Monks amongst the ruins

I awoke with the sparrows, pulled on the hiking boots and took to the hills behind the hotel. There was a circular walk brochure in the room so I set off on this. I didn’t get very far.

St Mary the Virgin’s church on the hill was burned down in 1977 and the body of the church is all that remains…and the many gravestones of course. There’s a lovely view of the Wye River from just outside the church wall so I sat and cogitated for a tad.

St Marys ruined church, Tintern

Then I strode up the very steep hill as far as Penterry Farm then decided I’d best turn back.

Last night I’d more or less decided to go to the Devil’s Pulpit but sleep had driven this memory deep into the long forgotten vaults of my brain and so I went back to room to read The Times and wait for Mirinda to wake up so we could go for breakfast.

The breakfast room was full of recovering wedding guests and the bride – no sign of the groom…again. We were once more served by the pregnant Schumanian who must keep very bad hours. We helped ourselves to a hearty full English breakfast then returned to the room to pack and head out.

I packed Sidney for the long haul and we left the car park, crossed the road and drove into the Tintern Abbey car park. After a good stretch from such a long drive, we entered the Abbey grounds.

Fantastic place! We, naturally, took advantage of the audio guides (and obviously bought a guide book) and were transported around the site. I don’t understand tourists who don’t use the audio guides (at the very least). They are generally quite cheap (£1 at Tintern and at other places, free) and they bring the whole place alive. Lots of people just wander round from info board to info board, half reading, half wandering without getting the full benefit of the hi-tech experience. Still, I guess a stroller and three screaming kids, one with a cutlass, is not conducive to listening to some beautifully spoken man intone about the life and times of Cistercian monks.

Anyway, the Abbey. What a lovely place. It’s situated right beside a very busy road and this was cause for concern, but once inside the Abbey remains, the noise abated completely and we strolled around in relative silence (ignoring the kid with the cutlass, of course).

Tintern Abbey, interior

The Abbey was founded in 1131 by the Cistercians who travelled from France and remained a centre for prayer and monastic life for 400 years until Henry VIII dissolved it in 1536 (or 1563 if I am asked, given my mathematical dyslexia). After this, it sat in ruins, waiting for the romantic poets and painters of the 18th century to discover it. Turner painted it a number of times (1790s), Wordsworth wrote his imaginatively titled Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey a few miles above the Abbey (1798) and Charles Heath wrote his best selling tourist guide Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Tintern Abbey – catchy title that (1793).

In the Reverend William Gilpin’s famous Observations on the River Wye (1782), another best seller, the author claims that though Tintern is ‘the most beautiful‘ scene of all, it would have benefited from a few changes to some of the gable ends with a mallet. I didn’t see any gable ends that jarred so assume this was most definitely a personal opinion.

What most annoyed the writers and artists of Victorian times were the hovels and pigsties sitting next to and near the Abbey. They ignored the fact that these were the houses where the locals lived, being so poor they could not afford anything else.

The Victorians, in their wisdom, removed the pulpitum from the main body of the church as it disrupted the view of the entire church. A shame, as this would have been the only one in existence. Fortunately some smart person took a photograph in 1870 showing the foundations for the pulpitum so at least we know where it was!

Stepping into the church gives you a wonderful feeling. The long aisle with massive windows at either end, the roof non-existent and the floor made of grass, is truly awe inspiring. Of course this is a far cry from what the place would have been like when it was completed. Cold, drafty, quiet, damp, etc and filled with silent, scary monks. The Cistercians were not allowed to talk except in a small room and then only when really, really necessary. This was the parlour and passage beside the chapter house.

Tintern Abbey, interior

Actually they compensated by developing a whole set of hand signals (which was frowned upon). I guess they explained the hand signals when they could talk.

Of particular interest is the warming house. This was the only place (apart from the kitchen and infirmary) where there was a fire. In the whole place! Incredible. It must have been so cold. The monks apparently never undressed, sleeping in their habits. Ok, they did wash in very cold water and I assume they undressed for that but most of the time they just wandered around, not talking, making obscure hand signals, shivering and smelling a lot. Yeah, I can see the appeal in this sort of life. The fire in the warming house was only allowed from November 1 to Good Friday. It was also the spot for shaving, hair dressing and blood letting. Oddly enough, the monks were not allowed to read in the warming house.

The Abbey had a library and two bookcases built into the fabric of the building. Only one book remains, a 13th century bible which is in the National Library of Wales. The monks were expected to read for two to four hours each day (though not by the fire) and would wander the cloister, books in hands.

But enough of the wonderful Tintern Abbey or there’s a risk of boring you all to death!

Outside the Abbey we wandered over to the Abbey Mill. There is no mill there any more, just a collect of buildings that sell odd crafty tourist things and a teashop. We partook of lattes and toasted Welsh Cakes (sort of a cross between piklets and scones) before returning to Sidney for the trip north.

Abbey Mill, Tintern

We had a lovely trip up the Wye Valley to Monmouth then on to Hereford and finally we hit Ludlow.

Lower Broad Street, where Garden Cottage is situated, is a wide Georgian street which narrows to a cars width at the top where the road passes through the last remaining gate into the main town. The road is VERY steep. After an expedition to find water, we met the owner at the cottage at 3pm then unpacked.

Naturally Mirinda had a rest while I went out and checked out the town. I also went in search of supplies and quickly found a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, a grocer, and oh so many more shops. I also found a sadly lacking supermarket only to discover the next day that a big Somerfields was right next door to it!

Ludlow looks to be a lovely place. It is very famous and contains many old buildings, including a castle! And lots of pubs. Speaking of which, the Wheatsheaf Inn is just a few yards across the street so I thought it only right that I should venture in and sample the ale on offer. A couple of pints of Marsden’s Burton Bitter later and I wandered back to the cottage. Mirinda was once more up and around so we went for a wander around the town, with me as guide pointing out the various sights.

With the exception of the metal clanking goth-ish girl and two ducks snoozing on the bridge wall, we saw few people as we wandered around before returning to the cottage for lamb chops and mash potato. Stuck with terrestrial tv, we decided to plug in the Archos and watched last weeks Desperate Housewives.

Ducks on a bridge wall, Ludlow

Then bed.

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