Llanthony – a thin place

I was supposed to be going to Capel-y-ffin, just north of Llanthony, back last January to make a radio programme about Thin Places – then the lockdown struck. We decided to have another go on Tuesday. In folklore (and in some pre-Christian traditions), thin places are literal doors to the Other World. Stories of shepherds who walk into a stone circle or a cave, find themselves in the land of the fairies, dance with them all night, fall asleep, and when they wake up they find that a hundred years have passed and everyone they knew is dead …

In the Christian tradition, it’s a bit different – they are places where you are particularly aware of the presence of God and the nearness of the Other. But are they inherently like that, or are they created by the prayers of the faithful – what T. S. Eliot called places ‘where prayer has been valid’? Llanthony is a bit of both. The legend is that the medieval priory was founded by a young knight of the local de Lacy family. Out hunting, he became separated from his companions and got to a little ruined hermitage. He was told it was where St David had gone in retreat. He became a hermit there, and attracted so many followers that his hermitage developed nto a community of Augustinian canons.

So did the place speak to him, or did he realise it was holy when he found about St David? And was St David ever really there? And are thin places always quiet, remote retreats? For me, the ultimate thin place is Penrhys – which is a busy and sometimes troubled housing estate on the site of a medieval shrine to the Virgin Mary. The estate church is a centre of prayer and social activism, somewhere the Gospel is really being lived – but it isn’t everyone’s idea of a spiritual refuge.

We stopped off on the way to Capel-y-Ffin at Llanthony Abbey. As well as the abbey ruins, the parish church was made out of the abbey infirmary. It has some splendid painted wall memorials – none by the famous Brute family of stonemasons but plenty to admire. Bob Silvester’s article in the current Church Monuments  is a really good study of these local stonemasons My photos aren’t brilliant because I only had my phone and it was very dark, but they give you an idea.

The Trumper monument

commemorates several generations of the family. There’s a particularly good angel at the top, with the trumpet of the Last Judgement (a pun, maybe?) standing on some very fluffy clouds.

Next to this, the monument to William and Sarah Jones

has two urns at the top and a sort of bathtub with the text ‘The just shall live by faith’.

There’s an intriguing difference in the lines under their names. His reads

Time swiftly flies, and calls away
Our spirits to their home;
Our bodies mingle with the clay
And rest beneath the stone.

Resignation, and the earthly fate of the body.

Hers by contrast reads

Strong was her faith in him
who died to save
And bright her hope of joy
beyond the grave.

more of a sense of religious belief. I’ve seen the same difference between men’s and women’s inscriptions elsewhere but I’m not sure if it’s a real gendered difference.

I couldn’t get a good picture of the one above

but it commemorates an earlier William Jones with the lines ‘Remember man that die thou must, and after death return to dust’ and ‘The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’

Next to this is a monument to Mary Davis and her husband Roger Davis, perpetual curate of the parish

with a trumpet-wielding cherub at the top and the lines ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!’ – very appropriate for a cleric.

The Lewis monument

is particularly colourful, and has something of a gendered difference in the poems. His is

Behold o mortal man
How swift thy moments fly
Thy life is but a span
Prepare thyself to die.


Hers is

Extend to me thy favour, Lord,
Thou to thy chosen dost afford.
When thoui returnst to set them free
Let thy salvation visit me.

Sorting out the Joneses was tricky, but this one came from the neighbouring parish of Craswall, across the Hatterall ridge and in the next county and diocese.

An urn sitting on a bath tub (technically they are called ‘wine coolers’) this time, with the words ‘Memento mori’. Underneath is the verse

The soul prepared made no delay,
The summons comes, the saints obey;
The flesh rests here till Jesus comes
To claim the treasures from the tombs.

Really difficult to photograph, this one, on the east side of the chancel arch

Mary and William Parry of Nantycarne, a farm tucked into the hillside just north of the abbey. Both have Bible quotes. His is from the Book of Revelation: ‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. Yea, saith the spirit, that they may rest from their labours.’ Hers is really unusual, lines from chapter 7 of the Book of Job. ‘The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more. His eyes are upon me and I am not. As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away, so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.’

What can have led Mary (or her family) to those strangely disturbing lines? Extracts from the Book of Job feature heavily in the medieval Office of the Dead, the night prayers said after a death and before the funeral. But that would have been in Latin, and those particular verses only appear in a couple of unusual variants of the liturgy.

The other interesting thing is that the wording isn’t exactly that of the Authorised Version, which is  ‘…thine eyes are upon me and I am not’. It does sound as though the wording was given from memory, suggesting it was a text known well but not quite well enough.

