Travel – St David’s Head and St Patricks chapel

 

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From St Davids we headed by car to the coast to Whitesands beach. The wide sandy beach was full of surfers, apparently from a junior surf school, and when the sun came out it looked spectacular and far more exotic than you might expect! We had a picnic in the car park, with a cheeky jackdaw begging titbits, then decided to walk along the coast.

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St David’s Head is a dramatic headland northwest of St David’s and Whitesands beach dominated by the peak of Carn Llidi. The path is one of many along an historic route of pilgrimage to the ancient cathedral. The cathedral itself was built with stone from the cliffs at Caerbwdy on the Solva Coast.

 

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Described in a Roman survey of the known world in 140 AD (Ptolemy’s Geography) as the ‘Promontory of the Eight. There are magnificent views in all directions, the wide expanse of the Irish Sea to the north, to the west the Bishops and Clerks rocks; south, Whitesands Bay to Ramsey Sound and Ramsey Island and to the east, the slopes of the large rocky outcrop known as Carn Llidi.

Nearby are a number of ancient monuments showing signs of early occupation, including, an iron age cliff fort, prehistoric settlements, a prehistoric defensive wall, signs of various neolithic field systems and Coetan Arthur burial chamber.

It was a gorgeous walk, we just went a couple of miles to the headland, but the views were spectacular, and we really got a feel for this ancient wild coastline.

Back towards the bay, we were lucky enough to see the progress on the last full day of the recent excavations of St Patrick’s chapel. The chapel lies in sand dunes immediately above the high tide level. Excavations in 1924 uncovered the foundations of a small stone-built chapel and several well preserved burials. In 2013-14 storms, coastal erosion revealed several human remains, so a two week excavation in May 2014 investigated the graves and other remains. Further digs have revealed more about this chapel and the bodies within.

The archaeology project is a collaborative research project between Katie Hemer, University of Sheffield and  Dyfed Archaeological Trust. There is a diary of the dig here

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Travel – St David’s Head and St Patricks chapel

Travels – St Davids – Britain’s smallest city, a saint and some swifts

 

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St David’s, located at the Western edge of Pembrokeshire in Wales, is Britain’s smallest city in terms of size and population.  Home to around 1600 people it is smaller than many villages!

Saint David, patron saint of Wales was born to Saint Non just south of the city around AD500. St David founded a strict brotherhood and fed and clothed the poor and needy. The settlement that grew up round the monastery was called Tyddewi (David’s house). An original cathedral built on the site was often plundered by the Vikings and finally burnt and destroyed in 1087. The present impressive cathedral was build by the Normans and contained many relics including the remains of Saint David. The town was recognised as a city by the English crown in the 16th century but this right was removed in 1888 until Queen Elizabeth II finally restored it in 1994!

The cathedral  is pretty impressive inside and outside, although it is built into a valley in the land, as a vain attempt to hide it from raiders! The notable features include the sloping floor and magnificent ceilings, oak in the Nave and painted in the Quire and Presbytery.

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You can also visit the atmospheric ruins of the Bishop’s Palace next door which evokes the day when the bishops were some of the most powerful men in the land. Lavish decorations, corbels carved as human heads and striking stonework are testament to the wealth and status of these medieval men of religion. It was Bishop Henry de Gower (1328-47) who was responsible for the most of the building remaining today. The east range was his private domain, but  the south was much grander  and built for impressive entertaining.

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It doesn’t take long to walk round this “city”. Well worth a visit too is the Oriel y Parc, a landscape gallery and visitor centre. Current exhibitions included Constables “Salisbury Cathedral” and paintings by Graham Sutherland.

I also loved the  Swifts around the Tower exhibition by father and daughter artists Peter Brown and Ellie Morgan and afterwards wished I’d bought the book of poems and a ceramic swift!

I have a real soft spot for swifts, and am so happy when they return to my town, swooping and shrieking above the high street where I work!

Fifteenth of May. Cherry blossom. The swifts
Materialise at the tip of a long scream
Of needle. ‘Look! They’re back! Look!’ And they’re gone
On a steep

Controlled scream of skid
Round the house-end and away under the cherries.
      Gone.
Suddenly flickering in sky summit, three or four together,
Gnat-whisp frail, and hover-searching, and listening

– From Swifts by Ted Hughes.

 

 

Travels – St Davids – Britain’s smallest city, a saint and some swifts

Boats, tides, birds and sandcastles

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We decided to have a lazy beach morning. We grab some beach toys from the apartments (I guess they are provided for any kids staying really, but who cares!) It’s a bit too windy for the Frisbee, but we play a bit of badminton and beach boules. I untangle the kite but we can’t get it airbourne. Finally of course we get the bucket and spade out and build a sandcastle! It really has to be done. A huge perfect slick sandy beach, with barely a soul about! A sheltered corner behind the rocks.This is the life.

