SS Great Britain, Bristol

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So on the way back from Cornwall in September, we took a slight detour, first to visit Bristol and then to stay over with a friend en route.

My family lived near Bristol when I was between the ages of 2 and 11, but I don’t remember a lot about the actual city, or really got my bearings on other brief visits. We only had a couple of hours to spend there this time so the main attraction was the SS Great Britain.

Miraculously we managed to drive in near Clifton and find a street parking space near the waterside. From there it was a pleasant riverside stroll, past Underfall Yard. Bristol was transformed in 1809 by the opening of the Floating Harbour. Eighty acres of tidal river was impounded to allow visiting ships to remain afloat all the time. Underfall Yard was crucial to the operation and maintenance of the harbour which needed constant dredging of the silt. Over the next two centuries the Harbour grew as a busy port until it closed in 1975. Now the area has been regenerated for leisure, commerce and living spaces.

From the riverside there were great views up to Clifton, with the pastel coloured houses up the hill, towards the suspension bridge, and past vivid canal boats.

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Brunel’s  SS Great Britain is one of the most important historic ships in the World. It was restored and opened as a museum in 2005.

When launched in 1843 she was allegedly called the “greatest experiment since the creation!” No-one had before designed so vast a ship or build it of iron. Brunel fitted her with a 1000 hp steam engine, the most powerful yet used at sea. He also gave the ship a screw propeller, the newest invention in maritime technology.

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The ocean liner had four decks, a crew of 120 and fitted to accommodate a total of 360 passengers with 1200 tons of cargo and another 1200 tons of fuel.  Like other steamships of the era the Great Britain also had secondary sail power, with one square rigged and five schooner rigged masts. The rigging was iron cable rather than traditional hemp rope.

Initial voyages were from Liverpool to New York but in 1852 the ship started a thirty year career of carrying passengers to Melbourne Australia carrying emigrants following the gold rush trail.

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At the museum, you first view the ship displayed in a dry dock which has been sealed by a huge water line glass plate and beneath the plate the air is kept dry by a giant dehumidification plant to ensure the atmosphere preserves the iron hull. Incredible to think you are walking under this historic ship. From the top a thin layer of water makes it look like it’s afloat!

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Then through to a museum, which tells the story of the ship over the decades. Finally you are on board! Where it feels like you’ve just stepped back in time!

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You can explore the ship at will, peering into cabins, where you may find a passenger suffering from seasickness, or the cook working in the galley! You get to experience the contrast between the crowded bunks of the crew and steerage passengers and the grand entertainment rooms of the upper class passengers!

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An excellent museum, well worth a visit! Bristol we will be back!

SS Great Britain, Bristol

South West Coast Path – Porthmeor, Carrick Du and Clodgy Point

South West Coast Path – Porthmeor, Carrick Du and Clodgy Point

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G was heading back to the Porthmeor Studios, for instruction in “oils with a palette knife” at the Porthmeor studios. These buildings on the northern side of St Ives, were originally fishermen’s net lofts, fish cellars and salt houses for curing the pilchards which for many centuries provided the towns’ main livelihood. Four cellars are still used by fishermen today. The others are occupied by artists, a tradition which started at the end of the nineteenth century when the railway brought many artists drawn by the famous quality of the light around Penwith. Porthmeor Beach has beautiful stretching sands, and is popular with surfers.

Leaving the artist behind my calling this morning was the coast path towards Zennor. St Ives was shrouded in mist, with a mystical air. Walking past Tate St Ives and the beach, the path is first paved and easy, giving tantilising views of St Ives through the haze. A couple of runners overtake me, but the path is pretty quiet just now.

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I head up towards Clodgy Point, clodgy is apparently Cornish for leper, suggesting a site of a leper colony in the past! This promontory like many others in Cornwall has seen its share of shipwrecks.

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This areas is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest with a wide range of unusual wildlife and plants.

The path continues up to Burthallan Cliff climbing steadily. The landscape is markedly different to the coast path south of St Ives. After a night of heavy rains and thunderstorms, the ground is decidedly damp in places, due to the springs running down. However a stone causeway has been laid to help navigate through this landscape that feels remote and wild.

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So Beautiful!

 

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By the time I turn round to return the same route, the sun has started to break through the clouds. And some of the wildlife is less concerned about me and my camera, than the crows that keep trying to dive bomb it!

