Friday, 4 February 2011

A Need to Walk - Part 1

I walk because I enjoy it, and for my health. My walks are usually of the 3 to 4 mile variety. When I get myself fitter again (after a winter of more infrequent walking due to the icy weather) 5 or 6 miles will be introduced. But even at peak fitness back in my 20s and 30s, I'd have been hard-pressed to keep up with some of this lot.

View from the top of Hay Bluff, on the little road to Capel-y-Ffin.

The Rev. Francis Kilvert was an inveterate walker. One of his favourite walks was up into the mountains to visit Llanthony Priory and the little chapel of Capel-y-Ffin, with its lopsided bell tower. The name translates to the chapel on the boundary and was described by Kilvert as ‘the old chapel, short, stout and boxy, with its little bell turret, squatting like a stout grey owl among its seven great yews’.

Tuesday 5th April 1870

"The day broke cloudless after a sharp frost. Up early and went to Cae Mawr to breakfast at 8 o'clock. Drove to Hay in Morrell's carriage. We drove on to Llanigon, the air fresh, cold driving. Alighted at Llanigon village and sent the carriage back. Walked up by the Church and took the field path to the Cilonw Farm. Down the pretty steep winding lane we went skirting the Honddu. Across the valley at the mouth of a great dreadful dingle stood the ruins of the house which was swept away while the people were dancing, by an avalanche of snow or a torrent of snow water let loose by a sudden thaw. a young man who was coming up from Llanthony to join the party was saved by his greyhound unacccountably hanging behind, whining and running back so as to entice his master home again. "

"A few minutes walk up a lane now dry but which is probably a watercourse in winter, and looking through the hedge we exclaimed, "There they are". Two black figures were working in a sloping path of ground laid out as a garden, one digging and the other wheeling earth to him in a barrow. They were dressed in long black habits girt round the waist with scourge cords knotted at the ends and dangling almost to the ground. The black hoods or cowls were drawn over their heads leaving their faces bare, and their naked feet were thrust into sandals with which they went slip slop along as with slippers down at heel. . . . . We spoke to the masons of whom there were two working at the foundations. They spoke with great respect and some awe of the monks and did not seem the least inclined to laugh at them. They answered all our questions too very civilly. We saw the foundation stone which Father Ignatius came down to lay three weeks ago. Then he returned to London and at present there are only these two monks in residence."

Father Ignatius was the name given to
an eccentric, Joseph Leycester Lyne, who was determined to establish an Anglican Benedictine monastery on land near Llanthony (which edifice he had failed to purchase from Arnold Landor. Sadly despite 40 years' of labour, the monastery failed due to lack of building knowledge on designing and building a church from scratch. The domestic buildings are now a private dwelling.

Friday 24th June, Midsummer Day (1870)

"Up at 6.30 and to breakfast at Cae Mawr soon after 7.30. Perch
(Kilvert's brother) ready for a walk to Llanthony. . . . . When we entered the Abbey precincts the courtyard was swarming with people. Some were walking about, some sitting down under the penthouse on either side of the Abbey Tavern door, some standing in knots and groups talking. The kitchen too was buzzing and swarming like a hive. Beauchamp came forward and met us and we were shown into the upper long room. Here the servant girl Sarah told us that it was Mr Arnold Savage Landor's rent day."

George Borrow's "Wild Wales" has spent many a year included on my bookshelves and I have read it several times and dipped into it regularly since moving to Wales. Borrow's book was published in 1862 and tells of his family's "holiday" in Wales, whereby his wife and daughter were left much to their own devices whilst he walked the length and breadth of Wales from Wrexham across mid-Wales to the borderlands by Newport and Chepstow, taking in the copper-smelting delights of Swansea, and the coal-mining valleys around Merthyr. Having had a Welsh groom, he "had" the language, although I believe his pronunciation must have confused on occasion, as much as it startled true Welshmen to hear an outsider speaking it (for his roots were in East Anglia). I dare say the inhabitants of Wales were mighty relieved when he didn't repeat his holiday, for his manner at times might be construed as overbearing and condescending. Here he is at Merthyr Tydfil;

