It was an easy drive down the early morning motorways and I arrived back in Herefordshire to meet old friends: and it was lovely catching up with folk once again, plus another interesting meal – this time at The Green Cow in Whitborne. I think I am living too high off the hog just lately 🙂
Then another early start so as to arrive at the little country church at Hentland to share in their annual Palm Sunday service at which Pax Cakes are distributed. This is an ancient tradition dating back at least to the 1570 bequest from Lady Scudamore – of five shillings per annum for cakes and nine pennies for ale (the ninepence having proved insufficient for many years now, and the provision of ale sadly dropped)
The sharing of Pax Cakes is kept up in the three neighbouring parishes of Hentland, King’s Caple, and Sellack, together with the chapel at Hoarwithy, and the legend is that owing to some past animosity between them the Pax (peace) custom started, and Lady Scudamore’s bequest was to encourage more peaceable behaviour and good neighbourliness – who can say?
The ‘cakes’ are now in fact biscuits, almost like a large round of shortbread, though I think with a flavour of oatmeal in there somewhere, so probably a traditional recipe, and they are produced at a bakery in nearby Ross on Wye. Each Pax Cake is impressed with an image of the Pascal Lamb and Flag: perhaps the mould is very worn, but I could not make it out on my Pax Cake. After the service each person there is presented with a cake by the priest, with the traditional words “Peace and Good Neighbourhood”. We ate ours with a nice cup of tea, and most pleasant it was.
St. Dubricius at Hentland is ancient and almost lost in time down a tiny little Herefordshire lane. Thebus was touching the sides almost all of the way down, and I started my prayers early that morning – praying I had not gone the wrong direction down a lane with nowhere to turn! But fortunately there at the end was the little church with at least enough space to turn Thebus about (though I had taken the pre-caution of google-earthing it) even so being a popular service his bulk was a bit problematic.
The church itself is in a magical setting next to ‘Parson’s Common’ a piece of ancient unfenced land with a running spring and double lip well – an ancient holy spring in fact. The place name Hentland comes from Hen Llan meaning Old Holy Place, so I would imagine that the circular churchyard with its ancient yews and holy well predates the Christian religion. The well has an upper cist for humans and lower ‘lip’ for cattle.
The church itself is built of Herefordshire old red sandstone, and beside its path is an ancient ‘lantern’ preaching cross which amazingly survived the Civil Wars intact.
Once inside the church itself the first thing I noticed was the old cast iron stove, taking me instantly back to my first days at school where such a stove was the only form of heating.
I was surprised that the stove at Hentland had not been ripped out, but even more surprised when I returned for the afternoon service to find it had been lit and was casting a welcoming and warming glow.
And the stove was not the only old feature which had been retained. Up towards the ceiling were the brass hanging oil-lamps which would have provided lighting before electricity was installed, plus much of the old painted decoration was still in existence, enhanced by the splendid organ with its decorated pipes.
The Chapel of Hoarwithy is apparently equally interesting, but having stayed for the afternoon service at Hentland, then eaten my Pax Cake and chatted afterwards, I didn’t feel there would be enough time to do it justice on this visit, and will save it for another time. Perhaps a future Pax Cake ceremony? Certainly this first visit had long been in my mind, though never accomplished until now.
We arrived at the repair depot nice and early, but with the approaching Easter holidays there were many others now booked in before us. I knew the dented locker doors would need to be made, and had imagined they could have just been measured, but apparently had to be removed and sent to the fabricators, and once off, Thebus would be grounded. So given the fact that the fabricators were quoting a week before they could start I decided to return after Easter set off on my travels again.
I wanted to drop by to see my brother who had kindly promised to fix some things which were worrying me about Thebus, and having gone to visit him he did something so very clever on Thebus’ technical bits that I felt I had to take him out to lunch, and as a surprise we went into Central Birmingham to a starred restaurant there.
We had a lovely meal, but what was even better (for me) was that on the way back I spotted one of Tolkien’s Two Towers. The 96ft high Perrot’s Folly built in 1758 when it would have been surrounded by open countryside.
The other was the tower of the Edgbaston Water Works, which in Tolkien’s day would have been churning out sinister Mordor-like plumes of smoke from the engine room at its base. These towers were on my list of places to visit: I had often passed them during my working days, intending to stop for a look ‘sometime’ – which naturally turned into ‘never’. But now I had the time.
They were within a few hundred yards of the Birmingham Oratory (another place on my visiting list, but sadly closed when we called). Tolkien’s widowed mother had moved the family to Edgbaston in 1900, when Tolkien was just eight, having converted to the Catholic faith and wishing to be near a suitable church. Tolkien was then educated at the Oratory school, and when his mother died some four years later was put under the guardianship of one of the Catholic fathers.
What a traumatic time in the life of such a young child: he and his brother orphaned and almost estranged from their relatives who were not of the Catholic faith. The two huge and almost oppressing towers, so close by and seemingly confronting each other over just a couple of hundred yards distance must have made profound impression on his young and imaginative mind. The one, an eighteenth century folly built by the eccentric Perrott for his own amusement, the other a curious dark red and blue brick Neo-Gothic structure, part of the local waterworks.
I will return another time to see the Oratory which is apparently a beautiful building and shrine to Cardinal Newman.
Then another peaceful night though with an early start next morning to beat the traffic.
On the evening there was another Bore Tide, but being dark there was little to see other than the white tips of the crests on the waves and the sound of the roar as it passed, and judging by the noise it must have been a much stronger showing of the wave than that of the morning.
There were surfers on it even in the dark, though of course not visible from the banks in their black wet suits. But one, who had lost the wave on the bend in the river, clambered out through the reeds and up the steep muddy banks, apparently with a stick between his teeth! He said he had reached out in the dark and grabbed at what he though was his line to the surfboard, but mistakenly grabbed a passing twig floating amongst the debris stirred up as the wave crashed against the banks, and putting it between his teeth struck out for the shore, emerging from the river probably looking for all the world like a spaniel exiting the water after a retrieve. I expect he was rather pleased it was pitch dark and there weren’t hundreds of folk on the banks watching him make a fool of himself!
