Friday, 31 January 2014

From a 'Wiseman's' Church to 'Mr Pym's Bridge'

I am still in the process of writing up some walks retrospectively. This week I'm taking a look back at another lovely walk in the Usk Valley between Usk and Abergavenny that we did in November. This short, easy, riverside walk near The Bryn,  is part of 'The Usk Valley Walk' and has beautiful views of the River Usk, The Blorenge, Sugar Loaf and Pen Cerrig-calch and Table Mountain at Crickhowell, in the distance and some interesting features along the way.

The walk starts from a path which runs alongside St. Cadoc's church at Llangattock Juxta Usk. St Cadoc also known as Cadoc 'The Wise' (Cattwg Ddoeth in Welsh), is one of the most important early Welsh Saints who spent many years living in Monmouthshire. A large collection of his maxims and moral sayings were included in Volume III of the Myvyrian Archaiology.  Cadoc was a contemporary of St David (Dewi Sant) and was a strong contender for the title of patron saint of Wales which David was awarded.

St Cadoc
Born in 497 Cadoc was the son of  Gwynllyw, a local king (commemorated by St. Woolos cathedral, Newport), and his mother Gwladus was the daughter of Brychan, king of Brycheiniog (Brecon). Cadoc was responsible for spreading Christianity across much of Wales and England and as far away as Ireland, Scotland and Brittany. Cadoc is often shown with a mouse and a pig depicting two of the most famous stories associated with him. The mouse is a reference to the story that during a famine Cadoc saved his followers from starvation by observing a mouse and following it to a secret store of grain. The pig is a reference to the story that one day near Cardiff in  the  district of Glamorganshire, Cadoc was chased by an armed swineherd from an enemy tribe. As he ran through the woods looking for a place to hide, he came upon a wild boar, white with age. Disturbed by his presence, the boar made three fierce bounds in his direction, but Cadoc's life was spared when the boar miraculously disappeared. Cadoc saw this as a 'holy sign' and he built a monastery on the site at Llancarfan. Another animal that features in pictures of Cadoc is the Stag. Legend has it that when the monks were building the monastery at Llancarfan two stags came out of the forest to help  with hauling the timber. There are many other stories associated with Cadoc and they show that he did not always turn the other cheek in  a 'Saintly', Christian fashion. Dr Madeliene Gray, University of South Wales, tells of his violent, vengefulness and bad temper, how he had a run in with St David and also King Arthur and how he destroyed his parent's marriage by insisting they swore a vow of celibacy. The story goes that to quell their desires the couple bathed in the ice cold river Usk. Sadly Gwynllyw and Gwladus ended up being forced to live apart, a sorry end to their marriage, for a couple who were madly in love with each other and who had eloped over the mountains from the court of Brycheiniog. Cadoc was martyred when he was killed in the act of worship at Weedon in Northamptonshire by Saxon invaders. There are several other churches in this area of South Wales dedicated to Cadoc The Wise.

Ariel view of  St Cadoc's -  by Coflein
St Cadoc's Church at Llangattock Juxta Usk is described in Kelly's Directory of Monmouthshire in 1891 as, "an ancient building of stone in the Norman style, consisting of chancel, nave, south aisle, south porch and a western belfry containing 1 bell: there are 120 sittings. The register dates from the year 1597; the earlier records are much decayed. The living is a rectory, tithe rent-charge £233, gross yearly value £350, with 100 acres of glebe and residence, in the gift of the Marquess of Abergavenny."  The Old Rectory is the cottage you can see adjacent to the church and is apparently haunted by a friendly ghost. However, the rectory described by Kelly is Penpergwm House, a newer, much bigger and grander rectory built in 1845 and now used as a nursing home, which you pass on the road to The Bryn. When the church was built the course of the River Usk would have flowed far closer to it than it does today.

From the way marked gate near the church, proceed straight ahead across the field until you reach the river bank and turn right under the railway bridge over a way-marked stile. From there you  simply follow the course of the River Usk through a series of gates and stiles.

Dogs enjoy this walk for the swimming opportunities it provides, but be sure to keep them under close control and on a lead if necessary as there are usually sheep and cattle grazing.

The stunning vale of Usk

 There are some beautiful trees and dramatic stumps on this walk!

Animal or human grave under a tree near one of the gateways? We weren't sure,  but it has the inscription LL on it. It is most probably a dog or a horse. but whatever/whoever is buried here it makes a lovely, very picturesque final resting place. If you happen to know, do leave a comment below.

A lovely view of the Blorenge from here.

At the corner of one of the fields you will notice a World War 2 Pillbox. The remains of several brick Pillboxes, built in 1940, can be seen in various locations along the River Usk. They were part of a chain of defences set up to hinder German invasion. Inside soldiers armed with machine guns were placed, ready to open fire through the small window slits.  It is thought that some of the pill boxes may now be used as roosting places for lesser horseshoe bats which is quite a nice thought, but we didn't see any in this one. As you can see I'm accompanied on most of my walks by a '10 year old'!!!!