But the real excitement was this

half hidden in the south-west corner. How many times have I been to the church and failed to spot it – how many groups of students have I taken there – I’ve been there with the Stone Forum, with the Church Monuments Society –

and there it was, hiding in plain sight, a medieval cross slab, trimmed on a slight slant, repurposed at least once with a later inscription.

The detail of the head

suggests a late date, probably fifteenth century. The base

has a fleur-de-lys decoration rather than a stepped base which makes me think it’s 15th rather than early 16th. And the inscription –

two family tragedies. Frederick Gwillim, Died 1 Decr 1822 aged 11 months, and Ann Gwillim, Died 18 October 1828 aged 6 months. How did they bear it.

Probably the stone came from the abbey – possibly the grave of a leading member of the community, possibly a lay person who had been generous to them. Who knows.

Llanthony was a bit disconcerting, being full of young army recruits, all spick and span in their new camouflage gear and 20 kilo overnight packs, off on an exercise in the mountains. The road to Capel y Ffin was nearly blocked by a landslide but Steve managed to get through. And the recording went well. They didn’t really want a lot of detail, and it was good to see the little church again.


The main purpose of our visit to Llanfair-ar-y-bryn was to check the memorial to the great Welsh hymn-writer William Williams Pantycelyn and his family (see https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/ ) but there was a lot else of interest in and around the church. It stands on the site of a Roman auxiliary fort, and there is Roman tile and brick in the church walls.

The church was built by the Norman Robert Fitzpons, who built the first Llandovery Castle. He established a small Benedictine priory here, dependent on the abbey at Malvern. When the area was reconquered by the Great Lord Rhys, he allowed the monks to remain, but they were turfed out by his son Rhys Gryg in 1185. (The story is that the behaviour of the monks had become scandalous. These little dependent priories could go bad, but theat may have been an excuse.)

The church was deliberately damaged by fire. It was rebuilt by Sir John Giffard when he was constable of Llandovery castle. There were later alterations – the installation of a rood screen, some new windows. The floor of the original church sloped down hill to the east, but at some point the chancel floor was raised, leaving two rather odd windows low in the east wall.

The church as it stands is big enough, but it was even bigger at one time. There was a south transept, but it was in ruins by the eighteenth century and used as a dumping ground for skulls and bones from the graveyard. There may also have been a north transept.

Inside, on the north wall, is this medieval cross slab.

Probably mid-late 13th century, measures 88.5 x 32 cm maximum. Turn it upside down

and the inscription reads …S: CVIV… (in other words, …s, cuiu[s anime deus propitietur], on whose soul may God have mercy).

There is also a strange little face with jug ears


– could this possibly come from an effigy? There are two sepulchral niches in the north wall of the chancel, one part obscured by subsequent rebuilding.

The church also has a little bit of decorative medieval paint and this

probably late 16th or early 17th century text, so far undeciphered. It could be Welsh;

the medieval font in which William Williams was baptized;

and some rather splendid hatchments of the local Gwynne family.

And the King’s Head in Llandovery does a full vegan menu including some vegan chocolate brownies.

‘Schall do no …’??

Llanfair Cilgedin, north of Usk in Monmouthshire, is one of the loveliest of the many lovely churches in the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches. It is most famous for the sgraffito work with which it was decorated by heywood Sumner in the 1880s. The panels illustrate the Benedicite – ‘O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord’.

We used to sing that every week in Mattins but not many churches do a sung morning service any more.

Being naturally contrary, I went to Llanfair Cilgedin not to see the sgraffito but this

the early 14th century tomb of a priest. But while we were there, I noticed some medieval stained glass in the chancel (these are mostly Martin Crampin’s photos)

and high above the west door.

The chancel glass is particularly intriguing.

The word Credo suggests a set of the Apostles with their clauses of the Creed. This

must be the feet of the crucified Christ. The word Sanctus on a plinth must belong to a saint – possibly one of the apostles – but what to make of the text to the right? And the English words at the bottom here –

‘schall do no …’ The glass looks medieval: is it possible that there might have been English text in a window by the early 16th century? And what might it be? My first instinct was a version of the Ten Commandments – ‘thou shalt do no murder’, maybe? Recently, I tweeted the photo of the magnificently-bearded man above and asked for ideas. Angela Graham suggested it might be a version of Isaiah 11, which also has the prophecy of the rod from the stem of Jesse. The bearded figure could be a king of Israel from a tree of Jesse. I can’t find an early translation with that exact wording, though.

The head in the west window looks like Christ, and this

Medieval Fragments, Church of St Mary, Llanfair Kilgeddin

could be God the Father.  We have so little medieval stained glass in south Wales (there is a lot more in the north) that these remnants seem worthy of more thought.

