disputes abound in Cataluña and Spain, Morocco and Western Sahara, Kosovo and Serbia, Montenegro, and the former Yugoslavia. And now France and New Caledonia. Meanwhile, Israel’s genocidal offensive in Gaza the tragic and criminal backdrop to our travels, illustrates how ugly struggles over land and sovereignty can be.  Always there are issues of politics, of class, racism, and ideology, that go beyond nationalism. Have I got this figured out, as a self-described internationalist? No way. When I am not sure I go back to the basic principles: 

Workers’ rights come first. 

Genocide must end.  

The only winners in war are generals, war contractors, lords of land, and corporate thieves.    

Human Rights for All.  


The sheep farm seemed like a remote corner divorced from the rest of the planet. However, in Wales, I thought anew about Cataluña and Kosovo, read up on the Suez Canal, considered the relationship between Mainland China and Hong Kong, and connected roots to Nantucket, and made new friends over our commitment to end genocide in Gaza.


On the day of the total solar eclipse, Israel struck the Iran Embassy in Damascus, Syria, killing eleven people – or was it sixteen?

In the morning, we listened to a French grammar lesson. I wrote about reading in the Balkans

In the afternoon, we walked into the tail of Storm Katherine, past sheep farms.  

In the evening, in a warm cottage in South Wales, we watched a Korean drama in Spanish, with French subtitles. 

Freshwater East Pembroke Dock. You can see the mineral layers mined by workers who toiled and fueled the Industrial Revolution, on this cliff.