Our first Friday walk was postponed for a couple of weeks so that we could go to an exhibition, not open yet on 7th January, in nearly Somerton. My friend Zoe was delayed arriving at my place because of a traffic diversion, and I filled in time wandering around my icy garden, where I saw:
two last roses of summer, and some new shoots,
part of the hedge I have had cut right back, the future of which is pending discussions with neighbours yet to move in (both sides of it having been much neglected for the last three years),
a few starlings at the top of a further neighbour’s silver birch (some of the dozens which invade my garden when I have put out the day’s food),
last year’s water lily trapped under the ice of my pond,
and some heather.
Our short walk was for Zoe to see a nearby view which I have only quite recently discovered.
And from the bottom a look back at Glastonbury Tor across a field which had been very boggy, with streams of melted frost.
We then went on to the ACE Arts centre in Somerton to see The Red Dress. I cannot explain the project better than the first four paragraphs of the home page of the Project’s website.
“The Red Dress Project, conceived by British artist Kirstie Macleod, provides an artistic platform for women around the world, many of whom are marginalized and live in poverty, to tell their personal stories through embroidery.
“During 12 years, from 2009 to 2022, pieces of the Red Dress have travelled the globe being continuously embroidered onto. Constructed out of 73 pieces of burgundy silk dupion, the garment has been worked on by 259 women and 5 men, from 29 countries, with all 136 commissioned artisans paid for their work. The rest of the embroidery was added by 128 willing participants /audience at various groups/exhibitions/events.
“Embroiderers include women refugees from Palestine; victims of war in Kosovo, Rwanda, and DR Congo; impoverished women in South Africa, Mexico, and Egypt; women in Kenya, Japan, Paris, Sweden, Peru, Czech Republic, Dubai, Afghanistan, Australia, Argentina, Switzerland, Canada, Tobago, USA, Russia, Pakistan, Wales, Colombia, and the UK, as well as upmarket embroidery studios in India and Saudi Arabia.
“Many of the women are established embroiderers, but there are also many pieces created by first time embroiderers. The artisans were encouraged to tell a personal story they would like to share, expressing their own identities and adding their own cultural and traditional experience. Some chose to create using a specific style of embroidery practiced for hundreds of years in their family, village, or town.”
Kirstie Macleod and another woman were working on it while we were there. We wished we could have seen it more spread out, but that would have left insufficient room for visitors, especially given the need to keep a distance. I took an awful lots of pictures. Here are some.
Towards the end of our visit I was beginning to be quite moved, thinking of all the women who had worked on the Dress.
At one point I turned to Zoe and remarked that you’d need a week to study it all in detail. Kirstie was in earshot, and said, ‘A year. I know this work intimately, and I’m still discovering new things.’
I might go back. It’s at Somerton until 29th January, and continues its tour around the world for another ten years.
New Year’s Day, Saturday. After a leisurely breakfast, I made my way to the home of my new friends from dinner the evening before, Pete and Marion, a few minutes’ walk from the hotel, on the edge of the countryside.
They have enviable views – and lovely animals.
They also had chickens.
Coffee and chat partaken, I walked back to the Neuadd Arms, not sure whether in fact I could be bothered to go out for a walk, or whether I would spend the rest of the day in my room with knitting, reading and TV – but that would have been to waste an opportunity.
The weather was brightening a little, rain did not seem to threaten, and I had really no excuse not to complete the eastern circuit proposed in the Town Walk leaflet I had used the previous day. I would have a choice of lengths at one point, and I took my walking pole from my car this time!
The route took me first past the station. Llanwrtyd Wells is fortunate still to have stopping trains, running on the Heart of Wales line between Swansea and Shrewsbury. “The railway crosses two impressive viaducts at Knucklas and at Cynghordy and goes through six tunnels, including one on the magnificent run up to Sugar Loaf. Over 30 stations are served by the line, some of which are request stops.” (Website.)
The next train from Platform 2 will depart in two hours’ time.
