Llangatwg to Llanfaenor: joining the dots

Third day of fine weather. Can we manage to link the walk from Llanthony with the Wye Valley –

Yes, we can!

The Offa’s Dyke Path is still the best way south from below Cwm-iou – it gets you across the railway line and the main road, both difficult crossings (and the road could probably do with a bit more notice for drivers) and across the fields to Llangattock Lingoed. Llangattock is well worth a visit for many reasons. There’s B&B at the Old Rectory (http://www.oldrectorystayinwales.co.uk/ ), a cabin which can be rented just for one night (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/14687416 ), and the Hunter’s Moon http://www.hunters-moon-inn.co.uk/ , a village pub with food and accommodation. (The pub is open all day from 12 noon, every day, so you can get a cup of tea if you roll past late in the afternoon.)

And the church – http://www.villagealivetrust.org.uk/what-to-see/churches/st-cadocs-church . Much of its medieval rood screen, medieval stained glass (very rare in south Wales), a huge wall painting of St George, and this humdinger of a seventeenth century gravestone.

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The naive vernacular figures either side of a central cross are the trademark of a local firm of stonemasons.

But eventually you have to tear yourself away. The ODP would take you all the way to Monmouth, but the Cistercian Way plans a diversion to visit  the remains of a Cistercian grange. Leave the churchyard by the south gate, following the ODP waymarks. Walk down the field and over a footbridge to turn left on the lane. At SO 36244 19009 follow the ODP waymark across the field to a footbridge at SO 36422 18751.

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Leave the ODP here and turn left down a very muddy bank and across another footbridge at SO 36509 18746.

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Bear slightly to the right up the next field to a stile in the far hedge at SO 36799 18904. Continue on the same line across the next field heading for the impressive Jacobean chimneys of the intriguingly-named Great Pool Hall. (This is a timber-framed gentry house of a kind you would be more likely to find in town – more details at http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/300001924-great-pool-hall-grosmont#.WMqd46JBrIU.)

Cross the road at SO 37057 18999 and walk down through the yard of Great Pool Hall, between the house and the stables. Go through a little gate ahead of you

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and walk along the right side of the hedge. Cross the stile at the far left corner of the field and keep on the same line bearing right towards a stile in the fence at about SO 37554 18827

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(the stile is difficult to see and the fence isn’t on the map).

Look up to your left and you can see the huge mansion of Glen Trothy, built in the 1880s at the height of the Victorian passion for Scots Baronial architecture.

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It was built for the Vaughan family, who were Catholics, and has a lovely little chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart (http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/300014407-glen-trothy-house-including-attached-sacred-heart-chapel-llantilio-crossenny#.WMqeo6JBrIV ). The house isn’t open to the public. (If you Google for places to stay nearby you may find the Glen Trothy Caravan Park but that’s nowhere near – it’s in Mitchel Troy, south of Monmouth.)

The bank below the stile is a bit overgrown but there were some lovely wood anemones.

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Scramble down, turn left on the metalled drive, immediately right over a little bridge and immediately left up the bank.

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You are now on the line of the Three Castles Way – a promoted route, and reasonably well waymarked. Cross the road at SO 37675 18743, scramble up the far bank (there are steps but they are worn) and over the stile.

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Bear up to the right across the next field to a stile about ⅔ up the far fence.

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Continue bearing round to the right past Cae Scybor. Cross the drive and walk to the left of the hedge ahead of you.

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When the hedge bears to the right, keep straight on to cross a stile at SO SO 38102 18930. Bear slightly to the left across the next field. The map shows the RoW going along the hollow lane at the far side of the field but this can be very muddy (police have put warning signs about off-road activity) so the RoW is now waymarked along the far edge of the field to a stile and gate at SO 38295 19093.

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Turn left and walk along the lane. Turn right on the metalled road and right again at the fork following the sign for Cat’s Ash. In about ⅔ km you reach Llanfair Cilgoed, site of Dore’s grange. The name suggests it might have been an early Christian hermitage. You can cross the stile at SO 38976 19088 and walk diagonally across the field to look at the earthworks of what may have been fishponds and vineyards.

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The land of the grange was sold off when Dore was closed in 1536 but the grange chapel became a chapel of ease, a small church for weekly services but without the power to do the big stuff like baptisms, marriages and funerals. In 1560 the curate was a John Dydbroke who had been a monk at Dore. He would not have been paid much as a curate but he had also managed to get hold of a lease of the grange so he could have lived quite comfortably on that. The present church is a little Victorian box, built when the old one had long been in ruins and people had to trek nearly 6 km to the church in Llandeilo Gresynni.

Llanfair church is worth seeing. There is some good modern stained glass and a very informative exhibition about the history of the grange and the Cistercian order (though I did spot one mistake – thirteen Cistercian houses in late medieval Wales? What about the other two??)

A bit more background at  http://www.villagealivetrust.org.uk/what-to-see/churches/st-mary. The church is always open and has a kettle, tea and coffee for walkers.

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Continue down the lane and just past the churchyard there is a gate in the hedge which gets you back into the grange field. The foundations of the old church are in a small railed enclosure ahead of you.

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Pick up the footpath again, walk below Llanfair Grange farmhouse and bear left to the far left corner of the field.

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The stream is culverted here but it is still very muddy. Immediately over the stream, turn left and cross a stile.

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Bear right across the next field and head for the far right corner (the woods marked on the OS map are no longer there).

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Cross a stile and turn left on the main road by the 1861 restaurant (http://www.18-61.co.uk/ – tbh it looks a bit posh for walkers but might be good for an evening-out  treat).

Past the restaurant, take the next turning to the left. At SO 39947 19229 (opposite The Laurels) take the waymarked footpath through the gate to your left. Walk to your right and gradually downhill to a gate at SO 40187 18976.

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Continue parallel with the stream to another gate (with a rather battered stile) at SO 40368 18652.

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Turn left on a roughly metalled road. After the bridge, this becomes a muddy lane going steeply up hill.

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At the top it becomes very overgrown and so muddy as to be impassable (more off-roading, but this is technically a byway for vehicles so it’s legal) but it’s easy to get into the field to the right and walk along the hedge.

Turn right on a metalled road and follow it to Llanllwyd. Go through the farmyard at Great Llanllwyd and straight on along a lane (this one a restricted byway – horses but not motorised traffic). After the dogleg in the lane go straight on through the gate ahead and to your right, and walk down hill to the right of the hedge.

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When you pass under the pylons, go through the gate to your left and continue on the same line but to the left of the hedge. There is a slight hollow trail along the hedge. At the bottom right corner of the field, go through a gate and down a lane to the ford and footbridge at Little Mill.

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Here you pick up the route I explored last summer (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/pushing-up-the-borders/ ) and walk on to Grace Dieu and Monmouth and down the Wye valley to Tintern.

So we have the route clear and walkable from Capel-y-ffin to Tintern and on to Llantarnam. Now all I have to do is get it translated …

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Pushing Up the Borders

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.