Up again early next morning for supposedly the peak tide, and it was certainly the highest of all of them, and in fact broke over the banks on the far side of the river flooding the river meadows opposite for miles around.
But somehow the strength of the bore seemed slower, and there were fewer surfers to try their luck. I did get some good shots of the wave crashing into the shore on our side of the river, but I think the video disappeared with the new editing program I am trying out. But I have the memory and I am pleased to have at last seen the Severn Bore, one of the world’s natural phenomena.
Later that day the horses and carriages came back, but there were more of them this time. And a lovely sight they all were.
And not only horses but there were masses of flashy motorbikes. I am not an aficionado but this one looked pretty unusual – someone said the guy had made it himself! Anyway he obviously doesn’t ride it through puddles!
On the Sunday our group parked up next to The Anchor had begun to disperse, going their various ways, some homeward bound, some on their travels. I was off to the midlands again for repairs to poor Thebus’ bodywork -which has taken a bit of a bashing (and does get driven through puddles) – but before leaving there was the Pub Quiz, and though I am quite good on obscure facts I am totally hopeless with film and television personalities or sports of any description, so you might guess I was not amongst the winners.
Saying farewell to everyone I had an early night intending on an early start next morning, and I was pleased I did as I seemed to avoid the worst of the traffic on the motorways and arrived in plenty of time in hopes of getting the repair work started.
Next morning I was up good and early and got a good place on the embankment to watch the incoming wave and set up the tripod, whose legs and I had now come to an agreement. Of course, as I was so early there was hardly anyone there, but as the time for the Bore approached the banks filled up, then, just at the optimum moment a lady stretched forwards, so a lot of the video I took was of the back of her coat. Still I managed to get a few shots and here is a little clip which might give a flavour of the event.
But before that there was a very long wait. The times of the Bore are published but you are warned that it can arrive fifteen minutes either way, and added to the fact I had got there extra early I was pleased that once again it was a beautiful sunny day to be sitting out so early in the morning – as it seemed a very long wait. But we were blessed with a perfect spring morning with a wonderful view across the river to May Hill and the hills of the Forest of Dean
When the Bore did arrive it was really quite impressive. Lots of surfers had turned up. Apparently they get a pre-warning of the wave’s arrival from friends upstream, so they have time to position themselves. Most of them swam across the river, or paddled kneeling or lying on their surfboards, looking for all the world like giant ducks swimming in formation. Once there they waited in some shallow water by a sand spit on the opposite bank.
As the Bore rounded the bend in the river it crashed into the opposite bank and set up a wave which carried the waiting surfers who were quite literally shoulder to shoulder in the river. Of course behind them, still riding the wave from earlier upstream were other surfers, so it was a real melee to get some sort of place on the wave. And right against the far river bank were canoeists racing to keep in front of the wave which was carrying them along.
Several of the surfers were staying over at The Anchor Inn, either in tents, estate cars with sleeping bags in the back or more fully adapted vans. One guy I spoke to said he comes to any of the Bores he can, and later that day I asked how far he had ridden the wave that morning and apparently he had gone three and a half miles: his longest ride (is that what surfers call their trips?) was seven and a half miles and lasted some forty five minutes.
As it went past us few managed to stand up and ride the wave for a little way, but most came off and as it slowly rounded the bend to disappear upstream there was only one solitary surfer still left standing and riding the wave.
The river level rose dramatically in just a few minutes plus the air temperature dropped markedly, whether that was from the influx of colder water, or because the level was nearer to us I am not sure. Then, like a lot of flotsam the bedraggled surfers made it to the banks and struggled up through the reeds, normally to the cheers of friends waiting in the pub garden to congratulate them.
Some of the more dedicated surfers hastily dressed and putting their boards on their various vehicles headed upstream where apparently they would be able to overtake the wave and have another go.
The rest of the day remained beautifully sunny, though with a slight chill in the air, and although it was lovely to sit outside in the sun it was still necessary to keep wrapped up warm. Phoebe had a lovely time again strolling around, being admired and stroked by strangers, and meeting other dogs, and even got to share in a freshly cooked bacon sandwich.
When I took her back to Thebus as I didn’t want her to get too cold she was quite disappointed, and in fact I took her out again later for a bit more socialising after she had got a bit warmer. When I was up in Shetland some one had knitted ‘Socks’ The Dancing Shetland Pony a FairIsle jumper, and it half crossed my mind as to whether to get one for Phoebe 🙂 The generally damp wet weather we have had these last months has bought back the cough she developed when her chest got weakened after getting Kennel Cough the year before we left on our travels. It nearly carried her off – so at nights, or on cold damp days, I cover her over with a big thermal fleecy blanket, and if she gets up to turn over I have to get up and tuck her back in again – even if it is the middle of the night!
Sitting in the sun on Thebus steps I heard horses hooves trotting smartly up the road, and it was a beautifully turned out Victoria pulled by a pair of grey cobs out for some morning exercise. Wonderfully quiet, calm horses, and a very pretty carriage to carry some special brides to their weddings. And I managed to get a photo opportunity when they stopped for some refreshment at The Anchor on their way back home.
Then a guy from our group started playing the saxophone. What a lovely way to spend a lazy, sunny Saturday.
Again it is one of those things I could have easily gone to see, but did I ever bother – No!
Living not all that far away, the Severn Bore is something I don’t need to be told about, but in case it is a new phenomenon to you then you can check it out here
Apparently 2015 is a high tide year, is that because the moon is nearer to us than normal? I am not sure – someone told me it was. Anyway, as I am intending to leave for the continent in the autumn- this Spring Tide coupled with the near total eclipse seemed like the best opportunity to see the Bore, and I was travelling to The Anchor Inn at Epney.
A nice old pub literally on the bank of the River Severn, and by a bend in the river, so hopefully it would be a good place to see the wave coming up river from the Bristol Channel.
As usual I arrived good and early in hopes of avoiding the traffic, though Gloucester seemed pretty full of early morning commuters even before seven in the morning, and that plus the thick fog did not make for easy driving. The road down to Epney was narrow, but had some passing places so all was fine and I crept into the carpark as quietly as possible hoping not to disturb anyone: parking up in a corner of the carpark, not daring to chance the field after the heavy rain of the last few days.
