4 curiosities of Wales
They say Wales is a small country, I prefer to call it compact. There’s always something new to discover. And there’s a lot here that I don’t think I’d know about if I hadn’t stumbled upon it while on a walk.
Here are some of my favourite surprises from my wanderings…
The ‘Bleeding Yew’ and the cross in the rock
In a little medieval churchyard on the banks of a river that winds through ancient woodland deep in a valley on the Pembrokeshire coast (I could just stop here), is the miraculous ‘Bleeding Yew’. From the cracks in the twisting body of the 700 year-old tree a thick, red sap will often ooze. Legend has it that it is bleeding in mourning for the loss of a young villager who was wrongfully hanged many years ago. A 5 minute walk from the churchyard into the oak and sycamore, and there’s another miracle. If it weren’t actively sought out, it’s unlikely to be something one would happen upon. It takes a squinting of the eye to spot the shape of a cross protruding from the moss-coated limestone slab.
Walk: From the churchyard walk through the woodland following the River Nevern to the Newport estuary. It’s possible to then loop back or it’s a short ride on a bus.
A castle to yourself
Old Beaupre, Vale of Glamorgan
There are no roads to Beaupre Castle. You need to park on the verge of a country lane near Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan and walk for about a mile through pasture to reach it. It looks an imposing thing as you approach: a great, dark rectangle of stone, uninhabited for centuries, stood slap bang in the middle of a yawning valley. Despite its long abandonment it’s in remarkable condition. You can wander along its corridors, stand in the middle of the great hall and even climb its spiral staircases to stand on the battlements and view the surrounding Vale… and all for free I should add. Best of all is the intricate coat of arms over the court yard – a work of art as good as new. 9/10 times you will be the only soul here.
Walk: It has to be along the Millennium Heritage Trail. Read about my adventure along it here.
I spent the day exploring the tunnels of this mine outside Blaunau Ffestioniog in Snowdonia, but it was what was above ground that left the biggest impression on me. In the nineteenth century, and for a large part of the twentieth, those who worked within the bowels of Cwmorthin lived right at the mine’s entrance, the community hidden from the sun by the emptied mountain piled higher with its own insides. You can still see the ruins of the village: the gables of the cottages, the skeleton of the chapel, all alongside the dark lake. It’s one of the most atmospheric places in Wales.
Walk: Take your pick here – it’s in the middle of Snowdonia National Park.
The black hole on the Black Mountain
The stepping stones help you over the black bogland of the Black Mountain’s flat cap. The views have already been had on the ascent to the plateau, looking east from the right-angled edge eastward to the rest of the Brecon Beacons. Now it’s just plain wilderness all around. The stepping stones pick up a stream as it trickles along, then it starts rushing, then it gurgles as it’s swallowed by the open plug hole of the plateau – Sinc y Giedd. It’s not so much to look at, but a thought to marvel at. The water that disappears here runs into a maze of tunnels and caverns thought to cover miles and miles, some big enough to walk in, some even to row a boat in.
Walk: you can visit the caves at Dan yr Ogof activity centre, or instead, park at the centre and enjoy the walk to the wild mountain top to find Sinc y Giedd and to head to dramatic edge of the Black Mountain to gaze down the drop to the two lakes, Llyn y Fan Fawr and Llyn y Fan Fach.