Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Visit with Friends

Last week my dear friends from Illinois came for their first visit and we got out in the beautiful hills around Radnorshire and west Herefordshire and had a great time seeing wonky little churches, the ruins of what must have once been a breathtaking priory (left in ruins back in, say, 1539), the beautiful views and clouds of fog from Hay Bluff, and other sights.

It went something like this. I drove the 50 minutes to Hereford, the closest "big" city to where I stay and picked Judy and Leon up at the train station. After navigating the most evil roundabout, one I've successfully avoided for 5 years now) we headed on down the A-465 toward Abergavenny. The further we got from Hereford the more lovely the countryside became (though I will say the cathedral and the River Wye in Hereford are well worth seeing, and once you reach that city and manage to park it has a nice small-town feel and quite a few good shops).

We made our way some 20 miles down toward Abergavenny and then turned for Cwmyoy, a sign easily missed! near the village of Llanfihangel Crucorney. Now these roads are not for the faint of heart and there's more than a little bit of luck involved, but since I was in my
Daihatsu with cattle bars across the front I figured we'd probably fare pretty well against most oncoming traffic with the exception of perhaps a big John Deere with a muckspreader attached! Haven't seen many of them up that road, though.

J&L thought it would be nice to visity the lovely and wonky church at Cwmyoy so we made our way up that little lane. In this country when you get way off the beaten track you often find that the road you're on passes right through someone's farmyard, so much so that if you stick your hand out the window you can touch their house or barn. In this case I easily could have touched someone's house but I suppressed the urge and we wound up around to the church on the hill. It's a lovely situation for a church and it doesn't take much imagination to see all the people threading their way there on a Sunday morning a few decades ago (back when it was expected, if not required, that EVERYONE attended church on a Sunday). The first thing we noticed when we passed through the gate was a nice walkway made of quarried stone and I wish I'd written down what was inscribed on the stones (my memory is a blank slate) because it was nice and cleverly done -- just one word for every pace or two -- a short message spread out over the space of maybe 75 feet! The next thing we noticed was how the church seemed to be going in 4 directions at once. I'm no geologist but I suppose it had to do with a building settling in different directions over a long (a few hundred years, at least) period of time! It was SOOOO noticeable from outside and perhaps even moreso inside where one could picture the congregation sitting there listening to the vicar preach his sermon and their eyes being drawn to the altar which was at a radical angle from where it should be sitting. M photograph really doesn't half show how bizarre it all looked and yet in some odd way it added real charm to the place.

We were in kind of a hurry since the days are very short indeed here and it's getting very dark by 4 p.m. this time of year, so we didn't linger as long as we would have liked at any of the spots. Next we passed a few miles up this beautiful and tranquil road toward Llanthony Priory, one of my favorite spots. On the way we passed a man out hedge-trimming (with a tractor and apparatus these days) who courteously found a passing place to let us by. Up the road to the Priory, I think Judy and Leon were gobsmacked at the ruins of the Priory and noticed right off that there's a cafe and B&B there (though they were closed). The ruins aren't as grand in scale as those of the famous Tintern Abbey (if you're a Wordsworth fan) but to me they are far more beautiful because of the setting in which they stand. It is about as remote as it gets around these parts and the arches are surrounded by lovely bracken-covered hills. For me, in some strange way, a cathedral without a roof and stained glass windows, walls and all the trappings of some of the beautiful houses of God is somehow even more uplifting - it is literally a part of nature and it is nature that inspires my spiritual side.

We had just a few minutes at Llanthony (I'd like to go pony trekking there some day) and headed on up toward Capel y FFin, a favorite spot of mine. It's a little settlement with a farm, one of those famous red phone kiosks, and church and a chapel (they both look like chapels to Americans, small and white and surrounded by weathered tombstones, nestled below looming hills). If you go into the church by the road, you'll find that as you sit in a pew and gaze up at the window above the altar, the window is etched with the scripture, "I will lift mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help." And there, in the distance behind the window are the beautiful hills.

We headed on up toward Hay Bluff where I've done some climbing in the past. I pointed out the smallholding (small farm) where my friend Maz was raised nestled under the looming peaks and a nice stand of pines and across from Lord Hereford's Knob. We made our way through the Gospel Pass and up across the narrow road that winds through Hay Bluff. Leon and Judy were reminded of Scotland here with the craggy peaks wreathed in fog. We parked where I often see my friend Viv out flying his hawks or folks flying kites and had a few pictures with the gorse (in its lovely yellow flowers) and the free-range horses who kindly posed for wide-nostriled photos in front of the hills.

Down yet another exciting single lane road and into Hay-on-Wye, a very interesting place to visit full of artisans and cute little shops and.....well, bookstores. We stopped off at the Black Lion for hot chocolate and coffee - that's a good spot and then made our way back up the hills around Clyro and Newchurch to home. We had a little trouble as the clutch went out but I managed to coast home slowly in second gear. Later in the evening we enjoyed the best steak I've had in I don't know how long, and good cider and perry, and handcut chips (french fries) and nice fresh vegetables and the company of good friends and a warm crackling fire...all this at the Harp Inn in Old Radnor. For all the pubs I've visited in this country, the Harp is still my favorite and David and Jenny are fine hosts.

Next day we started up Smatcher for a view of the valley, then cruised down into New Radnor and up Mutton Dingle, across into the forestry for an even more spectacular view of the Radnor Valley. Since L&J only had a day and a half here, we were always pressed for time and didn't linger long at any of the places that surely deserved far more than a glance, but such is the nature of whirlwind tours. We followed the A-44 through Llandegley and Penybont (they often remarked at the sheep in the road as we passed through various "commons"), Crossgates (where we found a much-needed loo) and on to Rhayader. We were lucky enough to find a parking spot on the main drag just past the war memorial that sits smack in the middle of the "square" in a sort of roundabout kind of place, a junction of two "main" roads. We decided to go to Carole's there for some lunch and soon found ourselves huddled over our Welsh cawl - bowls of soup with chicken and "root" vegetables (carrots, swede, potatoes), Welsh cheddar cheese and crusty brown bread. Absolutely delicious! And more hot chocolate. It was one of the colder days we've had this season and that lunch absolutely hit the spot.
Soon we were headed out to the Elan Valley and we took the sort of backwards way around because the sun was just too much in our eyes, following another narrow mountain road up past some farms, a "tombstone way marker - "Aberystwyth 29, Rhayader 1/2," a lake with ducks, a stream that spilled down the hillside to the lake, the sheep pens up on the hill, and then coming over a hilltop (masses of wind turbines in the distance to our right) to see the River Elan winding through the valley like some twisted silver thread, what a sight! Of course we stopped a dozen times for photos, then made our way down to the valley and started winding our way past isolated farms and century-old dams and back into Rhayader.

We stopped at the dams and made photos, of course (doesn't everyone) but it was getting near dark and there was a real bite in the air, so much so that there was ice on the road in several places, quite unusual for this time of year in Wales (it rarely dips below freezing here).

That evening we went to the Hundred House Inn, another nice old pub in the shadow of Aberedw Hill, for a nice dinner and pints of Old Peculier. I think Leon liked that. And before we knew it it was time to head home for some much-needed rest!

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