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As I head back to St Ives, the views just get more and more stunning

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A fantastic walk, and one I’d like to do all the way to Zennor some time. I’m not sure the camera can ever do it justice really and wonder how G has got in with his oil painting. A stroll back into St Ives for some shopping, crab sandwich and cup of tea. Nice.

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South West Coast Path – Porthmeor, Carrick Du and Clodgy Point

Porthleven, Mullion Cove and Helston

 

Porthleven?

Theory 1 – from the Cornish words “porth” meaning port and “leven” meaning smooth.
Theory 2. – from “porth” meaning port and “Elvan” from St Elvan the 5th century saint who landed on these shores to spread the word of Christianity. (There was originally a settlement nearby called St Elvan)

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A rather grey day, but we decided to head for Porthleven which is the most Southerly working port in mainland Britain, positioned between the Lizard Peninsula and Marazion near St Michael’s Mount. The harbour is unusual in that it opened directly south west into the prevailing winds, as a safe haven for ships getting into difficulties near the Lizard.

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An act of parliament was signed by King George III in 1811 “for constructing a harbour in Mounts Bay in the county of Cornwall” The construction of the harbour was a tremendous and dangerous engineering achievement and took 14 years, using prisoners from the Napoleonic War. The granite pier and quays were complete by 1825 and the inner harbour completed in 1858. The huge timbers that seal the inner harbour closed, in the event of storms are still in use today.

The Bickford Smith Institute next to the pier and harbour entrance is a splendid local landmark with its seventy foot high clock tower. It was donated to the town by former MP, Mr Bickford Smith in 1884.

On the day we were there the conditions were clearly perfect for surfing, as there was a steady stream of wet suited bodies appearing, running for the beach, across the treacherous looking rocks and joining the queues in the rolling waves. It’s a particularly challenging area for surfing, attracting many top level surfers.

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Back in February 2014 during the ferocious storms, you probably wouldn’t have wanted to be on this beach. Scientists from Plymouth University found the waves were some of the most powerful ever recorded on Earth. The huge breakers up to 26 feet tall caused the cliffs to shake more than any others ever recorded and 1350 cubic metres of cliff face disappeared.

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When the tide is out, a three mile long shingle and sand beach is exposed towards Loe Bar and the Penrose Estate. We took a stroll round both sides of the harbour. On the right is the Old Lifeboat House, now a studio and exhibition space. The two cannon standing either side of the harbour, come from the frigate HMS Anson, which was wrecked on nearby Loe Bar in 1807. They were once fired on the Napoleon’s navy during the battle of Brest. A morning coffee sat outside and the sun even came out. A lovely place, no doubt we will return!

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From Porthleven we drove on to Mullion Cove, now owned by the National Trust. This tiny picturesque harbour was originally built in the 1890’s and still shelters a small fishing fleet from powerful westerly storms.

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Just up from the harbour is The Chocolate Factory and craft centre, worth a stop off for some shopping!

After a quick drive to the top of a hill with a view for our picnic lunch, we finished our day in Helston, where the rain clouds were finally amassing.  This bustling market town has a mixture of Georgian and Victorian architecture with a fine monument built in 1834 of Humphry Millet Grylls, a local bank and solicitor whose actions kept the local tin mine open, saving 1200 jobs. We visited the fascinating Helston Folk Museum which is housed in a very long building, the former Market House and Drill Hall. The Market originally had two separate market halls, one for butter and eggs, and one for meat, you can still see the original sloping granite floors. The museum was extended into the Drill Hall in 1999 and a mezzanine gallery was added. It really seemed to go on for ever! At the end of the museum a class of school children in old fashioned clothes were being taught their lessons in the Victorian manner!

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When we finally left the maze of the museum and made our way to the car, the heavens finally opened. We’d had a fantastic day, so really couldn’t complain!

 

Porthleven, Mullion Cove and Helston

Walking – Lelant to St Ives, on the path of the saints

So G was off to St Ives for an art class as part of the wonderful annual St Ives Art Festival. So I decided not to be put off by the unpromising drizzle but get on the train to Lelant Saltings so I can walk back along the beautiful South West Coast path. This section is also part of St Michael’s way, a twenty mile route from Lelant to Marazion and the iconic St Michael’s Mount island. This route is the only footpath in Britain that is part of a designated European Cultural Path . It is part of a network of pilgrim routes that lead to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, an important site of Christian pilgrimage. No pilgrims today, just me in my walking boots getting of the train! There are some amazingly tropical looking gardens along the lane.

