Long before the days of caravanning in Scotland, or soaking up the sun in the Mediterranean, our family holidays were spent in Llanllechid; a small sleepy village in North Wales, and one dominated by the huge Penrhyn Slate Quarry. We would stay with my great uncle and aunt who lived across the road from Llanllechid Parish Church.
To get to Llanllechid, we had to leave the main road on the North Wales coast, and take the twisting hilly narrow road up to the Village. My dad’s Ford Cortina, packed with our luggage and an extra roll up bed on top of the roof rack, could just about manage the hill. My sister and I, sitting in the back seat, would hold our breath as my dad changed the gears from 4th to 3rd then 2nd , and sometimes to 1st . We always dreaded the thought of rolling back down the hill.
And so it was with much relief we would finally arrive at our destination. The welcome was always a warm one. My great uncle was the sexton and bellringer at the Church, while my great aunt was the cleaner. We had great delight in going with them to the Church; my sister and I would take turns carrying the giant iron door key which was about a foot long and extremely heavy. The moss covered path leading through the tightly knit yew trees to the church door, was quite dark even in daytime, with just the odd shaft of sunlight filtering through. Just to the side of the great door, I would always stop to admire the eighteenth century slate sundial with its Roman numerals.
If only the sundial could talk. What a story it could relate about this little country church with its splendid tradition of choral singing. So much so that it drew the attention of W E Gladstone, Queen Victoria's famous Prime Minister. In the book “Palmerston, Bright and Gladstone in North Wales” by Keith G Robbins, we read: " On Sunday Sept. 15th (1861) Gladstone went to Llanllechid Church, where the singing was noble and moving to the highest degree. Towards the end of his month-long stay he again visited Penrhyn Castle and enjoyed the noble music at Llanllechid church."
The choral music tradition continued to the following century and in July of 1920 the Archbishop of Canterbury on his visit to the Bishopric of Bangor decided to visit Llanllechid church and listen to the service in Welsh.
My grandmother grew up in Llanllechid, and this is the little Church she attended with her family, and where her father faithfully served as church organist. She was a treasure house of information and she would tell us all kinds of interesting stories about her childhood days and of the characters who lived in the village, and these stories would come alive each time we visited. I loved to listen to her story about a huge rock probably dating from the ice age situated in one of the neighbouring fields. She called it the sliding rock because a section of the rock had a smooth and sloping surface, and this is where she and her childhood friends would play and slide.
I often reflect on my childhood holidays in Llanllechid, and whenever we are ‘home’ on vacation in Wales, we make a point of visiting this tranquil place.
The old house now belongs to another and the Parish church is closed, and the noble services long gone; but even so my memories of them are very much alive and are forever with me.