Friday, Sep 23, 2022
…I had reserved my final week in the UK for a purely personal reason.
To return to Wales, a country I first visited – if memory serves – thirty-five or so (egads) years ago.
Everyone asked me, “why Wales?” As with so many things in life, there was the long answer and the short answer. The short answer is simple: it’s a stunningly beautiful country, filled with lushly forested mountains and hillsides, with medieval castles dotting the countryside, bucolic views of pastures, fields, and farmland, and home to many of the most friendly people (in my experience) one could ever meet. What is there not to love about Wales?
I was also (the longer answer) eager to meet my friend Philip Chatfield, who (you may recall) was the subject of my blog in May of 2021 (you can read it here). Philip is a sculptor by trade who has crafted monuments both large and small, and takes care of needed repairs to the local railway and several local churches. Most recently he was featured in the local media with the story about a wooden statue Philip carved, “Our Lady of the Waters and the Wye”; he mounted it onto a platform attached to two canoes and sailed down the Wye River for 75 miles, from Hay-on-Wye to Monmouth, to “raise awareness and to call for action to stop pollution of the river” (from the web site of Ross Parishes, UK; the full article can be read here).
Philip and I had planned to spend part of a day together, for him to show me some of the local Monmouth area. Climbing into his Land Rover, we took off at break-neck speed, dashing along narrow country roads with the hedgerows looming over us on either side, honking the horn when approaching a bend in the road to warn oncoming traffic of our approach…
And what an enormous amount of sight-seeing we packed into a few short hours! Several ancient churches with Norman architecture (such as the one pictured here); Llanthony Priory (which is now in ruins), which sits across the lane from St. David’s Church, founded in the sixteenth century and dedicated to David, the patron saint of Wales; a glimpse over the hillsides of Capel-y-Ffin, where Eric Gill and David Jones both lived and worked for a time; a visit to a contemporary private press, the Berrington Press, run by the second-generation printer Sarah; a breath-taking drive over the highest mountain pass in Wales, the “Gospel Pass”, which runs between Hay-on-Wye and Abergavenny; a blitzkrieg visit to Hay-on-Wye (guess just how many bookstores we covered in 30 minutes?) and…well, the mind boggles. So much to see.
My final two days were filled with ramblings around the countryside of Monmouthshire, a visit to Hereford and the cathedral, and enjoying the local bitter, “Butty Bach” (which means “little friend” in Welsh – indeed!).
So very, very glad to have had the chance to return to this lovely country. Will I ever have the chance to return again? I do hope so….