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Suw's Eisteddfod diary

Dinbych a'r cyffiniau, 2001

sun 5 aug - day 0
Today is packing day. Although we’re only going for a week, it nevertheless takes a lot of packing to prepare adequately, especially as we’re camping and I’m on as tight a budget as I can manage. Of course, soon as I get to the beer tent, that ideal will be out of the window. So…

Tent: new, unused and a replacement for my ancient one which, due to it’s leaky nature, has prejudiced me against camping forever.

Sleeping bag: trusty, cosy 3-seasons bag, plus really old 0.5-seasons bag to sleep on, and for any spur-of-the-moment visitors.

Food: dried, canned or otherwise imperishable, i.e. Mini Cheddars.

Clothes: more than strictly necessary, but you just don’t know what the weather’s going to be like. Thus, have selection ranging from skimpy sarong to polo-neck jumper.

Kite: just in case. After all you never know when a nice storm’s going to whip up out of nowhere and allow you to rip your arms from their sockets. Always fun.

Torch: bugger… had a torch round here somewhere, I know I did… Note to self: must buy torch. Second note to self: try not to turn into Bridget Jones – it’s not big and it’s not clever.

Last item: loved-up piss-head guitarist (i.e. Eifion).

mon 6 aug - day 1
The journey from Reading to Dinbych goes without a hitch and, suprisingly, no wrong turns. Not unless you count having to go round roundabouts twice, which personally I don’t.

Bwlch yr Oernant is suitably impressive, very windy, very steep, and very much my first intravenous hit of mountains. ‘Car’ makes it up without too much complaint, which is impressive seeing as Car often decides to simply stop, for no readily apparent reason. Going anywhere in Car is an adventure, and both Eifion and I are somewhat relieved to hear nary a whimper from him in the whole six hour journey.

It’s only when we come to the sign for Sir Ddinbych that Eifion asks ‘Is it actually in Dinbych, or just somewhere in Sir Ddinbych?’

‘It’s in Dinbych.’

‘Dinbych or Dinbych-y-Pysgod?’


‘Ti’n siwr?’

‘Dw i’n siwr.’

Eifion in his tent
one loved-up piss-head guitarist

And sure enough, soon as we get to within a couple of miles of the aforementioned town there are heaps of AA signs pointing to the steddfod which, had we actually followed them, would have taken us several miles out of our way on a scenic route along the other side of the valley.

Easily we find Maes Ieuenctid (the Youth Field), although it can’t be strictly ‘ieuenctid’ because they let me in without arguing. The steddfod is sited in the valley below Dinbych, with mountains to the east that promise to be beautiful when the low cloud that currently smothers them finally lifts. The Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru logo is painted onto the side of one of the mountains, looking oddly cheerful despite the grey clouds.

Whilst the weather’s not been fantastic all day, it stays dry whilst we pitch our tents in the top right-hand corner of the maes pebyll (tent field), which allows us to use the fences for navigation should we get lost in the sea of domes. We pick spaces next to Ceri and Gai Anweledig, and Marc Ffarout - always nice to be surrounded by familiar tents! Soon as we finish, though, it merrily pisses down and we are thankful that we’ve at least got all our stuff in out of the wet.

As Eifion and I sit cosily in his tent, discussing the forthcoming week’s potential, we hear a disembodied voice from outside. It’s a steddfod steward telling us that our tents are too close together and that we must move one. We decide initially to ignore him, but he returns to nag again, even though it’s raining. We wonder why he’s picking on us and eventually, when the rain pauses, we give in and shift my tent a couple of feet, shortening the guy ropes so that they’re the correct 2m apart.

Eifion’s friend Nerys turns up, and we decide to make our way over to the main Maes, where all the action is. Or rather where all the action will be - it’s 6pm by now and almost everything is shut. We meet up with Glenys, my Welsh teacher from London, and together we all get very, very wet and very, very muddy.

‘Beth ydy trenchfoot yn y Gymraeg, ‘te?’


the maes pebyll
the maes pebyll

Food on the Maes isn’t cheap, but at least it’s edible and we are sheltered from the lashing rain. Someone’s camera flashes and for a moment we think it’s lightening, but it’s not. With all the tent poles and sticky-up things kicking around, that’s probably a blessing. Would hate to see the pavilion fried.

