Communion Of Dreams


Three weeks in Wales, Part 11: end days.

 

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10.

The next day we were in a neolithic kinda frame of mind. This was by design, actually, since one of the sites we wanted to see is only open on weekends, if you want to see the inside of it. That’s the Barclodiad y Gawres burial chamber on Anglesey, and I love this aerial image of it from CADW’s site:

I actually mentioned this site in a blog post three years ago about St Cybi’s Well, and I’ve been wanting to see it since I did the research about the site. And this was another case where I had a false memory of having previously visited it, thanks to that research. But this time I knew full well that I hadn’t been there … even as the false memory played out as having been there when we went looking for it. A very strange feeling.

Anyway. We stopped at the little shop in the nearby town, as instructed on the CADW site, and collected the key for the chamber. The site was only about a mile away, and we parked there in the lot for a small beach, and walked out to the mound.

The mound was excavated in the 1950s, and when that research was done they capped it with a concrete dome and turf to protect it and to return it to something like what it may have looked like when constructed 4,000 – 5,000 years ago. The entryway you can see in the image above allows anyone to partially enter the mound:

Where you see this:

The original entry path of the cruciform passage grave.*

The gate is locked, and the key allows you entrance. We wanted to get inside because I wanted to personally see the neolithic art:

There are better images (and more of other carved stones at the site) at the site linked above and elsewhere online.

After exploring inside the chamber we locked it back up, then explored the exterior. There on the headlands the wind was brisk, but it was a wonderful location with excellent views:

We returned the key to the shop, and went off in quest of other neolithic sites there on Ynys Môn. First was Caer Lêb, a Bronze Age settlement which is little more than mounds now.

Then we stopped at another passage grave: the Bodowyr Burial Chamber.

From there we headed back to the mainland, stopping for some lunch before visiting friends of Martha’s for a couple of hours. When we headed back to our beachside hotel it was still a bit early, so we decided to to explore the substantial Iron Age hillfort overlooking our portion of the beach:

From the hotel parking lot.

That’s Dinas Dinlle, and there’s not a lot of information available about it, though the Megalithic Portal has a number of images of the site. Here are some more of mine:

At the top. I’d guesstimate the hill to be about 100 meters high.

 

Along one of the defensive earthen walls.

 

Path across the village ‘floor’ to the other defensive wall. To the right the sea has claimed approximately a third of the original hillfort.

 

During WWII there was a military airport just up the coast, so at the base of the hillfort it wasn’t surprising to see a small defensive pillbox of that era:

I thought that it was an interesting juxtaposition.

The next day was our final one in Wales. After a nice breakfast we packed up and headed east. We were driving back to Manchester (where we would fly out the next day), but we thought to hit several castles along the way. The first of these was Rhuddlan Castle. We had visited Rhuddlan some years previously, but at that time it was undergoing some restoration work.  CADW has a nice overview of the castle … in the form of an aerial fly-by:

It was nice to have a chance to really walk around the place and enjoy it.


 

From Rhuddlan we went to the first castle King Edward built to subdue Wales: Flint. Both Wikipedia and Castle Wales have good entries on Flint Castle, but I prefer my own images:

There were a number of these shadow-sculptures, which I really thought were striking. the images were drawn from history/Shakespeare.

Entry into the unusual large circular detached tower, called a donjon keep, which overlooks the main castle entrance.

 

The donjon had your typical central rooms, but it also had wide (7-8′) corridors in the walls, with defensive windows and arrow slits looking out.

 

Inner room of the donjon.

 

The lower inner corridor in the donjon keep. 

Top of the donjon. 

Inner ward of the castle.

 

Across the inner ward.

 

Our last castle of the trip was to be Ewloe. This small Welsh castle was one I’d never even heard of, as its history is both brief and unremarkable. But it is a surprisingly charming little place. I’ll add a couple of pics, but I like the ones at Castle Wales better, so would recommend that you check those out.

From there, it didn’t take us long to drive the rest of the way to Manchester, where once again we had reserved a room at Ash Farm:

It was a good trip. Thanks for sharing it with us here.

