Linda Ulleseit for http://www.the-europhiles.com
I am the author of a series of young adult fantasies set in medieval Wales. Key components of my books are teenagers dealing with problems very similar to what modern teens face, and a town where aerial competitions between teams of flying horses are common. One of the readers commented that the descriptions in my book reminded her of her grandmother’s farm in Wales, and I did a little happy dance.
I have never visited Wales, or any part of Great Britain for that matter. I have, however read a great many novels set in the area, both fantasies and historical fiction. Wales is a place of incredible beauty and mystery, a culture rich with poetry and literature. It was one of the first places to treat women equally with men. This is important in my novels since both women and men ride winged horses competitively in the Aerial Games.
In history, England persistently attempted to vanquish the Welsh after the Romans left in 410 A.D. Until England overpowered them in 1282, the tiny country resisted its bigger neighbor. In the northern Welsh mountains, English troops were thwarted by smaller Welsh forces that struck, and then disappeared into the forbidding mist-covered mountains where their enemy could not follow. There’s something mystical about the protection of such a place, and I’m sure the English believed that all manner of beast could be hidden among those impassable peaks, especially in medieval times. So why not flying horses?
Wales is steeped in its own mythology. Popular tales mingle fact and fiction of Druidic lore, Christian saints, fairies, witches, and giants. King Arthur is a popular Celtic hero. There was no country of Wales in King Arthur’s time, but many believe he was of Welsh stock. One Welsh legend that caught my fancy is the story of Rhiannon. I love horses and strong women, and this story has both. In it, the newly crowned king Pwyll sees a beautifully gowned woman on a white horse. He sends his men after her, but she manages to elude them for three days. Finally Pwyll calls out to her and she tells him she would rather marry him than Gwyll, the man to whom she is betrothed. A year after they meet, Pwyll accidentally promises Rhiannon to Gwyll and incurs her wrath. In order to win her back he must outwit Gwyll, bloodying and dishonoring him in the process. Rhiannon is often associated with the horse goddess Epona, but in my novels I have taken the liberty of making Rhiannon the goddess that the people of Tremeirchson honor.
Some of my favorite books are set in Wales. The Prydain Chronicles, by Lloyd Alexander, is a set of five high fantasy novels for young adults. The author of these books says that they communicate the feeling of Wales and its legends. All of the Welsh proper names in the series are historical or mythological. Another of my favorites is the Arthurian fantasy series The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. The background of these books, especially the fourth one, The Grey King, is heavily based on Welsh folklore that has been reimagined by the author. My first novel, On a Wing and a Dare, is set in mythical Tremeirchson, a town high in the remote mountains of Gwynned. For the second novel, In the Winds of Danger, the characters need to venture into the countryside. They pass Welsh landmarks and make reference to legends as they travel. I hope you will enjoy all these stories of Wales as you explore its culture!
You can buy both of the novels on amazon.com:
One of the most fun things to experience whilst in Vienna, the capital of Austria, is a visit to the Spanish Riding School. The famous white stallions, called Lipizzaners, perform elegant routines and jumps in an amazing baroque style hall, the Winter Riding School. You can also sit or stand on one of the balconies and watch morning exercise and practices for the horses.
Lipizzaners are Europe’s oldest breed of horse, and they are now endangered. In fact, there are only actually around 5,000 of them left worldwide. The horses for the Spanish Riding School are bred in a small village outside Vienna, and have been since 1920. The famous horses also take an annual summer holiday to Heldenberg in southern Austria. They go for long country walks, do jumping in the hall and take a well earned break.
This is how the Riding School describes itself on their website, which you can visit at http://www.srs.at/en/
“The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is the only institution in the world which has practiced for over 440 years and continues to cultivate classical equitation in the Renaissance tradition of the haute école.
The objective of classical equitation is to study the way the horse naturally moves and to cultivate the highest levels of haute école elegance the horse is capable of through systematic training. The result creates an unparalleled harmony between rider and horse, as only Vienna’s Spanish Riding School achieves.”
You can check them out on YouTube http://m.youtube.com/index?&desktop_uri=%2F#/watch?v=Pn6Jmqs9IHQ
The ponies found in Iceland are unique – they’ve always been bred in the country and other ponies cannot be imported to stop the breed from being ‘tainted’. Very friendly to tourists, the ponies are extremely hardy as they have to suffer the freezing Icelandic winters (which can get as cold as −25 °C ) with no protection. They’re actually tiny, no bigger than Shetland ponies, and play a large part in Icelandic life. The ponies are used obviously for leisure riding, but they also take part in races during all times of the year. Some ponies are bred for their meat, most of which is actually exported to Japan. The most unusual use of the ponies is in fact as a sort of sheepdog – farmers use them to round up sheep on the Icelandic highlands…