Saturday, June 29, 2013

Offa's Dyke

Offa's Dyke is a 130-mile ditch and rampart that runs, more or less, from the River Dee to the River Wye, roughly drawing a line between Mercia (now England) and Powys (now Wales). The current border actually follows it in some places. There is very scant historical or other documentation about it. According to tradition, it was built by Offa, king of Mercia, in the 8th century. It is not completely continuous, skipping over or around natural barriers. It is thought to be a defensive structure built by the Mercians, since the rampart is always on the Mercian side and natural barriers, e.g., hills, always favor the defenders to the east. Some scholars apparently think it goes back to Roman times; others think it was built in sections over a number of centuries. Whoever is right, it is still there and something any armchair archaeologist will want to see if passing (very) nearby. Besides, it is just beyond the Devil's Pulpit, a famous Tintern Abby overlook. And we wanted a little exercise as well as communion with Nature and the spirits of Bill and Dottie.
View of Tintern Abbey from the ridge; you can see our
camper, middle/right...

Devil's Pulpit view of the abbey; it was from the pulpit that
the devil enticed monks from the abbey...

Eureka! We are on the Offa's Dyke Path, one of the UK's
great walks

So there it is; you have to use your imagination as it's become
a bit overgrown in these 1200 years


Age-old war between tree and boulder: tree
wins again

Nice hike, nice trail, nice day, perhaps our
first day of summer here

Tintern Abbey

It was to be a big day, first the castle, then the abbey, a few miles away, then the walk, as Wordsworth said, "a few miles above Tintern Abbey" (actually only a couple hundred feet above the abbey but a couple miles down the river), then the sight of Offa's Dyke. Tintern Abbey is famous in part because of Wordsworth (he doesn't even mention the abbey, as I recall), but also because of Turner's early watercolors, also Tennyson, Jane Austen, and even Allen Ginsburg. Vicki had been there before, but I wanted to see it and especially wanted to see Offa's Dyke, which runs nearby. We had lunch at the abbey, toured it, and then set forth across the river and up the long ridge.
Most of the abbey is a wreck, but the great 13th century
Cistercian chuch still stands, sort of; here, a view from the
west/southwest; a "decorated" Gothic, perhaps less
austere than other, earlier Cistercian churches we have
see; two aisles, no galleries, big clerestory windows...

West facade, huge lancet windows now gone

A bit of the carving remains

Nave view; the south aisle still stands; the north is mostly

At the crossing

Looking up; the lead roof was among the first things sold;
things fall apart pretty quickly after the roof goes; and the
ivy takes hold

Back down the nave

More interior

Century-old oak, planted on the occasion of George V's

The abbey's all-important reredorter

Our campsite at the abbey

A bit later that evening

Chepstow Castle, Wales

We spent another quiet if rainy night at Ladye Bay, then decamped and drove across the bridge to Wales, passing over enough of Bristol for me to see the natural outlet of the mighty Avon and one of the contemporary "floating docks" (that is, an artificial channel of the Avon that has been "locked" to make a small harbor). Our goal was to see Chepstow Castle, its ruins, one of the earliest Welsh castles. It was begun, in stone, not wood, in 1067, by William the Conqueror, finished off and improved by Edward I, and improved even more by Roger Bigod. (I think Bigod is Middle English for Bigdog; whatever).
We found our way to Chepstowe and easy street parking there,
literally a walk in the park to the castle; as it turned out, this was
the first of several miles we walked in the Wye Valley; I wonder
now what the river Wye may have to do with David James Duncan's
charming novel The River Why, which I read early in my Montana
period; did I miss something important, something Welsh?

Attacking forces' view of castle

Entry view

Great Hall; note if you can (click to enlarge) the
thin red line of bricks about 1/3 of the way up;
these are recycled Roman bricks


Traces of interior splendor; the castle declined
and disintegrated naturally; it was captured by
the Parliamentarians in 1648, but was never

Overlooking the Wye

Sally port

Last interior view

Clevedon Court

We wanted to see Clevedon Court for its great age--a manor house built originally in 1320, and pretty much unchanged architecturally--as well as for its literary associations...Thackeray, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, etc. And we found much more.
Frontal view

Vicki holding up the portcullis for the next
timed entry

First surprise: one of the largest and most impressive glass
collections we've seen outside Murano and the V&A; the

The rolling pins

Some miscellaneous; the collection filled the
better part of two rooms

Next surprise: baby furniture, some Medieval,
some Renaissance, some later, all over the

Baby rocker...back and forth and side to side

1580, I think

And another

Massive old table and chairs in the (new) main
hall (the original main hall was built 50-80
years before the main house and served as
the house's kitchen from 1320 to 1957; with
a few upgrades, hopefully)

Painting by a member of the family, showing the
trial of an accused poacher before the lord of the manor

18th century view of the manor

Family daughter Jane, with whom Thackeray
fell hopelessly in love; she figures largely in
Henry Esmond, much of which was written in
the house; the Eltons, the family that have
lived here going on 800 years, have been
quite artistic/literary at times

Nephew Arthur Hallam, the subject of
Tennyson's In Memoriam, A. H. H., one of
the 19th century's greatest literary works...
"tis better to have loved and lost..."

Moving right along, there are Coleridge and Lamb, flanked
by Bill and Dottie, other friends of the Eltons

Closer up (the light was awful); note the guy
outside, smoking 

Last surprise: the family more recently
included Edmund Elton, a noted ceramic
artist of the "Arts and Crafts" movement,
late 19th/early 20th century

The old main hall/later kitchen contains a
large collection of his work

The kitchen (1320-1957) hearth; note oven, left

And a final high/multi-use chair

View of Clevedon Court from the garden

Ladye Bay

We drove on to our next house, Clevedon Court, and found one of the best wild-camping sites yet, a few miles from the house, up by a park on the coastal path. Quiet, beautiful, in a good neighborhood too--mansions overlooking Ladye Bay and the Bristol Channel.
Ladye Bay, low tide, looking toward Clevedon Pier

Across the Channel, a bit of Cardiff and Wales, I think

Low tide pebble beach; hours later this will be under 20 feet of water

Clevedon Pier

Very serious tides here; in the spring people actually surf the tidal bores...going
on for miles and miles I suppose; Bristol is at the end of the Channel, and all
this gives rise to the expression "Ship shape and Bristol fashion"; before 1805,
when the first "floating dock" was constructed, ships docking at Bristol could
be on their sides at low tide; and everything had better be securely fastened...

And I was there

Next morning, tide coming in

The beach pretty much gone

Fishermen (-persons) like tides