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 http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/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  http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/laleston-to-parc-slip/  and http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/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.

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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.

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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 –

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

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.

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

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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.

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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

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

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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

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needs waymarking and a bit of attention!

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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

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though we may need some waymarking especially here at 877 789

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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

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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.

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(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.

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

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

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The two stones in the field

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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)

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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.

 

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To your right are the soaring dunes of Merthyr Mawr Warren

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and to your left is Candleston Castle

 

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– 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.

Faith tourism, faith in tourism?

‘All these died in faith, before receiving any of the things that had been promised, but they saw them in the far distance and welcomed them, recognising that they were only strangers and pilgrims on earth’ (Hebrews 11: 13)

The irrepressible John Winton of the Churches Tourism Network Wales, having virtually invented church tourism for our nation, is launching his Faith Tourism Action Plan in St Asaph. Here are some amazing statistics. Churches are among our most popular tourist attractions – St David’s Cathedral gets 262,000 visitors a year and Brecon gets 120,000. Their motivations vary – they may be interested in old buildings, tracing their family connections or simply looking for somewhere free to get out of the rain. But on the international scene, faith tourism is big business. Pilgrimage to Compostela has a huge impact on the economy of northern Spain. Pilgrims making the hajj to Mecca contribute about $8 billion a year to the Saudi Arabian economy. It’s no wonder that VisitWales is keen to encourage John’s plans.

Part of this, of course, is the Galilee Project (http://www.illtudsgalileechapel.org.uk/) . Initially conceived as a way of providing a better display space for the early medieval carved stones at St Illtud’s Church, this is spiralling out with an ambitious plan for a pilgrimage route across south Wales, linking Llandaff, St Fagan’s (where the museum will be the new home of the collection of early medieval stones now in the National Museum in Cathays Park in Cardiff), Llancarfan (another early monastic site with some impressive late medieval wall paintings), Llanilltud itself, Merthyr Mawr and Laleston, and Margam.

Part of the aim is to get rid of the unfortunate Anglicisation of the church’s name, Llantwit (St Twit – who he?) and re-popularise the Welsh version, Llanilltud. Seriously, we have deferred for too long to the English inability to pronounce our place names – they are part of the intangible charm of our heritage and we need to stop hiding them.

So John, Gareth Kiddie (the project’s business consultant) and I sat down with the maps to think about possible routes. Like most heritage footpath plans, this one is a balancing act: we need a good walk, on open and clear footpaths, that visits key sites and pushes the buttons of the potential funders.

John seems to treat me as a sort of enquire within upon everything to do with church history. Sometimes this means that he calls me in for things that I know nothing about: but when it comes to pilgrimage and footpaths I am on home turf. The biggest problem seemed to be the start. Llandaff Cathedral is in the middle of a built-up area. Who will want to walk for miles along busy roads before reaching the countryside? But Cardiff is famous for its ‘green lungs’, corridors of woodland and open space between the housing estates; and one of the biggest of these runs along the river. We might have to go north in order to go south … but north from Llandaff is the traditional pilgrimage route to Penrhys, one I’ve walked in the past as an alternative to our usual route from Llantarnam.

So it was that I put my boots on and collected Cara the pilgrim dog, and we made our way to the Taff bridge between the cathedral and Llandaff North.

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The route up river from Llandaff starts well – you walk up the river bank from the cathedral, climb to the road for a few metres past the boat club then back to the river bank as far as the bridge. Keep on the west bank of the Taff and walk along Radyr Court Road, then when the road bears up to the left take the path along the river bank. Turn left under the railway line and walk up to the path through Radyr Woods then turn left past the playing fields of Radyr Comp to emerge at the roundabout where the Radyr road meets the Llantrisant Road.

Here it gets problematic. The footpath across the fields goes through the farmyard of Maes-y-llech – never a good idea. I had a nice chat with the farmer (he knows my cousins from the Vale). He admits he doesn’t like footpaths through his farm but accepts that it’s legal – but for a promoted path it might be better to re-route it. But here’s the real problem – he eventually said that the whole farm is scheduled for building under the latest local development plan. This explained some of his bitterness – his family have farmed there for generations but as tenants so the farm will be sold and they will be out on their ears. It’s dreadful for him, but it also means there isn’t much point in putting a lot of thought into a route that’s going to go round the back lanes of a housing development.

But there is an alternative. The footpath from Maes-y-llech cuts across the line of the disused railway from Fairwater to Llantrisant. After that, the footpath is clear up to the Pentrebane road. You have about 400m. on the road then there is a footpath across the field to a green lane that gets you into the new housing in St Fagans and the back gate of the Museum. So I walked back along the railway line.

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It needs a bit of attention

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(fallen trees, and one bridge has been demolished: there’s an easy scramble down the embankment and back up) and it isn’t actually a right of way but it has a waymark post for a promoted route half way along

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and it gets you by a very pleasant route into the southern part of Danescourt. I re-walked it with my daughter Rachel and she approved.

So the suggested route is as follows: from the cathedral up the river to the bridge. About 100 m. along Radyr Court Road, go up the steps to your left. Walk along Highfields, turn down Greenwood Road, left along the Llantrisant Road to the roundabout. Down Tangmere Drive, along Grantham Close and into the park, bear right and you are on the old railway line. Follow this for about 1/2 mile until you are out of the trees, then after the pylon turn left and follow the footpath across the fields to the Pentrebane road and down the green lane to St Fagans.

Keen pilgrims would probably want to make a bit of a loop to the north to go past Radyr Court and St John’s Church. St John’s is the old parish church of Radyr, a simple building of rough stone with a huge old yew tree.  Radyr Court is now a pub but it was in the Middle Ages the home of the Mathew family. The women of the family were famous for looking after pilgrims on their way to Penrhys. According to the elegy written by Rhisiart ap Rhys to Elspeth Mathew,

Parlwr gan vwr niferoedd
I vels draw val osdri oedd

‘her parlour was to many invalids like a hostelry’. He also said that she sent a considerable weight of candles to Penrhys, but she never seems to have gone there herself. Perhaps she considered herself to have taken informal vows at Radyr and to be running a sort of maison Dieu, a hospice for pilgrims. This would make her something like Sister Anne Larkins, who runs the retreat house at Llantarnam and sets us off on our annual pilgrimage from Llantarnam to Penrhys with a blessing of water from a medieval stoup found in the abbey ruins.

The family also claimed to be hereditary custodians of the skull of St Teilo. This famous relic was recently returned to the cathedral after some time in Australia. It is still shown occasionally to visitors and would probably be brought out for an organised group. The cathedral also has the effigy tombs of David Mathew, Sir William Mathew and his wife Jenet

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with the famous ‘sleeping bedesman’.

So there are a lot of connections.