Ah, North Wales.
The average, non-Welsh person upon hearing the name “North Wales” most likely conjures images in their mind of sloping green valleys, sleepy little stone cottages, picturesque, rocky mountains with winding rivers reminiscent of your typical mineral water bottle logos, and of course – sheep.
And if you go to the right places, these dreamy stereotypes are no doubt proven to be a reality. North Wales is a place granted with a heap of natural beauty, but as someone who grew up in one of the less country-file-looking county’s of North Wales, there is a side to this part of the U.K that leaves much to be desired for it’s younger population in 2018 who live there day-to-day lives in the country.
1. There’s no public transport !!!!
Imagine you’ve just been on a night out on the town with your friends. Now it’s over and you need a ride home, but your phone’s dead, you’re drunk as balls, and you can’t remember where the taxi bay is, so you ask the bartender to call you one instead.
In a more urban place the bartender would call you a cab, you’d get in, and you would go home (after convincing the taxi driver to go though the McDonald’s drive-thru of course), and sleep before the hangover sets in.
But in a small Welsh town, if it’s after 2am then chances are the bartender will tell you that all the local taxi companies are closed until the morning. That’s right. It’s commonplace for taxi companies to call it a night before 2am, with some even closing at midnight on weekdays. In addition to this, most buses in North Wales stop running between midnight and 6am, and the rare taxi driver that is still on the clock is going to charge you up to triple the regular price, which makes getting home after a night out an awkward affair.
It’s very easy to get completely lost in the countryside in the dead of night due to the lack of traffic lights on the country roads, especially if you’ve been drinking and you’re new to town.
If you plan to stay out drinking in a small Welsh town, make sure to sort out how you and your friends will be getting home at the end of the night by having a designated driver, or a willing relative pick you up, or else it’s a midnight country hike for you.
2. When the clock strikes midnight, the town goes to sleep.
Remember when I told you to imagine a situation where you were out after 2am in a little Welsh town. Well unless it’s a special holiday, or you’re in a chain pub, that’s unlikely.
In reality, it’s completely normal for all shops and bars to close either before or at midnight in Welsh towns. It was for this reason that everyone between the ages of 18-24 seemed to hail the local chain pub in my Welsh hometown as some gift from Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine himself, all because it did what no other local bar did. It stayed open until 2am (…*swoon at these low standards*).
With some exclusions on holidays, bars will send everyone out around midnight, meaning if you’re the type to party on until the next day, you may want to catch the city instead, as chances are there are going to be no local nightclubs either.
Most young people get around this by volunteering their living room as the after party space (much to the dismay of their parents if they still live at home).
Meanwhile some of the more sturdy, born-and-bred, country cool kids will have no problem taking the sesh out to the local woods or park where everyone can sit around a campfire and tell spooky stories, eat snacks, smoke, and that one obligatory mate of yours will play music on their portable speaker whilst everyone drinks on, internally judging their terrible music taste.
But it’s a laugh.
It’s a world away from what a typical night out in the city would be like, but it’s the product of the Welsh countryside youth’s effort to rebel against the system that restrains them. As someone who grew up reading Welsh fairy tales (that often involve rebellious Princes and wine drinking), it’s been this way for centuries in the countryside, as no matter the setting, the young generation will always find it’s own way to embrace itself and have a good time.
If you’re lucky enough to have some friends in North Wales, you should go out on a sesh with them at least once in your life.
3. The racist tourists!
Even though it’s 2018 and everyone on Facebook claims to be an advocate in the fight against racism and prejudice, the tension between the Welsh and English border still lives on with some people.
It’s existed for as long as Britain has, so unfortunately for the us Welsh folk, the jokes about sheep and our national language looking like a keyboard smash (“i daro bysellfwrdd” is Welsh for “keyboard smash” by the way. Enjoy.) still seem to be going strong for many of the English. But of course, we know it’s not ALL English people and rather, just a few rotten ones that are like this.
Seriously guys, get some new material guys. Scotland is giving us political ideas.
Regardless of their prejudice against us, these English tourists still love coming to our beaches, staying in our haunted hotels, and hiking up our mountains. And with them they bring their typical complaints, with some of my favourites including “Why are all the signs in Welsh?” (….in Wales?) and “Why can’t I get a bloody taxi around here?” (…it’s as if they didn’t read my article) and so on and so forth.
Now, you may think that living in a remote, humble little Welsh town would mean I didn’t have to face any tourists, never mind a racist one. But if you didn’t go to school in Wales, than chances are you’ve never heard of the travelling festival we call “The Eisteddfod” (No, there’s no English word for it. Sorry…) that moves from one Welsh town to the next every year.
