Communion Of Dreams


Three weeks in Wales, Part 2: Places forgotten, places remembered.

Part 1 can be found here.

We drove over from Avebury and crossed into Wales, headed up the Wye River valley north of Chepstow. You get your first glimpse of the abbey as you come around a bend in the road, something like this:

Yeah, Tintern Abbey, another World Heritage Site. One of those places where you can feel almost a thousand years of history surround you, wrap you up, hold you close. To walk in that space is to somehow find a part of yourself you never knew was missing. There are a number of places in Wales which make me feel that way. Probably why I keep going back there.

Others in our party experienced the same thing:

After a time we left the Abbey, and I begged an indulgence of the group to visit a small site nearby: St Anne’s Well, Trellech. Everyone was game, even though it wasn’t someplace we had discussed previously. But my wife (who is an excellent navigator, and had done extensive research & preparation for our trip), looked at her maps and said “I don’t know how to get there.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “I do.”

See, I had been there multiple times before … through the technological miracle of Google Streetview. I was fairly sure that I could get us there without reference to a map.

And I did:

St Anne’s Well, also know as the “Virtuous Well”.

I wanted to visit the site because there’s a small but fairly important scene which takes place at the well in St Cybi’s Well. Here’s a bit of it:

Darnell looked from her, back at the well. Here and there on the short wall surrounding it were small objects. And hanging from the limbs of the tree above it were dozens of different strips of cloth in varying hues and conditions, some worn to just loose fibers. He nodded towards those, asked, “What’s with the rags?”

“Hanging from the whitethorn? They’re called clouties. It’s an old tradition for those suffering an illness: dip a length of cloth in the water of the well, then tie it to the tree. As the cloth slowly wears away, so will the illness.” She sipped at her own mug. “The believing makes it so.”

You might be able to see some of the clouties in the image above. In this one, you can at least easily see the white strip I hung in the tree after immersing it in the well water:

We drove on to our B&B accommodation in Cardiff.

The next morning we decided on a pair of nearby castles for the day’s enjoyment: Caerphilly and Coch. As a bonus, Caerphilly was playing host to a couple of dragons …

Dewi and Dwynwen, and their eggs (since hatched).

We’ve been to Caerphilly previously, but it is always a great place to visit. And this was the first real castle for my sister and her family, who were impressed with the size and scope of the fortress, even though it had been slighted during the English Civil War.

Out for a stroll along the top of one of the towers.

The unusual companion castle to Cearphilly is Castell Coch. Unusual, because while the two share some history (having both been built by Baron Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan, in the late 13th century), in many ways Coch is the antithesis of Caerphilly. Where Caerphilly was a massive fortress designed to use the latest military architecture of the time (concentric layers of defense and extensive water bodies), Coch is a small private castle, barely sufficient as a defensive residence. And where Caerphilly still stands largely intact with its 13th century design, Coch was rebuilt extensively in the 19th century to be a delightful (if somewhat bizarre) Victorian fantasy of what a medieval castle would be like:

But still, a nice place for a stroll …

… or a few moments rest.

We left SE Wales, and headed west, to our B&B in Kidwelly.

 

Jim Downey

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