 

Jim Downey

* I’ve always been struck by the fact that the shape of these passage graves is a cross. Obviously, that was the shape which came to symbolize Christianity, and which was used to construct churches and cathedrals for hundreds of years. But I don’t recall having ever read anything where someone has drawn the obvious connection between the two. Evidently that’s a gap in my knowledge.



Three weeks in Wales, Part 10: Welsh Rover.

 

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9.

Took this the next morning at breakfast in the Black Lion pub, just had to share it:

While we’d had exceptionally nice weather through most of our trip, the next day we woke to more low-hanging clouds, light rain, and mist. In other words, characteristically Welsh weather.

We next had an Air B&B up outside of Caernarfon. Charming place. Lots of character. Bit too much for my tastes, actually. Would have been fine if I were a grad student again, but I’ve now come to like more luxury when on vacation. Like a bed which isn’t a foot off the floor. A bathroom which isn’t down the hall, up some stairs, then down another hall. And a door which *doesn’t* lock from outside the room.  It made me … uncomfortable. At least the host was pleasant, though in a way which a murder mystery writer might describe. Yes, I have an over-active imagination, but still. We stayed the one night, but high-tailed it to a conventional holiday hotel elsewhere in the area the next day.

But before we went there, we took a trip south to pay homage to Number 6. Yup, we went to Portmeirion:

Even The Village needs maintenance work now and again.

Rover! Here boy!”

 

OK, this is hard to make out. But there in the middle of the image is a modern security camera. Given how Portmeirion was used as the setting for The Prisoner, with it’s all-encompassing monitoring, I just thought it a bit ironic to actually see this.

 

After a nice afternoon in Portmeirion we went up to Caernarfon and strolled around a bit. I was surprised at just how much the city shuts down at the end of the business day — they really roll up the sidewalks.

But there was still one pub going strong, at least: The Anglesey Arms.

Where we saw this. I thought the paint job would appeal to a number of my friends.

The next morning we decided to go out onto the Llŷn Peninsula, first going to Criccieth Castle.   Here’s the description of Criccieth from St Cybi’s Well — see if you think it fits with the image from Castle Wales below.

Darnell went across to the exit into the castle grounds proper. The path turned left, then right into a copse of trees. When he emerged from these, the massive gatehouse seemed to loom directly overhead. The path cut up the hill at an angle on the north side, climbing steeply, then switched back before coming around to the front of the gatehouse. There was little doubt that when the castle was in operation, taking this path would mean that any attackers would be under constant fire from arrows, bolts, and heavy stones coming from the walls and the outer gatehouse. Trying to go straight up the hillside would have been even worse, because while it was a shorter path, it was much more precarious footing, and still under direct fire from the outer gatehouse tower and curtain wall.

And of course, if you made it past the outer gatehouse, then you had to contend with the huge inner gatehouse, a massive structure of twin D-shaped towers sporting a delightful array of arrow loops and murder holes.

Do go and check out the castle itself: it’s damned impressive, even in its ruined state. And the lump of hill it sits on is a stunning site, with fantastic views of the town and country around:

From Criccieth, we did some exploring on the peninsula, then thought to go find a small church we had heard about from friends years before. This is St Beuno’s at Pistyll, on the north shore, and its so small that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry:

St Beuno’s is a 12th century structure, though it has seen some updates and repairs over time. Still, it’s largely intact, and feels like it both inside and out:

Note the rushes on the floor.

 

If you look carefully, you can see the holes in the rafters for where thatch was held in place. The slate roof is only about 100 years old.

I love these two pans of moss & stone in the window ledges, an old tradition related to Easter:

Moss pan in the window, 12th century stone font for holy water in the foreground.

Outside:

The narrow window is called a “Leper’s squint”, where those who were not permitted inside the church could witness mass.

And around:

Lovely.

Jim Downey



Three weeks in Wales, Part 8: before history.

 

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7.

We spent the bulk of Sunday driving to Llandysul in SW Wales. There we’d made arrangements to stay with an online friend of Martha’s.

