Glyndŵr’s Way, day 3: Llanbadarn Fynydd to Abbey Cwmhir

June 17, 2023 0 Comments
Rood screen, St Anno’s Church, Llananno

Over breakfast in The Lion at Llanbister we chat with Mr T, whose farming family go back many generations in the area.  He seems to share many of the conservative views for which Radnorshire people are known.  We hear about many of the things he’s against: electric cars, the Welsh Government, climate change protestors, rewilding and political correctness.  He’s about to launch into a denunciation of the Welsh language.  Luckily, he asks first how many of us speak Welsh. He thinks better of pursuing the attack.

Mr T is a kind man, and he offers to interrupt the brief car journey back to Llanbadarn Fynydd by calling in at a small church just off the road at Llananno, by the river Ithon.  His cousin, he tells us, will have unlocked the door already.  On the outside it looks like a typical small Victorian church, but inside lies a treasure that shines like gold in the gloom.  Between nave and chancel is a fifteenth century rood screen, preserved from the predecessor church.  Along the rood loft twenty-five niches, filled in the nineteenth century restoration with Biblical figures, but underneath is an original intricate frieze of plants and creatures, including a dragon.  The scale of the carving, and its fine craftsmanship, are astonishing.  It’s thought that the carvers belonged to a Newtown workshop of artists.  The architect David Walker was employed to demolish and replace the old, dilapidated church, but he carefully kept the screen and re-installed it in his new building, opened in 1880.  He also preserved a churchwarden’s pew, carved with the inscription ‘David Lewis, church warden, 1681’.  Today the church is under the protection of the Friends of Friendless Churches.

St Anno’s Church, Llananno

We say goodbye to Mr T at the excellent community shop at Llanbadarn Fynydd, a place I used to call at often when making the trip to Gregynog.  One of the staff immediately swoops and mistakenly asks us if we intend leaving our car outside, apparently a crime.  Re-stocked with supplies – there are no places to buy food on today’s route – we set out, after taking a look inside St Padarn’s church.  A lane leads uphill, through more forests of cow parsley, on to open moorland, with a gentle slope towards the tops, Castle Bank and Moel Dod.  On top of a gatepost someone has place a whitened sheep’s skull, and in true necrological fashion we line up to take photos of it.

The sun starts to appear and we stop for a morning break, overlooking a small valley filled with rowans in flower and the songs of warblers and meadow pipits.  Kites fly overhead, as they do almost every day on this walk.  The first building we see coming down from the moor at Yr Allt is an off-the-grid house, built high up on the slope.  Above it two figures are bent over a well.  The woman doesn’t acknowledge us, but the man explains that the water supply from the spring is drying up in the drought.  He’s a tall, bearded old man, not originally from these parts, dressed in dirt-spattered clothes and missing most of his teeth.  He starts to abuse the water company for trying to bill him.  He keeps a single horse, but it’s hard to see how this Wild Man of the Hills can make a living in this lonely spot.

The path leads down to Tyn-y-pant and then climbs back up the other side of the valley, with fine views back towards the Wild Man’s house.  Now we have pines on one side of the path, oaks on the other.  Then we’re back on the open moor, still climbing, and divert to visit a trig point on the top of Ysgŵd-ffordd, with fine, almost panoramic views.  Someone has left an expensive looking pair of glasses nearby, and I place them on top of the trig point.


There’s a long descent from here, and we stop for sandwiches overlooking the valley ahead, amid birdsong, white hawthorn and complete peace.  Then we walk through woodland, to what looks like some kind of ancient holiday complex at the bottom.  Crossing the Bachell Brook, we emerge at Neuadd Fawr and follow a quiet lane parallel to the stream.  In the park landscape beyond, fine oaks give shade from the sun to flocks of sheep.  C2, mistaking the way, walks across a dilapidated wooden bridge marked as ‘dangerous’, and we need to call him back.  The lane leads on, shaded by old oaks and beeches, and then, in a wood, we find ourselves going up a valley in a wood high above a small stream.  The path gets narrower and then stops suddenly in thick undergrowth.  We consult the OS red triangle and realise we’re in the wrong valley.  We need to retrace our steps.  The mistake, we rationalise, was understandable.

Abbey Cwmhir

At last we’re now approaching Abbey Cwmhir.  We pass the grand entrance to The Hall, apparently one of Wales’s finest neo-Gothic houses (but not open to the public) and arrive at a modest farm gate which seems to be the entrance to the ruins of the Cistercian abbey.  Across a field, there it is below us, on a flat plain with the monks’ lily-covered fishpond and the Clywedog Brook beyond.  Only the lower walls of the abbey church survive, as well as a small mound, apparently a later viewing platform.  Sheep are grazing peacefully, and use the abbey walls to avoid the sun.  An old farmhouse, Home Farm, sits nearby.  Presumably it incorporates many stones robbed from the dissolved abbey.  It’s a tranquil scene, and it’s not difficult to imagine why the twelfth century Cistercians chose it as a remote but convenient base, with economic potential.

St Mary the Virgin Church, Abbey Cwmhir

We wander slowly round the abbey grounds, stopping to study the stone monument to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, part of whose body is supposed to be buried here, and call at the small interpretation centre devised by the Abbey Cwmhir Heritage Trust in part of one of Home Farm’s outbuildings.  Later C1 and I take another stroll round the village and take a look at the surprisingly ornate village church, built in 1865 by Mary Beatrice Phillips.  The Phillipses were the local squires, inheritors of the land and other property snapped up by money men when the abbey met its end under Henry VIII.

St Mary the Virgin Church, Abbey Cwmhir

Later I stroll down to the Happy Union inn for a meeting with two Trustees of the Heritage Trust, the counterpart of our own Strata Florida Trust (both were daughter houses of Whitland Abbey).  We have much in common, and much to talk about, and agree to visit each other’s abbey (the monks would have used the Monks’ Trod, a direct path over the mountains and a tough, twenty-five mile journey on foot for today’s hikers).

Next day

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