When this festival hit my hometown, I hadn’t encountered any racism before. I was after all a little blonde country boy in a mostly white neighbourhood, but for the first time in my life I had strangers on the high street judging me and my friends for how we spoke, all while they buying Welsh food, taking photos at Welsh destinations, and were wearing merchandise with the Welsh Red Dragon on it…
If you are a tourist coming to Wales, don’t forget that we are our own race and culture, and many of the Welsh people are very proud of that culture. Our tourist destinations have been preserved with love and patriotism for years, and the perseverance of the existence of the Welsh language is commendable when you look into the history of how taboo it was only decades ago.
You wouldn’t go to Japan and start making fun of everyone there for being Japanese (unless you were a total moron), so don’t treat your next door neighbours the same way.
And to those of you who come over and respect the Welsh culture, we love having you!
4. “LGBT….is that a sandwich?” – A real question I was once asked back home.
If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or anything other than “straight”, than a little town in North Wales is certainly not an ideal place to live for the first 18 years of your life. But let’s be real, nowhere in the U.K is devoid of prejudice, so I’ll skip that part.
Something else that makes North Wales a difficult place for LGBT people is the tight-knit community of the county’s and of small towns and villages. Everyone knows everyone, so keeping your sexuality, or gender identity a secret from the neighbour, or the school board is a full-time job.
In addition to this, unless you are attending a Welsh University, or a modern-minded school, then there isn’t much of an educational support system in place in a small Welsh town for young LGBT people. The internet is how most queer teens and adults in Wales even find out that this stuff exists in real life, and that it is totally okay too.
It’s not that North Wales is inherently homophobic. It’s just that the people here are closed off from the rest of the world, especially the older generation that are Welsh first language, so they tend to ask a lot of questions about it of you. But as a young person living in Wales, if you can be out and proud in your little Welsh hometown, that can mean a lot to any other LGBT people in the town and you may just be able to start up a support network or community of your own.
It’s taking it’s time, but North Wales is getting there, and soon you won’t have be the only gay in the village.
5. All your favourite stores growing up have closed down.
Money. Money. Money.
It’s all the news in the U.K seems to talk about between national disasters and the end of the world, yet again. In Wales it is no different, and if you grew up in a small North Welsh town between 1999 and 2009 than you know exactly what I am getting at.
During my days at high school, over 7 shops on the town’s high street closed down during the economic crash, with even more scattered around the town also shutting up shop. In our case these closing stores included an arcade, a milkshake shack, an art equipment store, and a Woolworths (if he doesn’t know what that is, he’s probably too young for you).
And it sucked!
The few places of pre-teenage refuge in the small, remote town were bankrupt and gone and all we had left was the local skate park, which isn’t saying much when you live in one of the most rainy countries in existence.
It’s been almost a decade now and since moving to Southern England, I’ve visited my little Welsh hometown up North on a few occasions. There’s still no arcade, but the local ice cream and confectionery parlour is still going strong, meaning there’s at the very least one place in town for the pre-teens to hang out after school.
It may not be a sign that things are going back to the way they used to be before the crash, but it does stand as a statement to the locals and visitors that some small Welsh businesses aren’t going down so easily.
6: To Speak (Welsh), Or Not To Speak (Welsh)!
North Wales is the side of the Wales that tends to speak more Welsh as a majority than the South do, with the exceptions of the little towns that sit closer to the English border. In short, the farther from England and the more into the countryside you go, the more Welsh you are going to be hearing.
Because of this, the hometown I was raised in was an oddball situation in regards to whether or not to sway towards speaking English, or Welsh.
It was close to the border, so that was one point in the English basket. But it was way up North, so that was one point in the Welsh basket too. In addition to this, the high schools in town allowed for both languages, with half of them teaching every class in Welsh and the other half teaching classes in English. This meant that there were two defined groups of teenagers walking around, each speaking their own language that the other only knew as a second language.
Reading this article probably gives away what language I swung towards in the end (Hint: You are reading in it), but this didn’t erase the day-to-day awkward situations that could arise from living in a bi-lingual Welsh town on the English border.
Because even though you may *want* to speak Welsh, there’s no way of knowing that the person you’re faced with isn’t an English person visiting the town, or another Welsh person who just didn’t pick up the language.
And on the flip side, you may want to ask a stranger a questions, but not know whether or not to ask it in English (the safe bet, but if they’re Welsh first language they’ll be low-key judging you…), or in Welsh (slightly less safe, but will build up an immediate trust between you both if they understand you, because “Hey! You’re Welsh? Me too!” alongside gaining you some brownie points for being patriotic enough to learn your native tongue and making your Welsh Grandma very proud of you).
On the other hand…
You could just be talking complete nonsense to an unsuspecting English person who was just passing over the border, in which case you have probably traumatised this stranger by coming at him with one of the most ancient languages known to mankind out of nowhere (…if only he knew you were just asking where the toilet was), the poor guy.
It’s no doubt important to many people in North Wales that their children learn and carry on the usage of the Welsh language, and I agree, but it’s application just as with any other language can lead to some awkward and funny situations and stories if things don’t go as expected.