Monday we spent mostly in prehistoric Britain, starting with Castell Henllys. This is an iron age hillfort which has been partially reconstructed, using solid archeological research done on the site. Since the roundhouses have been rebuilt right on the original foundations, you get a real sense of what life in the village must have been like. You can see it, feel it, smell it. They’ve done a remarkable job in building the structures and constructing the everyday items which would have been inside them.

Typical traps between the defensive berms: sharp rocks, pot holes, mires.

 

Inside defensive berm.

 

 

What you see as you come through the defensive perimeter.

 

Nice to see how the thatch around the vent hole was replaced recently.

 

Common house and animal pen.

 

Entrance to the chieftain’s hut.

 

Interior roof support structure.

 

Simple loom.

 

Grindstone.

 

Firepit.

 

Cooking gear.

 

Decorative end of log seat.

Interior wall.

 

‘Bedroom.’

 

Interior decoration.

Pole lathe.

 

Storage/work shed.

 

Fish basket.

 

Roof detail.

 

Granary.

 

We decided to have lunch at a local pub, then I wanted to make another stop at Craig Rhosyfelin (from Part 3), to take some additional images for my own reference in working on St Cybi’s Well:

Approaching the point.

 

And from there we went exploring — driving off into an area we hadn’t been before, just looking to see what we might find on the map. And we wound up at Gors Fawr, a wonderful remote neolithic stone circle. With the clouds hanging low and covering the nearby mountain tops, you couldn’t ask for a more atmospheric scene:

The whole circle.

 

The ‘avenue stones.’

 

Lastly, on our way back to Llandysul, we stopped by the Hywel Dda Centre in Whitland. We had been to the Centre previously, but only when it wasn’t open. This time we had a chance to chat with a charming docent, who shared his enthusiasm for Welsh history. And of professional interest, we got to see the excellent facsimile copy of ‘Boston Manuscript of the Laws of Hywel Dda‘:

It was a delightful day.

Jim Downey



Three weeks in Wales, Part 7: Like an aqueduct over troubled water.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.

It was the last day for my sister and her family, so we decided to hit a couple of interesting places on our way from Dolgellau to Manchester, where we had a B&B for the night.

First was Valle Crucis Abbey,  outside of Llangollen. Valle Crucis is another of the big Cistercian abbeys, and one of the best preserved, giving you a chance to walk through and really get a feel for what it must have been like to live in:

It’s a cool place.

Next up was the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct outside of the town of Llangollen.

Most Americans know very little of the early industrial revolution in Great Britain, and the role which the early canal system played in helping launch that fundamental societal change. Prior to the development of railroads, canals were crucial for moving goods and materials in the UK. And Thomas Telford was one of the greatest civil engineers of the era, who helped to construct the network of canals.

The canals no longer play a critical role in the economy of the UK, but they have become a popular holiday destination, and people often take tours on narrowboats or even rent them as a short-stay vacation home. Narrowboats like these:

After walking across the aqueduct, we decided to take a ride on one of the narrowboats from “Jones the Boats.” We got tickets, then went and had a nice lunch at the Telford Inn  while we waited for our turn.

The trip back and forth across the aqueduct takes about 45 minutes, and the views over the Dee River (the river is some 125′ below) are quite lovely:

Heading out.

Note the lack of any kind of rail or ledge on the one side. And the edge of the trough is only about 6″ up out of the water. You can hang right over the edge of it if you want.

There were dogs …

… and cats.

Heading back.

Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

I certainly did. And I could see doing a couple days on one of the fancy narrowboats.

After the aqueduct we continued on to Manchester. Our B&B (which we’ve used on previous trips) was a charming place: Ash Farm Country House. After getting settled in, we popped next door to a fantastic gastro-pub for dinner and some real ale: The Swan with Two Nicks.

It was a great way to close out the portion of the trip which Celeste, Steven, and Haley shared with us. The next morning we dropped them off at the airport, and Martha and I headed back into Wales.

 

Jim Downey



Three weeks in Wales, Part 6: the best laid plans … worked.

