Tuesday 30 April 2019

Penmon Priory

Hello, thank you for calling in and thank you for your comments on my last post.  I am very happy indeed to have discovered that some of you are ABBA fans too, especially with Eurovision on the horizon (I am already planning my menu).

After Easter, the Best Beloved and I went off to Anglesey for a little glamping break.  The last three months have been a bit of a struggle for me so this was supposed to be a restorative treat and I am happy to say that it was exactly that.  We arrived on Tuesday in 24 degree heat and sat on the little terrace outside our camping pod drinking chilled wine and eating bread, smoked salmon and little salady bits and pieces as the sun set over the field; then we lit a fire and stayed outside until the cockchafer beetles began their invasion attempt.  Have you ever had a close encounter with a cockchafer beetle?  You might know them as May bugs and that is the point - they are supposed to emerge in May, not on 23rd April!  They are huuuuuuuge, well, about 5cm long, and you know they are near because they buzz very loudly.  They fly towards the light but they are a bit clumsy and when one landed on me I yelped and demanded that the Best Beloved remove it, which he did, to the other side of the field.  Then a second one appeared inside the pod and had to be kindly but firmly evicted with the aid of a glass and a postcard before I locked the door very firmly, closed the curtains and turned on the fairy lights.  This was my second cockchafer encounter in the last seventeen years and I still haven't really recovered from the first so I don't wish to have any more, thank you very much!

The following morning the weather was still warm enough for us to sit outside on the terrace as we drank tea, ate croissants and planned the day.  I was keen to visit Penmon Priory, a place we hadn't visited before, so off we went.  I had done my research and knew that there were a ruined priory, a medieval fishpond, a dovecote and a holy well to be found there and if you've been reading here for a while, you'll know that that's just my kind of outing.

St Seiriol (St Cyril in English) is said to have come to Penmon in the sixth century and, finding a spring of clear water pouring out of the cliff, settled there as a hermit.  However, his brothers, who were both Welsh kings, didn't think that a little hermitage was good enough for such a high-born man and so they came and had built for him a wooden church and a monastery was established there.  The spring water became known for its healing powers and a well was built around it.  Four hundred years later, the Vikings attacked Anglesey and in 971 AD the church was looted and burnt down (pillage and plunder!). 

In the twelfth century a new church was erected a short distance away from the well, this time built of stone.  This church was a "clas", run by an autonomous religious community, and in about 1220 AD this clas was reorganised as an Augustinian order of canons, which meant that new buildings were added to the site: a refectory and dormitory, a place for the canons to eat and sleep.  This large block was built opposite the church, the space inbetween becoming the canons' cloister, and another building, the Prior's House, was probably built to link them, forming the third side of the rectangle.  (There is a more modern Prior's House there now which is not open to the public.)  Can you picture this?  This photo might help, taken from the fourth side of the cloister where there are now about twenty steps to take you up to visit the church - there would have been a range of buildings here too, but that's long gone.  It's quite a small complex and, I think, really quite charming.

The Priory did not survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries and was abandoned in about 1537.  Eventually, the land and buildings passed into the possession of a leading local family, the Bulkeleys of Beaumaris, who enclosed the land as a deer park and allowed the church to fall into ruin.  They also built a magnificent dovecote which enabled them to breed pigeons for food.  In the 1850s the church was repaired and the chancel rebuilt as it became the parish church.

So that's the history of this special place.  The Best Beloved and I set off along the lanes and soon arrived at the car park where we happily paid the £3 fee as the site itself is free to visit.  The sun was shining and the temperature was a pleasant 19 degrees.  First we looked inside the ruined refectory, which would have had three storeys: cellars, a dining room above and a dormitory on the top floor.  The monks used to eat in silence while one of them read aloud from a window seat.  "Go on then, read to me," the Best Beloved said.  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," I said and he laughed.  Standing in front of the wall is a 12th century gravestone, as tall as I am, which had been used as a lintel over the doorway.  I placed my hand flat upon it for a few moments to imagine the echoes from centuries past. 

Then we climbed the stairs to the old cloister and sat on a bench, looking at the view.  It was a very pleasant spot.  (That large domed structure is the roof of the dovecote.)