I was not going to be the only motorhome there over the coming weekend as there were to be nearly forty more parked up in the little meadow next to the bowling alley at The Anchor Inn, and as the day went on they gradually started to arrive. It turned out I had been wise not to chance the meadow as a few got stuck and had to be pushed into position – too hard a task with something Thebus’ size. It was great meeting some of the folk from one of the forums (or is that fora) I had joined when I had so many questions about the how-tos of motorhoming, and the pub chosen for this meeting was excellent. Friendly hosts and locals, and huge portions of home-cooked of pub food available lunchtimes and evenings, plus on ‘Bore’ morning they opened early to supply bacon rolls and hot drinks.
I had checked on the Severn Bore Timetable and it was forecast to reach Epney at 7.41 am so Phoebe and I went over at around 7.25 thinking I had plenty of time to position us in an optimum spot. I must admit I was surprised to see everyone looking in the opposite direction to that which I expected, and on climbing the embankment I just managed to see the last remnant of the wave disappearing round the upstream bend. It had gone past at 7.23 am, but the consensus was that it had been a bit of a non-event. In fact I had only gone out as a trial run to see where to stand – the bore that morning was a 3*, whereas the one next morning was forecast 5*
Phoebe revelled in all the attention from lots of strangers, and strolled around enjoying the sunshine which had now come to join us. And it was good that the rain had gone and the clouds lifted, as Friday was the day of the eclipse. At first the sun was partially veiled by some light cloud, but before the shadow of the moon was even halfway across the sun’s orb the sky had cleared giving an excellent view – if, of course, you were fully prepared!
I had recently bought a tripod for the camera, hopefully to capture some good shots of the surfers on The Bore, so I gave it an inaugural try out, though I will need more practice, as at first I couldn’t even get it to open up properly 🙁 Then I discovered that one can damage the camera by taking photos of the sun, something I never thought of with a digital camera and still find hard to understand.
Of course I didn’t have the correct filter for the camera, and thinking I would see it all on the camera screen had not taken any eye protection either. I tried filming though a welder’s mask which someone kindly lent me, though that was not at all successful as the camera simply focused on the screen. But I did get a couple of shots when the mask slipped off, so hopefully not too much damage to the camera.
This isn’t one of mine, which have, for the moment disappeared somewhere, but is taken not far away from where we were and then posted on Wikipedia – If I ever find mine I will post them!
Friday then turned out to be a gloriously sunny day all day. The first really good day of 2015 and it was beautiful in the garden at the Anchor Inn, beside the wide bend of the slowly flowing Severn. A real little bit of English countryside and well worth a visit if you are in the area.
The fierce hills and bends on the way back from St. David’s still managed to catch me out somewhat on the way back, but at least the worst one was on a down-hill slope, which allows one to proceed a bit more sedately, so with a minor amount of scooter rack scraping we got back onto reasonably easy roads, and I decided to park up for the rest of the night in the first layby I could find which had at least room for a little one in amongst the over-nighting artics
It wasn’t a peaceful night, and as I was last one in I had to park with one wheel up on the kerb, which made for lopsided sleeping, and that plus the shaking around from wind-drag of the passing night-freighters made it difficult to drop off to sleep, so I didn’t wake until almost mid-morning. There was no rush though as I wouldn’t be able to just get the work done at the drop of a hat.
So I spent a couple of weeks in the Midlands – but now I have a really good electric system for Thebus. There is a proper consumer unit which I can understand, as it is very similar to the ones I had in my houses, plus I have new extension leads of a better grade cable, and all with waterproof connectors, and nice reels to wind the cable onto. The wiring has been split so faults are more easily traceable. Thanks to my brother – Scooter now has new brushes in the motor and a thorough overhaul and the scooter rack the same and new connectors. I feel great.
It was lovely to catch up with the family and have a couple of special meals together – my brother cooked roast suckling pig for Sunday lunch, but not one of Sally’s porkers – I think they will be there until they collect their old-age piggy-pensions 🙂
Being back by Stourport gave me the opportunity to drop in on Sally and Niner, and as usual they have been steaming ahead with all the improvements. Every time I call it looks more and more like the plans they told me of when they started. Mind you the stock numbers seem to be increasing exponentially with over seventy pigs :-O even more chickens and a flock of sheep due to lamb at Easter :-O
We all ended up going to Sally’s mother’s for Mothering Sunday and poor Pat had to cook a meal for fifteen of us – hardly a mother’s day treat, though perhaps having her extended family round her for the day made up for all the hard work – I certainly hope so.
Having waited until the narrow streets of Laugharne were quiet after the Saturday night rugby on TV we set out.
Tomorrow would be St. David’s day, and not too far away was the small city of St. David’s with its cathedral honouring the patron saint of Wales – St. David, and I was going to visit for the St. David’s Day Service, and hopefully have a celebratory St. David’s Day meal. Well actually by the time I started out it was St. David’s Day already.
I knew the time of the services, and though the early morning one was being transmitted on Radio 4 I had decided to go to the mid-morning service where The Rt. Rev’d and Rt. Hon., The Lord Carey of Clifton, P.C., F.R.S.A., F.K.C, (or as you might think of him Lord Carey the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury) was preaching. I wondered how he got on when filling in his passport application form with an official title that long!
I had not only googled for a suitable parking space for Thebus, but seeing the tightness of the town and the narrowness of the streets had taken the precaution of telephoning the Cathedral office, explaining what I was driving, and asking for suggestions of where to park – so I was feeling confident. (What do they day ‘Pride goes before a Fall’ – still that was to come later)
I choose to take the more main road from Laugharne to St. David’s, though as one approaches the road becomes more interesting. Of course it was too dark to see anything much although the moon was bright and you could guess when you were dipping down towards the sea, then climbing away on the other side up to the moorland tops again. Sixteen percent on the banks, so it was quite steep and I was pleased that Thebus was a V10 otherwise it would have been even more troublesome.