After our lazy morning, I stroll into Tenby and get tickets for another boat trip in the afternoon. This Islands Cruise boat is a little larger than the Caldey one, and the waves have got up today, so it’s rolling around quite a lot!

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We head out first towards St Margaret’s Island, which is south of Giltar Point on Caldey Island. Though there is evidence of occupation since 1748,  the island has been abandoned. The limestone western cliffs are inhospitable to man, but perfect for nesting seabirds. With the boat being buffeted so badly it’s difficult to focus binoculars or risk the spray taking photos. However we get close enough to get good views of nesting  guillemots, kittiwakes and cormorants.

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We then head east and skirt the far end of Caldey. The brisk wind is really in wrong direction for the seals who are sheltering elsewhere but we do spot one in the water

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It’s an enjoyable trip, rather more adventurous than we initially thought! We survive anyway and jump back onto the damp beach with the waves still swaying in our shoes.

On our walk back the tide is finally returning, and we are glad to spot a family watching the tide come in and overtake our little castle!

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Riptide pulls me out into the open sea
My toes dangle for a place to stand and be

Oh starry night, come and chart a course
Or send me a boat with an anchor set
I’ll pull myself ashore

Left with essence
Of the moon and stars and night
There’s no other route
I cannot take self to flight

I’ll float here with the shrimp and brine
And on my cheeks and hair
The salt will always shine

And with this phosphorescence map
A sailor’s chart, a mermaid’s hand
Something I’ll find

Oh starry night, come and chart a course
Or send me a boat with an anchor set
I’ll pull myself ashore

Songwriter LAURA VEIRS

 

Boats, tides, birds and sandcastles

Travels – Pembrokeshire, Stackpole

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Greg wants to take our new car for a run so we head for the nearby coast of Stackpole. The sat nav soon finds us on some narrow country lanes, clouds of cow parsley and buttercups brushing the sides of the car. The satnav is convinced we are not a road at all! Fluffy clouds hover and float in the bluest of skies. We steer through a patchwork of fields and rolling hills, glimpses of blue bays beyond and eventually reach Stackpole quay.

Stackpole (and those named after it) is probably named after a stack of rocks on the coast at the entrance to Broadhaven from which settlers of Norman descent made their way into Ireland (From the Old Norse stakkr  for stack and polr for pool).

The Stackpole coastline is also owned by the National Trust, consisting of sandy beaches, tranquil wooded valleys, wildlife rich lily ponds and walking trails. We only went as far as Stackpole quay, a tiny harbour nestled in between the cliffs and a favourite venue of kayakers. The beach here is stony with beautiful rounded flat pebbles and dramatic outcrops of rock.

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The estate includes 100 acres of lakes (known as the Lily ponds) created by damming the  three narrow limestone valleys in 1780 and 1860 by the earls of Cawdor. The estate once centred on an elegant baronial mansion Stackpole Court, eventually besieged by Parlimentarians. A later mansion of limestone was requisitioned at the beginning of WW2 for training and remains part of the Castlemartin range today. We must go back and finish exploring!

Our journey back along the country lanes is delayed somewhat by a sheep that stands in the middle of the road, staring at us. Eventually it decides we are not being much help just taking its photo, and wanders disdainfully off to try and find its way back into a field with other sheep.

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Travels – Pembrokeshire, Stackpole

Travels – Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire

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The weather forecast is excellent so we decide to do the boat trip to Caldey Island. We buy the tickets (the old sailor manning the booth stares at the credit card and shakes his head. Cash only please!) Then we kill a bit of time in the Tenby museum which is up Castle Hill. It’s a small but interesting museum and has a room for art, which was hosting “Celebrating the Sea” an exhibition by the Royal Society of Marine Artists

Then onto the beach to wait for the boat! A tractor drags a walkway up to the sea, so that we can get on the boat the Nemesis! We wait for a few latecomers including a very reluctant labrador then head out to sea, where the boat bobs up and down and towards the golden shores of Caldey Island. We head up the path towards the village.

Caldey has been inhabited since the Stone age and home to various orders of monks since Celtic times. It is now owned by monks of the Cistercian Order and the picturesque monastery overlooks the village green and cottages. In the village you can buy perfumes, chocolate and shortbread made on the island. There’s also a post office where you can get your post marked with the Caldey postmark! We find a picnic table and eat an early lunch, before heading up the path towards the lighthouse.

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The hedgerows are high with cow parsley and buttercups, swallows swooping over our heads. We pass a man who is rebuilding a dry stone wall, he nods a greeting. Then right past the scenic pond, the ruins of the old abbey set off by blue skies.  By the lighthouse (now a house) we reach the coast path where tempting paths lead left and right. The coast opens up spectacular panoramic views of the Pembrokeshire Coast, Tenby and the Preseli Hill, Gower Peninsula and Lundy Island.

