I promised pronunciation guides for some of the Welsh language names this week and I imagine this one might stump a lot of folks east of the border. I can’t really do it justice with a basic explanation as it will never sound as lyrical as when spoken by a native Welsh speaker but the best I can come up with is Tea Mour (to rhyme with ‘hour’ but with a beautifully rolled ‘r’) and Wibbernant to denote that it is in the Wybrnant river valley.
The meaning of the name is almost as befuddling as it translates as big or great house… as you can see from my pictures, this is more than a little misleading when considered with a modern eye. At the same time, the cottage was once located on a drovers’ road that was one of the main routes through Snowdonia and I can confidently attest that it is not on any main route today; in fact, I would go so far as to say that if you want a definition of ‘middle of nowhere’, look no further than the location of Tŷ Mawr. We must have travelled several miles on an extremely narrow road with very few passing places and a lot of changes in direction and altitude, so perhaps it’s not one for the faint hearted, but besides a few other intrepid NT visitors, you’re not that likely to meet much on the road (except perhaps the occasional chicken or goose from the nearby farm).
Those who persevere with the drive into deepest darkest Snowdonia will find a traditional Welsh farmhouse displayed as it would have looked in the 16th century when it was the birth place of William Morgan. Morgan may not be that well known to many but to Welsh speakers he is something of a hero as he was the first man to fully translate the Bible into Welsh, a move that greatly improved literacy in the region and was largely instrumental in preserving the Welsh language.
An example of the original printed Bible can be viewed in a display case in the farmhouse, while the full story of William Morgan is laid out in a small exhibition in a neighbouring building. I would say, though, that this is one of those properties that you will only get the best of if you are happy to engage with the volunteers on duty. There is not a huge amount to see but there are plenty of interesting facts and snippets to learn from those in the know. When we arrived, the greeter was giving a brief talk to a group of NT volunteers on a working holiday in Snowdonia so we listened in on that and got some extra insights into what Morgan’s early years may have been like… including being hung from the wall in swaddling clothes to avoid the danger of rats on the ground!
There is certainly a dichotomy in the stories that Tŷ Mawr has to tell: on the one hand, the everyday life of rural farmers in Snowdonia, and on the other, the importance of language and learning. As a lover of linguistics, the most fascinating aspect of the property for me was its collection of Bibles in many different international languages. Most of these have been donated over the years by visitors who failed to find their own language in the collection and they range from familiar languages to more unusual tongues, such as Aboriginal, Maori, and Cornish. I picked one up that looked unusual and found a written message in the front where the German who donated it had explained that it was in Sorbian, a language spoken by a Slavic minority in a small part of East Germany. Who knew that you could read a Sorbian Bible in a tiny Welsh homestead in the heart of Snowdonia?
Highlights: The globe-trotting bibles
Refreshments: None (we brought our own picnic to eat in the cottage garden)
NT Connections: Penrhyn Castle, whose owners bought Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant in 1854 and held it until both properties were taken on by the Trust in the 1950s