Continued from Part Two
Generations of English majors like me have learned of Tintern Abbey through William Wordsworth’s great poem, “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” But where is this legendary place? That’s right: Wales.
As I was reminded upon rereading the 1798 poem, it’s a philosophical meditation that makes no mention of the abbey itself (other than in its title), dwelling instead on the “steep and lonely cliffs” and “wild green landscape” of the Wye valley.
In the Romantic era, of which Wordsworth was an avatar, people had begun to view ruins not as clutter and rubble but as picturesque and beautiful. Painters were rendering ancient sites in exquisite and sometimes romanticized oils and watercolors. And few ruins are as magnificent as Tintern Abbey. We visited during our stay in nearby Chepstow (described in Part One) and found the site fairly sparsely visited in early March – though quite dog-friendly. The weather seemed threatening but the downpour held off while we visited the site.
Though roofless, the abbey’s stupendous arches and architectural detail have outlasted the order of Cistercian monks who began building it in the early 1100s. Wandering through this majestic ruin I thought of the aesthetically totally different but similarly awe-inspiring Stonehenge. During my time in England as a small boy I remember walking up to Stonehenge and touching the great monoliths. I understand you can’t do that today. But Tintern is fully accessible to man, woman, and dog.
Tintern Abbey is a truly amazing site, unlike anything else I’ve seen.
The downpour began, and we bid goodbye and drove back to Chepstow through the rain, which promptly stopped. As they say: If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes.
To resume our chronological account from Part Two:
We drove westward from Llandeilo to the far west coast, where the summer resort of St. David’s (note the palm trees in the photo below) was rather quiet in the off-season. We stayed at The Grove, a small hotel with pleasant rooms and gourmet food. Note also the Brains Beer logo in the upper right. Throughout South Wales, Brains is the Budweiser of the land, though orders of magnitude better; we didn’t have a bad or even a mediocre pint of beer, of any brand, the entire time.
Landmark-wise, the big attractions in St. David’s are two. First, there’s the enormous St. David’s Cathedral, still very active after many centuries:
Second, the Bishop’s Palace, an impressive ruin:
As at most of the ruined castles, a fair amount of perilous climbing is involved if you want to get up onto the walls and atop the towers. Usually this involves picking your way up dark spiral staircases with steps that are often uneven, sometimes a bit crumbled, and, most significantly, constructed for feet far smaller than 21st century tourists’.
A visit to St. David’s would be a sad one indeed without driving out to St. David’s Head, out on the rocky coast.
This is the spot where St. Patrick is said to have departed for Ireland. Its ancient volcanic jags juxtapose the starkness of a wild and rocky coast with the warm appearance of sandy beaches and a delicate balancing act on green-grey cliffs. A very modest hike takes one to a place that feels like the end of the world.
With that, the South Wales leg of our journey was complete. It was at the visitors’ center in the town of St. David’s (officially a City, actually) that we made our one and only Internet check-in, renting a total of 30 minutes for the two of us to write “hi, we’re fine” emails to our families and try to scan hundreds of messages in our inboxes. Half an hour online? Quite enough, thank you. Soon enough it was time to get back to real-life travel and leave the cyberworld behind once more. Do I miss my computer and the world of the Web when when I’m away? Oh, how I do not.
Continued in Part Four