Llantarnam-Neath is sorted, I think I’ve worked out Monmouth-Tintern and Tintern-Llantarnam, time to push a bit further up the Marches. To be honest, we could just use the Offa’s Dyke Path from below Cwm-iou through Pandy, Llangatwg Lingoed and Llandeilo Gresynni. It’s a good route past castles and through pretty villages, it’s meticulously gated and waymarked, it’s clear but isn’t over-walked, it actually goes past Grace Dieu Abbey – why not?
I don’t know why not. But somehow it feels like cheating to make too much use of an existing route. We really ought to be able to commit to keeping a few more footpaths open.
The OD Path really is the only way to get from Grace Dieu to Monmouth. And it’s pretty much the obvious route from below Cwm-iou to Llangatwg Lingoed. Llangatwg is well worth the visit – the church has a splendid wall painting of St George (south Wales has 3 wall paintings of St George, all in churches dedicated to Cadoc, most awkward of saints. Two could be coincidence, three looks like a pattern – but why?), some intriguing medieval stained glass (very rare in south Wales – again, we don’t know why) and one of the most splendid post-medieval cross slabs I have ever seen, its shaft flanked with vividly-carved figures in late sixteenth century dress.
From Llangatwg the OD Path goes south to White Castle. But another footpath heads east across the fields to the intriguingly-named Great Pool Hall and the Scots Baronial mansion of Glen Trothy. Here you join the Three Castles Way which takes you to Llanfair Grange. This was an out-station of a Cistercian abbey just over the border into England, Abbey Dore. The monks were so important that when they were given the grange they were actually allowed to divert the main road to go around it.
The Cistercian Way doesn’t go as far as Dore but the grange is worth a visit. You can see the remains of fishponds, and the terraces where the lay brothers cultivated grapes in the warmer weather of the thirteenth century. This was one of the first sites excavated by our great Cistercian historian and archaeologist, David Williams. The muscle power was provided by young men from the Young Offenders’ Institute near Usk, working as volunteers and rewarded with lemonade and crisps. You wonder where they are now.
The grange chapel lies under the trees and a new church has been built along the lane.
From Llanfair there should be footpaths to Plas Ivor and Llanllwyd. I walked that way but about ten years ago so it needs rechecking. Friday I went to look at the footpaths at the Grace Dieu end. There should be paths along the Troddi and the Llymon brook. They are stiled and waymarked, and there are even sturdy little bridges across some of the smaller streams, but the paths aren’t walked and they are hopelessly overgrown.
Back to the road and up to Llanfaenor. The church here has been converted into a house.
There are no end of other Llan names in the area – Llandishty, Llancreaver, Llanllwyd. Llanfaenor and Llanllwyd (now a farm) are both recorded as chapelries of the great mother church at Llangatwg Feibion Afel – you have to wonder if the others were as well. Llandishty Cottages are on the route.
There’s a hollow lane from Llanllwyd down the valley to Littlemill Farm. It’s overgrown at the bottom but passable. When you get to the stream, cross the narrow footbridge and walk up the far bank. Turn right and walk above the hedge, cross a stile and turn left on a rough track up towards the farm. Through the gate, turn right and follow the roughly surfaced track up to Llanfaenor. From there the best route at the moment is down the very minor road to Onen, across the old Abergavenny-Monmouth road and down to Llanfihangel Ystum Llywern. Here you rejoin the OD path to Grace Dieu. It means a few miles of road walking but the road is very quiet and there are lovely views across the rolling hills of north Gwent.
At Llanfihangel lies buried Sir Joseph Bradney, the great historian of his adopted county of Monmouthshire. He came from Shropshire, inherited an estate around Talycoed near Llanfihangel, fell in love with the area and its history and settled there. He learned Welsh and tried to employ all Welsh servants in his house. Very much the old-fashioned huntin, shootin’ and fishin’ Tory, he was also an old-fashioned antiquarian historian. He led the local militia and was desperate to serve in the front line in the First World War but by then he was too old. Eventually, after badgering all his contacts, he was taken on as commander of a labour corps, digging emplacements and latrine trenches just behind the front line.
Been there, though on the other side of the fence.
Back in the 1980s, as a result of a chance conversation on the bus to Aberystwyth, I discovered that the ‘missing’ final volume of Bradney’s History of Monmouthshire was actually in draft form in his papers in the National Library of Wales. After some negotiating I got hold of photocopies and edited it for the South Wales Record Society. It was a major tidy-up job, checking transcripts of old documents and church monuments, assembling some very fragmentary notes and typing the whole thing on the latest in high-tech, an Amstrad PCW (remember those?). Most of the typing I did while nursing my daughter, typing with my right hand and nursing her on the left. Then I had to learn how to transfer it to a proper PC, just at the point when we were discovering the wonderful world of Windows. The book was published in 1993. It sold like hot cakes and put the Record Society on a good financial footing for some years. Eventually it sold out and the National Library decided to put it on line – it’s at http://welshjournals.llgc.org.uk/browse/listarticles/llgc-id:1044290/llgc-id:1044493.
I have always wondered how the very conventional Sir Joseph Bradney would have coped with having his notes tidied up and his transcripts corrected by a woman who had spent time at Greenham Common and felt the Labour party was getting dangerously right-wing. There might have been a few difficulties … on the other hand, we had many interests in common and I imagine he would have coped.
Now Sir Joseph sleeps in the churchyard with some of his children, their monuments all but hidden under seeding grass and marguerites.
If the church is open, you can see the war memorial which commemorates his youngest son Walter. Walter was killed at Peronne in the spring of 1918. He died only a couple of miles from where his father was stationed, but such was the chaos in army communications by that time that it took weeks for the news to reach Sir Joseph.
From Llanfihangel the OD Path takes you along the west bank of the Troddi. It’s meticulously waymarked, almost too much so, and meanders along the river bank until you reach the road at SO 44694 13362. Turn left, and in about ¼ km turn right to cross the fields to the site of Grace Dieu.
I need to rewalk the stretch from Llangattock to Llanfaenor and we are there.