The nearer we got, the steeper the hills and tighter the bends, and you will remember that I mentioned the scooter rack was only at half mast. On one hill/hairpin bend in particular I could hear we were touching the ground as the camber of the road was so very much against us. But there is simply nothing one can do in those circumstances except keep going forward and hope for the best. Stopping and reversing being out of the question. When I could get out to have a look the rack was slightly to one side but otherwise okay.
The sleeping streets of St. David’s were as narrow and bendy as I feared, and of course full of parked cars, but at least at night one can go slowly without holding anyone up. As we got down towards the carpark there was a narrow bridge, but once again we got over and into the carpark, empty but for one car, which meant there was plenty of room to turn Thebus round and arrange him so I could open the door should the carpark fill up later in the day. There across the valley outlined against the early dawn sky was the huge ruined abbey with its cathedral church next to it
The car parking fees kicked in on 1st March, and as it was now the 1st March I got lots of one pound coins and started to feed the meter. It happily swallowed them all then refused to produce a ticket, but there was another machine further over, and as Thebus needs at least two spaces I went and fed that one, which did do its duty. Later in the day there were so many folk looking as cross as I had done that I managed to rig up a handwritten sign for the recalcitrant meter which would withstand the March winds, and at least it saved a few people wasting their money.
Without the scooter it was a long walk for me to the cathedral, but going slowly I made it, and enjoyed looking round the wonderful old building. There is an amazing slope on the floor from East to West and I asked someone if it had been built that way. But no – apparently it has/is subsiding down the hill into the stream at the bottom. I presume they have stabilised it to a large degree now, but it is certainly the most noticeable slope I have ever seen in a building.
The reliquary believed to hold some of St. David’s remains had been bought out in honour of his Saints’ Day and was on display in front of the altar. We had the full pomp and ceremony of a cathedral on its own Saint’s Day, and not only their saint, but the patron saint of Wales. Censors containing incense wafting over us and the choir and clergy sang their way in full procession up the aisle. As one might imagine being in Wales the singing was wonderful, and Lord Carey an excellent preacher and gave us an interesting sermon.
This is a clip with some of the photos I took that day
After the service I specifically asked if the refectory there had a good Welsh menu for the day, and being assured it was Welsh Salt Marsh Lamb and Home Made Cawl I made the effort to climb the many stairs, only to be disappointed to find turkey and beef with carvery veg served from the cafateria bain maries. Still there was plenty of it, and I was assured it was grown in Pembrokeshire, though I had hoped for something a little more in keeping with the occasion. But I have had plenty of other good meals recently so I must not complain, and I suppose nothing could compare to the lamb cooked by Michel Roux.
Without the scooter there was little I could do in the way of exploring the town so just returned to the carpark to wait until the town was cleared of traffic, and was considering starting out at around 11.30 when a car came flying down the narrow hill from town, and over the little bridge we had entered by that morning. And here begins a sad part of my tale for the day. The little bridge was in fact exactly next to a small stone humpbacked bridge – I presume the original bridge leading to the town. Now in hindsight it was too narrow for traffic (well Thebuses anyway) which was the reason for the marginally wider bridge at the side.
The stone bridge was obviously still in use as a bridge as it had double yellow lines and the cars had been using it all day on their way out of the carpark and back up not town, but there was no indication that one should use the bridge on the right (against the flow of traffic) if you were a wide vehicle. Normally if there are two bridges one uses the bridge on the left, not that on the right. I think if the car had not recently come down from the town so quickly I might have risked the right hand bridge as it was not humped (which could have been a problem for me anyway) But …..I didn’t.
I started very slowly and there was a little catch on the side to the right, I pulled a bit to the left and we met the parapet on the right. So in the pitch dark, with no way to exit Thebus to check on how we were situated I had to reverse. The old stone parapet was made of good lumpy stones, so we managed to catch on the side, scratch the lockers and knock some bits off the fibreglass wheel arch.
So with the scooter playing up, the rack refusing to go up or down, and now Thebus damaged even more I decided to curtail my tour of West Wales and head back to the Midlands in hopes of getting things fixed 🙁
I can remember many years ago having an argument with my (then) boyfriend, when Radio 4 was re-broadcasting the original recording of Richard Burton’s richly toned reading of Under Milk Wood – which I really wanted to hear. In those days it was not possible to buy BBC recordings, and so it was a one off chance. Boyfriend wanted to do something else, but for once I stuck to my guns and listened, though alone, as he went off somewhere to sulk.
A bit unfair I thought, as not long before I had stood in the icy blasts of Cardiff in January in the glory days of G.P.R. Williams, importuning passing rugby fans in hopes of purchasing spare tickets for Cardiff Arms Park. Having been successful (my hopes were of being unsuccessful and spending the time in a packed, but warm pub watching on TV) then standing on the icy cold concrete terraces, watching men race up and down and asking why it was a line-out when the ball was thrown in, whilst an air frost hung about four foot above the solidly frozen pitch. Then after the offer of a meat pie and half a bitter at lunchtime, trooping back down the urine-stinking staircases. All-in-all I felt an hour listening to the radio was not a lot to ask.
If you would like to listen to the original recording follow this link
But if you are far more interested in rugby than poetry, then Laugharne may have little to interest you, though they do have a team, and if there is a match you can guarantee every pub in the town will have it on – live if possible.
The little town lies on the estuary of the river Taff, and Dylan Thomas spent the last few years of his life there. He found himself drawn to this place after his first visit at the age of nineteen when he said it was ‘… the strangest town in Wales’, returning time and again over the years, and talked of setting up a literary and artistic enclave there. A lot of Under Milk Wood was written in the Writing Shed, perched on the hill above the Boathouse and looking out over the estuary. I wondered how many of the places and characters living in his fictional town of Llarerggub (Bugger all – spelt backwards) had been drawn from his time here.
The people of Laugharne are very proud of their town and the fact that, along with the City of London it has the last surviving mediaeval corporation. Laugharne Corporation still holds a court-leet twice a year to deal with criminal matters, and a court-baron every two weeks dealing with land matters and administering the common fields. Again it is one of only two surviving open field systems, and 76 of the burgesses there get a ‘strang’, or strip of land, for life.