Then it’s off up to Dinbych town, to Y Tarw to see Meic Stevens. Rain is still lashing down, and it’s hot and humid in the pub. I bump into Ceri Anweledig, who is already happily ensconced - having been in Dinbych since Saturday, he’s already well into the swing of things. Eventually, the rain stops for long enough for us to go stand outside, where it’s cooler and fresher and there’s more room to drink without getting constantly elbowed in the ribs.

Entertainment outside is provided by a red car which keeps driving round, and round, and round. Eight times at the last count. The occupants must be very, very easily pleased if that’s their idea of a fun way to spend the evening.

Eventually we pile on into the Night Owl, the night club at the back of the pub, and await the legendary Meic Stevens. It’s a gamble, going to any Meic Stevens gigs, apparently. You never know if he’s going to be amazing, or if he’s going to stumble onstage, play one song badly, then bugger off. Luckily for us, he plays a full set, but unluckily, the clientele seems to be there just to talk and from the back you can’t hear a damn thing. Everyone goes mental for the classic Brawd Houdini, then it’s all over, and we make our way back to the maes pebyll.

tues 7 aug - day 2
Glenys has to leave early in order to go sheep dipping, which does not strike me as an attractive proposition in the continuing foul weather. My first night camping hasn’t been a fantastic success. I’m cold, the ground is hard, and the maes pebyll is noisy. But at least everything I own is dry - I’m thankful for small mercies.

Nerys, Eifion and I go for a wander round the Maes, ducking into a tent every time it rains. I manage to pluck up the courage to go into the Pabell i Ddysgwyr and have a chat to Einir from Bwrdd Yr Iaith, who takes some of my flyers and leaves them on her table. It’s covered with other flyers and leaflets, so I manage a good harvest of paperwork. When Einir finds out that it’s Clwb Malu Cachu that I run, she grabs a hold of her own booklet, ‘All you need to know about learning Welsh (but were too afraid to ask)’, and points to page 5, saying ‘There you are!’, and sure enough, there’s Clwb Malu Cachu! I’m chuffed as a small horse!

I also talk to Padi from CYD, who insists on talking Welsh (a good thing - I resort to English far too easily for my own good), and I have my first extended conversation in my second language. I feel very proud of myself as I leave the pabell - not only have I actually spoken to a stranger in Welsh, but I’ve also coped easily with two surprise attacks of Welsh already. As Eifion points out, though, this is the Eisteddfod and to have people talk to me in Welsh is hardly a ‘surprise’ per se, but that’s not the point. The point is that people said stuff to me in Welsh that I wasn’t expecting, and not only did I understand, I responded intelligibly. Ish.

the maes
the maes
After Nerys leaves, Eifion and I go into Rhyl in search of a camping shop, so that he can buy waterproofs and walking boots, (his trainers and his docs are sopping wet), and so that I can buy a fleece (I’ve been freezing my butt off) and a torch so that I can at least see which guy ropes I’m tripping over. Rhyl is not a place I’d recommend, frankly. It is seaside ickiness at its worst, but at least we find hot food at a pub there.

We take the scenic route back to the Maes Ieuenctid, via Abergele, then up through the mountains to Betws-y-Coed and Swallow Falls. We toy with the idea of paying our quid and walking down the falls, but I’m not rightly sure my thighs can handle the walk back up again, so instead we peer over the wall and through the trees to see a few rocks and some gushing water. I’m sure it must be very picturesque from the other side of the gate, but it’s drizzling again so we return to Dinbych over the moors. It’s all amazingly beautiful and it feels like home to me. I can’t wait to move here.

That evening, after an anonymous meal of something that was obviously edible but which has made no impact on me at all (I think it may have been soup), Eifion and I wander over to Maes B, and I bump into some familiar faces - it’s really nice to meet up with friends that I’ve made on previous visits to North Wales. We all go watch Alcatraz, Estella and Melys… and drink a few drinks, natch.

weds 8 aug - day 3
I’m starting to get used to this camping business. Not that the ground seems any softer, or my sleeping bags any warmer, but my brain is refusing to take any notice now.

The maes pebyll is starting to fill up a bit, and we worry for Mr 2m. He must be very busy nagging everyone for their 2m-between-guy-ropes transgressions. From the looks of it, though, everyone has ignored his demands for tents to be moved.

The weather clears up a bit today - ysbeidiau heulog, to quote SFA - but the site is still a quagmire.

‘Beth ydy quagmire yn y Gymraeg?’

‘Eisteddfod, dw i’n meddwl.’