 

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

Some years back my wife Martha and I climbed Snowdon. This trip, my brother-in-law Steven and niece Haley decided that they wanted to do it. But being somewhat more into hiking than I ever was, they wanted to try a more adventurous path than we used, and consulted with an outdoors shop owner in Dolgellau they had made friends with to see what he recommended. After discussion, they decided on the Rhyd Ddu Path, which they were told would take between 2:30 and 3:00 hours for hikers in good shape to do.

So after keeping an eye on the weather, they decided to tackle it on Thursday morning of our second week in Wales. We dropped them off at the trailhead in the small town of Rhyd Ddu:

Snowdon in the distance.

 

My sister Celeste, Martha, and I took a leisurely drive over to Llanberis, where we’d arranged to take the Snowdon Mountain Railway (SMR) up Yr Wyddfa. The timing on this was a little tricky: your ticket for up and back only allows a 30 minute stay on top of the mountain. And our plan was to meet Steven and Haley there, and to have them get stand-by tickets to take the train back down with us … if there were any. Because there frequently aren’t, and they’re only sold on a ‘as available’ basis. One additional possible complication: even under the best conditions, the weather on top of Snowdon is very changeable, and the SMR will only go to the very top (where the station is) if visibility it clear. 

But Steven and Haley were confident that they could do the hike in the time allotted, and if worst came to worst, they could also hike back down and we could then pick them up.

So, we drove to Llanberis, enjoying some sight-seeing along the way:

Snowdon is the peak in the middle.

 

Well, the plans worked perfectly. Steven and Haley made it to the top of Snowdon in just 2:15, and got their names on the top of the stand-by list. The train made it all the way to the top, where we joined them at the Hafod Eryri, the station/visitor’s center which was new since the last time I had been to the top.

The path heading up from the lake is the Miner’s Path, which Martha and I climbed previously. The one above it is the PYG Track, which is the way we went back down.

Yeah, it’s that wonderful. You should go sometime.

One the way back to the cottage we stopped at Cymer Abbey, just outside Dolgellau. Cymer is a late 12th century Cistercian ruins, but still quite charming:

The next day we decided to visit one of my very favorite places in Wales: Castell-y-Bere. It’s one of the native Welsh castles, dating back to about 1220, and was brilliantly designed to take advantage of the natural features of the site, as can be seen in this image of the ruins on CADW’s site:

You can see a rendering of what the castle may have looked like in the information plaque there at Castell-y-Bere:

And here are more images from our visit, but I would also recommend the Castle Wales entry.

After a nice long visit at Castell-y-Bere, we stopped off at the entrance to the Path up to the summit of Cadair Idris and had a pleasant late lunch at the Tŷ Te Cadair Tea Room. I love this tree-shaded little road leading up to it:

It was a good day.

Jim Downey



Three weeks in Wales, Part 5: water and old stone.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

“Water and old stone” pretty much sums up Wales, for me, I think. But I have an admittedly biased perspective.

We started the next morning with a trip to Pennant Melangell, a small pilgrimage church in the Tanat valley in north Wales. Here’s the preamble I use in the first chapter of St Cybi’s Well, which is titled ‘Pennant Melangell’:

Melangell was a female saint of the 7th century. According to tradition she came here from Ireland and lived as a hermit in the valley. One day Brochwel, Prince of Powys, was hunting and pursued a hare which took refuge under Melangell’s cloak. The Prince’s hounds fled, and he was moved by her courage and sanctity. He gave her the valley as a place of sanctuary, and Melangell became Abbess of a small religious community. After her death her memory continued to be honoured, and Pennant Melangell has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries. Melangell remains the patron saint of hares.
– St Melangell’s Church website

It’s a wonderful little place.

Here’s the entrance to the churchyard, with the classic lych gate:

Interior of the church:

The 15th century rood screen.

 

Chancel, with the (reconstructed) 12th century shrine of St Melangell.

 

Detail under the shrine.

 

Inside the Apse.

 

Back of the tympanum, containing a plaster panel with The Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments, all in Welsh.

