Friday, 30 April 2010
A lovely drive through the Rhandirmwyn Valley in Wales, the scenery is lakes and pine forest and eventually I arrived at the Strata Florida Abbey ruins. This site was very small but notable because it has interesting features worth seeing, there are some original floor tiles which are very detailed and rare especially as they are still in situ. Behind the abbey there are some ancient graves which are said to belong to welsh princes. Also beneath a yew tree the remains of Wales's greatest poet (not Dylan Thomas apparently)- the 12th century bard Daffyd ap Gwilym is buried here.
Thursday, 29 April 2010
The magic lake of Lyn Y Fan Fach in the Brecon Beacons is surrounded by mountains known as the Carmarthen Fans, and when you get to the top of them you can see over the Black Mountains. It is very LOTR and it feels like most places in that area, as if you are alone on the planet. The romance of the lake has been spoiled slightly by its conversion into a reservoir, however the views are still amazing and it is an unforgettable experience to visit this place.
The legend of the Lady of the Lake associated with this place appears in the Mabinogian, the 10th century (?) anthology of Welsh folklore, but the story itself possibly pre-dates that of the Arthurian lady of the lake, as the water-fairy is a creature of ancient folklore. The story appears in many folklore anthologies notably George Basil Barham's excellent 1922 travel guide, Legend Land Volume 1: A Collection of Some of the Old Tales Told in Those Western Parts of Britain served by The Great Western Railway:
Published in 1922 by
THE LADY OF LLYN-Y-FAN FACH
Not many miles from Llandovery, in the midst of glorious mountain scenery, is a lovely little lake known as Llyn-y-Fan-Fach, the scene of a very remarkable occurrence. Once upon a time a simple cowherd, eating his frugal meal by the edge of the water, observed with amazement, seated upon the calm surface of the lake, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. So great was his admiration for her that he cried out, and she, turning to him, gave a rapturous smile and silently disappeared beneath the waters.
The peasant was distracted, for he had fallen deeply in love with the beautiful lady. He waited until dark, but she did not appear again; but at daybreak the next morning he returned once more, and was again rewarded by the sight of his enchantress and another of her alluring smiles.
Several times more he saw her and each time he besought her to be his wife, but she only smiled and disappeared, until at length one evening, just as the sun was setting, the beautiful lady appeared, and this time, instead of diving beneath the surface, she came to the shore, and, after some persuasion, consented to marry the youth. But she made one condition: if ever he should strike her three blows without cause she would leave him, she said, and their marriage would be at an end.
So the two were married happily and went to live at Esgair Laethdy, near Myddfai, the maiden bringing with her as dowry a large number of cattle and horses which she called up from the bottom of the lake.
For years the couple lived in great prosperity and happiness, and three handsome sons were born to them; then the day arrived when husband and wife were setting out for a christening, and, being rather late, the husband slapped his wife merrily on the shoulder, urging her to hurry. Sadly she reminded him that he had struck her the first of the causeless blows.
Years passed by, and the couple were at a wedding. In the midst of all the merry-making the wife burst suddenly into tears. Patting her sympathetically on the arm, the man inquired the cause of her weeping, and she, sobbing the harder, reminded him that he had struck her a second time.
Now that he had only one chance left, the husband was particularly careful never to forget and strike the third and last blow; but, after a long while, at a funeral one day, while all were sobbing and weeping, the beautiful lady suddenly began laughing merrily. Touching her gently to quiet her, the husband realised that the end had come.
"The last blow has been struck; our marriage is ended," said the wife, now in tears; and with that she started off across the hills to their farm. There she called together her cattle and other stock, which immediately obeyed her voice, and, led by the beautiful lady, the whole procession moved off across the mountains back to the lake.
Among the animals was a team of four oxen which were ploughing at the time. They followed, too, plough and all, and, they say, to this very day you may  see a well-marked furrow running right across the Myddfai mountain to the edge of Llyn-y-Fan-Fach, which proves the truth of this story.
The disconsolate husband never saw his lady again, but she used sometimes to appear to her sons, and she gave them such wonderful knowledge that all three became the most famous doctors in that part of Wales.
Llandovery, from which place you may visit the scenes of this legend, is a charming little town in East Carmarthenshire, situated in glorious surroundings of mountains, vale, and moorland, where some of the finest salmon and trout fishing in South Wales may be enjoyed. It stands in the beautiful Towy Valley, on a branch line which runs up into the mountain country from Llanelly. Llandovery is famous for its air, which is said to be the purest and most bracing in the district.