Four stopping trains a day in each direction, Monday to Saturday, two on Sunday
The old board must have been there in 1961 when Diane and I used the station.
The walk leaflet instructed, ” Carry on past the station, following the road as far as the entrance to the Abernant Lake Hotel on your right, now operated as an outward bound centre for children.” The centre was barely visible though the trees. At this point that I had to decide whether to do the additional loop to the walk. As otherwise that would have made for a very short outing indeed, I chose to go on. This involved leaving the road, and taking a path towards a railway crossing and Glan Irfon Farm. As I struggled with the gate into the field a couple happened along and asked me if I was looking for the path. I wasn’t at that point, but they helpfully pointed out the correct direction, which was not what I would have taken, so that was very useful. I was meant to head for the very middle of this picture.
I stopped, looked and listened as instructed. With only eight trains a day along the track, the risk was low.
‘Soggy’ was yesterday’s word. ‘Squelchy’ was today’s. At one point the waymarked path invited me to climb over a very rickety ladder stile, sloping away from me, and then to cross a small fast-flowing stream, probably a dry ditch usually. I was not sure that I would be able to do the latter, even with my pole, and having done the former, climbing back over would have been attempting to straddle a rickety ladder stile which would then be sloping steeply towards me. Discretion being the better part of valour, I sought another way to the farm, which fortunately proved not to be too difficult, other than much more squelch, and to involve opening a civilised gate.
Sheep were everywhere I went in this part of Wales. Cows were rarer.
Around this time I saw a couple of Little egrets flying around, but was unable to capture them with my camera. No trouble doing so when it’s sheep.
I became aware that the sun was trying to break through and took this photo over my right shoulder.
I passed through and by Glan Irfon Farm. Its courtyard had some interesting accommodation units, residential I think.
These black-faced sheep seemed much more interesting, and interested, than the others, as I made my way towards another railway crossing to return to the road.
No stiles this time, but a gate to get to the line, with a catch which definitely required a GCSE equivalent in engineering.
To leave it having crossed the line, I reckon you needed an ‘A’ level equivalent! OK, you can – once you know – easily see that the thing blocking the horizontal slider can be slid itself…
A few feet away was this curious object. I have no idea what it is, but I have found (when I was looking for more information on the accommodation) that the railway crossing has its own web-page!
Brilliant sunshine for a minute or two.
And a beautiful tree.
But the sun didn’t last, as I approached the road and looked back.
From now on – and I had a good 40 minutes yet to do, entirely on roadways – I was concerned about rain, as strong winds, those harbingers, came and went, and came and went, accompanied by dark grey clouds.
But I did stop for a few minutes as I saw one, then another, Red kite soaring high in the sky. This is the best photo I could get, of just one.
Which, being enlarged as much as I dare, gives:
I was quite pleased to enter the built-up area of town,
after which the road crossed a tributary of the River Irfon, the Nant (stream) Cerdin.
After the jollifications of the previous evening, I was almost alone in the restaurant for my evening meal (though others were having a meal in the bar).
I slept really late the following morning, two hours longer than I normally do. Although this meant I left for my drive home later than I had intended, I was pleased as it must have reflected my relaxed state.
I thought that I had been in the Brecon Beacons during my stay. I have since realised that in fact I was between the Beacons and the Cambrian Mountains. My drive took me back over the Mynydd Eppynt part of the Beacons, which I had not really appreciated on the outward journey, rain, greyness and dark just making me want this long, winding road to come to an end. But it was an altogether different story on my return. It was amazingly beautiful! I could have taken so many photos if the road (which incidentally is through the largest military training area in Wales) had allowed me to stop. Eventually I came to a breezy viewpoint where I could take these two from the same spot, at about 90 degrees from each other.
An otherwise uneventful journey had me home, despite the later start than planned, by lunchtime. It was, as ever, so good to see the cats again.
Back in my room, I perused the Llanwrtyd Wells Town Walk map I had bought at the hotel’s reception, which appeared to be doubling as the local tourist office. Given the weather – it had been mizzling all the while I had been out exploring – and the weather forecast, I decided not to be too ambitious for my afternoon’s exercise, and just do the western half of what was proposed, one way along the River Irfon and back the other.
