The day went so well until I ate a Welsh faggot

Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey

What could go wrong on a day filled with a visit to a romantic and historical site, a walk in the woods and an international rugby game? Nothing, until the Welsh faggot showed up.

It started early with a drive from Cardiff, Wales, to Tintern Abbey just before the border with England. Up the M 4 before tracing our way on smaller roads until the ancient stones of the abbey came into view.

We were the day’s first visitors and rushed out with our cameras to take advantage of the morning sunlight. The abbey was founded in 1131, the building now in ruins was started in 1269 and the monks who lived there left when the abbey was surrendered to Henry VIII in 1536.

(Speaking of Henry, he reminds us a lot of the present-day Taliban or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, destroying all traces of any belief that isn’t their own. In the literature of many of the places we have visited, there is often a notation that they used to be something else before Henry destroyed, burnt or otherwise ruined them in his abandonment of the Catholic Church because the Pope would not sanction his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Does ISIS think the world will forget the things they destroy any more than the world has forgotten the Catholic Church because of what Henry tried to do?)

The view of Tintern Abbey from Devil's Pulpit.
The view of Tintern Abbey from Devil’s Pulpit.

Besides its antiquity, the abbey has literary associations. For me, that means Wordsworth who used his memories of a visit here as a starting point in a contemplation of

“A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.”
We marveled at the power of the current in the Wye River along the abbey. We saw it flow in both directions as we were there when the tide changed — something that must be very tricky for boaters.

We crossed the river on a hike we thought we might complete before we had to drive back to Cardiff for the Wales-Fiji rugby game. Trail’s end was at the Devil’s Pulpit, where legend has it that the old boy himself gave a sermon. Five of us started, two made it to the top, the Devil led two astray and one spent an hour trying to regroup the group. None of us will probably ever qualify as expedition leaders.

Back in the car and on to Cardiff and Millennium Stadium where Wales won out over Fiji. For us, the game did not hold the excitement of the Canada-Italy game or the first half of the U.S.-Scotland game. Fiji gave up an early try and never quite gave the impression they could out-do Wales despite some entertaining runs. A game is so much more exciting when the underdog stays in the game and makes believable an upset is in the offing. I never had that feeling with Fiji. Or maybe it was that Wales gave the impression they would not let the game slip away from them. That said, I’m sure it was exciting enough for the Welsh lady in the Tintern Abbey gift shop who confessed to running around her coffee table three times celebrating when Wales beat England the Saturday before.

Kathy, John, Tina and David outside Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Kathy, John, Tina and David outside Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

After the game, the hunt for food began. The 75,000 fans spilled out of the stadium, all in the streets and outside pubs, drinking and singing and filling the tables where food was served. We had no restaurant reservations (who’s the leader of this expedition?).

The hunt for food went on and on, from filled restaurant to booked restaurant. We were, to quote Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, “nearly sick from inanition, having taken so little . . . before.”

Finally, in desperation, we settled on some version of a Welsh fast-food outlet (you should have seen the disgusted look on Kathy’s face). It had uncleared tables outside and offered fish and chips that were mostly battered batter with little trace of marine life. The place also offered “traditional Welsh faggots.”

I know that I have many friends who may have raised an eyebrow when that F word was first mentioned here. Others may have pictured prurient intrigues, but I can assure them that whatever they imagined, the reality was far worse.

Ben on high.
Ben on high.

A fellow sufferer — I mean diner — explained that a faggot in Welsh is a meatball made of oats and offal, sort of a haggis in the round. Despite this description, I got it in my head that the faggot would appear before me with a browned crispy outer around a delicate and tasty interior. So why not give it a try, right? Boy, was I wrong.

A horrid-tasting thing that could barely be moved slightly closer to tolerable by smothering it with the mushy peas and greasy gravy that came with it. I took one bite (you should see the disgusted look on your face, my dining companions said as they laughed at my discomfort). I will fling with the Welsh faggot no more forever.

As I choked and the other four at the table picked at their food, a street sweeper rumbled by. Then a garbage truck rolled up to provide the proper dining atmosphere for the place.

Sometimes the serendipity ain’t so serene, but we took comfort in what Ben said: No day traveling is complete without at least one wrong decision.