We’ve moved on from the land of leprechauns and shamrocks, and have moved on to the country of dragons, castles, and sheep upon sheep upon sheep.
The day started off with a three-hour ferry ride through the Atlantic separating Ireland with Great Britain. The weather we’ve been experiencing over the course of this journey has been outstanding, especially considering the hurricane-like weather and hail and sleet that had been predicted for this week during the days leading up to our departure. It just goes to demonstrate the power of prayer. Sometimes I feel guilty to pray for ‘frivolous’ requests. I feel selfish and greedy… and even annoying. But God loves to give good gifts to His children. It doesn’t mean we deserve them, but He loves to lavish His blessings and unfailing love on us, His followers. Sometimes it doesn’t come in the way that we would imagine, but sometimes, as I’m reminded now as we drive under the bright blue, sunny sky, He grants our wishes.
John 1:17 ~ “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
When we arrived in Wales before noon, I was immediately struck with the structural differences. The houses and buildings already had such a different flare to them than Ireland had, which was interesting considering their proximity. The homes have a Dutch look to them, lots of light colours with criss-crossing dark trim. This country is quaint and quiet, and gives the sense of a nation of people who love peace. Nonetheless, this is a proud nation. The Welsh flag is sported everywhere, the patriotism is evident, but the atmosphere is tranquil and picturesque, antiquated, and charming.
We made a quick rest-stop and the longest-named town in the world, “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch,” which translates roughly to, “The Church of Mary in the hollow of the White Hazel near the Fierce Whirlpool and the Church of Tysilio by the Red Cave.” I suppose it basically speaks for itself, so I’ll move on.
After driving through cute little towns and enjoying the lovely scenery, we arrived at our sight-seeing destination: Conwy Castle. The grounds of Blarney Castle back in Ireland were spectacular, but the castle itself had nothing on Conwy. Conwy was the castle of King Edward I, and even its ruins today sent shivers up my spine. The mighty castle overlooked the bay, and it gave me goosebumps to imagine the enemy soldiers sailing up towards the Welsh castle, having to gaze upon its obvious power and strength and fortitude, and still somehow muster the courage to approach it. As I walked through the castle, up each of its towers and along its walkways and into its rooms and furnaces and even the King’s Chamber, it wasn’t at all difficult to imagine the palace in its prime.
At last, after more driving through the rolling hills of Wales, we arrived in Llangollen. The Hand Hotel, our home for the night, is recognized for being placed amidst a very old church graveyard, and also for being haunted. Classic. We ate a splendid supper and, while we originally assumed we would be heading to bed early or simply have a lie down in our rooms, we instead made the decision to take a spontaneous hike up to the ruins at the top of the hill. “Hill,” however, is an understatement. We ran out the door without a second thought at 8:00 PM as the valley was already growing dark, we began our brisk march up the steep, towering peak that once stood as the foundation for a magnificent castle. The hike was long, tedious, and breathtaking in every sense of the word… but entirely worth it.
As we reached the summit, one by one, we finally caught sight of the ruins. We were standing in the middle of what once was a stronghold. A Citadel. A Fortress. And here it lay, at our feet. We could see the general outline, but it was nothing more than a shadow of what it once was. There were piles of stones, a single crumbling archway, the remnants of a former moat, and a short length of wall about six feet high on just one side of the plateau. We walked it, climbed it, sat on where the throne might have stood, once. We took pictures where people were once knighted, or sentenced to death. Many people had carved their names into the remnants of the structure that once stood tall and proud and intimidating.
It got me thinking about the flow of time. What sort of things have I spent my life designing and constructing that will someday meet the same destiny as the castle on top of the hill? What possessions do I prize and show off to others to admire, that will someday meet the same fate? From ashes to ashes, and from dust to dust. That is the fate of every material thing.
After taking a slow walk around the ruins, I finally took a look at the information stand. The castle had been built in the 1200s… and it had lasted less than two decades. It did not even last for twenty years before it was besieged, pillaged, and burned. After such a daunting and wearisome hike and imagining the poor souls who had to build the incredible stone castle, it made me sick to my stomach to think about how quickly it was destroyed and abandoned. And yet, we will all experience that. The things we put time and energy and effort in that will not last, it is just as pointless as that castle. The materials things we focus on and obsess over- they will fade away before we have time to enjoy them.
I think if we lived in that reality consistently, we would be much more aware of how we spend our time. Maybe, if we lived in the knowledge of the brevity of life and the frailty of this world, we would spend more time storing our treasures in heaven, rather than wasting our years toiling away at a castle that is bound to crumble. I think if we lived in such a way that we were consistently aware of the end that is rapidly hurtling towards us, we would actually be able to focus on eternity, rather than mortality.
I think we would live life the way it is meant to be lived. A life without regret. A life of eager expectation for the eternity that awaits. The life of a good and faithful steward.
The good life.