In the churchyard:

I love this place. Maybe it shows:

We got some lunch in the charming little town of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant (where parts of this favorite movie was shot), then went to visit Pistyll Rhaeadr, one of the “seven natural wonders of Wales.”  The waterfall is mentioned in Communion of Dreams, and one of the major chapters of St Cybi’s Well is titled ‘Pistyll Rhaeadr’. Here it is:

That’s almost 250′ tall.

 

My sister and her family before we climbed to the top.

 

Up on top.

 

Steve, getting some images of the falls, looking down.

I did the same:

Here’s a description of the top of the falls, taken from St Cybi’s Well:

As he came around past the rock outcrop, the sound from the falls increased. There was the distant rumble from the bottom of the first long drop, but closer now were the sounds of water scrambling over rock and root, gathering in the small pools at the top before the plunge. Darnell made his way to the last of these pools, near the edge of the cliff, and stood there, listening.

He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and relaxed, opening himself as he had tried to do at St Cybi’s and St Seiriol’s, allowing rather than reaching, feeling rather than thinking.

And he felt something. A whisper in his mind. A whisper as though someone were speaking his name. A whisper of invitation, to step through the wind and over the edge of the cliff, to come to freedom. It was a beckoning, a subtle and supple call to pass through to the other side.

This was the thinness Megan spoke of. He understood it now, at least a little.

Releasing the breath, he slowly opened his eyes, then knelt down to the pool in front of him. The silver-grey sky reflected in the pool had a new shimmer to it, an intensity he had not seen before. He reached out, as he had done before, and placed the palm of his hand against the surface of the water.

There was no slight electric thrill, but neither was there just the crisp coldness of a mountain stream. Rather, there was a vibrancy, almost a … depth … there, more than the few inches of water in the pool would suggest. And while the roar of the falls to his left called loudly, it was the trickle of water coming from his right which whispered to him. He stood, and followed it further up the mountain.

After hiking back down to the base of the falls, we enjoyed a snack in the little tea shop, then headed back to our cottage. The magic of the day continued, as we watched clouds form midway down the mountain:

The next day we decided to visit Caernarfon castle, the massive fortress in the north Wales town of the same name. This one:

Some of my images:

And from displays inside one of the main towers:

Time enjoying the castle was followed up with lunch on the castle square:

That afternoon, we went to St Cybi’s Well, itself:

The main bathing pool.

 

The well source, itself, behind the bathing pool.

 

“Author’s selfie.”

 

Jim Downey

 



Three weeks in Wales, Part 4: Take a walk on the wall side.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

That’s the famous Laburnum Arch at Bodnant Garden in North Wales. Calling it an ‘arch’ is somewhat misleading, since it’s actually 55 meters long. Here’s a better image of it from Wikipedia:

We decided to kick off our week in North Wales with a trip to Bodnant Garden, particularly since Martha knew that the Arch would be in bloom. She’s wanted to see it in it’s full glory since we first went there almost 20 years ago.

And much of the rest of the garden was in bloom, as well:

If you plan a trip to Wales, particularly anywhere in the north, you really should include Bodnant in your itinerary.

After enjoying the garden, we decided to pop into Conwy for a bit of lunch, enjoying the old town, and seeing the amazing City Walls:

(Not my images, found on Google.)

From there, we decided to drive back to our cottage in Dolgellau via Betws-y-Coed, so we could check out Swallow Falls:

And here’s some video of it:

The next morning we headed to Ynys Môn, more commonly known in English as Anglesey. The first stop was St Seiriol’s Well, Penmon. We visited the well:

Then checked out the medieval dovecot, and went out to the beach for a nice stroll. We drove further inland to check out a site I had again *thought* that I had visited previously, but that turned out to be only in my fiction: the Lligwy Burial Chamber, a neolithic burial site. And nearby is the Lligwy hut group, a Roman-era defensive village which is really quite delightful, even if it is only foundations:

After the Hut Group, we stopped at a roadside pub for some lunch, then went exploring Anglesey, taking in the views, hopping fences to get up close to some wind mills, and enjoying the many scattered Standing Stones.

Jim Downey