"The morning of the fourteenth was very fine. After breakfast I went to see the Cyfartha Fawr iron works, generally considered to be the great wonder of the place. After some slight demur I obtained permission from the superintendent to inspect them. I was attended by an intelligent mechanic. What shall I say about the Cyfartha Fawr? I had best say but very little. I saw an immense wheel impelled round with frightful velocity by a steam-engine of two hundred-and-forty-horse power. I heard all kinds of dreadful sounds. The general effect was stunning. These works belong to the Crawshays, a family distinguished by a strange kind of eccentricity, but also by genius and enterprising spirit, and by such a strict feeling of honour that it is a common saying that the word of any one of them is as god as the bond of other people. "

Part of the Blaenavon ironworks, below:

And leaving it:

"I left Merthyr about twelve o'clock for Caerfili. My course lay along the valley to the south-east. I passed a large village called Troed y Rhiw, or the foot of the slope, from its being at the foot of a lofty elevation, which stands on the left-hand side of the road, and was speeding onward fast, with the Taf at some distance on my right, when I saw a strange-looking woman advancing towards me. She seemed between forty and fifty, was bare-footed and bare-headed, with grizzled hair hanging in elf locks, and was dressed in rags and tatters. When about ten yards from me, she pitched forward, gave three or four grotesque tumbles, heels over head, then standing bolt upright, a yard before me, she raised her right arm, and shouted in a most discordant voice - "Give me an alms, for the glory of God!"

The Irish woman then tells her story, on his insistence, it being involved with her being cursed whilst she was living yet in Limerick, and continues on for several pages, by which time the poor man must have been quite overwhelmed by her vociferousness and gives her a shilling to go on her way!

View from Postbridge, looking towards the Drift Lane.

One of my cherished books is "Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor". There was a man who knew Dartmoor like I know my garden, and had walked every inch of it and then set these perambulations down in a book, noting the skylines from many viewpoints and drawing thumbnail sketches of the tors and how they were viewed from other points in the landscape and jotting down how to find every "antiquity".

Below: tor near Seven Lords' Lands - I think . . . . Can't recall WHICH tor though.

Born in Plymouth in 1847, his mother encouraged him to take an interest in the antiquities and traditions of the countryside and as they holidayed in a cottage on Roborough Down his love of Dartmoor was set at a very early age and when the family business at South Brent failed (he had little interest in it, preferring to roam the moor!), he moved on to Brent Tor and then Mary Tavy. His guide was the result of a lifetime's roaming the moor.

Here is an extract from an excursion of his from Postbridge, the first part of which I know well: Exc. 46 : Drift Lane, Roundy Park, Broad Down (Sandy Hole) Hollow Coombe, The Cherry Brook, 6m.

"In the section dealing with the old tracks on the moor we have spoken of Drift Lane, a path which branches from the high road not far from the western end of the bridge, and runs up by the side of the Dart. This we shall now follow, having the Archerton enclosures L, and shall be led past Still Pool, and Hartland Farm on the opposite bank. The path then turns away from the river, and about 1/4 m beyond this point is an enclosure to the R of it, the wall of which is built on the line of a much older one. This is known as Roundy Park. It contains a few hut circles, and close to the wall is a fine kistvaen. Some of the stones composing it have been replaced. Two fragments of flint were found in it, and some bone charcoal, as well as a coking-stone which had been used to trig one of the end stones. . . ."

I might add that this pathway is more of a challenge coming home to your tent after dark, having been to the pub . . .

Hound Tor and Saddle Tor.

Stone circle near Widecombe.


  1. Love the springtime header and these photos are lovely and reading about the area is like the best book ever!

  2. Glad you've enjoyed it my dear. I've added a bit more about George Borrow's adventures.

  3. Truly delightful! Thank you!

    So, may I ask how true to history the books of Sharon (Kay) Penman, or those about Brother Cadfael by the wonderful Ellis Peters are? I adore both.

  4. Sharon Penman's novels were always meticulously researched so historically very accurate, and the same might be said about Ellis Peters (look out for her work under her other pen-name of Edith Pargeter (I have her "The Brothers Gwynedd" sitting awaiting me on the kitchen table as I speak.) I think if you were to visit Shrewsbury and Shropshire, you would find it familiar!

  5. I have an award for you on my site if you're interested...please do stop in to the cottage!

  6. Oooh - thank you Laura. Now I am going to have to be intelligent and try and move the ward across to here!

  7. Lovely photos as ever. I do miss Dartmoor, I never get more than a distant view of Haytor these days, when I'm walking the dog.

  8. Wonderful post and photos! I so want to visit these places and tromp across these hills and valleys...