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Lelant Saltings is the location of the park and train ride service into busy St Ives. Lelant, often called Uny Lelant after its Saint Uny, lies on the west side of the Hayle Estuary which is managed by the RSPB as a nature reserve. It is thought that Saint Uny and Saint Herygh (patron of St Erth) were brothers of St La, patron of St Ives who was an Irish princess in the 5th/6th century who evangalised this part of Cornwall.

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The road sign shows the way to the church in both English and Cornish. Cornish evolved from the Common Brittonic spoken throughout England and Wales during the Iron age and Roman period. The language had almost died out but a revival started in 1904 has meant that the language is again being learned in Cornwall, and the number of native speakers increasing!

The medieval Church of St Uny’s is built entirely from granite.

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In a corner of the extensive graveyard stands another little chapel. This one was a primitive Methodist chapel built in 1879 and used until the early 1900s. There are plans to make this into a Heritage Centre manned by volunteers.

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A path between the two churches, takes you down to the sea, between dunes and a golf course. The tide was in so I took the coast path to the edge of the golf course and through scrubland with fine views of the sandy beaches

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The overnight rain, and warm humid air make it feel a little like walking through a tropical forest. The path never veers far from the train line, with frequent trains running through.

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The Autumn leaves are already starting to turn, while blackberries are in full fruit and crocosmia have colonised the cliff edges. Fronds of bracken are turning brown and crisp and fuscia’s drip damp flowers at the side of the path

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It’s a beautiful walk, if rather undulating and tiring especially before Carbis Bay. Carbis Bay is a lovely little place, and our holiday home is just up the hill but I keep on walking. The walk into St Ives from here is much easier, and after navigating a load of slow walking American tourists, I’m soon there, ready to sample a lamb pasty and meet up with Greg at the car.

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I love these little turnstones that rush around the rocks and quayside steps in search of food!

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A lovely walk, and the rain even stayed off!

Walking – Lelant to St Ives, on the path of the saints

Mousehole – Spanish raids, plague and a lifeboat disaster

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We took an afternoon drive to Mousehole. When we visited last year, it was rather a dismal day, so we were looking forward to seeing this pretty place with the sun on it. Today it’s a gorgeous little fishing harbour with a higgledy piggledy cottages clinging round the circular sheltered harbour, with cafes and art galleries.

Mousehole was once known ast Porth Enys meaning port of the island and from the 13th Century it was the main port in Mounts Bay. The origins of the name are unknown, but may be derived from the Cornish word Moeshayle meaning “young woman’s brook”. Others argue it is just named after the round tiny harbour or a nearby sea cave resembling a mouse hole!

In the 16th century Mousehole (pronounced Mouzel) together with Marazion was still one of the principal ports. In 1595 the Battle Of Cornwall raid on Mounts Bay by the Spaniard Carlos De Amesquita, with 400 men and four galley ships, obliterated Mousehole (along with Penzance, Newlyn and Paul). In Mousehole the only building to survive the destruction was the Keigwin Arms, a local pub (now a private residence bearing a plaque to Squire Jenkyn Keigwin who was killed there  23 July 1595)

In 1667 the Great Plague reached Cornwall. Tucked away in one of the side streets by a shop, is a fine example of a plague stone. This stone with a cup shaped intentation was used by infected households to leave money soaked in vinegar in attempt to pay for supplies, without infecting the person delivering them!

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On 19 December 1981, the Penlee lifeboat station in Mousehole was called to assist with a rescue of the Union Star vessel after its engines failed in heavy seas. The lifeboat the Solomon Browne, a wooden 47-foot Watson class boat built in 1960 with eight volunteer lifeboatmen went to the aid of the ship through 60ft breakers. A message came back that four passengers had been rescued and pulled aboard the Solomon Browne, but that was the last heard from either vessel. Sixteen people lost their lives including eight lifeboatmen.

The day after the disaster enough people from Mousehole volunteered, to be able to form a new lifeboat crew.  In 1983 a new “Penlee” lifeboat station was built along the coast at Newlyn. The old station site is now a memorial and garden to those brave men. A harsh reminder of the power and fury of the sea.

Since 1963 Mousehole has had a fine display of Christmas lights at the harbour, a tradition started by artist Joan Gilcrest, and becoming increasingly elaborate each year. In 1981 the Christmas lights had been lit two days before the storm, by lifeboatman Charlie Greenhaugh. After his death is widow asked for them to be repaired and relit. Since then they have been restored but are dimmed on the anniversary of the tragedy for an hour of remembrance.