The River Usk flowing through the meadows with the mountains as a backdrop is very beautiful, even on a grey day in November! Archdeacon William Coxe wrote about  the beauty of this area in 1801 in his 'Historical Tour of Monmouthshire':  

"rich meadows sink into an oval vale, interspersed by the meandering Usk and skirted by a range of gentle elevations, dotted with numerous seats, churches and hamlets; beyond these rise in grand succession, hills and mountains which combine the varieties of light and shade, and vie in the contrast and singularity of their forms. The extremity of the vale is closed by the Clytha hills, mantled with wood; the elegant and wooded swell of the Little Skyrrid is backed by the majestic top of St Michael's mount: the gloomy and irregular mass of the Black mountains bound the distant horizon; to these succeed the russett summits of the Gaer and Brynaro, the four Pen y Vale Hills which form beautiful undulations above the town of Abergavenny, and are crowned by the Sugar Loaf. Beyond the Sugar Loaf, the perspective of the Vale of Usk terminates in the rugged crags in the vicinity of Crickhowel; opposite towers the magnificent Blorenge, and joins the chain of hills which stretch to Pont y Pool. In no part of Monmouthshire are the forms of the mountains more beautifully contrasted"

So here are the mountains referred to by Coxe - below - left to right The Blorenge, with the crags of Pencerrig-calch and Table Mountain in the far distance at Crickhowell in the centre and The Sugar Loaf on the right. Out of shot further to the right is The Skirrid also known as St Michael's Mount or Holy Mountain. I'm sure all these peaks will feature somewhere, further along the line in posts of their own.

Fred Hando writes in 1951 that this area of the Usk Valley near Llanover,  was in 1946, considered for the building of a giant coal powered, power station. What a good thing that thanks to strong local opposition,  including from Hando himself, this was successfully averted - to destroy such a beautiful place would have been a travesty.

Dewi disturbed a buzzard feeding on a large, dead salmon on the rivers edge!

Continuing along the course of the river, eventually you will reach the bank opposite the boat house and St Bartholomew's Church at Llanover.

The small suspension bridge spanning the river here is privately owned and unfortunately there is no right of way over it. It is known as 'Mr Pym's Bridge' - the original bridge here was built for Leslie Pym local land agent for the Llanover and Llanarth Estates and Conservative MP for Monmouth 1939-1945. A descendant of  leading Parliamentarian "King Pym" (John Pym) opposing King Charles 1 rule without parliament, Leslie Pym lived at nearby Penpergwm Lodge, which is now quite a renowned garden. He was father of Francis Pym, Foreign Secretary for Margaret Thatcher during The Falkland's War in 1982.

The Llanover estate, village and church on the other side of the bridge, has a lot of interesting history and deserves a blog post of its own, which I shall certainly do at a later point, but as you look across to St Bartholomew's Church it is interesting to think that buried there is 'Big Ben' - Sir Benjamin Hall MP who gave his name to the famous 'Big Ben' bell in Westminster.

Benjamin Hall
Benjamin Hall was  the Commissioner of Works responsible for the installation of the 'Great Bell' in 1856. The story goes  (although there is no official record of this) that Hall delivered a long speech to the House of Commons on what to name the bell. Hoping to end the long speech someone quipped, "Why not call it Big Ben?" Anyway, whether the story about the bell being named after local man,  Ben Hall is fact or fiction,  it's a nice thought to think the human 'Big Ben' lies in the church yard on the opposite bank.

Installation of 'Big Ben' in 1856

From here we retraced our steps back to St. Cadoc's Church.

 Autumn leaves in the river with a promise of spring in the trees in the form of tightly formed catkins. In this shallow pool with the leaves on the edge of the river were tiny, juvenile fish which we thought might be salmon fry.

Molly is modelling a bark 'helmet' - a perfectly hollowed out piece of bark that we found on the river bank which I brought home to use in flower arranging!.

The old telephone box at The Bryn decorated for Halloween!!
Further Information

This walk starts from St Cadoc's Church,  Llangattock Juxta Usk near The Bryn, which is just off the B4598
Raglan - Abergavenny Road

The turning for 'The Bryn' is signposted near The King of Prussia Pub at Penpergwm House NP7 9AE, now a nursing home.

Go past Penpergwm House and across the bridge over the A40.

Then follow the lane, bearing left and then right at the telephone box through the village until you reach the end of the lane. Take care it becomes very narrow.

Park on the roadside near Church Farm or in the Village Hall car park nearby.

Walk down the lane until you pass the church entrance on your right then go straight ahead to the gate and through into the field and follow the walk as above.

This is a relatively flat, easy, walk across closely grazed river meadows - there may be animals grazing so keep dogs under close control

St Cadoc's Church - Map of location 
Map Reference: SO30NW  Grid Reference: SO33020964

Reference Sources

Historical Tour Through Monmouthshire - Archdeacon William Coxe 1801 (1904 Edition)

Of  course at the end of the walk
there is usually coffee and cake!
Kelly's Directory of Monmouthshire 1891

Journeys in Gwent - Fred J. Hando 1951

Exploring Gwent - Chris Barber 1984

The Gwent Village Book - Gwent Federation of Women's Institutes 1994

Llanover Country - Chris Barber 2004

Walking in the South Wales Valleys - Mike Dunn 2012

Parliament UK - The Great Bell, Big Ben

Coflein - Royal Commission on The Ancient and Historical Buildings of Wales

Celtic Saints - Saint Cadoc

Madeleine Gray: The lives of St Cadoc and St Winifred - Wales Online 2011


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