Snuggled between England (Offa's Dyke borders one side of the valley) and the Brecon Beacons of Wales, the Vale of Ewyas has a handful of hidden treasures worth seeking, especially if you don’t mind a good climb.
The 12th Century priory at Llanthony is like an Elven ruin; pale stonework and delicate tracery, in a beautiful setting, constantly buzzing with bird life. The Priory struggled, throughout history, as the egger monks failed to convince the heathen mountain men (grrr!)
Llanthony was forgotten long before Henry the 8th sacked the monastic system of Briton. It was also home for the night, which was fabulously spooky, and my fellow explorer Jonathan will have more to say on that soon, as it is the setting of a classic ghost story.
Setting out: The main planned walk of this Welsh trip was to climb Bâl Mawr, one of the hillsides that tower over the priory, sulking on a gloomy day under the clouds. It’s a steady climb from the Priory, roughly west and mostly upwards.
It is easy to get disorientated when the fog rolls in, or in this case the clouds descend, making landmarks and waypoints essential to not get completely lost! Our destination was the rather uninteresting sounding ‘Pile of Stones’ on Bâl Bach. But, I can admit to some relief at seeing the ‘arrow head’ loom up before us.
After adding a couple of stones to the pile, the plan was to walk along the top ridge, Northwards, to a trail which would wind down into the Vale and the village of Capel-y-ffin.
On the way we found a few interesting locations, all videogame worthy, such as The Druid’s Table a collection of huge rocks seeming to remain in situ thanks to the firm grasp of the oak tree above. If ever there was a place to sacrifice a lamb, this would be it. I didn’t. Somebody already had!!
Lots of large bracket fungus; really old too, this one had moss growing on it! It’s a miracle it has survive the harsh landscape and wiccan foragers. I’m guessing the local Witches go to the nearest supermarket instead.
The fauna of the hillside changes with the altitude; horsetail, bracken, heather and moorland grasses give way to lush green fields, clearly cultivated 1000 of years ago, mostly for the grazing of sheep.
The ‘villiage’ of Capel-y-ffin is a funny place, mostly one big house and a very cute chapel. The Afon Honddu river tumbles along beside the chapel built in 1762, replacing an earlier 15th-century structure. For a moment, the sun came out, so we took a rest and stopped to eat our baps. All felt well with the world after the glowering dark mountains.
Nearly forgot to mention that there is no phone signal At All in the valley, or on the mountain tops! Yay. The Priory website does mention that there is no phone signal or TV or wifi in The Black Mountains, but I thought I would catch a cheeky bar at the highest point, but no visiting the isolated valley is a totally isolating experience.
A productive trip, a chance to get away and capture lots of new textures, 3d mapping and recording sounds for future games. With my plan to move into 3D by the end of the year, building up a good new collection of textures and shapes will help create some fantastic realistic landscapes.