Then we went inside the church and found ourselves in the chancel, which looked quite ordinary.  I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. 

Then the Best Beloved, who had wandered off with his camera, called me.  He had gone through the door and was standing at the entrance to the south transept, clicking away.  The sight just about took my breath away, it was so beautiful.

The rebuilding of the church has incorporated the arcading, which dates from 1170.  There is a stained glass window, made in the 19th century but including fragments of glass from the 15th, which depicts St Christopher, the Christ Child and St Seiriol himself.  It is the only image I found of St Seiriol in the church.  Standing in the transept is a large stone cross which dates from the 10th century, one of two which probably stood at the entrance to the old monastery which was destroyed by the Vikings.  This cross is missing one of its arms as it was removed to be used as a lintel for one of the windows in the refectory!

Leaving the south transept, we entered the nave of the old church, where stands the other 10th century stone cross, which stood in the deer park until 1977, and a font which may well be the base of a third cross of a similar age.  There is also a very small font dating from 1150 which was used until the big one was installed.  I really don't know how you could dunk a baby in it!  (I did wonder if it were a piscina rather than a font but then I remembered that I saw a very similar font in a Norman church last year.)  I sat there by myself for a while, it was so very quiet and peaceful. 

When we left the church we decided to head down to the beach and look at the well on our way back - the Best Beloved was very keen to have an ice cream and after all, we were on holiday, and the holiday rule is that you have an ice cream every day!  There is a £3 toll to drive down the road to Penmon Point but if you have paid to use the car park, you don't have to pay again.  We went to the beach and ate our ice cream in the car because the temperature had dropped to 11 degrees!  We did get out and have a little wander, which I'll show you next time, but soon it started to rain.  We got back in the car, drove back to the Priory and parked up, by which time it was raining consistently, but we are a bit daft when we are on holiday and a pilgrim like me is not to be deterred from finding a holy well by a bit of rain!  First we ran inside the dovecote - WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"It's like something out of Game of Thrones!" said the Best Beloved.  The pillar in the middle was a ladder which enable the pigeon keeper to climb up to the birds.  There are spaces here for 930 pairs of pigeons and the squabs would be killed at four weeks old, so plenty of meat for the Bulkeleys.

I'm sorry, it was really difficult to photograph but I wanted to give you a sense of its scale.

Then we found the footpath leading to the well, which took us around the fish pond which had been built for the monks.  Fortunately, some overhanging trees provided a bit of shelter from the rain, which was becoming heavier.  Apparently, lots of people miss out this bit of the site but really, it's worth the few minutes' walk, even in the rain!  The water in the well is still crystal clear.  The little brick "house" built over it dates from 1710 but the rest of the stonework is much, much older.  The Best Beloved must love me because he stood in the rain to take these photos and he really isn't very bothered about holy wells at all.

We strode back to the car as quickly as we could and fell into it.  I was soaking wet but happy because Penmon Priory is a very lovely place to visit, even in the rain.  Of course, we could have avoided getting wet by visiting the dovecote and the well before going to the beach, and that would have been very sensible, but then we wouldn't have walked on the beach, and I can't ever regret a walk on the beach, especially when there is a delicious ice cream and a lighthouse.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Monday 22 April 2019

Easter Happiness

Hello, it's good to see you here.  Thank you for calling in.  We have been enjoying glorious summer sunshine here and I can't remember when it last rained, I've had to water the pots - in April!  Other things have been good too, so I thought I'd share with you some things which have made me happy over the past week.