I do have to go back, to look for another tomb carving. Bradney drew this

in the churchyard. Medieval and reused, or another of those post-medieval cross slabs that are such a feature of the area?  The scrolled base certainly looks like other post-medieval examples from north Monmouthshire, including the Grosmont one that first got me thinking about post-medieval cross slabs.

Alternative routes to Penrhys

(or How the Old Poet Got to Penrhys – part 2)

The route over Mynydd Maendy and the Afan-Ogwr watershed still looks like the best route for the Cistercian Way – clearly an old trackway, magnificent views (weather permitting) and the shortest off-road route. But it probably isn’t the way medieval pilgrims like Gwilym Tew would have gone.  Old, overweight, carrying that massive candle, he would most likely have taken the gentler route from his home near Llangynwyd, via Llangeinor and Llandyfodwg  (now better known as Glyn Ogwr) and over Mynydd William Meyrick. According to the RCAHM Glamorgan inventory the route over Mynydd William Meyrick is medieval. The rest has to be deduced from the line of byways and green lanes.

I’ve been meaning to look at this route for some time. Then I went to Llandyfodwg with Tristan Gray Hulse to look at the famous medieval effigy slab there.


It depicts a pilgrim with staff, satchel and badges including a scallop shell, the crossed keys of St Peter and – crucially – another badge showing keys on a ring. Tristan thinks this may actually show the saint himself. According to legend, Tyfodwg locked himself in chains as a penitential act and threw away the key. He then went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he found the key in a fish he was given to eat.

There is another Welsh parish named after Tyfodwg: the old name of Ystrad Rhondda, between Treherbert and Tonypandy, was Ystradyfodwg. Before the Industrial Revolution, this was a huge and sparsely-populated curacy, covering the whole of the Rhondda and dependent on the rectory of Llantrisant. (This all looks like the remains of a minster church set-up providing for the spiritual needs of a small Welsh kingdom.) The old church in Ystradyfodwg was where Ton Pentre church is now (the Cistercian Way goes past it). As far as we can see from surviving records, though, this church was never actually dedicated to Tyfodwg: the earliest sources record it as dedicated to St John the Baptist. Was this an early second millennium rededication? Possibly – or (the theory on the Llandyfodwg church web site) was Tyfodwg an early Welsh ruler of the whole area who brought Christianity there and was eventually regarded locally as a saint? So the whole Rhondda area was Ystrad Dyfodwg, Tyfodwg’s valley, and Llan Dyfodwg was possibly the church where he died and was buried.

Mike Ash of the Glamorgan Ramblers has looked at old maps of the area around Ton Pentre. A trackway ran north of where the church is now. There seems to have been a bridge just north of the modern bridge, and there are also rocky outcrops which could have provided the supports for a medieval timber bridge.  Writing in about 1540, the antiquarian and general surveyor John Leland said there were timber bridges across the two Rhonddas just west and east of Penrhys.

The parish of Llandyfodwg has raised money to conserve the effigy and reposition it off the floor and in a more accessible position. Might there be scope for a parish pilgrimage, from Llandyfodwg to Ystradyfodwg? Time to put the boots on …

The Royal Commission’s route up the ridge from Llandyfodwg isn’t the obvious one along the bridleway from SS 95766 87306. Instead, it goes up the west side of Cwm Dimbath, and along the footpath which leaves Dimbath Lane at SS 94802 87782. The beginning is very overgrown


but there is a hollow lane visible from about SS 94769 87831 (still very overgrown)



and some travellers clearly didn’t make it … .


This hollow lane continues up the edge of the fields to SS 94439 88211, skirts the coal tip (suggesting it was an old boundary) and goes into the forest at SS 94171 88861. From here it follows the forest road to SS 94999 90679 then cuts across the angle of the forest road to the edge of the forest at SS 95271 91052. This section has had a lot of off-roading damage.


Nell likes off-roading damage because it makes puddles. Cara doesn’t like it because she gets stuck in the ruts.

The track continues round the head of Cwm y Fuwch. From there it has been interrupted by the building of yet another wind farm but it should be possible to pick it up again as it climbs to re-enter the forest on Mynydd William Meyrick at SS 95636 92082. From there it slants down along forest roads and presumably follows the line of the public footpath down the steep side of Cwm Cesig and into Ton Pentre.

We thought we ought to turn back when we got to the wind farm. My recently-purchased 1:25,000 OS map didn’t have the wind farm on it, but the online version does. I wanted to cut across to look at the bridleway to the east of Cwm Dimbath. Unfortunately the paths across the moor are confused by the access tracks for the wind farm – we could see the stile but between us and it was knee deep bog. We ended up on a lengthy diversion through the forest but we eventually got back on track. The bridleway is another well-marked hollow trail


and seems to be waymarked from Llandyfodwg at least as far as SS 96269 90405, where it descends into the valley of the Ogwr Fach. This might be a better route for any walk between the two churches.  From this point, where the bridleway crosses the windfarm access road,  your best bet would be to follow the access road to SS 95711 91940, bear left with the road to SS 95601 91865 and pick up the line of the footpath into the forest.

