"Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and say, `Lllll,' " said a helpful Welsh woman who had taken pity on us.

We had gathered in the lobby of our hotel in Manchester and had been staring for some time at the names of our destinations in Wales - lyrical-sounding places such as Llangollen, Dolgellau, Tyddyn Llandegla, Minffordd, Talyllyn and Llansantffraed (at Llanvihangell, near Abergavenny, that is).But our feeble attempts at the pronunciations made them sound less than poetic.

Our new acquaintance created the sound for us - an Lllll with a scratchy grrrr - over and over until we finally could mimic it, making the sound by blowing air over our tongues.

We weren't sure whether we were talking or clearing our throats. Welsh had sounded so much better when the late actor Richard Burton spoke in his native tongue!

But the Welsh are patient with their visitors' lack of skill with the language. This woman's helpfulness was typical of the people we met the week we visited Wales last spring. The Welsh are used to people staring in bewilderment at road and shop signs. Some even like to tease strangers by creating words of impossible length, such as:

"Ysiopfachgardiuwrthbontdrosyrafondyfrdwyynllangollen," which appeared to be the name of a book and gift shop in Llangollen.

We really had only one problem with the language during our stay. We couldn't tell people where we'd been. We finally learned to keep a map handy and point to the town we had just left.

With thanks to our interpreter, our group of journalists set off in two vans for a ride to the home of the Ladies of Llangollen. Within minutes we were in the rolling hills of north Wales and on our way to Llangollen, a small town that seems to have been poured into a narrow valley on the river Dee.

The dramatic Welsh scenery in the Vale of Dee was just the beginning of a week's worth of stunning views of rolling green mountains, deep shadows, bright green pastures dotted with sheep, farmhouses nestled along winding country roads, rugged castles and ruined abbeys, all bathed in the ever-changing light of spring sunshine and showers.

Plas Newydd was the home of two eccentric 18th-century women, Lady Eleanor Butler and her companion, the Honorable Sarah Ponsonby. The two women eloped in 1778. They ran from their homes and their families in Ireland across the sea to Wales, intending to stop there for a few weeks before moving on to England.

Fifty years later, they were still living together, settled into their cozy house, tending to their gardens and their literary pursuits. They dressed in dark riding habits and tall beaver hats and wore short, cropped, powdered hair.

Over the years, they added wing after wing to their cottage. The day we visited, the large magpie-style, black and white house was striking even in the rain - and truly stunning during the few minutes the sun came out.

In the 18th century, the town of Llangollen was a stagecoach stop between Dublin and London, so curious visitors could conveniently drop in on the Ladies of Llangollen.

The women entertained Josiah Wedgwood, the Duke of Wellington, Charles Darwin and literary types such as Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley. But the scandal of their unusual living arrangements was never quite put behind them. English Regency society dubbed them "the most celebrated virgins in Europe."

Next we headed for the aqueduct at nearby Froncysyllte and the Llangollen Canal for a horse-drawn barge trip. After a steep climb to the top of the aqueduct, we found crowds on the narrow walkway next to the water. People were hanging over the railing to get a glimpse of the climbers who were practicing rappeling down the side of the waterway.

Then it was on to the canal for a horse-drawn ride on boats like those once used to transport pottery and slate. Big work horses pulled the boats along the tree-lined waterway. We passed families who had rented canoes and groups of schoolchildren who were making a day of exploring the canals.

The sun came out as we drove by Chrik Castle, and we couldn't resist stopping our van to take a picture. We stepped out and found ourselves in the middle of a patch of something nipping at our ankles. It turned out to be stinging nettles - plants that leave one's skin tingling as if bitten by insects.

Our guide, Emyr Griffith, tried not to laugh at our surprise. He pointed to another plant, dock leaves, which almost always grow nearby. He assured us the dock leaves would take away the sting. We rubbed the green leaves on our skin and finally the stinging subsided, but whether the dock leaves get the credit or not, we'll probably never know.