I keep a wish list of books which I would like to read and last December, when several of you recommended The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater, I added it to the list.  I keep the list on my mobile 'phone so that if I am out I can have a look in charity shops or second-hand bookshops as I rarely buy new books for myself, that would seem very indulgent indeed.  I also check Oxfam Online periodically.  Do you know about that?  It's a great big online charity shop and I have found some real bargains there.  Unfortunately, not all of my purchases have lived up to their descriptions; I received one book which had obviously been dropped in a bath and then dried out and another which was full of pencilled annotations, underlinings and highlighter pen marks, but overall, the experience has been good.  Here's a link, if you'd like to hop over and have a look - https://www.oxfam.org.uk/shop
Last weekend I received an e-mail informing me that Oxfam Online were holding a sale so I got out my wish list and I had a look at the website and I found a used copy of The Christmas Chronicles for £19.99.  That's £6.01 less than the listed price of a new copy but I still thought it was too much, especially for a second-hand book.  I then checked into Amazon and found that I could buy a new copy for £14.84!  That's more than £11 less than the listed price and as I still had some birthday money stashed away, I bought it.  Please be assured that I haven't bought a book from Amazon for years, I don't like the way they operate and I prefer my money to support a real shop which provides employment for real people, especially my local independent bookshop, but I'm afraid my willpower faded when I was presented with such a bargain.  The book arrived on Monday and I am delighted by it, as I suspected I would be because I enjoy his weekly column in my Sunday newspaper.  I have dipped into it a little and have put it away so that I can enjoy its seasonal comfort at the end of the year. 

During Lent I took part in an online photo challenge, posting a daily photo on my Facebook account using given themes.  On Tuesday the theme was My Playlist which left me a bit stumped so I posted this photo of an old-fashioned kind of playlist. 

(I rather feel that I've given myself away with this!)  My neighbour, who acquires and sells vinyl, commented that I don't have the first volume of Greatest Hits and I replied that I don't, although I do have ABBA Gold and More ABBA Gold on CD.  Within ten minutes he was at my back door, presenting the Best Beloved with a copy of ABBA Greatest Hits!  "I don't like to see Mrs Tiggywinkle go without," he said.  What a lovely thing to do!  I was intrigued to see that on this album, the name is spelt without the first B being reversed, as it is on all my albums, but as I have been writing this post I have been listening to a programme about ABBA on the radio and I have learned that the B was reversed for the first time on the cover of Arrival, which is their best-selling studio album and which was released after Greatest Hits.  (My copy was bought for me by my grandparents, at my request, for Christmas  in 1977.  I was thrilled to discover that the lyrics for all the songs were printed inside on the sleeve so that I could sing along.  I still do, although I no longer need to read the lyrics.)

On Wednesday we retrieved some items from storage and cleaned them up ready for Tom Kitten to use.  They belonged to his aunt and have been at the back of a garage for years.  A couple of years ago, ivy grew in and dripped its sap all over them - I had no idea ivy could be so mucky.  A vigorous brushing, some lengthy scrubbing with a solution of washing soda and a good hose down brought them up almost as good as new and I felt very satisfied indeed with my afternoon's work.  These bits of plastic brought back many happy memories and I hope they will create many more.

On Friday I ate several hot cross buns.  I absolutely love them but I don't eat them until Good Friday which begins with the most delicious breakfast.  This made me very happy indeed. 

On Sunday I went to a sunrise service at Holy Trinity Church in Dawley with three very good friends.  Members of the church had built a replica tomb in an unused spot in the churchyard and used it to tell the Easter story to several hundred children during the last couple of weeks.  It was the perfect place for our service and as we were leaving after a breakfast of bacon sandwiches and hot cross buns, the sun had picked its way through the trees to illuminate it.  It literally made us gasp as we stepped out of the church.  Our service was broadcast live on BBC Radio Shropshire and as we drove home, we listened to the highlights, condensed down to a five minutes.  I had let the Best Beloved know about the highlights and he listened to them at home; when I arrived, he opened the door and said, smilingly, "I could make out your voice, singing!"  If you would like to listen to it, it's apparently available on the BBC Sounds app.  

My friend Cerys took this photo of Sue, dressed as Mary Magdalene, waiting by the empty tomb.

Back at home I spent a happy hour baking cakes for us to take out for lunch.  We spent the afternoon with The Teacher, Flashman and Tom Kitten, picnicking and lazing in the sunshine in the ruins of Lilleshall Abbey as butterflies fluttered by.  It was an almost perfect afternoon, marred only by the fact that The Mathematician wasn't with us as she wasn't able to come home for Easter.  

In the evening I had a long bath, deep and hot, with lavender-scented bubbles and a good book before donning my pyjamas and eating two more hot cross buns, toasted and buttered.  I think it might be the best Easter Day I have ever had.

I hope that you, too, have had some happiness this Easter. 

