Thursday, October 5, 2023
Two days in to our early September Welsh getaway and the heatwave was still holding. On Wednesday, blue sky and high clouds were the order of the day. We decided to take a trip to the city - close to the most westerly point in Wales. The city of St David's that is. As the 2020 Sion Aled Owen poem goes St David's is in fact "A village that thinks it's a city, tucked in a far corner of a nation..." St David's has a main high street lined with delis, pubs and souvenir shops and little else, other than the spectacle that is St David's Cathedral, nestled in a valley in an effort to avoid invaders. It is this Anglican cathedral, founded as a monastic community by David, Abbot of Menevia (St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, who died in 589) that gives St David's its city status, granted in the 12th century.
Entry to the cathedral is free and after indulging in some locally made artisan pasties, followed by ice cream for the boys (Gaelic Coffee and Apricot, Brandy and Walnut flavours), we took our own pilgrimage to the cathedral, opting to leave a donation in the box on our way through.
It's genuinely awesome and I recommend you go, but I'll share the main highlights in a moment. But firstly, who was St David? Why was he so special?
Well, he was by all accounts a good man who established many religious communities and trod lightly upon this earth. He and his monks survived on leeks and water and opted to plough the fields by hand rather than use oxen.
He was born in a storm on a cliff top and some say he lived for over 100 years.
He was born into aristocracy. It is claimed that his father was Sant, the Prince of Powys and his grandfather King Ceredig, founder of Ceredigion. His mother, Non, was a nun and later canonised herself.
He visited Glastonbury, donating a travelling altar to the abbey that included a great sapphire (stolen some 1,000 years later).
He brought back a rock from his visit to Jerusalem, which sits in an altar at St David's Cathedral.
He was said to have performed miracles, including curing his tutor of blindness with the sign of the cross.
By 12th century, he was renowned, with around 60 Welsh churches named after him.
So, to the highlights. The rose window has three different frames from three different stages of the cathedral's history. The lowest blocked frame dates from the 12th century. The larger curved frame dates from 14th century when the Bishop decided that more light should be let in. This was preserved in 19th century renovations of the window. The 20th century stained glass was produced by the William Morris Company.
The Nave's ceiling is considered a masterpiece, carved in the 1530s from Welsh Oak. It is the only ceiling of its kind in the UK.
St David's shrine. In the 12th century, Pope Calixtus II declared St Davids Cathedral to be a place of pilgrimage. It was at this time that the medieval shrine was constructed close to the High Altar. The Pope also stated that the shrine was so important that two pilgrimages to St Davids were equivalent to one to Rome and three were equivalent to one to Jerusalem.
Since then, the path of pilgrimage has been trodden by hundreds of thousands of individuals.
The 14th Century Lady Chapel built to honour the Virgin Mary.
Numerous knights' tombs.
...with its painted ceiling, rare surviving medieval floor tiles...
...and its 15th-16th century choir stalls with carved misericords, which include a dragon, a nest of serpents and perhaps most interestingly, a boat full of seasick pilgrims!
The light, as you might imagine, is exquisite, as evidenced by this reference shot of an information board. At the time I totally missed the incredible light show in the background.
This area once housed St Mary's College, founded in 1365 by Bishop Houghton. It housed a master and seven fellows who served the Cathedral. The Cloisters were rebuilt in 2008 and you can see traces of the old above the new. Now the area houses a Refectory with Cloisters Gallery, toilets and the Song School for the Cathedral Choir.
There are many more points of interest, but I don't want to give you too many spoilers. It's without doubt the most impressive UK cathedral we've ever visited. So let's leave this beautiful city with some suitably atmospheric black and white exterior photos of its cathedral and monastic ruins.
Thursday was a disrupted day. After narrowly avoiding a collision on Wednesday with an idiot driver, who thought overtaking on a bend in order to get one car ahead was worth risking lives for, Gareth had slammed on the anchors. We were quite shaken and subsequently the car was dogged by a grinding sound whenever the brakes were applied. By Thursday morning, Gareth had managed to find a garage in nearby Pembroke and so it was that I found myself alone in the cottage until early afternoon.
I was fine for a time, but ultimately the unsettled atmosphere of this Victorian cottage crept in and I couldn't shake off the feeling of discomfort. I decided to put on my boots and have a wander around the garden. Of course, as I was lacing my DMs, the knocking sound occurred again...this time, seemingly deep in the thick stone wall of the boot room. I'll put you out of your misery. There were to be no ghostly manifestations or sudden chills, but I felt unsettled there. I was pretty relieved when the boys returned and we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the Bosherton Lily Ponds Trail, a series of interconnected lily ponds on the Stackpole Estate.
Finally, the elusive lilies!
Soon the landscape became distinctly coastal and we glimpsed dunes in the distance...
...which eventually opened out onto the stunning and almost deserted Broadhaven Beach. Thursday's cooler temperatures and cloud cover may have contributed to the lack of crowds, but accessibility may also be a factor. Some Brits aren't happy unless they can pull their bumpers up to touching distance of the sand.
Quiet beaches are a rarity and we fully embraced it, walking to the far end and back before following the circular path back past the lily ponds which was teeming with wildlife. The wildlife mostly comprised herons and cormorants, drying their wings and gossiping - and always on the opposite side of the pond to where I was standing.
For once though, I had the right lens on the camera and even though I didn't have enough zoom to capture the raptors, just as I started to fall behind, I got the sudden sense I was being watched.
My first otter! It was quite some distance from me, but we eyed each other cautiously and he or she happily posed for a photo. OK, I'm no wildlife photographer, but I almost did a little air punch!
And then there were two! Call me Chris Packham!
I couldn't believe my luck and spent a few minutes squatting at the water's edge until they dipped effortlessly below the surface.
Feeling very pleased with myself, I caught the boys up to share the good news, before being distracted yet again by this rather inelegant spectacle. Charming!
So, on that note, I'll leave you until the final instalment which includes an unplanned diversion from our journey home in the form of a literary trail.
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