It’s Never Too Late
On Thursday, 24th March, Rosie and I went to Wolverhampton to see her two brothers, Terry & Tony, and her sister, June.
We travelled via our favourite route, crossing five of the old, “proper” counties of Wales and England as we did so. That route is via the mountain road from Cwmystwyth to Rhayader, and has sweet childhood memories for me and happy memories for both of us since we came to live in Wales.
The single-track road passes across the historic and now-defunct Hafod Estate. Indeed, the bridge it crosses as it winds up from Cwmystwyth has the Hafod crest carved upon it. Travellers from the Eastern side of the Cambrian Mountains would know that the sign meant they were entering the territory of Thomas Johnes.
Johnes, when young, visited the area – which his family owned – from Herefordshire where he lived. He was smitten with the sheer beauty of the place and determined that he would, when he inherited the land, create a marvellous estate among amid the wild, untamed mountain landscape.
The story of his work to make his dream come true is best found in “Peacocks In Paradise”, a book written in school-ma’amish English, but one which contains all the facts. I read it when in my teens, and used to wander around “the glory that remained” of the Estate when we used to come to this area on holiday.
The old Estate fell to the ravages of time many years ago. Much of what Johnes had created in his wilderness had disappeared even before the 1950s when I first visited the place. I recall, though, the remains of the far-famed octagonal library which was part of the family mansion. Alas, soon after I had seen it, the Royal Engineers were commissioned to blow up its remaining walls as they were likely to collapse on visitors. I think I was perhaps the only visitor who went there in those days and, had such an accident have happened to me it would have left . . . oh, dear . . . a lasting impression.
Well, anyway, the sheer atmosphere of the old place did have an impression on me. I saw the remnants of the mansion walls; I saw the then-overgrown gate to the Adam & Eve garden; I walked the narrow track through Mariamne’s garden; I paused at the monument to the Duke of Newcastle (its inscription is still a bit of a giggle); I stood beside the ice-house.; I saw the oh-so-sad graves in the nearby churchyard; I was moved by the fire-damaged sculpture in the little church.
You will read about these places and the moving history of Thomas Johnes and his family in “Peacocks In Paradise”, I hope.
And those memories stayed with me so that, back in the 1980s when I was writing the regular (and immensely popular!) “Weird Wonders of Wales” column in the Cambrian News, I suggested that something might be done to protect that remaining glory.
Local people responded, and The Friends of Hafod was formed using the nearest pub – the comfy Miners’ Arms, Pont-Rhyd-y-Groes – as our base. The Friends eventually developed into The Hafod Trust which still looks after, and improves, the old Estate.
Sorry about that aside. The whole point of this post is to mention that I did something high up on that single-track road which I had “meant to do” for fifty-seven years and had never managed to achieve.
The River Ystwyth is little more than a stream up here. Crossing it, just beyond where Old Cardiganshire meets Radnorshire, is a footbridge. For all those years, I had promised myself that I would make a point of walking across that bridge. Each time I’ve been up there, either the weather has been too bad or I’ve simply made another mental note saying “Next time”.
But on this day, we stopped at the sort-of lay-by there for the dog to stretch her legs, looked at the signboard, and I walked a few yards through the damp morning grass and crossed that bridge!
The rest of our trip I will record some other time. But, as I say, “It’s never too late . . . !”