On Wednesday, I went to the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, for the first time. It’s a cultural festival, founded in 1947, featuring singers and dancers from all over the world – competitors come to Wales from as far as the States, South Africa, and Indonesia! I’ve been wanting to go for years and years, fascinated by the competitors visiting from all over the world, and finally this year I managed it!
I was going to the Eisteddfod with some of my family, on a coach all the way up from West Wales to Denbighshire in north-east Wales; altogether it was a journey of about 130 miles. The day started at 4.30, I heard my phone vibrate and it took me a few seconds to realise that it was my alarm ringing in what was still the middle of the night. We then had to drive up from Carmarthen to the bus depot in deepest Ceredigion, which took about 40 minutes. At about 6.45 the bus and us as its first passengers started our long journey. We headed up towards Lampeter, where we picked up the majority of the passengers, towards Cardigan bay, then at Aberystwyth we headed back inwards through Powys and even over the border with England. That’s right, transport links between north and south Wales are so bad, we had to drive through England for about 20 minutes to reach our destination! It was a long journey, and we took a route which I didn’t expect – crossing the border could have been avoided had we headed more north before going east. It was very pretty going through Powys, all the hills and valleys, and evergreens, but it was so, so long…
We finally arrived at the Eisteddfod grounds around 10.40. I was so glad to finally get off the bus and be able to stretch my legs! After paying the £11 admission, our mission to was to find breakfast. I hadn’t had anything since about 6.30, and I was starving! We found a collection of food stalls, and I decided on a crêpe with sugar and lemon, which really hit the spot! Re-fuelled and re-caffeinated, we went for a walk around the stalls on the grounds.
The field was a lot smaller than I expected, from having frequented both the Urdd and National Eisteddfod for many many years; but this eisteddfod had a very different atmosphere, and a different crowd. Competitors were walking around in beautiful traditional dress from all over the world. It was somewhat of a strange experience being at an Eisteddfod and hearing languages other than Welsh. I even heard Italian! Browsing a stall, I heard three schoolgirls talking in Italian and I couldn’t believe it! It was such a strange feeling hearing Italian in Wales. Later on, I passed another group of Italian teenagers, and not realising they were Italian until I got closer, I heard the faint music they were listening to on one of their phones. This sounds familiar, I thought. And indeed it was – Italian rap! There was much more of a focus on the competitions themselves, with less going on around the grounds. Saying that, there were a few outside stages where competitors and singers performed during the day. Around lunchtime we watched performances by two dance groups. The first were Loughgiel Folk Dancers from Northern Ireland; and as someone who spent many years in dawnsio gwerin (Welsh folk dancing) groups, it was interesting to witness first hand folk dancing which had originated in another Celtic nation, to see similarities and differences. It’s certainly more energetic than ours! The second group were Mother Touch Dancers from Zimbabwe. These children were amazing! The dancing was so lively and vibrant, their energy was contagious.
The tiredness hit us mid-afternoon, but luckily there are plenty of places to sit down around the grounds, and listen to the competitions which are broadcast from the pavilion over speakers to the people outside. We went into the pavilion in time for last competition – which was earlier than we’d expected. The pavilion is beautiful, I’d seen it on TV so many times over the years, but all the flowers on stage really are beautiful. I was struck by how open and airy it was too, much more like a big tent than the Urdd and National Eisteddfod’s pavilions. The competition we caught was for classical singers under the age of 16, and I was struck by such talent at such a young age. Two of the singers were Welsh, and one had come all the way from Singapore. Much to the delight of the local crowd, a Welsh lad was awarded the first prize.
By then, it was nearly time to go home. Before we caught the bus back, we went back to a stall that we’d been to earlier in the day, and bought some very sexy Snowdonia cheese! At 5pm we started our long journey back down south, waving to a group of dancers from India (who are very well-known at the Eisteddfod) as we left. It was about 10pm when I finally got back home, exhausted, but happy to have finally experienced Llangollen’s very unique international eisteddfod!