Some Trust In Chariots

We are still having fun with the wall paintings at Llancarfan. The most recent phase of conservation work has revealed (what we suspected would be there), facing the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy. The last two, Visiting the Sick and Burying the Dead, are in superb condition with a wealth of intriguing detail. Clothing the Naked is less well preserved and the others may have been lost under George Pace’s little lean-to vestry.

Recent conservation has also revealed some more blackletter texts on east, south and west walls. We already had some blackletter text overlying the painting of George and the Dragon – here in George Ferzoco’s photos.




put their truste_compressed


I have puzzled over this ever since it was revealed at the beginning of the project. Something including the words ‘dwelleth’ then  ‘put thy truste in Christ’ – or perhaps ‘put their truste’ – but it rang no bells.

Then photos arrived of the more recent discoveries. (These are photos by Kevin Thomas, FRPS, (c) St. Cadoc’s Church, Llancarfan.)


the place where_compressed


This looked like ‘the place where …’. I got quite excited at the possibility of a Nativity narrative – the star that led the Wise Men and ‘went ahead of them until it stopped above the place where the child lay’. But then I realised it was much more likely that it came from Psalm 26 – ‘Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth’. Much more suitable for a church.

So the word ‘dwelleth’ came at the end of the text and we needed to look for something different for what followed. Somehow I had got it fixed in my head that we were looking at something about putting our trust in Christ. But on Tuesday I went back to Llancarfan to pre-walk the May Day walk route with Ian Fell (more on that anon). We had a lovely walk in the sunshine, stopped for a drink at the Bells in Penmark and met the Cowbridge Ecumenical Cycling  Club.  Mostly retired men from all the churches and chapels around Cowbridge, they get together for a gentle ride in the country and lunch in a pub somewhere. All very civilised.

We  popped into the church on the way back. I started to wonder if the ‘Ch…’ could be something else.


Psalm 20 verse 7, ‘Some put their trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God.’

The really intriguing thing is that this isn’t the King James Bible version (that is just ‘some trust in chariots’ ) but the older translation by Miles Coverdale that Cranmer used in the Book of Common Prayer.  (Plagiarism? Maybe – though I’m sure he asked – but Cranmer was tasked with translating the BCP in 1547 along with all the other tasks involved in trying to complete the English Reformation. I suspect he had done some of the work as therapy in the dark days of the mid 1540s when his wife and children had had to go back to her family in Germany and he was rattling around Lambeth Palace getting just a bit depressed – but he still had plenty else to do in 1547 and one can hardly blame him for not wanting to reinvent the wheel.)

So does the use of the BCP version of the psalm rather than the King James version suggest that we are looking at something late 16th century?

Canon Belcher has another suggestion. He thinks the whole thing may have been part of a process of rededication of the church after the damage caused during the Civil War,  when one of the windows was battered down by a farmer named Bush, crying ‘Down with the great whore of Babylon’.

Not sure what the Ecumenical Cycling Club would make of that …

Ian has yet another suggestion. The bit about not putting your trust in horses would have overlain the huge equestrian figure of St George. Was this done within the lifetime of those who would remember the wall painting of the saint – and was it a deliberate dig at the cult of the saints?

All this suggests that we might need to look at the Book of Common Prayer for sources for the other post-Reformation texts. There are fragments on the east and west walls of the south aisle. So far I can’t make anything of them, but little by little we are getting there.

Llancarfan – the post-medieval texts

Epic day at Llancarfan yesterday with Christina Welch of Winchester University and Ian Fell. Main purpose of visit was to look in detail at the cadaver in Death and the Gallant but I also photographed the post-Reformation texts. Here’s Ian’s photo of the whole wall

St George, Llancarfan 31 May 2011 I Fell

and here are the 2 texts in detail



There’s also an 18th century Apostles’ Creed, very difficult to photograph because it’s between 2 windows on a nice sunny day


and detail of the base


More on the cadaver later.



Llangybi: several generations of wall paintings

Our annual field trip up the Usk to Llangybi: we can get there, look at the medieval wall paintings and the holy well and get back within a 2-hour lecture. This year, the church was more than usually mysterious in the mist:


The south wall is full of building history:


probably a sixth-century church of wattle and daub, rebuilt in stone by the Normans but rebuilt again in the fifteenth century. Why? – partly the ravages of a century of economic crisis, partly the enthusiasm of local people for beautifying their place of worship.

Inside there is much to look at:



The stairs to the destroyed rood loft


lit at the top: the lofts were used for singing part of the liturgy, and sometimes for readings.