We have a lazy morning, nipping up to Dinbych leisure centre for a shower - there are showers on site, but we figure the ones at the leisure centre might be nicer. I’m not convinced that’s the case, but there is at least less of a queue. Then we go up to Dinbych proper and have a pint and a few games of pool in Y
some stalls
some stalls
Llew Aur. Eifion wins, 2-1, although I feel that I held my ground quite respectably, even if it was more through luck than judgement.

Back on Maes B that afternoon, we see some acoustic sets by a number of bands including Anweledig. They have a bit of a rough time of it - Gai breaks a guitar string and has to go off to restring, Rhys demolishes a drumstick and has to go off to find another, Ceri just goes off for no readily apparent reason, then the sound engineer accidentally starts playing Lowe Alpine whilst they’re playing the intro to another song. Wps. Despite the hiccoughs, we-the-punters enjoy the gig, and Anweledig have at least had a bit of a laugh.

We skulk around Maes B, drinking and celebrity spotting - Rhys Ifans is here, it would seem - and wondering why on earth they shut the bar at 7 and don’t open it again until 9. What are we going to do? It’s like someone’s stolen a good couple of hours’ drinking from us. Eifion fills in the time by going to Rhyl to pick up his friend Lesley from the station (an event that comes none too soon as he’s not been able to drink, and is feeling somewhat deprived - Maes B sans alcohol is just not natural) and I go off to find food, realising that’s probably why they kicked us out - to sober us up a bit. When Eifion returns with Lesley, we all walk up to Y Tarw in Dinbych for another gig.

Alcatraz, Puccini and Estella are playing. Again. To be brutal, I never used to like Estella, but with constant aversion-therapy they seem to be growing on me in much the same way athletes foot does on a barefooted steddfodwr. By the end of the evening I have ‘Dwisho Byw Yn Y Saithdegau’ firmly implanted in my brain and have been humming it incessantly ever since. Damn.

thurs 9 aug - day 4
Ok, let’s be honest. Things start to blur into one at about this point. I’ve been sleeping, at the most, six hours a night but usually more like four (I’m usually an eight or nine hour girl); I’ve spoken more Welsh in these few days than in the previous year; I’ve drunk more than I thought possible without actually yakking up; I’ve eaten more anonymously uninteresting (yet filling!) food than I thought possible; and so far I have not ended up face-first in the dirt. Good going, I feel. However, I’ve never been a good diary keeper, and at about this point I gave up, so we’ll just have to rely on my hazy memory…

The morning’s gone for a burton in so far as my memory goes. I think it might have been spent skulking round the tents, or perhaps on the Maes, or possibly in Dinbych. Whatever, that afternoon was spent in the comfortable familiarity of Maes B where we see Estella for the gazillionth time, and Meic Stevens playing enthusiastically to a more receptive crowd. I find myself actually really liking Estella’s acoustic set, despite the fact that, chatting to Asa (Estella’s guitarist) afterwards, I find that he’s not really too keen on it. Not sure why that should be - it was a good noise, and having heard many bad noises over the years, I feel well placed to tell the difference.

the S4C tent
the S4c tent
My good friend and CMC cohort Debs turns up somewhat later than expected due to her partner, Dewi, leaving his wallet in the house. Wps. However, they manage to find our little knot of tents and pitch theirs right in the clearing in the middle which we had, of course, deliberately left for them. Ahem.

The only reasonable course of action for the evening is to go over to Rhuthun to see Pep Le Pew and MC Mabon. We manage to find a bus stop, only to discover that we’d walked much further than strictly necessary to catch the bus. Actually, the steddfod shuttle bus service has been somewhat of a mythical thing for us until now. We had heard that there was a bus running, and that there was a bus stop, but no one seemed to know quite where it actually was. When we asked at the office, they just waved vaguely in the direction of the exit and muttered unintelligible things at us. Eventually, though, a bus is located and we climb upon it.

Y Venue in Rhuthun is a bizarre little place, stuck in the middle of an industrial estate and decorated in the most lurid shade of purple known to man. When we turn up, it’s virtually empty, except for Pep Le Pew and a few other people that I don’t know. It seems that there’s been a bit of a cock up with the PA and sound checks have yet to even happen.

Despite this untoward start, the place soon starts to fill up, and eventually Pep Le Pew take the stage and play a purty darn good set. They manage to get lots of people dancing madly - in fact, it’s the first really good boogie of the steddfod for me. Much enjoyed.