7. Always Welsh food for dinner…
Welsh cuisine is delicious, with household treats like Bara Brith (a popular type of fruity Welsh toast), to the freshest local lamb in Britain which every farmer is so proud of selling, to the array of beautifully hand-crafted confectionery chocolates, cakes and sweets you’ll come across at the weekly farmer’s market.
There’s a lot going for Wales as far as the food aisle is concerned.
However, if you didn’t grow up in Britain or with “white food”, then it’s likely you’ll feel there is a serious lack of diversity as far as the flavour and ingredients of Welsh food goes for you. Little towns in North Wales tend to pride themselves on sourcing all their foods locally, meaning local herbs, crops, dairy, and such, all come from within the country.
This also makes being vegan a toughie sometimes if you prefer branded dairy-alternatives and meat-alternatives to just vegetables.
This system is very environmentally friendly and gives the food in little Welsh towns a distinct flavour, but if you’re craving for food that you’re used to, and you come from outside the U.K, and you don’t want to go to a local restaurant that serves foreign food, then it’s highly unlikely that there will be an Asian supermarket, or African supermarket local to you in a typical, little North Wales town, meaning you’ll have to travel outwards in order to get the ingredients you want to make all the dishes your mother made you growing up.
8. Most hairdressers don’t do non-white hair…and even then.
This one may sound completely bizarre to you if you live in the South, but in little towns in North Wales, it’s difficult to find a suitable hairdresser if you have afro-hair.
Just as with Welsh food, the locals tend to cater-to and source everything from within a few miles, so in a part of the country that is predominantly white, it’s understandable why most hairdressers in small towns in North Wales are rarely expected to work on other hair types than their own.
Nonetheless. It’s still very inconvenient and something that should be considered by anyone with a non-white hair type who is looking to move to North Wales in the future.
As a white Welsh person, it was never an issue that I’d even realised until I’d made friends with people with this hair type at University and considered the fact.
Rather, the issues I faced at the hairdresser were of a “conservative” taste. Older people in little towns in North Wales can be closed-minded, and so, tend to hold a disliking for young people who dye their hair crazy colours and have piercings and tattoos all over themselves (no matter how good they look).
I was more than once refused service at local hair salons for requesting they dye my hair bright white and cut it asymmetrically (“-long hair isn’t very manly” and “-you won’t get a job looking like that!” were muttered to me on these glorious occasions).
After one hairdresser cut my long hair off to a much shorter length than I’d asked for without apologising (claiming it was far too long for a man), I resorted to dyeing and cutting my own hair at home with a shaving mirror until I left town at 19.
I was a dumb teenager, what can I say?
9. It’s so difficult to get a part-time job here!
If you lived in small Welsh town, chances were your Mum didn’t want you going out of town to work late in the night due to the lack of transport meaning you’d have to walk home in the dark (which is hardly safe for anyone).
In addition to that, there really aren’t many jobs to hand around to the local youths. It’s not like it is in London where every other bar is looking for waiters and cleaners almost constantly in central.
Unfortunately, you can’t stumble into employment in a little Welsh town, despite how good your CV may be. A lot of the people who live in the town tend to work somewhere outside it, often travelling to the city to do so.
If you were a teenager desperate to add part-time work to your schedule, you could take on a paper round (although with the rise of the internet those are quickly dying out), or help set-up the stalls for the town farmer’s market.
Both of these jobs payed very little, required you being out in the cold, tended to only ever hire boys (casual sexism is still a thing in small towns by the way), and asked you to wake up and get out of the house before 6am, as standard of course, so you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking it’s not worth the hassle.
You’re better off with a full night’s sleep at that age.
10. Your favourite bands are never coming here.
Whether you love classic rock music, or American rap music, or industrial synth-pop, neo-gothic rave music, I have to break this bad news to you now. If you live in a little town in North Wales, chances are your favourite big musician is not going to be playing anywhere near you.
North Wales hasn’t been a popular place for British musicians to come and play as of late. Never mind the larger than life American ones most popular these days.
Nicki Minaj is not going to roll up into your local town hall slash local library and rap about her beef with Cardi B to a town whose population is outnumbered by the population of sheep, no matter how hysterical of a image that would be.
Usually, there is always one trusty record store in every Welsh town run by an all-knowing, music master who can list every good album from 1959 to 1999 by memory. This much is true.
However, if you want to enjoy some good live music in Wales, you’re going to have to accept either one of two routes; go to your locals bars and independent festivals and support your local musicians (who will most likely either be playing Welsh folk music, or rock music), or, do what I did and make like it’s 1999 by going to outdoor (usually illegal) raves that you’ve found out about on Facebook and Twitter.
Working class, rock ‘n roll, folk festival culture and the 90’s-esque, ecstasy rave culture are the two most prominent music scenes in North Wales.