Review: Cylchu Cymru by Gareth Evans-Jones
I’ve always enjoyed travelling. Over the past decade, I’ve travelled countless kilometres, that’s for sure. Be they long distance travels to places such as Argentina or Australia, or going from Eisteddfod to Eisteddfod.
I enjoy getting to know new places. My mother would have said that’s because I’m nosey. I prefer the term inquisitive. But of course, my wings were clipped (along with everyone else’s) in March 2020.
Without a doubt, my confidence to travel since then has been shaken. A flying visit to Aberystwyth last September has been the farthest I’ve travelled from my front door since the first lockdown.
I tell you this in the hope that you can appreciate the anticipation I felt upon opening a copy of Cylchu Cymru by Gareth Evans-Jones.
The perfect opportunity to give myself further ideas of new places in Wales to explore (or be nosey, as the case may be) whilst enjoying some micro fiction at the same time.
Cylchu Cymru is an intriguing hybrid of micro story collection and travel guide, complete with stunning photography.
In the introduction, Evans-Jones mentions hardly having stopped to fully appreciate the places he’s visited prior to writing this collection. This makes me question whether I’ve truly appreciated many of the places I’ve visited. Or whether I truly appreciated home.
The Welsh journey here doesn’t happen in a straight line “O Fôn i Fynwy” (from Anglesey to Monmouthshire) as the saying goes. But rather, this is a circular trip around Wales.
The micro stories are creative responses to places, offering the reader brief impressions of the locations, their stories, history, myths and charm.
The reader is provided with a map and my eyes are immediately drawn to Harlech. Parochial, me? Surely not! As Harlech is the place on the map whose history and stories is most familiar to me, I resist the temptation to jump ahead, and begin at the beginning in Moelfre, on the Isle of Anglesey.
There are striking visuals accompanying each story, with stunning photography throughout. I wouldn’t have thought that a reader with a visual impairment, such as myself, would be so engaged by them.
But certainly the photos, as well as the storytelling, make visualising events, such as the woman waiting for her lover, who’s gone away to sea effortless. “He’ll come, eventually. And in the meantime, the tide will continue to massage her feet.”
I very much appreciated the “Mars of Anglesey” description of Mynydd Parys. Indeed, the photographs give it an otherworldly quality and I am very keen to pay a visit.
But it isn’t just the reader’s sense of sight which the author appeals to in his storytelling. Throughout this collection, each of the senses are engaged at different points.
Whether you’re engrossed in the sights and sounds of a busy day at the fair in Barry, or the taste of melt-in-the mouth candyfloss, the alluring scent of doughnuts and the sensation of sticky fingers long after they’ve been eaten in Rhyl, this collection of micro stories truly is a feast for the senses!
As someone previously unfamiliar with micro stories, I must admit, the self-addressed postcard from Tenby was a very effective way of telling such a story.
Another excellent story telling device, as the author whisks the reader to Llanelli, was cleverly turning the events of the well-known song “Sosban Fach” into a micro story.
Another story to grab this readers attention was a seasonal tale set in Bangor, which even made this self confessed Grinch (prior to the 1st of December, in any case) feel just a little bit Christmassy.
Topical subjects are also covered here.
In New Quay, we are told the all too familiar tale of unaffordable housing “You used to know everyone who lived in your street. I’ve no clue who half of them are now. Apart from Mr Thomas, Ty Capel…”
And there’s the issue of a lack of jobs forcing people to move away “I’ve just started a new job on a caravan site. Which is handy, truth be told. Up the road from home and not having to leave here for work, y’know. I know a lot who’ve had to go…”
Though I’ve enjoyed each of the stories included here, I do have my favourites. Stories with cliff hangers, or which left the reader guessing what might happen afterwards.
Like the newly married Sion in Nant Gwrtheyrn who seems to have been having an affair. Will he be found out? Or live happily ever after?
Or what’s the reason behind the apparent awkwardness between Jan and Geraint in Cricieth? I would love to be a fly on the wall when they go for a cuppa at the end of the story.
Stories which include nods to Welsh history are further favourites.
Like the Cofiwch Dryweryn wall in Llanrhystud being painted and repainted over and over again, which spread throughout Wales.
As well as the equally painted wall behind, its message “Fe Godwn Ni Eto” (We shall rise again) turned into a question by the author at the end of the story.
Or the more gruesome tale of the feast held in Abergavenny by William de Braose, where the Welsh guests were slaughtered.
Having read this collection, are there any places I’m especially keen to visit? Mynydd Parys, Hay on Wye and Llanrhystud stand out. As do Aberaeron, St David’s and Dinas Dinlle (which, despite being close by, I’ve never visited!)
Evans-Jones includes a word of explanation about the background of each story at the end of the book. With some of the stories (Brain in Harlech, Sosban Fach in Llanelli for example) it was clear what inspired them.
Others (Smeltio in Llanymynech) give you a clue at the beginning. Still others (Daethom, Llanddona) were a surprise to me.
Being a collection of micro stories, this is a collection where it would be very easy to pick up and read one or two stories at a time with a cuppa. I must confess, I was unable to do that myself. Finding each story as engaging as the one before it, I just kept going!
This is a enjoyable journey around Wales that has inspired me to start planning excursions again. If you love a good story, as well as a reason to go exploring, I would wholeheartedly recommend you pick up a copy of Cylchu Cymru.
I wonder perhaps, if Gareth Evans-Jones would consider doing a follow up collection?
Travelling the perhaps more conventional “O Fôn i Fynwy” route? It would certainly be something I’d be very keen to read.
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