THE GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY
[FELIX J. C. POLE, GENERAL MANAGER]
PADDINGTON STATION, LONDON
I visited many castles near the Brecons in Wales, but my favourite was Carreg Cennan. This one is perched on a limestone outcrop and is appealing because it looks almost like it is carved out of the rock. In fact I think parts of it are. The mysterious feature is a tunnel which leads through the rock and down into a cave, which can be dangerous unless one has a torch. It is a very pleasant and beautiful site to visit as it feels like you are very high up with the wind rushing through the walls and no other sound.
Exploring the Yorkshire Dales, I saw the World Heritage Site that is Fountains Abbey. I did not visit the Georgian part of the site which is called Studley Royal, however I liked the cloisters and the huge size of the ruined tower. My favourite part of Fountains Abbey was the green man.
It is comparable to Tintern as it has a woodland setting although the ruin is much larger.
My first day in yorkshire last year I visited the City of York. I started at the Micklegate Bar which is on the york city walls. This is a museum of a very bizarre kind, it has the heads of various people on poles inside (I am not sure why as I thought they were displayed on the exterior) I was guided into a long dark corridor and when I got to the end a light came on model of a civil war soldier appeared brandishing a sword which made me jump slightly. I retreated, and was told by the museum curator who pushed the button to make it all happen I had been quite brave as grown men have been known to run screaming out of the room.
I walked along part of the city walls, through the Shambles, which is a street of very old shops, on to York Minster. I liked York Minster, I think it was much admired by Charlotte Bronte, and it has a large stained glass window in there which is original and quite spectacular even though it is faded.
Also visited Cliffords Tower. As a member of English Heritage I could get into this for free, there was not much to see although it does have a very dark and oppressive atmosphere.
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
On my way home from Haworth, I stopped to drive past Pendle Hill. I was very impressed with this and dearly want to go back, probably to walk up the hill and maybe follow the Pendle Way. The footpaths are all signposted and linked by waymarks featuring a witch on a broomstick. I arrived at the Witches Galore shop but it was disappointed to find it closed as I was late. The whole area was rich in atmosphere though, I bought a book William Harrison Ainsworth's Witches of Pendle which is a gothic romance and I am going to read it.
I was recommended to visit Skipton Castle by a friend in Yorkshire, and I did so on my final day. I found it very strange as it's not an English Heritage property; the castle is still lived in however the family only inhabits a more modern house which adjoins it. The castle itself has a roof on all parts but is extemely ruinous and in places the ceiling is damp and one feels it might collapse! There are vast empty halls with nothing in, one of the creepiest rooms was the one where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner (photograph of window looking outwards)
The most impressive section of the castle is the courtyard with the yew tree which was planted many centuries ago, the coat of arms features a very impressive sculpture of a dragon. Skipton is full of notable and interesting features and deserves to be more well known (and better cared for!)
I spent a couple of days in September in Yorkshire, I chose this time of year because I wanted to see the purple heather on the moors. It was very spectacular. I visited the Bronte Parsonage Museum which is formerly the home of the Bronte family and where all of them lived and died. I followed the path behind the museum up to a ruin known as Top Withens, this is thought by some to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. I was lucky because I saw hardly any other walkers on my way, I was most inspired by the Bronte waterfalls and I sat in the Bronte chair which is where Emily Bronte is thought to have sat to admire the views. The Bronte chair has the C Bronte name carved into it which would be the initial of Charlotte Bronte, however I do not know whether she herself carved this and think it doubtful. The weather was quite wet and windy which enhanced the atmosphere though it obscured the views somewhat.
I visited this very peaceful manor house near Henley-on-Thames which is a national trust property. What makes it very appealing is the mediaeval ruins which are in the grounds. There is a 12th century castle tower, and parts of a wall belonging to the castle. It also has Tudor style knot gardens and lots of nooks and crannies in which you feel you can get lost. Not surprisingly considering its atmospheric surroundings, it has tales of ghosts as documented in the National Trust book Ghosts by Sian Evans. This particular anecdote belongs to the tea room, which is adjacent to the castle ruins. It is said a cleaner felt unable to enter the tea rooms once when they were unusually cold and the ghost of a "potboy" has been seen by a customer in the tea room. A potboy is a type of boy soldier from Cromwell's time, and it is believed his men occupied the area during the English Civil War. I would recommend this house as a small but quintessential example of what the NT have to offer, it has also been refurbished and restored on the interior although I have not yet been inside, it has been closed for several years for this to take place.