The famous wall painting of the ‘Sunday Christ’ is virtually unphotographable – it’s easier to understand from this sketch hanging underneath.


And why is this instructional painting, a warning against sabbath-breaking, in the chancel? Was my former student Eluned Martin right – did it mark the location of the Easter Sepulchre?

In the nave, another warning: the Weighing of Souls


but to encourage you, the Virgin Mary is shown placing her rosary in the balance beam to weigh it down on the side of salvation.

These wall paintings were limewashed over at the Reformation and replaced with texts: the Creed


and the Ten Commandments actually over part of the Weighing of Souls


Finally, at the west end, a puzzle:


the font, dated 1662 and decorated with the coats of arms of local families.


The medieval font must have been destroyed during the Civil War and this replacement celebrates the restoration of both monarchy and Anglican church in 1660. In the end, Archbishop Laud got all he wanted: but of course he had been executed in 1645.

(Many thanks to Claire Lindsey McGrath for the photos)


“Celtic Stones”

Having got the Galilee Project all wrapped up, Gareth Kiddie and the Llanilltud PCC are now working on a trail from Llandaff to Margam, linking the sites of some of our major collections of early medieval inscribed stones. The route across the Vale of Glamorgan is pretty much sorted thanks to the Valeways project, and I think we have a reasonable route from Llandaff to  St Fagans (the new home of the National Museum’s collection of stones and casts). More on that at http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/faith-tourism-faith-in-tourism/ .

So that leaves Merthyr Mawr  (a bit more on that at http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/llancarfan-and-merthyr-mawr-faith-in-heritage/ and http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/on-knowing-where-your-towel-is/ ) and Margam, where the collection of stones in Cadw’s little museum is justly famous.

But how to get from one to the other? There’s the coast path … but it isn’t a good section, going through a huge industrial estate. Cara and I were sure we could do better than that …

It didn’t start too well. The lane from Candleston Castle up to Candleston Farm is still more like a river


But if you go over the little bridge opposite the castle, the bridleway up through the sand dunes is steep but easy to follow.


The shrubs are sea buckthorn, planted to stabilise the dunes. They are pretty in flower and glorious when the thickets are aflame with berries, but they are savagely prickly and really a bit too vigorous. Keep going up hill, bear round to the right and keep the trees and the line of fence to your right, go through a gate,


follow the track a little west of north, through another gate


When the track divides, go left and through a gate (or over the stile)


and turn left on a stony lane to Tythegston.

Cute calves in the field


And the view of the church from the far slope


Tythegston is a pretty village with old houses and a pottery. The church is now a wedding boutique (!) but the eleventh-century cross slab is still in the churchyard


And if you look very carefully at this stone over the north window of the chancel you can just see the shaft of the cross on a later medieval tomb slab.


Walk past the cross, turn left on the main road and right immediately along a road marked ‘Unsuitable for motor vehicles’. In a few hundred yards, where a drive goes off to the right, take the waymarked footpath sharp right.


This is stiled and waymarked across the fields – cute lambs –


past the ruins of Ty-erfin


up to the main road and turn left. (The stile here is a bit dodgy.)


The road isn’t too much of a problem – there is a pavement and a central reservation which makes crossing easy. In a few hundred yards there should be a stile on the other side and a footpath across the fields to Upper Park Farm. There has been some clearance here but the stile is heavily overgrown and unsafe.


We need to rethink this bit. After Park Farm you can cut across Stormy Down but there are no clear paths and with the bracken up in the summer it wouldn’t be easy. We eventually got back to the road to go under the M4. There is a rough stone stile into a field just beyond the M4 and a spiffy new gate on the footpath through the limeworks


but how to get to it? And how to get through the lake beyond it? We went back to the road. The bridleway north of Stormy Down looks clear – we need to see if we can get to that from south of the motorway.

Walk along the minor road and across the railway line. When a track turns sharp right, take the waymarked footpath ahead to the right.


Walk up the field, bearing slightly to the left of the hedge (and keeping to the left of the pylons) to go through a gate.


Continue up the slope with the hedge to your right, go through a kissing gate


and another farm gate. Bear left up the hill to pass to the left of the farmyard at Pen-y-castell – there is an encouraging municipal bench at the top –


Also a bench mark.


You need to keep to the left of the bench mark and bear left down the slope to a lane between the houses, then turn left on the road. In about 200 yards, just after the church, turn right down School Road. This becomes a metalled lane and goes down steps. Continue straight  on. Victoria Road becomes Crown Road. When the road bears right, take the footpath to the left, across a little bridge and up to cross the railway. Bear slightly right across the next field and follow the track along the edge of the fields up to the road.