The Corporation is presided over by the Portreeve who’s chain of office is of gold cockle shells, one added by each Portreeve since 1291. Every three years on a Whit Monday the bounds are beaten, and all those able walk the 25 miles round the Corporation lands join in, with the pubs opening at five a.m. At significant spots a younger member is called on to name the place, and those who cannot answer are turned upside down and beaten three times on the rear with a large paddle!
Arriving early in the morning before the town was up and doing, and pulling into the carpark in front of the castle I got out in the dark to inspect the parking restrictions. Non, other than that the carpark could flood at high tides – with a tide table appended. I had parked facing the estuary but investigating in the dark I could see the silt line of previous high tides, so moved Thebus to somewhere safer.
As soon as it was light enough I thought it might be worth seeing if the scooter had decided to work. Fortunately it had, as the path from the carpark to the Boathouse was half a mile or more, plus I wanted to see Brown’s Hotel, and the church with Dylan Thomas’ grave which were really quite a long way further again.
Starting out from the carpark by the ancient ruined castle (which certainly looked ‘brown as owls’ this damp morning) a sign pointed out the Boathouse along a well paved track at the edge of the foreshore.
Scooter and I tootled along in the silence of the estuary and one could imagine how, and why a poet would relish such surroundings. Arriving at a fork in the path I spent some time deciding which way the finger pointing to the Boathouse actually pointed, though in the event took the wrong one anyway, as I found out to my cost later on.
The newly constructed walkway I had chosen to follow ended abruptly at some rocks, but high on the cliff above I could see a corner of the Writing Shed. Now I had read something about having to scramble over rocks before the steps up to the Boathouse, and though I thought it looked more than a little dangerous I had come here to see the Boathouse, and see the Boathouse I would! I abandoned scooter and very gingerly inched my way over the extremely slippery rocks, then climbed the steep, winding steps.
The Writing Shed was cleverly set out, so you could look in and imagine how it was when Dylan Thomas worked here, and it has been kept exactly as it was when the poet last left it. The views were wonderful and it was quiet and peaceful even in today’s world: in the 1940’s and 50’s it would have been blissfully silent.
But bad news for me. The Boathouse was obviously further on along this higher road, so that meant climbing back down the steep steps, and once again inching my way over the dangerously slippery rocks, retracing my route to the finger post where I had first gone wrong. I took it all very, very slowly, and very, very carefully, but managed and finally arrived at the intended destination without mishap, and even the scooter, which I was worried might suddenly stop again seemed to be behaving itself.
Everyone at the Boathouse was friendly and helpful, and made my visit a pleasure. Going early in the day I was hoping for a Welsh breakfast, with perhaps laver-bread, but it was a tearooms rather than full blown restaurant. Though it was still morning I plumped for a Welsh Tea, and it was so bounteous that I had to take some of the Bara Brith and a Welsh Cakes back with me for later. Very good value and all home made and delicious. The tearoom is in the old family living room looking out over the estuary and what would have originally been a small boat repair dock.
Then back up into the town itself passing by a bakery, whilst the postie was delivering the morning mail, and I couldn’t help but remember Dai Bread, the (Bigamist) Baker and the Willy Nilly the Postman, – who’s wife
full of tea to her double-chinned brim broods and bubbles over her coven of kettles on the hissing hot range always ready to steam open the mail.
Dylan Thomas in Under Milk Wood, and possibly thinking of Laugharne includes this
VOICE OF A GUIDE-BOOK Less than five hundred souls inhabit the three quaint streets and the few narrow by-lanes and scattered farmsteads that constitute this small, decaying watering-place which may, indeed, be called a ‘backwater of life’ without disrespect to its natives who possess, to this day, a salty individuality of their own. The main street, Coronation Street, consists, for the most part, of humble, two-storied houses many of which attempt to achieve some measure of gaiety by prinking themselves out in crude colours and by the liberal use of pinkwash, though there are remaining a few eighteenth-century houses of more pretension, if, on the whole, in a sad state of disrepair.
Though there is little to attract the hillclimber, the healthseeker, the sportsman, or the weekending motorist, the contemplative may, if sufficiently attracted to spare it some leisurely hours, find, in its cobbled streets and its little fishing harbour, in its several curious customs, and in the conversation of its local ‘characters,’ some of that picturesque sense of the past so frequently lacking in towns and villages which have kept more abreast of the times.
The River Dewi is said to abound in trout, but is much poached.
The one place of worship, with its neglected graveyard, is of no architectural interest.
And it was the church which was next on my list to visit. Apparently the poet when living at Laugharne had said he could feel evil “oozing out of the walls” and though that might be a tad too far, it certainly was a moistly gloomy place, with its crazily crumbling tombstones and graves, the whole shadowed by great, sombre yew trees.
For some reason on my approach it looked as though the easiest way to get to the graveyard was to take the cobbled lane at the side of the church, and this might well be the case should you be walking, but for those on a mobility scooter my advice would be NO – DON’T DO IT. Dylan Thomas may have just mentioned “cobbled streets” then added a bit about “hunched woods” but hunched cobbles might have been a more telling description. The camber on the lane had to be experienced to be believed, add to that the sunken potholed bits and it was an exciting, though fortunately not actually eventful route. Though it was touch and go I have to say.
The simple white cross which marks the poet’s final resting place is not in the older part of the churchyard, but in the more recent extension to the right of the crazy cobbled lane.
I could take the drive more slowly on the way back down the cobbled land, so it was slightly less scary – and then I headed back into the town for a drink at Brown’s Hotel, where Dylan spent so much time that he gave out their phone number rather than his own.
A couple of locals were in the bar and happy to chat about what they remembered of the past, though now even the oldest was only thirteen when Dylan Thomas’ body was brought home from America to be buried.
Apparently the window seat in the bay window had been the poet’s favourite seat, from where he could see up and down the street, and across to Pelican House where his parents had moved shortly after Dylan and Catherine took possession of the Boathouse.
I had a half of bitter and have to say I find it difficult to imagine a hardened alcoholic drinking halves. I wondered if the hard-drinking persona might have been at least partially assumed, and to die of drinking ‘eighteen straight whiskies’ more memorable than of asthma and pneumonia – but what do I – or anyone else for that matter – know of the inner workings of another person’s thoughts.