Jackdaws strut on the cliff edge, and we walk through great drifts of sea pinks along a chalky path.

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It’s an easy stroll and we soon reach the gully where a bench invites you to sit and enjoy the view. Greg has a catnap but I’m too excited by the sight of a family of choughs with their distinctive red feet and beaks. Fantastic.

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The most interesting buildings in Caldey are probably the Old Priory and St Illtyd’s Church. The priory was home to Benedictine monks who lived in Caldey in medieval times, close to the island’s natural water source. Built from local sandstone and limestone, the buildings now lie derelict, their only residents the Summer swallows that make their nests where they can.

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The tiny church of St Illtyds is  still a consecrated church, full of little slips of paper with prayer request, very peaceful and atmospheric. The beautiful mosaic stone floor is worn down with the path of many worshippers and visitors.

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We stop off at the chocolate factory for a tasty souvenir and head back and partake of tea and cake on the lawn. It’s such a peaceful and beautiful little island, a real oasis of tranquillity and a slower pace of life! On the way back to the boat, we take the path to Calvary and the beautiful tiny watchtower. Another oasis of peace and calm.

The journey back to the mainland is a little more adventurous as the tide is out so the boat can’t reach the slipway. The solution is the use of an amphibian dukw (duck) a vehicle with military camouflage that drives into us in to the water where the boat can reach us. Greg is in his element!

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Anyway we make it back safely to the sandy shore of Tenby where stroll back again for tea and welsh cakes (I think we are becoming addicted to these!)

Travels – Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire

Travels – Aberdulais, Wales, tin mines, waterfalls and artists

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We crossed the Severn Bridge and headed north into Wales.  Aberdulais tinworks and waterfall is now managed by the National Trust. Aberdulais has a long industrial history thanks to the abundant supply of energy derived from the magnificent waterfall and the ready supply of local coal and timber.

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The first industry here was copper smelting using ore delivered by boat from Cornwall. The site was also used as an ironworks, a corn mill and tinplate works. The works finally closed when the US government levied heavy duties on imported tinplate to protect their own industries, putting the Welsh miners out of business.

Today the waterwheel was sadly not working. Built by apprentices of British Steel at Port Talbot, this is the largest electricity generating wheel in Europe, with a diameter of 8.2m and 72 buckets! A great little video about the opening of the wheel by Countryfile presenter is here

Many artists visited this beautiful site to paint including Turner. There’s a fabulous painting by James Ward here

We arrived after heavy rain so the falls were indeed spectacular! The water thundered past, an immense power rushing through a beautiful valley, lush with vegetation and rich with wildlife.

Some mine buildings still survive including a waterwheel and the original schoolhouse (which is now a very welcome tearoom!) It’s an interesting place, well worth a visit.

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Travels – Aberdulais, Wales, tin mines, waterfalls and artists

Travels – Mottisfont, Wiltshire

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We were headed for Wales, and for some misguided reason we thought it might be better to avoid the motorway and head across country, stopping at Mottisfont

Mottisfont is an Augustinian priory and country estate, now managed by the National Trust. The walled gardens are home to the National collection of old fashioned roses, which were starting to bloom

Mottisfont was originally an Augustine priory that had to be conceded in the Tudor era when King Henry VIII gave the estate to  Sir William Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys, an English Tudor diplomat and Lord Chamberlain.

In Georgian times the Mill family transformed the house, including the elegant stone facade. It was then let to wealthy banker Daniel Meinertzhagen who had ten children.

The house was brought back from a state of disrepair by society hostess and art lover Maud Russell and her banker husband in 1934. It became a place for extravagant house parties for their literary and artistic friends. The overall look was Neo-classical and luxurious with faux marbling and pastel shades. In places you can still see glimpses of the original priory building. The original entrance hall was transformed into a large salon commissioning artist Rex Whistler to create spectacular trompe l-oeil murals. These are rather imposing and the artist apparently was very glad to finish this assignment for a rather difficult client. The specification was very much dictated by Mrs Russell and her interests, but the artist managed to sneak in a few personal touches, including writing a tiny message about how he had been painting this particular section when Britain declared war on Germany. Another image of hands tied together perhaps show his feelings about the seemingly endless commission.

The house also houses a permanent collection of 20th century donated by “the last of the gentleman painters”, Derek Hill. Also a rather bizarre sculpture called Alien by David Breuer Well.

Talking about burying your head in the sand!

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My favourite bits though – the wonderful wire horse and this fantastic potting shed (I want it!)!

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Travels – Mottisfont, Wiltshire