Monday , April 22 2024
The magnificence of Tintern Abbey, and the beauty of St. David's, where according to legend St. Patrick set sail for Ireland.

Nine Days in Wales, Part Three

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.

Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey

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.

Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey

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
Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey is a truly amazing site, unlike anything else I’ve seen.

Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey

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.

The Grove, St. David's
The Grove, St. David’s

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:

St. David's Cathedral
St. David’s Cathedral
St. David's Cathedral
St. David’s Cathedral

Second, the Bishop’s Palace, an impressive ruin:

River by the Bishop's Palace, St. David's
River by the Bishop’s Palace, St. David’s
Walls of the Bishop's Palace, St. David's
Walls of the Bishop’s Palace, St. David’s
Inside the Bishop's Palace, St. David's
Inside the Bishop’s Palace, St. David’s

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’.

Atop the Bishop's Palace, St. David's
Atop the Bishop’s Palace, St. David’s

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.

St. David's Head
St. David’s Head
Beach at St. David's Head
Beach at St. David’s Head

This is the spot where St. Patrick is said to have departed for Ireland. Its ancient volcanic jags juxtapose 

Steps at St. David's Head
Steps at St. David’s Head
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

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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