Ahead of you is Hafodheulog Farm. This was one of the granges of the Cistercian abbey at Margam. The name means literally ‘The sunny summer farm’. Hafodheulog is on higher ground that the granges at Llangewydd and Horegrove, and you can imagine the lay brothers bringing the herds up there in the spring. In the woods behind the farm is an even more remote grange, Hafod Deca, where they could have pastured sheep in the summer. Llangewydd, Horegrove and Hafodheulog are still substantial farms but Hafod Deca is a ruin in the forestry plantation. I have a memory of finding the ruins when I was walking up there twenty years ago but they are nowhere to be seen now – did I imagine it?

Take the lane to the left of Hafodheulog, go over the stile at the end and bear slightly left across the field to a stile (heavily overgrown when we were there, and the waymark in need of attention!). From here we walked up the lane past Pentre Farm but it was very difficult to find the footpaths to the left of the road. There has been a lot of felling in the forest, and the forest roads are in poor shape after a very wet winter. You have to cross the Cynffig river and there is no footbridge, just a ford. We may have to rethink this bit as well: you could go left after the overgrown stile and walk up the lane to Troed-y-rhiw Farm. From there the track along the edge of the forest and across the fields is fairly clear, though it may need to be kept clear in the summer. The track goes behind Graig-goch and into Margam Park, and you can follow a footpath across the park and out on the road from the Crugwyllt ridge down to the church and the Margam Stones museum.


The Holy Rood of Llangynwyd

Llangynwyd is probably most famous now as the burial place of Ann Thomas, the ‘Maid of Cefn Ydfa’, and her poet lover wil Hopcyn. (More about them at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Maddocks ). But in the Middle Ages it was famous as the shrine of the Holy Rood of Llangynwyd, a carving of the Crucifixion that was so vivid it was believed to be able to perform miracles. People went there on pilgrimage, the poets wrote in its praise.

We can still trace many of the routes pilgrims would have taken to get to Llangynwyd. One route came over the hills from the east, and ran between Llangynwyd and the even more famous shrine of the Virgin Mary at Penrhys. One route came from the coast at Margam, where the Cistercian monks had custody of the shrine. And one route came from the south, from the rich farmland of the Vale of Glamorgan. This was the route called the Ffordd y Gyfraith, the ‘Road of the Law’, because it was also the route that officials took, travelling from the lowlands to the wild hill country.

You can still trace these routes on the ground. They are marked by lines of hollow trails, worn into the hillsides by generations of travellers. The line of the Ffordd y Gyfraith is also marked by the bases of wayside crosses which would have shown travellers they were on the right track. There is one called Croes Antoni on Ogmore Down, one where the Ffordd y Gyfraith crosses the main road at Laleston, and one which marks where the line of the road was diverted to go round Margam Abbey’s Llangewydd Grange.

Old pilgrimage routes still make good walking. The have a sort of resonance, from all those footsteps of people travelling in hope. Looking at the hollow trails worn into the hillside on Mynydd Ty-talwrn, and the little platforms that are all that’s left of peasant cottages and bigger farmhouses, you realise that these empty hills were once home to a thriving and complex society.

I’m working with Merthyr Mawr and Laleston community councils on a circular route round their villages, looking at the heritage of early Christian carved stones and later monastic granges (more on that at https://www.heritagetortoise.co.uk/2013/11/laleston-stones-trail/ ). Part of the route of that goes along the Ffordd y Gyfraith.  More, the church at Laleston has a very strange medieval tombstone with three crosses on it which may be based on the design of the rood at Llangynwyd, showing the two thieves as well as Christ on the cross .

So taking the route north from Laleston to Llangynwyd is a good idea for all sorts of reasons. It isn’t entirely straightforward … for the first sections of the route and their problems see  https://www.heritagetortoise.co.uk/2013/11/laleston-to-parc-slip/  and https://www.heritagetortoise.co.uk/2013/11/heritage-trails-again-2/ . But it still looks doable. So taking advantage of a break in the rain on Thursday, Cara and I headed back to Parc Slip, walked up to the ridge and explored the footpaths down to Llangynwyd.

The line of the Ffordd y Gyfraith clearly went along the hollow trails you can see coming down the Glamorgan Ridgeway from the radio mast.


At this point the modern road goes west of the old track. In about half a mile you take a waymarked footpath to the right. Bear left across the first field, heading for an old gatepost. Ahead of you on the skyline are the earthworks of a big complex of ruined buildings.





