Today we visited the National Eisteddfod which this year is being held in Bodedern, Anglesey.
In Welsh culture, an Eisteddfod is a festival of Welsh literature, music, arts and drama, comprising competitions and performances. There are many Eisteddfodau which take place throughout the year ranging from school or community Eisteddfodau to the three major festivals: the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, the Urdd Youth Eisteddfod and the National Eisteddfod. The National Eisteddfod is the most important, and it is the largest festival of music and poetry in the whole of Europe, attracting around 150,000 visitors each year!
The Eisteddfod traces its roots right back to a bardic competition which took place in 1176 and much of the traditions of the National Eisteddfod feature pagan imagery such as the Bards, who dress in flowing druidic robes; flower dances and trumpet fanfares. If you are travelling in Wales and see a stone circle, it’s probably been placed there to mark an Eisteddfod which took place in the area.
I know it all sounds a bit weird, but it’s all taken very seriously and being made a bard is a great honour!
As a child, like most kids in Welsh schools, I was a keen competitor, reciting poetry, taking part in dramatic performances and singing in the choir. But it has been many years since I last attended the Eisteddfod. This year with it being so close to home I thought it would be a nice day out to introduce my son to some Welsh culture!
Earlier in the week there had been heavy rain (no surprises there) so to save the car park at the Eisteddfod site from becoming a massive muddy mess, there was a shuttle bus service from Mona showground around six miles away. I thought this was going to be a huge faff, but to the credit of the organisers, arriving at the car park and making our way to the Maes (the Eisteddfod site) was a really smooth process. I arrived at about midday and we were swiftly ushered onto the bus which took us to the Maes.
On arrival it took us no time at all to buy our tickets and make our way onto the Maes. The Maes consists of pavilions which host the competitions and performances – including the literary pavilion, learners’ pavilion, and the main pavilion. There is also a food village, outdoor performance areas, arts and crafts and stalls and shops…something for everybody – Welsh or not, whatever your age or interests!
After a quick wander around the Maes to get my bearings we went to the Food Village first for some lunch, there was a range of cuisines including Greek, Italian, vegetarian and Spanish, but I decided to go for the traditional and got us a tray of fish and chips to share.
During the day the main action takes place in the main pavilion, this is where the competitions are held and you could pop in whenever you fancied to watch music, singing, dance and drama. During the week the most prestigious competitions are for the Crown, for poetry in free verse and the Chair (yep, the prize is an actual chair) for poetry written in a strict verse called a cynghanedd, that is unique to Welsh poetry.
We didn’t go into the pavilion but we did explore the rest of the Maes. I liked the Artisan pavilion, which had stalls from local traders. The crafts and clothes were gorgeous and I already have some ideas for Christmas presents (sorry not sorry for mentioning the C word in August). We also had a whizz around the Science and Technology pavilion which was full of kids trying out different experiments.
As well as the pavilions there were hundreds of stalls and stands for local businesses, attractions, charities, societies, schools and universities. I wish I’d have spent a bit more time exploring them if I’m honest as I ended up rushing through and just glancing at some of the stalls, there was just too much to look at in a few hours!
For younger kids there were quite a few areas to play. Although my little boy was showing more interest in the mud than the official play areas and yes, he did end up falling in, and yes, he did smear mud all over my skirt. Cheers, kid! He spent ages playing at the big sand pit, and then we walked over to the Mudiad Meithrin tent, where there were indoor and outdoor play areas. At the S4C tent there was music with Welsh kids TV presenters, and in the Mudiad Meithrin tent there was dancing and song.
With all this dancing and playing, snacks were needed and we were spoilt for choice; I ended up spending far too much money on food while we were there! I really enjoyed the Waffle stall, where we shared a ginormous waffle with ice cream, maltesers and marshmallows. And before we left, I just had to stop at the Brownie stall for a box of six gooey brownies. Prices for food at the Eisteddfod were steep, but I do think that’s to be expected at a festival of its size.
We went home at about 5pm, getting back to the car park was not as quick as getting to the site in the morning, and we did have to queue for a while before getting on the bus. However, we seemed to have timed our departure well, as the queue had doubled in size by the time we left, and there were no queues leaving the car park either.
I really enjoyed our day at the Eisteddfod. There was so much to do and see, and it was a chance to experience some proper Welsh culture.
If you ever get the chance to visit an Eisteddfod, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s accessible to all nationalities, Welsh or not, and it’s a way to see what’s unique about our culture.