In between bands, Debs introduces me to loads of people, and I have to deal with talking in Welsh again. It seems to be getting easier though, or maybe that’s the alcohol. I am used now to my little patter about myself, and it’s nice to be complemented on the standard of my Welsh, especially when I admit that I haven’t really had any lessons, and that it’s been all learnt from books and very patient friends. I’m starting to think that fluency is an actual possibility.

Dau Cefn are a tad dull for my tastes, and it’s a real shame that MC Mabon comes on so late. He has Rocket Goldstar as his band tonight, and they rock out like gooduns. They make lots of noise, and I like it. There seems to be a slight difference of opinion about when the gig ends, though, and whilst Rocket Goldstar carry on playing, MC Mabon wanders off. To our relief though, he returns and the gig carries on a little longer. Bargain!

The trip back to the maes pebyll isn’t without problem, though, as when the 1.30am bus turns up there are way too many people to get on it. It’s something like eight miles back to the maes and I’m buggered if I’m going to walk. Instead I wait half an hour for the next bus, but it’s dry, the sky is star-speckled and I have some extraordinarily good company for the wait, so I don’t mind.

When we get back to the maes pebyll, we make a detour into the Gorlan, where tea and coffee and, in my case, hot water can be had. It’s not too crowded, but the floor (there are no seats so everyone sits on the floor) is hard and it’s getting late so I retire for my first really cosy night of the steddfod. Maybe I’m getting used to the cold.

fri 10 aug - day 5
Eifion and I are now seriously worried about the mental health of Mr 2m - he must have been having conniptions, seeing the maes pebyll fill up with so many tents so close together and so flagrantly flaunting the 2m rule. Some are even entrance-to-entrance with hardly a foot between guy ropes. We sincerely hope that Mr 2m is now receiving adequate therapy for the terrible trauma he must have experienced here. Poor lad.

a tree
Debs, Dewi, Eifion and I head into Dinbych for lunch at Y Tarw. Then, whilst those three go chill out in their tents, I bugger off to the Maes again. I’m addicted to it. Even though I’ve seen most of the stalls at least twice I just feel that, having bought a weekly ticket, I need to get as much out of it as possible.

Indeed, I will confess now that, as I write this, I still have the wristband on. I can’t quite force myself to cut if off just yet…

Anyway, I meet up with Glenys again, and we spend time just mooching about. Wandering round the Maes, it seems that Glenys knows almost everyone there. She says hello to many people, always introducing me, but sadly my brain isn’t quite lubricated enough to respond to their Welsh, which frustrates me no end. It’s so much easier to talk in Welsh when it’s just me and someone else. When there is a full-speed conversation going on between two Welsh speakers, I find myself suffering from an insurmountable time-lag - by the time my brain has processed the sounds that it’s heard, they‘ve moved the conversation on. Oh well.

Glenys has her nephew with her, so in an attempt to keep him entertained, we pop into Dinistr, the ‘rock tent’, to discover that Estella are about to play again. They really are being worked hard!! I suspect poor Asa’s fingers will be worn down to stumps by the time they’ve finished the steddfod. We have to get back to the Pabell i Ddysgwyr so that Glenys can meet up with her family, so unfortunately we miss both Estella and, later on, Anweledig. Shame - from the outside it sounded really good.

Glenys and some of her family are going to the Cadeirio’r Bardd, in the main pavilion. I’ve not been in there yet, so it’s quite cool to go and watch this, the main event of the more up-market part of the steddfod. Whilst I don’t understand what’s said, I do at least get the gist of the proceedings. It is an historic Chairing - for the first time, a woman has won. She has only been writing cynghanedd (a type of poetry) for six years.
the main pavilion
All the bards seem very eager to congratulate her with a kiss - bet that’s an historic first too.

After the Chairing, I pootle on back to Maes Ieuenctid to meet back up with everyone else. We eat - possibly pizza, possibly not - then it’s back to Maes B for Pep Le Pew, a set by DJ Dafis and Deffiniad’s last gig. Pep Le Pew are astoundingly good - they seem very much at home on such a big stage, especially considering that this is only their 11th gig. They are destined for greatness, I’m sure. As in Rhuthun, the crowd dance like lunatics, which is frankly the best way to enjoy Pep Le Pew.