A wooden footbridge took me over the river, and set me on my way westwards. It was not long before I was in the countryside.
I could hear a pheasant in a wood to my left, caught a glimpse of it, but was unable to take a satisfactory photo.
I soon left the road, and found myself on a very soggy path beside the river,
which improved somewhat from time to time.
The prescribed route left the river for a bit, and I started to curse myself for having left my walking pole in the car. It was very slippy underfoot, and
just past this rise I slithered onto my back. My small backpack took the worst of the fall, and only my dignity was hurt, as I was obliged to turn over on to my knees in order to get up, thus muddying the knees of my trousers. Good job I had a spare pair (of trousers that is) in my room. I found a sturdy fallen branch to steady me on the rest of the way.
I arrived at St David’s Church, in old Llanwrtyd. “The Celtic cross inside the church [which I couldn’t visit as it was closed] suggests that a church has existed on this site for 1440 years.” (leaflet). From Wikipedia I subsequently learnt a lot more about old Llanwrtyd, including, “The name Llanwrtyd combines the term for church (“llan”) and an otherwise undocumented personal name Gwrtud or Gwrtyd, but the earliest reference to it “Llanworted” appears only in 1543. It is speculated that the original dedication of the church has been replaced by the present one to the more famous saint in whose diocese it was during the Middle Ages. The name is more traditionally derived, however, from ‘Llanddewi wrth y rhyd’ (David’s church by the ford). The church is held to have been founded by St David in the 6th century. The curving boundary around the west side of the churchyard and its location beside the river supports the contention that it was established well before the Norman Conquest. “
There being a bench conveniently placed, it being 1 o’clock, and I being halfway round my circuit, this seemed to be as good a place as any to eat my two biscuits and an apple, all I needed after the full English (vegetarian) breakfast I had had. This was my misty view. (I escaped ‘proper’ rain entirely on this walk.)
The road bridge took me back over the Irfon, and I looked back.
After a while I came to a footbridge marked on the map. As I had to leave the road at this point, I was a little worried that I was intended to cross the river using this apparently flimsy structure.
But I didn’t, and in any case it was less flimsy than it had appeared.
The river turbulented on. (Yes, I’ve made that word up.)
And the path continued to be very wet at times, but here its base was gravelly, so much less slippery. I was grateful nevertheless for my branch.
“The springs here were first discovered in 1732 by Theophilus Evans who claimed to have discovered the healing properties of ‘Ffynon Droellwyd’ (The Stinking Well) when suffering from scurvy”. I approached the Dol-y-Coed Hotel which “was once the centre of leisure including tennis courts and bowling greens in the Dol-y-Coed Park.”
Except that it turned out to be no longer a hotel, but the premises of what is now the town’s largest employer.
I was unable to find out what this building near the hotel is – perhaps it’s ‘just’ a private home that likes dressing up. I wondered whether it was a care home, but can’t identify it if so.
Back at the hotel I waited until it was fully dark to slip out in order to take some photos of the town’s Christmas lights. Sadly the street lights distract the camera more that they do the human eye.
This notice at the entrance to the hotel, the start of the evening’s Mari Lwyd torchlit procession, gave due warning. I had already been advised to move my car away.
The hotel’s restaurant was full for the New Year’s Eve dinner, and I had been asked if I would share a table with five locals who had booked in. I could see that this would help the proprietors, releasing the solo table I would have been at, but hesitated quite a lot, for Covid reasons. However I agreed, was reassured as we assembled that the others had taken LF tests that day (as I had the previous day), and I had a very pleasant evening in the event. Two of my companions were a couple who had moved to the area from Essex four months previously, two had moved there from Kent six years previously, and the other was Huw (I do hope he spells his name like that!) the Milk(man), who had been doing the job for 34 years. He had a lovely kind face, and I was told he was real social worker to his customers. He can work up to a 15-hour day, and does so seven days a week. I’m sure he has a fund of stories.
