I left Llantwit Major, where I had surveyed the Church of St. Illtud (see My Day in Wales (Part 1)), and having given serious consideration to driving the 101 miles from there to St. David’s where the primatial Cathedral of the Church in Wales is located, I set out to do just that. It really is a lovely cathedral and there are well-preserved ruins of a monastery founded by St. David there. (Here is a link to the Cathedral’s website.) I got onto the M4 motorway and started driving west, but a little bit beyond Swansea, stopping for petrol and a Diet Coke, discretion got hold of me and I realized that I really didn’t want to spend two hours driving there and then to face three hours getting back to Hay-on-Wye. So I went back to my original plan, which was to drive to the village of Penderyn and visit the only whisky distillery in Wales.
I didn’t take any photos at the distillery; I simply enjoyed the tour in the company of an American family from Florida and their friends from Wales. The whisky at Penderyn was lovely – if you ever have a chance to sample any, do so. They have three finishes – standard, which is aged before bottling in bourbon barrels then finished in madeira casks; sherry, which is aged in the bourbon barrels then finished in sherry casks; and “peated”, which is aged and finished in barrels previously used for Laphroig Scotch. Penderyn is not the first whisky made in Wales. Welsh monks made whisky in the middle ages, but the practice died out. The last commercial distillery before Penderyn was R. J. Lloyd Price’s Welsh Whisky Distillery Company established in 1887 at Frongoch. However, it was not a success and was sold in 1900 to William Owen of Bala for £5,000. The company made its last batch of bottled whisky in 1903 and was finally liquidated in 1910. That last batch met with an ignoble end when the horse cart it was being carried on fell over and all the bottles except two were smashed! One of the two is at the Penderyn Distillery today and the other is supposedly owned by Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. However, our guide told us that the Prince’s steward is reportedly unable to locate the bottle! The bottle at Penderyn is on display and we were told that it is believed that, at auction, it would fetch a price of £300,000! For one liter of whisky! (The Frongoch product must have been pretty good … a cask of it was given to Queen Victoria by the local lodge of Freemasons when she visited the area in 1900 and she is reported to have gone through it rather quickly.)
The Penderyn products are pretty good, too! They didn’t have any of the peated available for tasting, but the standard and the sherry were delightful. They also make a gin and a vodka. Not being a vodka drinker I didn’t try that, but the gin is superb. More like the Dutch oude jenever than a traditional English dry gin. (The distillery has a very good and informative website which I invite you to view for yourself.) I only tasted very small sips of these spirits because, after all, I was on the road and still had to drive to Llanthony Priory and then back to Hay-on-Wye.
Driving through Wales today, I was struck by contrasts. From Cardiff to Swansea and beyond the M4 motorway is a broad, modern expressway on which cars and lorries zip along at 70 mph. Actually, many race by at even faster speeds. I’ve gotten the impression that in the United Kingdom “speed limits” are really “speed suggestions”…. Off of the motorway, on roads labeled as “A” roads, it’s a somewhat different story. “A” roads are two lane highways (one each direction) which back in the States (or at least in Ohio where I now live) would have a speed limit of no more than 45 mph and in many places, 35 mph. Here they generally are posted at 60 mph! And then there are “B” roads … these can be anything from something equivalent to a city residential street back home to a cow path!
My friends Ruthie and Clive live in Tylers Green, Penn, Buckinghamshire. To get to their home, my GPS (or “sat nav” as they are called here in the UK) directed me up a street called “Cock Lane” at the beginning which was a sign saying, “Single Lane Track with Passing Areas” … and that’s exactly what it is. I traveled on another road today with the same sign on display. Here’s few photos of that road taken from the driver’s viewpoint in my car:
The speed limit along here, by the way, is 30 mph! I did not drive anywhere near that speed; to travel these 9.2 miles took me 45 minutes. I met several vehicles coming the other way and often one or the other of us would have to stop and back-up to find a “passing area” where the other waved a thank you and we each went our way.
This particular single lane track with passing areas runs from Llanthony Priory to just outside Hay-on-Wye, a distance of 9.2 miles. Shortly after I took the photos above, the road got even narrower, and darker as trees growing along side arched over it forming a verdant tunnel. But then, rather quickly and unexpectedly, the roadside bushes and trees just disappeared and though the road got no wider, the vista broadened considerably.
I was in a mountain valley that was lush and green and filled with grazing sheep. It reminded me of the scenery in that great old movie starring Maureen O’Hara, Walter Pidgeon, and Barry Fitzgerald, How Green Was My Valley, a movie about growing up in a Welsh mining community (a young Roddy McDowall played a principal character). I don’t know where that movie was filmed, but my B&B host tells me that the area I drove through was where the outdoor scenes of another movie were filmed – An America Werewolf in London!
Shortly after I stopped to take the pictures above, I rounded a curve, topped a summit, and was treated to a breathtaking view of the Wye River valley. Even though the day was overcast at the time, the view was magnificent.
I was on this road driving from Llanthony Priory in the Black Mountains to my B&B in Hay-on-Wye. In the third and final installment of this description of my day in Wales, I’ll have pictures of the Priory. See My Day in Wales (Part 3).
Driving this sort of road (or any road, for that matter) is one of the times when I especially pray for God’s protection. In Dánta Dé there is a morning hymn (described as a ceol na ndaoine or “folk music”) which seeks God’s protection as “king of the graces” when “in each way that I shall take in the road that I wish to go.” First, the Irish Gaeilge:
A Rí na ngrás thug slán mé ó oidhche aréir,
Buidheachas naomhta do gnat do Rí na gCréacht;
Do bhrigh Do Pháise, a Árd-Mhic, dídean mé saor
Ó ghníomharthaibh Shátain gach lá is go críc mo shaoghail.
‘Athair na gcómhacht fóir mé ó phéist an uilc
Anns gach anach a ngeóbhad san ród ‘n ar méin liom dul,
Go cathair [Do Ghlóire] a gcómhnaidhe téidhim ar dtús
‘S a n-ainm na trócaire treóruigh féin mé indiú.
And the direct English translation:
O King of graces, Who brought me safe from yester-night,
Holy thanksgiving (be) always to the King of the Wounds:
By the power of Thy Passion, O High Son, protect me safe
From the deeds of Satan each day to my life’s end.
O Father of powers, save me from the serpent of evil,
In each way that I shall take in the road that I wish to go,
To the Throne [of Thy Glory] always first I go,
And in Mercy’s Name lead me Thyself to-day.