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



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.


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.


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.
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

Travels – Mottisfont, Wiltshire


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!


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



Travels – Mottisfont, Wiltshire