We were to assemble for the Mari Lwyd procession at 10.30 in the Town Square, outside the hotel. A band had started up well before we finished our meal, after which I collected my outdoor gear and camera.
It was tipping with rain, and I hurriedly snatched these poor pictures.
The rain, the crowds, the torches, the anticipated inability to cope with umbrella and camera – not a to mention a torch had I chosen to – I near panicked, and chickened out before the 90-minute procession set off.
Nor did I even stay in the hotel’s bar with my table companions. I went to my room and saw the new year in watching ‘When Harry met Sally’!
But I had been invited to the Kent people, Marion and Pete’s, for coffee the next day, and I was looking forward to that, and to meeting their menagerie.
I spent a pleasant 48 hours over Christmas with relatives in Berkshire. I failed to take any photos, though this one was taken of me by my cousin, Teresa,
she of the boutique Wokingham estate agency, Quarters, for which I am very happy to give a plug, was taken during a rare moment when it wasn’t raining.
I was originally meant to be making music with ten others in South Wales from 27th to 30th December but, concerned about Covid, I withdrew. I was worried that I might have been a party pooper, but was pleased to see from a Facebook post that it had gone ahead with everyone else.
Instead I took up a couple of opportunities (my first) to be a vaccine steward, for a pharmacy in Wedmore, where there were six vaccinators and a couple of volunteers. Fortunately I was indoors, on the damp, though warm, days, and for the most part was kept well and satisfyingly occupied.
The music-making in was only 40 minutes or so from a hotel I had visited back in 1975, in a town which I had first visited in 1961. Both visits had been pony-trekking holidays. The first had been as a mid-teens schoolgirl, with my friend Diane, (when we stayed in a guest house), a trip no doubt cooked up by our respective mothers.
The second was as a woman in her late 20s, accompanied by her then eleven-year-old cousin, Mary G, (not the same person as my friend Mary H who appears in these posts from time to time).
So in October last year I had planned to go on from the music-making to spend three nights at that same hotel, especially knowing that there was to be a Mari Lwyd procession in ‘the smallest town in Britain’ to see the New Year in. With Omicron and all that I did wonder whether my stay would be cancelled by the Welsh government, or should be by me, but in fact, because of the greater eventual restrictions in Wales than those pertaining in England, I felt reassured, and a few days beforehand I confirmed that I would be turning up.
It was a soggy, soggy drive on 30th December. I stopped in Abergavenny for a coffee at the Angel Hotel, the first place I came to, and where service appeared to reflect the problem that all of ‘hospitality’ is reported to be suffering at present. But I was pleased to sit down quietly, and then spend a few minutes exploring the charming high street. (I had left my camera – and my phone – in the car. Grrr.)
It was nearly dark when I arrived at the Neuadd Arms Hotel in Llanwrtyd Wells. Apart from its exterior, and one view of the bar, I could remember nothing of it from 1975. It is a somewhat quirky, comfortable three-star hotel, grade II listed, also apparently suffering from staff shortages. Agreeable enough for three unhurried days.
The following morning, Christmas Eve, I went out for a short walk to get my bearings. LLanwrtyd Wells grew as a spa town in the 19th century but, to quote Wikipedia, “the area is now better known for recreations such as pony trekking, mountain biking, walking and birdwatching, and for its annual Man versus Horse Marathon, Beer Festival and World Bog Snorkeling Championship”. It took very little time to explore each of the radial roads.
The Neuadd Arms is listed Grade II, and I learned later is for sale. The present owners have been there for 20 years.
I had tried in advance to book my departing Sunday lunch here at the Drover’s Arms, as it had excellent reviews, but it was going to be shut until 22nd January. I learned in due course that this business also is for sale, and has been for some years.
… multi-purpose building…
…. next door to which was a coffee place which I had been intending to patronise.
But it was shut for the holidays.
This 19th century Congregational Chapel, which closed in 2009, is now…