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"One day as my material life allowed I was able to obey the call." There's a word for it in Welsh ... and Val Bethell knows exactly what it means.


"I know the meaning of the Welsh word - 'Hiraeth'. This has pulled at me all my life. I would happily travel west, but north, south or east was so difficult. I lived in a beautiful home on the edge of Wales, looking west. The mountains shouted hiraeth, hiraeth! Silently and patiently.

One day as my material life allowed I was able to obey the call. Eureka! I now know, yes I know what it means. Hiraeth is in the mountains where the wind speaks in many tongues and the buzzards fly on silent wings. It's the call of my spiritual home, it's where ancient peoples made their home. We're high on a hill, where saints bathed sore feet in a healing spring and had a cure.

It's from this spring we use the water for our spiritualist church. It made a baby laugh that brought joy to a congregation.
A little gathering of people - we are free-thinking and believe that man makes his own choices on earth and thinks of his God in a way he personally feels comfortable with.

What would my dear agnostic Welsh father think of that?

Hiraeth - the link with the long-forgotten past, the language of the soul, the call from the inner self. Half forgotten - fraction remembered. It speaks from the rocks, from the earth, from the trees and in the waves. It's always there.

Yes, I hear it.
Yes, I understand what hiraeth means."

End slide - To the tolernace of family, and the love of friends.

By: Val Bethell
Published: March 2003

An interview with the author

Please tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Birmingham from Welsh stock! Moved to Wales at age six and returned to Birmingham at 13 due to lack of family fortune. Met my husband at 17, married at 19 and dragged him back to my beloved Wales at 23. Now this is his beloved Wales too (he too is from Welsh stock). We have three grown-up children, two girls and a boy, who are all married and two grandchildren. They live in Halifax, Wellington and Coventry. We live in Dyffryn Ardudwy, Gwynedd.

What's your story about?
Finding one's true spiritual home. If you ever do, you know the meaning of hiraeth - there is no comparable word in English - it describes the feeling that true 'home' feels like, wherever.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
It all started with me at 14, when I found out that you are never alone in quiet places, especially when you really, really need special help - but that's another story!

What did you find most rewarding about the workshop?The night before the final day of the workshop I thought my film was all such a load of rubbish and I was just one big embarrasment! But the last day was the most rewarding, when my film finally came together.

Your comments

"Hiraeth ... yes, it's a longing for home back in Wales but a longing that's met when you walk back over the doorstep that your parents walked over, and your grandparents and all the great aunts and uncles. It's met when you knock a front door in the street you grew up in and recognize the knock from your childhood. It's being able to know that no matter where you travel - home is always where you left it ... in Wales."
Kerrie Mackey living in Washington.

"I, too, know what hiraeth means. To me, it is a longing for a feeling that may not truly exist, a misty blend of nostalgia and dream, and for a place that invokes this elusive feeling."
Steve, Ohio, USA.

"This piece of work was inspirational. it really give me a sense of belonging, which i greatly appreciate that i am a purely bread welsh women. As i am doing a project on hiraeth this has given me an insight of how much beauty we live in and that we should never, ever take this mesmerising country for granted."
Rachael Jayne, Cwmbran, South Wales.

"My soul is in Mid Wales and my spirit and I are here, I am happy but 'hiraeth' calls me, sometimes loud sometimes just a whisper,your story rings loud and true. It is beautiful.Diolch yn fawr iawn, 'dwyn deall beth 'ywtyn weud i fi."
Zooms from Grenada, West Indies

"I wanted an explanation of hiraeth for my friends here. We are selling up and moving back to Mid Wales. i wanted them to understand. I needed the words. Diolch Val, I could not have put it better."
Geraint - Northampton and wobbling.

"This story explains a mystery within me ... a wordless song flowing like an underground river..calling and calling me always to return to Wales ... a liminal place between forest, sea and sky ... an ancestral longing imprinted in my cells..like a bird that knows the way... an internal map ..."
Anna Hawthorne, Atlin, British Columbia Canada.

"I suppose the best descriptions of my beliefs and feelings are close to being that of a humanist. Although I don't subscribe to all they preach. As you may notice I have a Scottish/Irish name which may suggest that I have Celtic blood. The word, "Hiraeth," sounds warm and welcoming and puts my mind into a place of natural beauty. A forest glade, beside a forest lakeside, a snug little wooded valley in Devon. Sitting atop Cadra Idris, or Snowdon in Wales. Then I'm in Cumbria in spring time looking at Daffodils that once caught the eye of Worsdworth. Or how about Loch Lomond, studying the breaks in the water for a glimpse of you know who. Now I go eastward to the flat-lands of the fens,pushing onwards to the wonderful scenery of Suffolk and Essex captured in oils by the great artist John Constable. This is all open countryside where most of us experience the wonderful warm memories given to us by Old Mother Nature. And long may we nurture them. To me that's my 'Hiraeth'."
Bill Ewing

"After nearly 50 years of puzzling over why I struggle to feel as though I belong to anything, anywhere, I've finally moved west. What would my Welsh father, and my mother's Welsh mother think. I'll never know, but yes, it might be something like hiraeth."
Allan Jones, Carmarthen.

"Hiraeth - I know what it means! I've just returned to my material home in Essex. We spent the weekend in Cardiff, watching the rugby in the pub along with 70,000 other Welshmen and one or two Irish folk. My daughter was with me. I think I've changed her life. She now tells me she wants to go to University in Wales. She's a true 14 year old Essex girl, though she is just beginning to understand the meaning of Hiraeth."
Paul, Essex, England

"I too have fallen in love with Cymru and we try to return every year. When we have moments of American insanity and are overwhelmed with life here in the USA we long to go home to Wales. Ah, Hiraeth."
Bill Hebrank, Baltimore, MD, USA.

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