This is called ‘Farmstead’ on the modern OS map but older maps call it the ‘British Residence’. When the archaeologists Cyril and Aileen Fox were surveying this area in the 1930s, they thought this and the house platforms on Mynydd Ty-talwyn were the remains of early medieval farmsteads. They eventually decided they were later, probably built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when the climate was better and you could farm the hills. When the climate got dramatically worse in the early fourteenth century, there were famines followed by the Black Death and most of these settlements were deserted. Recently, an American archaeologist has revived the idea that this was an early medieval settlement. My friends in the Archaeological Trust say it is much, much later, possibly post-medieval. But the hollow trails of the Ffordd y Gyfraith run through the site, and seem to go through some of the buildings –


so my guess is that it’s medieval, and that it was deserted by the time the pilgrimage became popular in the fifteenth century.

Paul Davies has sent me some splendid aerial photos which make the whole site much clearer.



Paul’s survey suggests the site was first two house platforms, one large and one small, and that the farm complex was built over these. Meanwhile, in an article in the 2019 volume of Morgannwg, Stephen Davies has identified the site as the Nant y Dulles which was the home of the medieval steward of Tir Iarll. This really needs a blog post of its own – meanwhile Paul Davis’s aerial photos are wonderful.

Walk across the next field to the head of a little valley. Walk down a rough farm track with the stream on your left, then cross the stream and walk up the track to Maescadlawr farm. Take the footpath to the left  just past the farmyard and bear right across two fields. Go through a gate and cross the metalled lane. Walk down the lane towards Bryncynan farm. Just before the farmhouse, the track bears right and goes downhill. At the bottom, cross a stream then turn left on the roughly metalled track to Gadlys Farm. At the farmhouse take the track to the right and look out for an overgrown but waymarked footpath down to the right.



This takes you across a bridge. Go over the rather battered stile to your left.


From here a faint path runs along the right bank of the stream and into the woods then bears up to a mossy and tumbledown stone wall.


When you reach the corner of the wall, turn right and follow the faint path up the field towards the top right corner, then follow the field boundaries to your right up to the minor road. Once you go under the line of pylons you will see the whitewashed tower of Llangynwyd church ahead of you.

So far, so good. Merthyr Mawr to Llangynwyd would be a good day’s walk: you could find a local B&B then walk on along the suggested Cistercian Way route to rejoin the coast at Margam. But if we want a circular walk back to Parc Slip or Laleston there may be problems. You can retrace your steps along the minor road and take an earlier waymarked footpath along a track to the right. After a few yards the footpath goes left – there’s a nice new gate


But the lane is very heavily overgrown, the fields are boggy, there are some dodgy fences …


Bridgend CBC have done good work on stiles but once the path gets into the woods it disappears. There should be a footbridge leading to the lane from Gadlys farm but I couldn’t find it. In the end we took a path to the left, and went back to Parc Slip the way we came. I need to have another look at this one from the other end. If we could clear and waymark that bit of the path through the woods, then clear the blocked lane near Ffynnon Iago, we’d have a good circular walk from Parc Slip.

Laleston Stones Trail

Laleston and Merthyr Mawr are planning a loop off the Wales Coast Path featuring their collection of Celtic crosses, later carvings and other heritage attractions. Yesterday the sun shone and it seemed like a good day for a walk … so Cara the Pilgrim Dog and I set off from Merthyr Mawr. The village is almost chocolate-box pretty with a little wedding-cake of a Victorian church. More on the carvings at http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/llancarfan-and-merthyr-mawr-faith-in-heritage/ and http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/on-knowing-where-your-towel-is/ .

We walked alongside the park wall and up the lane towards Whitney Farm. The stile here, where the footpath leaves the lane at 879 784


needs waymarking and a bit of attention!


The puddle is probably the result of recent torrential rain but a lot of the gates and stiles have puddles and we may have to think about ways of dealing with this.

Good stiles and gates across the fields


though we may need some waymarking especially here at 877 789


where the line of the right of way on the map goes through two hedges but the path obviously goes through the gap.

Emerge on the Bridgend bypass at 877 793, turn right, cross the road and through a good sturdy gate at 878 792.Image

Clear waymarking needed here at 879 796


where the path goes back to the right, then it’s straight on to the Ffordd y Gyfraith at 881 796.

The Ffordd y Gyfraith is mostly very minor roads and tracks now, but in the Middle Ages it was one of the main roads through south Wales. The name means ‘The Road of the Law’. This was how soldiers and officials got from the western Vale of Glamorgan to the area around Llangynwyd. Llangynwyd was the Helmand Province of medieval Glamorgan (with my ancestors the Welsh lords of Afan as the Taliban). By the fifteenth century it was also famous for the carving of the Crucifixion on the rood screen of the church. Unusually, this may have depicted the two thieves as well as Christ. A medieval tombstone in the church at Laleston probably shows its design.


(this is John Rodger’s drawing of it, in 1911)

The Ffordd y Gyfraith crosses the main Bridgend road at 881799, at the east end of Laleston village. Almost buried in the roadside verge is the socketed base of a medieval wayside cross.


