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Cultural Activities in Kite Country

A cultural tradition

Internationally renowned as the land of song, Wales is synonymous with the many male voice choirs from the former coal mining valleys, with major operatic stars such as Bryn Terfel and with more popular entertainers such as Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, the Manic Street Preachers and Funeral for a Friend, to mention just a few. However, the other arts are also well represented, with a long tradition of poetry from the ancients through Dylan Thomas up to more modern writers.

The greatest expression of traditional Welsh talent is manifested at the Eisteddfod, a contest involving poetry and music that claims to trace its origins to the Celtic bards, although the first recorded competition took place in the 12th century. There are now three major events, the International Eisteddfod held at Llangollen in the Dee valley every July, the Royal National Eisteddfod which alternates between North and South Wales in August each year, and the newer Urdd (Youth) Eisteddfod, which also alternates between Northern and Southern venues each May. See the official Welsh Tourist Board site for more details. Alternatively, try one of the other sites mentioned on my Links page.

If you can't make it to the larger competitions, many smaller events are organised by towns and villages in Kite Country throughout the year and are well worth seeing. Special childrens' events usually form part of these smaller competitions.There will always be someone there who will happily explain things to you.

You don't have to go to Cardiff to find top class entertainment either, as a variety of plays, revues and other events are held at the excellent Theatr Brycheiniog (Brecon Theatre). Brecon Cathedral is also regularly used to host excellent and varied concerts and solo performances.

Festivals

A variety of artistic festivals attracts visitors to Wales each year and many of these are held in Kite Country. The famous Literary Festival takes place during the last week of May in, appropriately, the town of books, Hay on Wye. This attracts the very best writers, who come to talk freely about their work and matters of general interest. Numerous exhibitions are also held in the town during the week and related events are organised at a variety of venues in the area. It really is superb entertainment at reasonable prices, but book your accommodation early.

A variey of events drawing on all the arts comprise the Abergavenny Festival, usually held during the last week of July and the first week of August in and around the town. There is always plenty of entertainment for children at this particular event. Again, you will find plenty of suggestions on places to stay on my accommodation page and in my Links section.

The renowned International Jazz Festival is held in Brecon each year, usually over the second weekend in August. The reputation of this event ensures that many of the world's very best musicians come here year after year to entertain the large numbers of visitors. The whole of the centre of the town is closed for several days for the scores of concerts and impromptu events that take place in the many internal venues and outside in the street.

For something very different try the Llandrindod Wells Victorian Festival, which is normally held during the last week of August. This unique event celebrates the rather grander era in the last century when the rich mineral springs attracted high society visitors to the town in their droves to "take the waters". During the week almost everybody in the town dresses in Victorian clothing, old vehicles are taken out and used and various Victorian events are staged. You don't have to dress up in the same way to go there!

Last, but certainly not least, Countrywise co-ordinates a wonderful selection of activities all over Kite Country throughout most of the year to educate and entertain visitors on the subjects of wildlife, local attractions and country pursuits. There is always someting to do every week and children are very well catered for. It is certainly worth going on at least one guided walk if you are new to the area. Those of you interested in carpentry and other similar pursuits might like to consider one of the demonstrations or courses in traditional skills, such as the making of greenwood furniture. An excellent programme of events throughout Wales is available from the organisers and from local National Park Information Offices.

Art and Photography

Wales has a very long tradition of skilled native artists, but I would particularly like to highlight the work of two incomers who have now settled in this beautiful country and whose work clearly reflects their love of the landscape, wildlife and people of Kite Country. Robert MacDonald is a most gifted artist who spent his childhood in New Zealand but who moved to the Brecon area in the late 1980s. He was one of the first people I met when my wife and I moved here some years later and his large watercolour landscapes are a delightful and colourful celebration of the beauty and atmosphere of the central Brecon Beacons.

Whereas Robert's paintings are highly valued by collectors and therefore come at a price, Amanda Skipsey's equally colourful, warm and humorous prints are much more accessible and available online at very reasonable cost. The Red Kite is a most important symbol to her and she lives and works right in the heart of Kite Country at Rhayader, near the feeding site at Gigrin Farm.

On my page of selected Photographs I have featured the outstanding work of Nick Jenkins. However, Nick is not the only photographer whose work has been deeply influenced by the Brecon Beacons and you might also want to look at some of the lovely images captured by Philip Veale and Nigel Forster, both of whom, like Nick, offer copies of their fine work for sale via the Web or through local galleries.

Crafts

The traditional skills mentioned in the preceding paragraph are widely practiced throughout Kite Country, as are many others. As it would be quite difficult to track some of the individual artists and craftspersons down to their often very remote studios, many of them have come together in co-operative ventures and shared commercial facilities. Sadly, Web links to these are stll lacking. One of the best places to start is the Beacons Crafts shop in the centre of Brecon, shown above. Also good are the Craft Centre in Hay on Wye, the Trapp Art and Crafts Centre South-East of Llandeilo (see Map 3) and the Court Cupboard Craft Centre at Llantilio Pertholey, just North of Abergavenny (see Map 6). At any of these you will plenty of top-quality work to take home as souvenirs.

To see a good range of local crafts you should also try to plan your visit to coincide with one of the many different festivals and shows for which this area is renowned. You will find details of some of these on my News page. One of the main stalwarts at these shows is Vivien Bowen, who does wonderful things with herbs, essential oils and soaps. Find out more from her web site, which also has details of some the various events at which she and her fellow craftsmen and craftswomen can be found throughout the year.

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Click pictures to enlarge. Those with a red caption may take a long time to download.
Beacons Crafts shop in Brecon
Craft shop, Brecon
Wooden bowl by Mark Hancock
A Safe Haven by A.K. Skipsey
"A Safe Haven" by A.K. Skipsey