At fair Mount’s Bay, on that Christmas week
Was such a raging storm, no man could speak
That lifeboat thundered through an angry sea
Was called Solomon Browne and her company

With courage, it was called

On our heroes brave and bold
With courage, it was cold
On board that night

Now the stricken coaster called the Union Star
Her maiden voyage, she never thought that far
With Captain Moreton and his four man crew
A woman to save and her daughters two

Now, never had a lifeboat fought in vain
She could have made a dash for port but she tried again
All sixteen perished in that mighty wave
It tossed them overboard into a watery grave

With courage, it was called
On our heroes brave and bold
With courage, it was cold
On board that night

Solomon Browne lyrics by Seth Lakeman

 

 

 

Mousehole – Spanish raids, plague and a lifeboat disaster

Tiverton – escaping the luddites

Luddite

noun

A member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woollen mills, which they believed was threatening their jobs (1811–16)

derogatory A person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology.

‘a small-minded Luddite resisting progress’

 

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From Street we drove on to another town that historically had the wool trade at its heart, Tiverton (previously Twford) in Devon which stands at the confluence of the rivers Exe and Lowman. The town grew rapidly in the 16th and 17th centuries and many wealthy wool merchants added to the town’s heritage including John Greenway who added a chapels and almshouses in Gold Street and Peter Blundell who bequeathed funds and land to form Blundell’s School.

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During the industrial revolution, the town declined somewhat. The saviour of Tiverton turned out to be industrialist John Heathcoat who bought an empty woollen mill on the banks of the River Ex. John Heathcoat (1783-1861 was apprenticed to a frame maker and became a talented designer.  He invented a machine capable of reproducing the best pillow made lace. When the luddites destroyed 55 machines and shot a factory guard in his factories in Loughborough, Heathcoat decided he had had enough and he moved his entire lacemaking operations to Tiverton. As a wealthy and successful businessman, he no doubt took a carriage to move himself and his chattels from Loughborough to Tiverton. However around 500 of his workers walked the 200 mile journey on foot, probably along Fosse Way, the old Roman road to join his new operations in Devon. Recently a group of walkers recreated that long walk to a new life. Heathcoat let the 500 workers teach the locals the trade, until there were 1500 workers by 1822. By the time he died in 1861, a fifth of the town’s population worked at the factory. Today Heathcoat Fabrics specialise in the production of specialist clothing – or as they put it, “engineered textile solutions” and their customers include the aeronautical industry and the military.

I’m sure the innovative Mr Heathcoat would approve.

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So what of the luddites, the meaning of the term has altered somewhat over the years – an interesting article about luddites modern or otherwise here

So when we arrived in Tiverton, we were not yet permitted in the museum due to “Health and Safety” – so we instead made our way to find the canal. This turned out to be at the top of a steep hill (Canal Hill, this must be the right way!). The oldest canal (with locks) in the country is the Exeter Canal built in 1566. To avoid the perilous waters between the Bristol and English channels, a grand plan was dreamed up to connect the two waters by Inland waterways. The Grand Western Canal would join up the Exeter canal with the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal. The 11 mile section from Tiverton  to Lowdwells was completed in 1810. Due to John Renni’s surveying skills the water level on this section is completely uninterrupted with no locks or lifts. After many delays the Great Western Canal was extended a further 13.5 miles from Lowdwells to Taunton. Sadly the growth of the railways meant the end of the canal boom, and the completion of the scheme was halted. By 1876 the Tiverton Railway branch line had become part of the great Western Railway, which ran until the Beeching cuts in 1967.

Today the canal has one of the last horse drawn barges in the UK. The beautiful 75 seater canal boat, the Tivertonian now carries tourists up and down the peaceful canal.

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Back at the Museum we were finally allowed in, and all very interesting it was too. And the largest object at the museum – the former Great Western Railway Locomotive 1442 aka the Tivvy Bumper which retired from service in 1965! G enjoyed putting on his engine driver hat and having a fiddle with the controls!

Next stop for a lunch break was nearby National Trust property Knightshayes Court. This 19th century manor house was built for Sir John Heathcoat Amory, the grandson of John Heathcoat. Heathcoat Amory commissioned the house from the fashionable and brilliant William Burges, and from the impressive rooms you can view the town of Tiverton where it all started!

