Friday, May 30, 2008

St. David’s, 9.5.06: Old Inglenooks and Angels in White

St. David’s: this shrine on the outermost fringe of Wales once had such eminence that Pope Calixtus declared two pilgrimages to St. David’s the equal of one to Rome—Roma semel quantum, bis dat Menevis tantum.

Extraordinary day yesterday: to T. Went to post office, where entering Welsh folk totally ignored me as I stood outside, but greeted each other volubly and with much humor inside. Bought several O.S. maps for the area, of more to less specific details.

Using material I’d printed before the trip from the Internet, we located it. It’s just past a little village called Brynberian off the A487 and B4329.

We journeyed. As one moves north from St. David’s, especially on back lanes, beautiful old hedges of gorse line lanes and fencerows in fields. Ablaze with bright yellow on the misty day in which cluds overhung hilltops.

The houses in many towns and villages—especially Fishguard—beautiful pastel colors, some even brighter, and often all in a row: soft green followed by yellow, blue, lavender, burnt sienna.

I remember the Portuguese in Toronto painting houses this way. Do people who live near the sea have an instinctive need for such color? It does seem to complement the sea aspects wondrously well. A house shrouded by shrubs and trees in the interior of this green and pleasant land would not need such ornamentation. In fact, it would be clashing and grotesque. But not in the open air and bright sun (when it shines) beaming from a harbor.

T.: past Brynberian, we turned up the first likely lane we saw (right turn, north). This was deep Wales, very narrow lane, tree-shrouded, mist-haunted bunches of yellow primroses everywhere along the banks.

The road seemed to be going nowhere. So when we passed a conglomeration of several houses, Steve stopped at one in which we could see two young women doing each other’s hair (it was a modern bungalow, brick and glass, undistinguished). He knocked and asked about T.

One of the women came out and took him to the roadside and pointed down the road to a house we’d passed and said, “Look, there, through the trees. That house is T.” She encouraged us to stop. A P. family own it, they love to talk about history, etc. . . . .

So we did so. And what an adventure. The house is back a lane and so we hadn’t seen it, an ancient stone farmhouse added onto over the years.

The yard is daunting as you drive up—wheelbarrows akimbo, piles of wood, plants to be potted, some fallen over and the pots broken. Steve knocked. The people gracious invited us in and had us sit in the inglenook where a fire was burning bright in an iron stove—very welcome on the cool damp day.

M. and I. are retired school teachers, he a social psychologist who had become a headmaster for a school, she a geographer who taught primary school. They retired early. M. had a conviction that those who work to 65 die by 70, but those who retire at 50 live to 85.

He recently broke an ankle and is hobbling now with a walker. She is bubbly, warbling, a talker in that hospitable, scatty, wonderful English way that makes connections evident to no one but the speaker.

The house: amazing. Lived in. Generations. Walls a yard thick. Mushrooms growing in damp corners. Slate floor. Massive oak beam over the inglenook with holes in it where the outwear of anyone coming in from outside was hung to dry. Similar peg holes in the beam next to a lean-to stone dairy built on the back of the house.

The house was originally one room with the huge fireplace and inglenook and a large stone on which to sit by the fire in that room. Low ceilings. M. told us the traditional arrangement was to have a bed for mother and father at ground level and then build the beds for the children on shelves attached to the walls, near the ceiling.

The original one-room construction can be seen in the cornerstones outside the house, two of which mark off the house at the middle. Joined to the one room now is the old cowshed with another fireplace, and the dairy behind, with a large stone at the level of the ground floor (it’s a step down into the dairy) on which milk was placed to say cool.

Above are now two rooms to match the original one and the cowshed. To the side of the house another larger old stone cowshed in which their son and his partner had lived.

Beyond this a spring that I. believes may have been an ancient holy site, since it has quartz bits dropped into it. They’re known to have been used as votives.

To the side of this, an old slab of rock with a cross incised into it. M. told us the early Irish missionaries brought these, in case they should die abroad, to be buried under.

Inside, as we sit and talk, M. says suddenly, “Someone touched me!” He felt the touch on his leg. He says this happens frequently, though not in a long time.

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As we leave Cromlech House in St. David’s today, Sara Davies tells us of an old lady dressed entirely in white who came up and kissed her baby Dylan at the cathedral a few days ago. When she was pregnant with Dylan, a friend told her, as she entered the friend’s house, that a large white angel was following her.

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