The rest of the night trickles slowly downhill from there. I never was much of a DJ set person myself, and it feels like a big interruption to the entertainment, but when Deffiniad start playing, I suddenly realise why DJ Dafis was on in the middle of the evening. Deffiniad would have died on their arses had they gone on stage directly after Pep Le Pew. As it was, it was like watching bad karaoke, and I end up going back to my tent. It’s not often I skip out of a gig early - I usually stay until the bitter end just in case, but I just couldn’t handle any more bad 80s pop.

sat 11 aug - day 6
I’m due to meet up with a friend in the Pabell i Ddysgwyr, but sadly she can’t make it, so instead I wander round the Maes for one last time. Wandering past the BBC Radio Cymru stage, who should be playing but Estella. It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day.

the Radio Cymru stage, home to Estella
The weather had been glorious on Friday - mountain to mountain sunshine. Did I take my photos for the web site then? Did I eck. Nah, I waited until a nice, drizzly day so that you could get the full effect of what a steddfod really is. Thoughtful, aren’t I?

After several days of looking, I finally find Y Lolfa’s tent, and pop in to say hello to Garmon, who’s helped out a lot with stuff for the site. We have a nice chat, although in my sleep-deprived state I think I may have babbled a little. Sorry Garmon. I had originally intended to be a lot more forceful about going round all the tents and introducing myself to people who might have any sort of interest in Clwb Malu Cachu at all, but I’m not really very good at that sort of thing, and I end up speaking only to Garmon, Einir from Bwrdd Yr Iaith and Padi from CYD. Well, there’s always next year, and perhaps I’ll be more organised by then.

I spend the afternoon on Maes B - oh surprise of surprises - with Eifion, Debs, Dewi et al, watching a bunch of bands including Big Leaves. Despite the fact that most of the people I know aren’t too keen on them, I really like Big Leaves live. Their album is a little flat, but live they’re great - kind of easy indie that requires no real thought or effort. Debs and I stand at the barrier and pretend we’re 12 again. Great fun.

Then it’s our last meal on the Maes Ieuenctid, and our last evening’s entertainment. I can’t believe that it could all be over so quickly. As a hard-core steddfodwr, who’s been here almost from the start (Monday’s pretty damn near the start, I’d say), I feel like this is my festival, my steddfod. When we’d arrived the maes pebyll was only sparsely inhabited, and by the Saturday they had had to move the fences back to allow for more tents. (And my, didn’t that confuse those of use who’d been relying on the fences to navigate whilst intoxicated!) Now it’s nearly all over.

Anweledig are headlining the last night, and sadly the other bands on the bill aren’t much cop. As I’m only waiting for Anweledig anyway, that doesn’t really matter too much. Eventually Anweledig take the stage, Ceri in costume as Elvis, Joe as a policemen, Gai in a two-tone suit complete with porkpie hat, Oz as a belly dancer, the brass section possibly as Bill and Ben and that character in blue pyjamas whose name escapes me right now, with the others also in varying fancy dresses. They also have a steel band in the wings, mainly cos the stage is so full you couldn’t fit another person on it. Unless they were standing in the huge fridge that’s parked to one side.

The gig is fantastic - the crowd dance like loonies, the band are storming and the only down point is the, er, interlude before Ieithydd Cyfrwys, which kinda interrupts the flow more than a little. Getting a stripper in might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it sadly has the effect of replacing all the music fans at the front with a bunch of pre-pubescent drooling tossers.

It takes a while to get back into the swing of things but eventually the gig picks itself up off the floor, dusts itself down and carries on dancing. The highlight for me is Dwi’n Gwybod Sut Ti’n Licio Dy De, which is fantastic as ever, especially with the extra percussion provided by the steel band.

All too soon, Anweledig wrap up their set and, probably thinking that they’ve finished for the night, go off to change out of their costumes. But the clamour for their return is just too loud to be ignored and we are treated to the rare sight of Anweledig returning to the stage, in their boxers, having failed to get any more clothes on before they are dragged back to entertain us further. The encore includes Eisteddfod, which for me is just perfect - it being my first Eisteddfod and all.

Then, once the stage is dark again, the strains of Catatonia’s International Velvet drift over the PA, a closing anthem for the week. Standing there, in Maes B, in a field in the middle of North Wales, having spent time with old friends and having made many new ones, singing along in both Welsh and English, I really do feel Welsh. Maybe some might think that’s a little trite, coming from a Dorset-born lass who’s only claim to Celticity is a Cornish great-grandma, but for this moment, singing these words, I feel legitimately and completely Welsh.

Mae’n hen bryd.


© suw charman 2002, 2003 unless otherwise stated

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