When I had left the carpark that morning it was almost deserted, but on my return was totally jammed with vehicles, and not tourists: it was the local hunt, and Thebus was now surrounded by horse-boxes of every shape and size. Poor Phoebe must have wondered what on earth was going on with a pack of hounds, whippers in and all the huntsmen arriving and disgorging from the various vehicles.
I do hope she enjoyed seeing them all, and wasn’t too worried about being in sole charge with such a tumult of horses, hounds and huntsmen outside. When I got back they were gradually returning from their day, washing the tired horses in the stream and then reloading them for the journey home.
The local fish and chip shop over the way had a good name for quality and I felt it would be nice to try their offerings, but though I waited and waited there seemed no sign of their opening. Eventually I asked someone when they opened – March – was the reply. I really didn’t feel I could wait that long for supper and cooked something for myself, the local pub now being stuffed to the gills with huntsmen and hunt followers, plus two coach loads of folk on their way back from somewhere, who had stopped off to see the Rugby World Cup game.
The day had started grey, though the rain held off until after I was back to Thebus. Initially I didn’t put the scooter away as I intended driving to the fish shop, but once I had eaten I went out in the pouring rain to load up, and although scooter had kept going all day now the scooter rack packed up on me.
Fortunately it was actually off the ground though only half way lifted. I looked at it carefully and thought that even at half-mast it was further from the road than the Wretched Rack had ever been and decided that it would be safe to press on further into Wales once the Saturday night cars had cleared the area.
Being in the area I wanted to visit Aberglasney gardens.
I remembered seeing the program “A Garden Lost in Time” on the restoration work there around 2000, and thinking it would have been interesting to visit them, but as usual never got round to it. So it was off to Aberglasney.
The gardens didn’t open until mid morning, and I needed to empty and fill all tanks as my next few days would probably not include visits to many, if any, suitable campsites. and I wanted to be prepared.
In all of the Caravan Club Campsites I have visited a good silence is maintained until 8 a.m. so I knew I would not be able to leave early and avoid the traffic, and being in the industrial belt of South Wales I chose to leave after the rush hour instead. By the time I had wound the cable up and stowed it, drawn in the slides and lowered the hydraulic jacks, plus driven round the one way system on the site a couple of times to do my chores it was well gone nine. But the traffic, though heavy was nowhere near as bad as the M25 of last week and before long we were at the gardens.
The house and gardens there have had a very up and down life by the sounds of things, but the second half of the last century was really their worst ever, and looking at photos of what sort of a state things had come to I am amazed at the beautiful house and gardens existing there now.
I remember the debate over whether the arched stone walkways below the house itself were simply cattle byres, or a Tudor garden walkway, and it is now fully established that it is the latter, and very beautiful they are too.
There was apparently an ode sung by the bard Lewis Glyn Cothi praising the house and gardens at Aberglasney in the late 1400’s
He has a proud hall. A fortress made bright with whitewash, And encompassing it all around Nine green gardens. Orchard trees and crooked vines, Young oaks reaching up to the sky.
I expect it scans better in Welsh!
Obviously with my visit being in February the garden had hardly woken from its winter slumber, but the structure is interesting enough to overlook the lack of flowers and foliage, though in the season I would think it would be even more delightful, and at least there was some early colour on show, which brightens the heart with thoughts of the coming spring.
One of the most memorable parts of the garden for me was the Ninfarium.
Now I like to think I know a lot about gardening, but that was a new word to me, so required some googling when back in Thebus. It turns out the name is derived from Ninfa a garden situated southwest of Rome, which was created in the early 20th century around a ruined medieval village. The Ninfarium at Aberglasney has been created by putting a glass roof over the ruined nether regions of the house, and a truly inspired idea it was. The plants in there were stunning and wonderfully set off by the broken walls, with their vacant windows and open doorways.
A truly magical part of the gardens there, worth a visit for that alone, though of course there is much more to see – even odd things like the sunken archery butts at the far side of one of the lawns.
The carparks there are not vast, and having driven Thebus in and parked quite easily as there were not many visitors on a Friday morning in February I found that there was insufficient space to easily turn round and escape, so having looked round the gardens, seen the interesting little film on the history and restoration of the house and gardens, and had a nice coffee and piece of Bara Brith for my latest taste test – I then elected to sit in the warmth of Thebus and wait until the gardens closed at four o’clock, Once the other visitors had cleared the area there was plenty of room for us to reverse and escape.
As I knew there were no caravan sites open anywhere near the places I was thinking of visiting I got out the guide book which I had last looked at (and been somewhat dismissive of) about this time last year.
Great – there were two places reasonable nearby and offering free parking overnight (though out of politeness it is sort of expected you will wish to purchase something of their’s) Even better one them was a farm shop rather than a pub.
Then I read on a bit. Not only did the farm shop have lots of chickens and ducks around the place, but they did not welcome dogs. Fair enough I suppose as one cannot guarantee canine behaviour, and I would not expect anyone to believe me if I said that Phoebe would come with me when I tended my own flock and stand absentmindedly in the runs whilst they ran between her legs, sometimes even reaching up to have an exploratory peck at her undercarriage. And once when I had a poorly one and Phoebe was sunbathing on the back lawn, the chicken went and lay next to her, wings outstretched for a bit of sunbathing as well.
So the poultry one was out of bounds for us. Even though the other one was a pub, I am getting much better at going into pubs on my own, and can now strike up a conversation with total strangers, so I thought that one might do.
The entry in the guide book politely requested that you phone ahead, which I thought was only reasonable, and the line was answered quickly. I explained I was only a few miles away and was hoping to stop the night and was intending to eat with them. Oh! So sorry. The pub has burned down!
So it was yet another night in a layby with the lorry drivers – but we are quite used to that now.
Wales was starting to live up to its reputation for raining.