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Tiverton – escaping the luddites

Travel – Carew, Pembrokshire – castle and tidal mill

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Next stop was Carew. Carew has been an important site for thousands of years. You can still see Iron age defensive ditches in the green of the Castle green

Carew Castle stands on a limestone bank overlooking the inlet to the tidal estuary of Milford Haven. The Normans came to Pembrokeshire in the 11th century and the king’s representative Gerald de Windsor, flattened the old defences and built a new castle on Norman lines with a timber motte and brick bailey. He had secured his power by marriage to local beauty, Princess Nest (sometimes nicknamed Helen of Wales), daughter of Rhys Ap Twedwr the last Celtic king of Dehaubarth.

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Princess Nest had already been a hostage in the court of William II, and when only 14 she had caught the eye of William’s brother Henry (later to become King Henry I). Henry was known for his womanising and Princess Nest gave birth to his son in 1103.

Constantly under threat of attack from the Welsh, Gerald built Carew Castle and another at Cilgerran where Nest and her children later lived. Princess Nest bore Gerald at least five children.

Alas as the story goes, when Welsh prince of Powys, Owain, heard of Princess Nest and her beauty, he invited himself to the castle to meet her (his second cousin). He then became infatuated with her, and returned with a group of men to attack the castle. In the confusion Gerald escaped down a privy hole, while the Princess and two of her children were captured and the castle sacked and plundered. It is not know if she was taken willingly, but she had two children with Owain before she was eventually returned to her husband. Nest’s ghost is said to haunt the atmospheric castle at night.

Gerald’s son William took the name “De Carew” and added an enclosure with stone walls incorporating the original keep. The Castle was improved in the 13th century by Sir Nicholas de Carew who added drum towers, guard walks, arrow slits , battlements and a portcullis. Around 1480 Sir Rhys ap Thomas, a supporter of Henry VII started to convert the castle into a home worthy of an influential Tudor  gentleman.

Further remodelling was carried out by Sir John Perrot, said to be the illegitimate son of Henry VIII who was granted Carew by Queen Mary. However he did not get to enjoy his improvements, being later arrested on a charge of treason to Queen Elizabeth and confined to the Tower of London where he died, apparently of natural causes, before his expected pardon. Poison was suspected! I don’t suppose he was popular in Carew either, John Perret’s improvements included re-routing roads, moving the village and evicting tenants whose farms spoiled his view!

From 1686 the Castle was abandoned and lay in ruins. Stone was taken and reused in local houses and farm buildings. The romantic ruin, was immortalised by painters such as JMW Turner

While we walked round the site, there were a load of school children being taught Tudor games! The South West Tower is closed to the public to protect the bats that live there. More than half of all the species of British bats have been recorded here including the rare greater horseshoe bat. Owls also nest in the ruin.

There was also an exhibition of sculptures on Healing stones, in a bluestone circle. These lovely Presili bluestones were the same as the ones used to build Stonehenge.

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Across the water you can see and visit Carew Tide Mill which stands at the south end of a causeway across the Carew River, a tidal inlet. The mill building dates from the early 19th century. However there is evidence of a mill of some kind existing as early as 1542. In 1558 John Barlett leased a mill for 10 sovereigns per year. The mill pond fills through the open flood gates as the tide comes in, driving two undershot water wheels.

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The mill is a three storey stone building with an attic and slate roof. On the ground floor is machinery from lifting the sluice gates and the running stones, the floor above houses six pairs of millstones, three driven by each water wheel. It also houses the machine for cleaning the grain, and flour dresser. The train hoppers are on the bin floor above. A sack hoist was used to lift grain to the attic

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There used to be a tide mill close to where I live, and the skeleton remains of the buildings of the Tidemills village can be seen among the wild flowers. When you look at the pictures of the mill it’s hard to imagine it all as a working mill. Here it Carew you can see a complete mill building, and from walking round it was easier to understand how it all worked. A really interesting place to visit.

One more thing of a  note, in the village is an important example of an 11th century memorial Celtic cross, commemorating King Maredudd ab Edwin of Deheubarth.

An ancient and interesting place that has seen its fair share of turmoil!

Do I belong to some ancient race
I like to walk in ancient places
These are things that I can understand
Well, I don’t believe in your modern way
Don’t care about the things you say
Your policies have failed the test of time
‘Cause you sold them down the river-o

 

Lyrics by the Levellers

 

 

Travel – Carew, Pembrokshire – castle and tidal mill