National Geographic : 1983 Jul
Edward III of England, they slaughtered the knighthood of France at the 14th-century Battles of Crecy and Poitiers. And in 1485 a Welshman named Henry Tudor seized the crown from Richard III at Bosworth Field. The Arthurian dream came true. With a son of ancient Britain on the throne, England entered an age of glory. In Carmarthen they still honor Sir Rhys ap Thomas, a Welsh knight who helped make it all possible. He led his troops to Henry's side and-one legend says-slew King Richard and placed his crown on Hen ry's head, an act of questionable chivalry and unquestionable common sense. CHIVALRY WEARS SHIN PADS in Carmarthen nowadays, and very little else. Freezing wind sweeps the battlefield where 15 stalwart mem bers of the Carmarthen Rugby Football Club wage nonstop unarmed combat with a team from Tumble. Tackles are vicious on the iron-hard ground. Eyes are blackened, noses bloodied. There are no time-outs, ex cept to allow one stunned player to totter cross-eyed off the field, take a whiff of smell ing salts from the shopping-bag medical kit, and return to battle. Eighty minutes later, Carmarthen has lost, 12-0. The winners line up and formally applaud the losers off the field, and both teams adjourn to the clubhouse for a dinner prepared by players' wives, plus liberal liq uid first aid. Rugby is a thing of personal and national honor. More than 180 clubs compete in ama teur Welsh Rugby Union play, supported only by membership fees. Players must earn the right to play each week. Injuries are shrugged off, but intentional disabling of an opponent brings instant dismissal. The ulti mate honor is winning a Welsh Cap, which means selection for the national team and a chance to crush England. "The Saeson [Saxons] haven't beaten Wales in Cardiff in 20 years," says Huw Phillips, a Carmarthen rugby committee man. "They don't have the stomach for our kind of game." Carmarthen has its softer side as the hub of a dairy industry that flourishes on the lush pastures of Dyfed County. To the west lies Little England Beyond Wales, where place names like Fishguard, Milford Haven, and Haverfordwest betray an early history of Norse trade and English settlement. The western peninsula is dominated by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which provides 180 miles of spectacular coastal hiking trails from Amroth in the south to Poppit Sands, near Cardigan, in the north (map, page 42). Inland, along the famed River Teifi, small woolen mills crank out handsome Welsh tweeds and blankets, a tourist revival of a once thriving industry. Country squires from the ruralheartlandswap stories with a white coatedjudge at the 1982 Royal Welsh Agricultural Show, held each July in ' Builth Wells. More pastoral thanplowed, Wales has seen a decline in the last century of tilled land, while stock raising,particularly of sheep, has multiplied. At Llanwrtyd Wells, the third annualMan versus Horse race (right)pits 60 men against 15 horses. Though the 22-mile course is designed to give men an edge, they have so far only placed second.