DAY 1, Wednesday
We will make our way from London this morning, shaking the dust off with a rare bit of motorway driving. Our introductory stop in Wales will be Tinturn Abbey, located in the scenic Wye Valley and one of the most beautifully situated ruins in the country. William Wordsworth found inspiration here for one of his loveliest poems.
Later, the superb cathedral at Llandaff; although surrounded by the bustling capitol city of Cardiff, this conservation area remains comparatively unspoilt and surprisingly tranquil. We will spend some time in the open-air Museum of Welsh Life in the nearby village of St Fagans. This fascinating mirror of hundreds of years of Welsh life embraces dozens of authentic buildings, removed from all corners of the country and painstakingly and faithfully rebuilt and refurbished here. Houses, churches and chapels, a mill, bakery, pubs and even a school, have been wonderfully preserved.
We’ll make our way via the lovely scenery of the verdant Vale of Glamorgan to our nightstop location. Time permitting, we may find time en-route for a brief stop in the scenic town of Llantwit Major, located along the heritage coast. Here is St Illyd’s Church, called “the most beautiful as well as the most spacious church in Wales” by John Wesley in 1777, containing what is said to be the most significant collect of Celtic stones in Wales.
NIGHTSTOP: Bridgend area, South Wales
Day 2, Thursday
This morning, spoilt for choice! There’s the option of the impressive Norman Priory at Ewenny, a place founded by Benedictine monks in 1141. There’s the opportunity to cross a river by 13th century stepping stones in nearby Ogham or Margam Abbey, a place dedicated to Mary the Virgin Mother. Margam is believed to have been a Christian site from the 12thCentury built on/near a Celtic monastic site and houses ancient Christian crosses and inscribed stones including the Great Cross of Conbelin.
What Welsh itinerary would be complete without a visit to the village of Laugharne? This was Dylan Thomas’ village, the inspiration for Under Milk Wood, where we can see his famed boat house writing studio, home and grave. From atop the hillside, what stunning views of the coastline!
Tonight, we will stay in the picturesque resort town of Tenby. This lovely place boasts Tudor and Georgian buildings, narrow streets, beautiful, sandy beaches and original medieval walls.
Tenby Male Voice Choir rehearsal takes place most Thursday evenings at the local Country Club so, if they are not away at a concert, we may be in for a treat!
NIGHTSTOP: Tenby area
Day 3, Friday
Today, some very interesting and magical sites to explore!
On the spectacular southwest coast of Wales, wedged into a tiny crevice in a steep cliff is another sacred spot, the tiny chapel of St. Govan. Here the hermit St. Govan reportedly hid from his pagan persecutors in a niche in the rock, which miraculously opened and closed behind him. Now this site is known for miracles and reputed to bring good luck to visitors. Accessible only by a steep flight of stone steps cut into the cliff, it is said that the number of steps counted going down never matches the number reached on the way up.
Weather permitting, we can take the short boat trip across to Caldey Island today. Caldey has been inhabited since the Stone Age, and has been home to various orders of monks since Celtic times. It is now owned by those in the Cistercian Order, whose picturesque monastery overlooks the Village Green and the pretty cottages of the islanders. There will be time here to enjoy a bite in the Tea Gardens or to buy locally made treats such as chocolates and shortbreads. Those feeling ambitious may choose to climb up to the lighthouse for the stunning views of the Pembroke coastline.
Britain’s smallest city of St David’s is our night stop location for the next few evenings. Set in a valley below the tiny city, the splendid Cathedral and Bishops Palace have an inspiring atmosphere. Pilgrims have been welcomed here for centuries.
Evensong service is performed almost daily at 6pm and we will attend during our stay here.
NIGHTSTOP: St David’s
Day 4, Saturday
First today, we will visit the atmospheric site at nearby St Nons. It was here on the rocky cliff top that St David was reputedly born to St Non. Legend states that a spring sprang up and that the water in the well there can cure many infirmities. There is an ancient ruined chapel and an inscribed cross where we can explore and reflect.
Through the Preseli Hills, reputedly the source of the stones for Stonehenge, is the famed site of Pentre Ifan burial chamber. This is Pembrokeshire’s flagship ancient site and is deservedly famous. The chamber is set on the side of Carn Ingli and overlooks sweeping Newport bay.
En-route via the lovely scenery of Pembroke National Park, if we’ve time, we may choose a stop in Llawhaden Castle, built by the Bishops of St David’s between the 12th and 16th centuries. Here is a medieval hospital that was an important stop over for medieval pilgrims on their way to St David’s.
Nevern is another important, sacred destination and we’ll spend some time in the church, with its ‘bleeding’ Yew tree and Celtic cross. We will also see some very important inscribed Ogham stones. The Pilgrims Cross at Nevern is carved into a rock face and nearby we can see footprints left by the pilgrims as they climbed a soft rocky path hundreds of years ago.
Llanwnda is another stop we can make on our very own ‘Pilgrim’s Path’ back to St David’s. Llanwnda is a small village overlooking Strumble Head; the medieval well hidden amongst trees on the old village green would have been an important feature to pilgrims who passed this way. The Celtic style church of St Gwyndaf’s is set on an ancient early Christian site and the wall features many fine inscribed stones. Yet another day where we are spoilt for choice!
NIGHTSTOP: St David’s
Day 5, Sunday
This morning, after free time for those who wish to attend Sunday services in St David’s, we may choose some quiet reflection time in the Hywel Dda Gardens in the small town of Whitland. The gardens pay tribute to the establishment of law in Wales. The plants and artwork in these gardens are symbolic of medieval Wales based on Celtic tree symbolism.
Later, we will enjoy a stop in another ‘magical’ place, Merlin’s town of Carmarthen. Today this is a thriving market town and a centre for Welsh-speaking West Wales.
Breacon Beacons National Park and the market town of Brecon are well worth some of our time. Brecon Cathedral is set in a walled close, unique in Wales, and is regarded as one of its finest buildings. A Norman Benedictine Priory was founded on the site in 1093 and this became the Parish Church in the 16th Century at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.
As schedule will permit, we will endeavor to attend Evensong in Breacon Cathedral at 3.30pm today.
Day 6, Monday
During our final day, a highlight is sure to be seeing St Meilig’s Cross, thought to be from the 6th Century and dedicated to one of King Arthur’s Knights.
The most famous used-book capital of the World, Hay-on-Wye, is another stop on today’s agenda. Here, even the castle dungeon has been turned into a book store. If you can’t find that book you’ve been searching for here then you’ll not find it anywhere!
Continuing our explorations of the area, we can take a breathtaking drive through the Black Mountains. This is possibly the prettiest drive on the whole tour! Thence, we must cross the border back into England.
The lovely city of Gloucester with its many wonderful historical and literary connections will be our final visit to a place of religious interest. Gloucester Cathedral has been a site of Christian worship continuously for over 1300 years, since an Anglo-Saxon prince founded a religious house in 678 AD. Recently the Cathedral and Kings School has become famous again as a film location for the Harry Potter films, sites are sure to recognizable for fans.
Alas, as the afternoon progresses, it’s time to turn east and head back towards London via the lovely English Cotswolds scenery. We’ll reach the city by early evening. Dinner in not included tonight for flexibility’s sake.