A Wet Week in Wales

A wet week in Wales offered us the privilege of peeking into a way of life that has gone, in just 50 short years.

As we crossed into Wales along the A40 through Ross-on-Wye, we were plunged into our expected telecommunications blackout, just as the rain clouds closed in around us. Neither sun nor signal returned until we had crossed the Severn Bridge back into England six days later.

I was looking forward to being without a TV and Wifi, and was keen to let the week unfold. The rain on the slate roof had woken me early, so I got up and I watched as it swirled around the hamlet, buffeting the headstones and trees in the graveyard over the lane. It felt as though we had gone back one season, back into a spring palette of vivid, luminous greens making the landscape soft. In contrast to the neat and tidy towns and villages and their squat slate grey bungalows and terraces that bring a hard edge.

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Our rental cottage for the week was situated in Cardiganshire, north of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire in the hamlet of Llandygwydd, pronounced ‘clandiggwith’. It has a very special place in the history of the Landmark Trust as well as Llandygwydd’, as it was the very first building the Trust restored way back in 1965. Not the church of St Tygwydd’s for which the cottage was built in the late 1850’s to house the caretaker and sexton. The church suffered an altogether different fate and was in fact demolished in 2000 due to the structure becoming unsafe. It was at least the third church on the site and the dedication to the Celtic St Tygwydd suggests that Christianity took root here in the earliest times and before St Augustine’s mission from Rome in AD 597. A religious pedigree doesn’t therefore, always assure you of a bricks ‘n mortar legacy, it assures you only of a footprint, font and calling bell, now hanging from the new chapel wall further down the lane, are about all that remains of this church.

Church cottage collage
Clockwise from left: the Calling Bell, Church Cottage interior, exterior, and now open-air font from the church of St Tygwydd’s

The photographs in the LT brochure show more cottage than graveyard, so I was mildly alarmed to see the headstones lined up just a few meters from the cottage. Thankfully I was spared any ghosts, but an entry in the visitors log did warn; ”Beware the massive beetles that bash onto the back door at night..” could I imagine, have caused concern for some guests!

A wet week in Wales offered us the privilege of peeking into past lives as we settled in front of the fire to leaf through the visitors’ logs from 1967 that reveals a way of life now largely vanished, in just 50 years. Apart from the desire to share weather experiences, (that never changes!), these journals are stuffed pull of poetry, prose, sketches, observations, even a few complaints, but jostling for first place as a ‘must have’ entry opener is reporting just how delightful Church Cottage is, which it certainly is.

Church Cottage
Visitors Log August 1988 to August 1989

Snippets from the visitors’ logs 1967 – 2017:

From 1967, the mysterious milkman is glimpsed throughout, yet he is never actually seen by anyone, apart from an entry in 1981 from a guest who allegedly saw the flash of milk-float taillights whizzing past the cottage; a ghostly apparition perhaps? Will he, won’t he deliver the milk? None the less, helpful tips are left over the years about the best time of day and day of the week to leave money and bottles on the doorstep.

Another guest writes about how much they enjoyed listening to the choir practice in the now demolished church on a Wednesday evening, I would have liked that. Another enjoyed the book of prayer, but not the morning service that was deemed only satisfactory, unlike the evening service at the Mount Zion English Baptist church Cardigan, where the sermon was almost as long as the walk home!

Weddings that took place at the church were commented on, including the enterprising custom of a temporary road toll that was managed by the flower girls who charged a penny to pass.

Excellent recommendations for local pubs, some opening all day on Saturday to make up for lost custom in the days when they had to shut on a Sunday. No seven-days-a-week drinking then, so for the more intrepid and thirsty visitors, they popped over the district line into Pembrokeshire where drinkers were more welcome.

The log reads like the calling card of mainly English views of a 1970’s world as some refer to ‘dropouts’ who had made new lives for themselves away from London in what we now refer to as lifestyle professions: renovating buildings, production of artisan food and arts & crafts. The old school house opposite is mentioned many times as being occupied by English squatters – clearly a noxious breed! One former house guest gleefully reports that the house has been sold for £6,300 and by inference, expects the squatters to be moved on.

There was a lengthy entry from a couple who stayed in the 1990’s who explored a ruined country house; I think they should have written a short story about that muddy adventure.

In 2017, it’s standard to make bookings via email and to receive the key code from the housekeeper by text message. There is no expectation to meet her, nor have her show us where everything is, but in 1976, Mrs Thomas was very much on hand to give a guided tour and some guests even called into her cottage down the road.

1977/8 are years that resonate and I have particular memories that are a definite point in time for me; I recall the Welsh National Front so often in the news for firebombing the holiday homes of the English, and mentioned in the log as being the potential perpetrators who destroyed so many road signs (that I don’t think have ever been replaced); rubbish not being collected and the item that links across the 40 years from then to now, the handle of the grill pan is broken!

I marvelled at what counts as leisure for some guests.. some of whom went to the trouble of indexing the recommendations and sorting through the maps and brochures that were in ‘a state of disorder’ and included; extensive wildlife lists, pubs, OS references, where to go to avoid the tourist hordes and “those listening to transistor radios on the beach”, recipes to try, shopping, cathedrals to visit, the best views to be enjoyed on a less windy day, the longest hikes, where to enjoy the gargoyles, how to tame the smoking chimney, even the humble slugs are included. Some of places no longer exist, but we did pass a number of pubs whose names sounded familiar. Amazing that so much rich information has been captured about a relatively small area around the cottage and it speaks volumes about the type of guest who stays in Landmark Trust cottages.

We did explore some of the epic coastal path, and in better weather, expect we would have had a lot to add to the visitors log about how many chapels and seals we’d seen and just how windy/wet/wild it was.

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Holy Cross Church Mwnt

We do love to share our experiences with those we know and those we don’t, as I am doing now. It’s our personal views, our boasting of what we seen and done, sharing poetry, drawings and recommendations and the only thing that has changed is the method in which we do it; now on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram amongst others and who knows what will succeed even these mighty channels in the next 50 years? I hope the visitor logs will still be used though, they are a real treasure trove of how we used to holiday, and in some ways still do.

Hmmm…..where are we going for our next wet British Isles summer holiday in 2019? Somewhere without TV and Wifi would be an excellent place to start looking.

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