It had been gnawing at him for years but Otago Daily
Times columnist and former sports editor Brent Edwards
finally made it back to Wales, the land of his forefathers.
It was a journey that more than fulfilled his wishes.
I've always felt an affinity with the Welsh. Initially, it
was through their rugby and their music but it was only from
my teenage years onwards that I realised Welsh was actually
in my blood.
My father told me early in my life that my grandfather had
been born in Wales but he never made a big deal of it.
One of the reasons, undoubtedly, was that his father, John
George Edwards, died when he was just eight so the
relationship between father and son never had time to develop
My grandfather worked as a carpenter at Ocean Beach Freezing
Works in Bluff and lived in the nearby settlement of
Greenhills, where he ran a small farmlet.
He was described as a very direct man and as a stickler for
good manners. He was an aficionado of Shakespeare. He read
widely and was self-educated but, like many of his era, he
suffered through lack of money and opportunity.
His life ended prematurely in 1928 when, returning from work
in Bluff, he fell from the train and was killed. He had been
feeling faint and had stepped outside for some fresh air when
the accident occurred.
So I never met my grandfather. I felt a little cheated,
though obviously not nearly as much as my father, his two
brothers and two sisters who spent their formative years
helping to make ends meet in the Depression without a head of
It was the death of my own father in 1993 that reawakened my
interest in our family ancestry and my determination to find
the Welsh town from where my grandfather originated.
It became part of my bucket list but, until last year, it had
been a mission unfulfilled.
I spent time in Wales during the 1999 Rugby World Cup but I
was simply too busy to think of anything except the next
We had family holidays in Devon, which is half a day's drive
away, but dovetailing the needs of three children meant it
remained on the back burner.
But earlier last year as we planned our next trip to Britain,
my cousin, Heather Adams, of Invercargill, a meticulous
researcher, sent me screeds of information on our ancestors,
including the birthplace of our grandfather.
So Wales became part of our itinerary for our latest trip,
and at last I would satisfy my curiosity.
We left Exmouth on a Saturday morning and drove into Wales.
We headed for the small town of Welshpool, near where my
grandfather and his forefathers used to live at Leighton Hall
It was a grand estate but my forefathers, Thomas and George,
were not part of the landed gentry. They earned their living
We stayed not in Welshpool but at the Talbot Hotel in the
tiny village of Berriew, five minutes' drive from the estate.
It is one of the jewels in the crown of mid-Wales with its
quaint black and white cottages, its majestic church and the
River Rhiw flowing through it. Berriew has two pubs, a few
shops and a strong community spirit. It has several times won
the Best Kept Village in Wales award.
The Talbot is a gem. The floorboards might not be quite
creak-free but the place is chock-full of character, the
staff and patrons are friendly and interested and we did not
lack for directions.
We find Leighton Hall Estate, which is set in rolling
countryside with a superb view over the surrounding
countryside and which has its own coat of arms at the
We visit the nearby churchyard and there, after a search of
10 minutes, we come across the grave of my
great-great-grandfather: George Edwards, died January 24,
1886, aged 79, and his wife, Margaret, died October 17, 1893,
It seems almost surreal to have finally tracked down missing
links of our family tree. I stand and look over the verdant
countryside and wonder what life was like here for them.
There's a lump in my throat which is hard to explain. It's
like the end of the journey, though there are still plenty of
family mysteries to be uncovered.
I wonder what persuaded my great-grandfather and his family
to leave Wales for New Zealand. I suppose they went in search
of a better life but the peace and solitude of the rolling
estate seems just about as good as it gets to me.
We go back to our little pub where we have arranged to meet
friends from north Wales for Sunday lunch. We eat roast Welsh
lamb, which is succulent and decidedly cheaper than New
Zealand lamb. Afterwards, we wander around the little village
and do some souvenir shopping for our children and
The next morning it is time to leave Wales, land of my
grandfathers. My wife Liz has bought a tape of Welsh music
which we play as we drive through the villages, and the
larger towns of Abergavenny, Newport and Pontypool on our way
back to Devon.
Truly, it has been a memorable weekend. More puzzles in the
jigsaw have been solved but, more than that, there is a sense
of belonging, that the keys to my Welsh heritage have been
I just wish my father and his two brothers, who were denied
the chance to visit the land of their forefathers, could have
shared the moment. It's little wonder, I suppose, that the
Welsh national anthem, Land of my Fathers, always
strikes an emotional response in me. For Wales, indeed, is
where it all began.