Alphie in the Black Mountains in Wales

After All: what they call the ‘facilities’ in Welsh, Irish and Hungarian

Image credit: Christine Bohling

In the first road-tripping adventure since forming his new readers’ campervanning club, our columnist considers the ‘bare necessities’ of camping and ‘glamping’.

One lesson I learned after nearly a year of sporadic campervanning is that – be it on the road or on a campsite – you cannot have it all at once. And if you decided to use your bespoke ‘toilet tent’ for storage, instead of having a portaloo (in our case, a miniature Thetford ‘porta potti/campa potti’, complete with flush-water and waste-holding tanks and a ‘hold-down kit’ – all perfectly suitable for any of the Disney’s Seven Dwarfs, yet not quite up to the size of an average-height adult) installed in it, as we did (see my column in issue 6, 2021), you’ll have to rely on the ‘facilities’ when on site and on public toilets when on the road.

Since our latest destination was mid Wales, where, as I knew, most road signs were in Welsh, I needed to do some homework, necessitated by a bad experience I once had in Ireland, or to be more exact, in Rath Cairn, a predominantly Irish-speaking town where almost all signs were in Gaelic only. It was there that I learned (under duress) my first two Irish words: ‘Mna’ and ‘Fir’ (at times, misleadingly designated by just two letters, M and F), when looking for a toilet inside the local community centre. What can I say? There’s no better way of mastering a foreign tongue than when confronted with everyday basic needs. To my great relief (in more than once sense), I spotted a blurred lady’s silhouette above the ‘Mna’ (M) sign, which saved me from proceeding by trial and – almost certainly – error. Annoyingly, there was no silhouette of any kind on the ‘Fir’ (F) door!

While preparing for the Wales trip, I learned (to my sheer horror) that in Welsh there were 10 (ten!) different words and expressions for ‘toilet’ – from ‘ty bach’ and ‘lle chwech’ to ‘laf’, ‘geudy’ and even ‘closed’, the latter originating from the English word ‘closet’ rather than from another English word – ‘shut’; although, as we know, in reality those two are often used interchangeably. Of that, another proof was awaiting me in the Shropshire village of Ironbridge, with its iconic 18th-century bridge – one of the world’s engineering wonders – and, as it turned out, just one public toilet, which, according to a hastily handwritten sign on its door, was ‘CLOSED FOR THE PURPOSES OF CLEANING’.

Well, for the purposes of not bursting, I had to stop Alphie, our faithful Toyota Alphard converted campervan, in another Shropshire village with an engineering connotation in its name – New Invention. As legend goes, the name originated from a local farrier who came up with an idea of fitting horseshoes backwards to confuse the enemy in times of war! After almost an hour of driving along the erratic English-Welsh border and still unable, as it seemed, to leave Salop, I started thinking that the mythical New Invention blacksmith must have covertly turned Alphie’s wheels backwards while I was using the coveted local ‘facility’.

When we were at last firmly inside Wales – the fact confirmed by the ubiquitous ‘araf’ (slow) and ‘allan’ (exit) signs, I was (again) hugely relieved to see that the most widely used Welsh word for ‘toilet’ was... wait for it... ‘toiled’!

Our first Welsh stop was Hay-on-Wye, the book town. I used to visit it often and knew Richard Booth, alias King Richard the Book-Hearted, the book town’s founder and its self-proclaimed monarch, quite well. Sadly, the King passed away a couple of years ago, but his inventive and highly eccentric spirit was kept alive. King Richard was famous for his anti-bureaucratic and anti-corporate solutions to everyday problems, and it was in Hay-on-Wye that I saw, for the first time in my life, a ‘contactless’ public toilet. Yes, the turnstiles of the impeccable ‘facility’ in Hay’s main car park were uniquely equipped with credit card readers, and the fee was just 30p!

It was next to that ‘smart’ public toilet that Alphie’s leisure battery momentarily caught fire and nearly exploded when I accidentally packed a metal rake into the battery compartment. I could already see tomorrow’s front-page headline in the local newspaper: ‘Writer’s Campervan On Fire in Hay Car Park!’

So, stressed I was by the experience that, having arrived at Maersmawr Farm Resort where we were in for some overnight ‘glamping’ (a merger of ‘glamorous’ and ‘camping’), and having spotted a Jacuzzi on the porch of our luxury tent, I immediately plopped myself into that lazy mini-sea of a gadget.

I soaked in it for several hours – until my body felt almost completely dissolved in the warm bubbly water – and came up with yet another secret of enjoyable camping (and glamping): whenever you see a toilet or a Jacuzzi, use it immediately!

I could tell you much more about all the beauties of mid Wales, its hills and mountains (which Alphie negotiated successfully), its cosy little towns, particularly Portmeirion – a skilfully engineered Mediterranean village, dumped onto the North Wales coast by the brilliant Welsh architect Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis. We all fell in love with Portmeirion, apart from Tashi, who couldn’t see it due to the strict ‘no dogs’ policy, albeit, if you ask me, an Italianate village without dogs is like a wedding without a bride, or a campervan without a leisure battery, if you wish.

Tashi had his revenge in another stunningly planned and engineered town, Tremadog in Gwynedd, blending gracefully and symmetrically with the surrounding hills. He left it with a strong belief that the town, known as the birthplace of modern urban planning, was named after some important historic dog called Trema.

Nothing is more important in camping and campervanning than the seemingly down-to-earth everyday things. We were impressed by the immaculate washroom facilities at the Fforest Field Campsite near Hay-on-Wye, with hairdryers, mobile phone chargers, fridges and so on.

Now it’s time to thank all the readers who shared with me their own campervanning tips and impressions – particularly Dennis Sharp for his remarks about the mallet and Dave Billin for his childhood campervanning reveries.

Ed Dinning in his email suggested we undertook “...a trip round Europe, which has some great sites and sights, is not expensive and with friendly people”.

I’d love to do that, Covid permitting, and am now learning how to say ‘toilet’ in 20 European languages.

Luckily, in almost all of them, except perhaps Hungarian (‘furdoszoba’), it sounds pretty much the same!


Vitali’s trip was organised by MWT 

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