From here the road is very quiet, little more than a track


until you reach the crossroads at Cae’rheneglwys. Here another wayside cross base is completely overgrown with brambles.


The two stones in the field


are all that remains of the medieval church and village of Llangewydd. Two carved ‘Celtic’ crosses were found here and are now in the National Museum. There are some more plain standing stones in the hedge to the left of the photo. Unfortunately there is no possibility of public access to the field, but an interpretation board on the road will show what the church and settlement might have looked like.

So what happened to the settlement – in a word, the Cistercians. This reformed religious order spread from France across Europe in the early twelfth century, reaching Wales in 1131. Part of their ethos was that they wanted to farm their own land by the sweat of their brows. They preferred to settle on unused land and bring it under cultivation themselves. But there was very little unused land in England and Wales – and when they were given land which was already being farmed, they sometimes used a combination of persuasion and moral blackmail to remove the tenants. The Cistercian monks of Margam were given the land around Llangewydd in the middle of the twelfth century and within fifty years they had removed the church and the little settlement around it.

At Cae’rheneglwys you turn left on a slightly wider country road then keep straight on past the old village pound at 872 813.


To your right are the ruins of the monks’ farm buildings, now hidden behind a new house called The Grange. There should be another interpretation board here showing what the grange might have looked like. The road bends to the left – another sign of the power of the Cistercian order. They could expect that a major road like the Ffordd y Gyfraith could be diverted to pass round one of their granges.

Go back to the pound and take the footpath to the south. This area is marked as woodland on the map but it’s mostly scrub and bracken. Some of the heaps of tumbled stone are geological, but some may be the remains of Llangewydd Castle.




You need to be careful going through the wood. The right of way heads for a stile at the far right corner but most of the paths head for a gate in the south fence. The stile gets you out on ‘Roger’s Lane’ – actually a fast and busy road to Laleston and not really suitable for walking. I thought it might be possible to take the side road west to Haregrove Farm (another of Margam’s granges) and swing back across the fields, but the walk along the road wasn’t very inspiring and the footpaths across the fields weren’t stiled or waymarked. It would need a lot of work for not much benefit.

Part of the problem with the side roads is the amount of litter. It’s a bit different from Cardiff: our lanes are full of rubbish but it’s mostly junk food rubbish. I’ve noticed when walking in the area in the past that the country round Bridgend has much more fly-tipping, builders’ rubbish and general domestic rubbish complete with black bin bags.


This lot actually had a couple of pairs of shoes that could have gone to the charity shop.

We have even on occasions been grateful for the rubbish. I remember my old friend Derek Williams making a plaited cable out of a disembowelled sofa in order to drag a car out of the mud on an unusually random field trip along the Ffordd y Gyfraith back in 1997. But generally it’s unsightly and puts visitors off.

So my instinct is that the best thing to do at the junction with Roger’s Lane is to head back along the side road to Cae’rheneglwys and down the Ffordd y Gyfraith to 878 802 and follow the footpath (well gated and waymarked) across the fields to Laleston.

Laleston has a shop, a choice of pubs for lunch, the church and several other buildings of historical interest – and the well


about which I know nothing, but I’m sure my friends in the Welsh Holy Wells societies will have some ideas.

From Well Street, take the footpath past the school and between the school grounds and the playing fields. This is clearly well walked but leads back to the bypass. This is the one really dangerous bit of the walk. The path should go straight across the road, but it’s near a blind bend and very difficult to cross. We may have to advise walkers to go along the verge to the left until they get a clear view, then walk back on the other side.

The footpath to the south is intermittently waymarked and needs some maintenance but it’s easy to follow. Cara liked this moated stile.


At 873 787 the paths divide. Bear left and go round the east corner of Coed Cwintin to rejoin the track past Whitney Farm and return the way you came. We went right and along the west edge of the wood. No stiles or waymarks but gates and an attempt to deal with the puddles


The lane goes round Candleston Farm and turns south again. Where the tracks divide, take the left fork and go steeply downhill to a stream. At the next fork you can bear left and walk over the ridge to Ton Farm or keep right to walk along the stream (literally in places)


to Candleston Castle. We need to find out whether the flooding on the road is the result of heavy rain, or if there is an alternative path.



To your right are the soaring dunes of Merthyr Mawr Warren


and to your left is Candleston Castle



– really a fortified manor house, probably built in the fifteenth century. From the castle you can continue along the coast path to Porthcawl or return along the road to Merthyr Mawr and your start point.

It was a good day’s walk – about eight miles along the best route, with plenty of interest on the way. We need to do a bit of work on stiles and waymarks, write a guide leaflet and work on the interpretation boards. Watch this space.