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Monday 15 April 2019

The B5062/3

Hello, thank you for popping in.  I'm sorry I've been away for so long.  I haven't been very well - nothing serious, I haven't really been "ill", just laid low by a series of wintry bugs for six weeks out of nine.  It began with a stomach bug which hung around for much longer than it should have done, there was a sore throat which kept me on painkillers for a fortnight and a cough which had me allegedly "sleeping" propped upright on the sofa for over a week.  I saw the pharmacist and he said that all he could suggest was a cough medicine which would make me drowsy and it certainly saw me off to sleep quickly, but it didn't suppress the cough, which then woke me up.  Managing pain is tiring in itself and the inability to sleep for more than three or four hours at night became quite debilitating.  I've never known a spell like it before and it's left me quite feeble.  Thank goodness it's over and Spring has sprung.

Last week I began to feel well again (although, to be truthful, I'm always a bit off kilter during Lent).  The narcissi I planted in the tubs in my front garden have been flowering their heads off for a few weeks and the hedges are full of blossom. Bright, new, green leaves are opening on the trees and the landscape has woken up.  I can't recall being so aware of April's ethereal beauty before and she has lifted my sunken spirits.  I visited The Teacher on Friday and rather than driving home down the busy A roads I decided to take the scenic route along the B roads, it only adds about five minutes onto the journey and its really rather lovely.

I began by popping into  the ruins of Haughmond Abbey, about five minutes into the journey.  As soon as I got out of my car I could smell that the grass had just been cut, it's heavy scent instantly reminding me of sunshine and summer.  I was the only person there and I wandered about for a little while before I went to pay my respects to St Winefride - you may remember that I visited her shrine in North Wales last summer.  She was obviously greatly revered here as her statue stands beside those of such great figures as St Michael, St Augustine, St John the Evangelist and St Thomas a Becket.  That's Prince Caradoc's head beneath her feet, he is being swallowed up by the earth and pulled down to Hell by The Devil (serves him right, he was horrid).  I know that St Win looks a bit the worse for wear but she's been out in the elements for the last seven hundred years.

I was the only person there.  I looked out across the fields towards Shrewsbury.  The atmosphere was so very peaceful and I felt deeply affected by it.  I sort of felt reassured that everything was going to be all right.  I got back in the car and carried on driving along the B5062, past neatly trimmed hedges, blossoming trees and yellow fields full of oilseed rape.  I drove through Roden with its vast, disused greenhouses which for decades provided tomatoes for the Co-op.

The road rounded a bend and I drove across a bridge over the River Roden.  There is an eighteenth century mill beside the river which is now a B&B. There was nowhere for me to park so I couldn't photograph it, but here is an old postcard I found online.  The building is much smarter now and painted white.

The river divides Roden from High Ercall (pronounced "Arkle"), a village which is mentioned in the Domesday Book and which has an ancient church, a manor house and almshouses, all visible from the road as I drove through the villageAt the end of the village there is an old tollhouse which was probably built in the 1850s.  Of course, it's a private dwelling now as we no longer have to pay to use this road, but even though it has been extended its original use is obvious, with its windows looking in all directions.

Turning onto the B5063, the next village I reached was Longdon-upon-Tern where the remains of Thomas Telford's eighteenth century cast iron aqueduct sit marooned in a field astride the River Tern, the canal which it used to carry being long gone now.  

On the other side of the road, I glanced across the fields and saw The Wrekin, the familiar hill which lets me know that home isn't far away.

The whole journey took about half an hour.  I wondered why I had never noticed before what an interesting journey it is, how many "sights" there are which tell the history of the area, and I reached the conclusion that it must have been down to my frame of mind, feeling really positive for the first time in months and the calming peace which had descended on me in the ruins of the Abbey.  (Sorry, I've just read that back and realised that I sound a bit daft; perhaps I am!)  Now, I must confess that I didn't take these photographs at the time - except the one of St Winefride - because there isn't anywhere to safely stop and park the car.  However, I really wanted to show you why this journey is so special so on Sunday, when the Best Beloved and I were out, we came home along this road and he parked his tiny car in some cheeky places, hopped out and took these photos.  Isn't he fab (sometimes)?

I'll be catching up with your blogs this week and will be back to tell you more about that aqueduct.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x