Saturday, 27 September 2008

Wales







On our trip to north-east/mid-Wales over the weekend, Matt and I visited Pistyll Rhaeadr, the hightest waterfall in Britain. At the end of a long valley near Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant ('Waterfallchurch-in-Hogvale') the cataract pours over the rock and plummets for 240 feet, passing through an astonishing natural bridge on the way. At the bottom is a plunge pool, with a deep foaming centre surrounded by a wide area of very shallow water over stones golden with silt. As I approached though the mist, early in the morning, a slim, blonde woman was sitting just by the pool with her feet in the water, wearing a strange, long grey garment, and watching me with calm, ageless eyes. Was this the otherworldly Lady of the Pool, I wondered, and felt very David Jones-ey. (No. She turned out to be Marie, on holiday from Dudley.)

We also visited the rich, melancholy ruins of Valle Crucis, on of the greatest Cisterician abbeys in Wales. Set in a wild valley near Llangollen, the Abbey is eloquent in decay, with some medieval appartments still visitable. At its height, the monks were very successful sheep-farmers, as well as patrons of native Welsh culture, and the place was obviously filthy rich. There was a remarkable selection of gravestones, one commemorating a woman called Dyddgu, 'Dear Day', which was the name of one of Dafydd ap Gwilym's mistresses.

The monastery is called 'Valle Crucis', 'Crossvale', because of the cross that once stood upon the so-called 'Pillar of Eliseg', about 400 yards up the valley. Today, this is a squat column on a little tump or hillock, which was erected in the mid-9th century by Cyngen ap Cadell, the then king of Powys, to honour his great-grandfather Eliseg or Elisedd ap Gwylog. It's in an extremely weathered state - we're missing the bottom half of it, and we only know there was an inscription on it because the great antiquarian Edward Lhuyd copied down what he could make out in 1696. This is vitally useful, because the inscription mentions several people we know about from the Historia Brittonum, written c. 829/30, and tells us a lot about who the kings of Powys at that time thought their ancestors were. (It mentions Magnus Maximus - the Macsen Wledig of Breuddwyt Macsen - and Vortigern, for example.) Looking at it, I would never have guessed it had ever been inscribed.

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