It rained solidly throughout the night and continued through the morning. By now I was feeling a bit sorry for myself anyway with my cough and cold back with a vengeance. The club site had kindly allowed me to have a delivery of groceries from Sainsbury’s so I took the opportunity of replenishing supplies of cough medicine and Night and Day remedy tablets, plus they had a litre of Scotch on special offer, so that with a net of lemons and some honey completed the ‘cure’
I stayed in most of the day, and although I ventured out for a stroll with Phoebe, the damp atmosphere just bought the cough back especially if someone chatted to us and I needed to answer. But before starting out and in hopes of persuading the hook-up to start working again I had wound up the lead and put it inside to hopefully dry out, and by the evening – Saints be Praised – we were back on electric, so at least the worry of having to run the generator was removed.
Next day looked a bit more hopeful, and around mid morning I got out the scooter, and Phoebe and I explored the beautiful grounds of Tredegar House in the rather fitful early spring sunshine, and as there were lots of other dogs enjoying an airing Phoebe made a few new acquaintances – friends probably being too strong a word for Phoebe’s somewhat aloof interest 🙂
The house itself at Tredegar Park is a splendid Restoration mansion built on the site of earlier properties all belonging to the Morgan family in various incarnations.
One well known member being Henry Morgan – the Caribbean privateer, who’s portrait you may recognise from the rum bottles.
Another member of the family was Godfrey Morgan who in 1854 fought in, and survived the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. His horse Sir Briggs also survived though with a sabre cut to the forehead, and was eventually bought back to Tredegar House where many years later he was buried with full military honours in the Cedar Garden.
His monument there bears the inscription
In Memory of Sir Briggs Favourite charger. He carried his master the Hon. Godfrey Morgan, Captain 17th Lancers boldly and well at the Battle of Alma, in the first line of the Light Cavalry Charge at Balaclava and the battle of Inkerman, 1854.
He died at Tredegar Park February 6th 1874. Aged 28 years.
Having taken Phoebe back to Thebus I returned for a tour inside Tredegar House, which is apparently now run by The National Trust, who sadly have locked away many of the treasures previously on display to make it more hands-on and child friendly. Add that to the fact that many of the rooms were not open when I visited and the tour though interesting was quite short. But as I am a member of the NT free admission eased the pain somewhat, though a mix up with my membership card meant I had to return the following day to sort things out.
And therein lies a sad tale.
Thinking Phoebe would enjoy another explore of the gardens I took her with me. It had poured with rain again for hours during the night so that meant vast puddles lay on the ground. On arrival I spoke to the reception staff and sorted things with them – though as they said my story was so long and involved that it was barely likely I could have bothered to make it up – then popped round the corner to try out their hot chocolate and Bara Brith.
I have been doing a mini taste test on Bara Brith starting on my tour of North Wales and Anglesey, and have to say that the Bara Brith at Tredegar House is the most delicious I have found so far – yum, its making me feel hungry remembering it. So having sat on the cafe benches in the fickle Welsh sun I headed back for Thebus.
Now Phoebe is most fastidious – and getting one’s paws wet is highly frowned on. So trying to get her through a large, though really quite shallow puddle I think I must have taken the scooter into the deeper bit, and guess what? It stopped.
Fortunately for me a passing gardener was happy to help and went off to find a tractor and small trailer to return the scooter to the caravan park. I headed off, as it was a long walk for me to manage, and knowing I would be very slow I wanted to arrive back in time to show them how to put it on the scooter rack.
Fortunately the timing was good, they were more than helpful, and the scooter, though now not working, was loaded so I could strap it all on for the onward journey.
I wasn’t that early setting out as it was a Sunday morning, which I thought would be reasonably quiet. I had a good distance to travel, and was guessing at least some of the countryside would be interesting to look at as I drove through it.
In the South East even if the countryside warranted a second look you daren’t take it because of the volume of traffic, so travelling in the dark of the early morning hours meant you lost nothing in pleasure, and gained hours in saved driving time, never mind the years you stood to loose off your life from the stress of coping with the adrenalin powered drivers.
Tredegar House was the first stop on my planned tour of the South West part of Wales. I had half thought of stopping there when I visited Cardiff just after Christmas, but the house itself was closed for the season, and I thought I would save a visit until the house, as well as the grounds were open.
The campsite site there is run by the Caravan Club and is actually set within the park of Tredegar House, a most beautiful setting. It is immaculately kept by the charming wardens. I do so wish the Caravan Club could think of a better name for their employees, as Wardens sounds so very like Warders. Apparently some have been known to behave more in line with the latter name, though I have to say that has not been my experience and in fact they have nearly always gone above and beyond the duty required.
And so it was in this case. The lady who welcomed me was a charming, softly-spoken Welsh lady with a lovely sweet-sounding voice – kind and patient – and even though it was throwing it down with rain by the time I arrived her husband came with me to check I was happy with the site they though would suit me best. Which of course I was.
The rain had started at the exact mid-point of crossing the Severn Bridge – not a good omen I felt. I hadn’t intended to be crossing the Severn Bridge at all, but in my dithering as to which route to use I had changed my instructions to Strict Lady so many times, that just after we started, out of the corner of my eye I spotted her ‘re-calculating the route’ as she likes to put it, and the upshot was that it was she, not me that chose our final route.
The reason for wanting to avoid the Severn Bridge was that I had been warned of the narrowness of the toll lanes. Because Thebus is a private vehicle rather than a heavy goods vehicle I pay the standard toll charge, but that means you cannot go through the wide lorry lanes, and have to take the narrower car ones. Even though I was going slowly and trying to be careful I still just pushed the nearside mirror in a bit. Thebus’ mirrors are too high for me to reach, and have to be adjusted with an allen key set, so that made things a little hard as well. But we coped through the deluge, though the rain had a bad effect on things later in the day
I got drenched whilst emptying the tanks and filling with water, essential after our few days ‘off-piste’ and I think when hooking-up to the electric I must have looked inside the connector to check which way was up and got a droplet of water in. So having plugged in and got out of the rain the fuses tripped and we were without electric.
Of course I got out to reset the trips, but it kept tripping out, either at the caravan site post or on the main fuse board in Thebus. Plugging everything in-and-out, and switching everything off-and-on (that electrician’s favourite fix) involved trips in-and-out of the downpour each time, so I got throughly soaked again, plus of course by now Thebus was not very warm.
