We had another full English brekkie sitting in the garden of the Cathedral Cottage B&B (where we had the “garden cottage”), before rolling our suitcases rumbling to the municipal car park. Wagons ahoy! Then a rather emotional coffee with cousin Trish, who is no longer travelling far for health reasons. We’ll have to try to get across sooner next time – leaving it another 14 years would be pushing our luck. For the last time, we negotiated our way out of an ancient and disorientating city centre to a whizzing motorway with critical navigational decisions to be made. Amazingly, we reached the rental car drop-off with time to spare. Our flight was late getting into Doha, so we raced past the people trying to get round others on conveyor walkways to arrive at the terminal for Melbourne with the last call on the notice board and everyone else already buckled in. Lots of movie watching through the artificial night of flight. Leafy Hampshire and 5am – 9.30pm daylight seems a dream, yet it is only a day away. But hugs and excited, newsy chatter with family more than compensates. I’ll blog weekly rather than daily now that we are home.
We awoke to the tune of cathedral bells and sunshine. While the “new” cathedral was commenced in 1000AD, replacing the old version, and the Wolvesey Castle, home of Bishop Henry Le Bois was only a couple of hundred years younger, the pedestrian mall was thumpin’, with buskers and shoppers having coffee after returning from the farmers’ market laden with veggies. With cousin Trish as guide, we drove to the Mayfly pub inthe riverside at the village of Letchford. After a yummy lunch, David and I left Trish and headed along the South Downs Way, where the ripening wheat caught the sunlight. A letterbox remained from Queen Victoria’s days and a friendly dog watched from a stone wall above us.
Today we left our grand hotel in the Welsh seaside town of Porthcrawl and drove to the town of Ludgershall, where we ate pie and Cornish pastie sitting on the ruins of King Henry III’s 13th century castle. The town had some handsome thatched houses. We are now visiting my cousin in Winchester, an old British capital. This afternoon we walked along the River Itchen, past cattle grazing in St Faith’s water meadows. We saw a group who had been celebrating a birthday returning to their car, carrying the remains of the cake. Then we came to the ancient hospital of St Cross, where the monks gave out the original dole (beer and bread) to anyone who asked for it. Our return journey took us past the cricket grounds of Winchester College, where one of the original games of cricket took place, and the town’s medieval wall. This a yet another part of Britain steeped in history.
This morning we left the rolling green hills and tall hedgerows of inland Wales and drive to the seaside town Laugharne, when the poet and playwright Dylan Marlais Thomas lived in a boatshed and wrote in a nearby shed. David’s great-great grandfather, Rev Gwilym Marles Thomas (see yesterday’s post) was Dylan Thomas’ great uncle, which makes David a third cousin twice removed or something to the bard. When we visited the boatshed and mentioned this relationship, the staff took our photo for their website. Dylan Thomas was born 100 years ago and there is a lot of interest in him. We felt quite proud to have such a connection, albeit it remote.
Yesterday we tracked down David’s great grandfather, the Rev William (Gwilym Marles) Thomas, one of the pioneers of the Unitarian Church in Wales. At the village of Rhydowen, we found the chapel from which he was evicted for directing the congregation not to vote for the local aristocrat, the chapel is known as Llwynrhydowen. We found his grave at the new chapel built nearby. We then had a delicious lunch in Lampeter, where we found a bookshop devoted to the Black Spot (smotyn du) movement that he had been part of. In the afternoon, we walked through a nature reserve devised around a peat bog called Cors Caron. Then drove out to the remains of an abbey, Strata Florida, before returning over a hair-raising mountain road to dinner in Llandovery.
We spent last night in Cirencester, where David’s grandparents lived. The signs of the March Hare festival are still evident. This town was a capital in roman times and a mosaic featuring a hare has been unearthed, hence the theme. The parish church is huge, financed by the strength of the wool trade in medieval times. Near or hotel was a building with overhanging first storey dating from the fifteenth century. We drove in the rain to the Welsh town of Abergavenny which has a wooden tomb to St Jesse in St Mary’s Priory. This afternoon we got drenched walking around the town of Llandovery, where the YMCA had plants sprouting out of stuffed denim jeans sitting on the seat outside – they were certainly getting watered! We are now round the fire in a cosy B & B.
This morning we went to Guildford to visit Lizanne, who we had met on the Camino. With her husband, Peter, we walked along the river Wey. Colourful barges were cruising by and we passed St Catherine’s Lock, where the boats can be lifted by water. After lunch at a pub, we returned via the ruins of an abbey and climbed a cliff of golden sands above a former ford. It is said that the name of the town refers to the guilded colour of the sand above the river ford. Another beautiful part of England.