In the end I gave up and we just ‘wild-camped’ for the night though I couldn’t run the generator to top up the batteries, as I would have if not on a campsite, for fear of disturbing my neighbours. So I just had a hot shower as soon as the water was warm enough and got straight into bed.
Bearing in mind I had barely got over the hideous cough I had at Stratford I hardly need tell you the outcome of this soaking, and I had yet another fevered and coughing night. But I don’t blame my new life on the road at all. I would have been no better had I never embarked on my travels. In the past there was many a time with a bad cold or even worse I have had to go to the barns to feed and water stock, or tramp across snowy fields to break ice on water troughs. And those who have run their own business will know that ‘sick days’ are very few and far between.
I managed to get back before the rain started, but once I had it rained in earnest, though thankfully by morning was beginning to ease off somewhat. I fell back on the old ‘rain before seven – dry before eleven’ and delayed my start to mid morning, by which time we were almost in the dry. But I elected to take the Stratford Tour Bus, thinking that at least if the rain returned I could sit in the dry between stops, and in any case the journey out to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage would have been too far for the scooter – Mary Arden’s House which was even further, being closed for the winter.
The bus tour started from the little carpark by the Tourist Information and they kindly allowed me to leave the scooter with them – I really must look into getting some sort of bicycle lock for it. The tour bus is an open topped one, but as I intended to get off in a couple of stops I didn’t bother with the stairs, though the day was now nice enough for most of the passengers to go up and enjoy the sights of Stratford.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace is very well done and organised, with a new information centre and museum area, though it has been a tourist attraction for centuries and it was the Victorians who purchased and demolished the adjacent properties, surrounding the house with gardens leaving it to stand alone, and not as it would have appeared in Shakespeare’s day.
Something I hadn’t particularly appreciated was that Shakespeare came from quite a well to do family. The property itself was large for the times: his father was a wool merchant and glover: fine gloves in those days were an expensive commodity – though according to the display in one of the rooms, his workshop made and supplied differing grades of gloves.
I am sure you all know this, and perhaps I did but didn’t really take it onboard, but when Will got Anne into ‘trouble’ he was eighteen, and she around twenty six. Again the Hathaways , were a reasonably prosperous family, farming at the time around ninety acres of land a mile or so from Stratford. In 1582 Willian and Anne married and moved into a small cottage attached to the main part of his father’s house where their daughter was born some six months later.
Apart from the birth of his daughter and twins two years later little is heard until his name appears in a London pamphlet of 1592. Having gained recognition as an actor and playwright he had clearly ruffled a few feathers along the way as the pamphlet described him as an, “upstart Crow”.
As an interesting aside, this is a portrait held in Canada – which according to family tradition was a contemporary likeness of Shakespeare taken in 1603, probably by a friend of his on the occasion of Shakespeare’s elevation to the King’s Men in 1603. This elevation which would then have allowed him to wear silver thread and other elements of dress previously restricted by sumptuary laws, and I feel the portrait shows him with a rather nice half-concealed, though somewhat self-satisfied smile.
The naysayers claim that it can’t be him, as it doesn’t look like him, but as they don’t really know what he did look like I would guess that someone mischeivoulsy choosing claiming a portrait to be of Shakespeare would not chose one which didn’t look like the currently accepted images, so I am on their side. Plus I would like to imagine Shakespeare this way rather than this :-
The image above first appeared on the First Folio of his works published in 1623 some eleven years after his death, and was probably taken from the bust on Shakespeare’s funerary monument, which was, not surprisingly, made after his death.
The young Shakespeare was one of the managing partners of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company as well as belonging to its pool of actors and playwrights. It is thought possible a recession affected his father’s business (there had been a series of bad harvests in the 1590’s) which may have encouraged William to go to London to seek his fortune. He published poems at first but by 1594 a play was published and from then until 1611 he wrote roughly two plays a year, producing enough income to purchase a property – New Place – which was in Stratford near the church (though sadly no longer) – and he returned here in 1611 dying some five years later. Famously he bequeathed his wife Anne ‘his second best bed’ – though it is now thought there may have been a romantic gesture in this, as it would have probably been the bed they shared as a married couple – the best bed in those days being reserved for important guests.
It was interesting in the bedrooms to see a reproduction of a contemproray wallpaper meant to stimulate the imagination of young boys, and which Shakespeare particularly admired.
Shakespeare’s own son Hamnet (named after Shakespeare’s close friend Hamlett) died in 1596 aged eleven, possibly from the plague, leaving Shakespeare with just two daughters, both of whom had children, and afterwards the line died out.
Then a look round the ancient Guild Chapel situated next to the beautiful row of half-timbered almshouses built by the Guild in 1417 to house 12 men and 12 women, and still functioning as almshouses now for 11.
The chapel was highly prosperous but as with all Guild Chapels was suppressed during the Reformation: Shakespeare’s father was one of the officials responsible for overseeing the destruction of the murals which had probably been completed within his own lifetime. Interestingly William Shakespeare himself, at least when in London, was a recusant Catholic.
Even though following the tourist map I seemed to manage to lose myself, so somehow missed the Grammar School, which was most annoying, but having no scooter I daren’t retrace my steps, so headed for the church to see Shakespeare’s grave and the font he and his children were christened in. So in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon William obviously conformed to the accepted norms of his religiously fraught times.
And this was his monument, which though it depicts him in the way we have come to accept he looked, was in fact, as one might imagine, carved after his death.
The house of his daughter is on the way to the church, and is well worth a visit, being presented in as near a possible style of the times with many interesting pieces on display.
Then back on the bus to visit Anne Hathaway’s childhood home, which again was interesting, though of course being so early in the year I missed out on the beautiful garden flowers for which it is now famous.
The last of the Hathaway family died fairly poverty stricken having had to sell off pretty much everything. In 1892 they finally had to sell off their last asset, and the house was purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
In Shakespeare’s day the house itself would have been smaller, and not the twelve rooms it contains today. Inside is displayed the ‘Courting Chair’
And this is the fireplace they would have probably canoodled in front of!
Then back to Thebus and the patiently waiting Phoebe, though I did take a quick detour via the shops to collect a couple of my favourite lined alpaca cardigans.