A walk riddled with one of my favourite periods of history on the Welsh/ English borders today – scene of many skirmishes in the Middle Ages between the two nations. The twelfth century Abbey Dore was the starting point for a circular walk taking in Ewyas Harold with its eleventh century castle motte as well as the sedate, peaceful St Michaels and All Angels and a sad Victorian workhouse on the far north of Abbey Dore.
Very definitely farming country and Ewyas Harold was bustling with farmers and dirty 4x4s first thing this morning. This area seems to be in the middle of nowhere but we met far more people than usual, both on foot or riding magnificent thoroughbreds, although it was isolated enough once in the gentle hills.
Once attached to a priory, but established in 1136 as the parish church, St Michael’s and All Angels sits quietly in the near background of the village. A simple, straightforward interior, dimly lit by sunshine outside, we admired the stained glass window from afar, our boots being far too muddy to go beyond the entrance.
On the hill above Ewyas Harold, we noted the remains of an extensive castle complex of which, only the hill of the motte remains clearly visible. First built in 1052 by Osborn Pentecost it was abandoned at some point in the 15th century. For four hundred years, ever since Harold Godwinson had arrived in 1055, this area has been fighting country. Even Owain Glydnwr, the last Welshman to lay claim to be the true Prince of Wales (all those since NOT being Welsh so don’t count), is known to have fought here in 1403.
We dipped into Victorian history with a detour up to the workhouse. A cheerless existence for its inhabitants but their life was probably as good as many of the agricultural workers of the surrounding parishes. Life was truly grim in those days for the many poor.
At the end we had time to go inside the Abbey and we were struck immediately by two aspects:
1. It is austere but stunning.
2. A fridge would have been warmer.
There are plans to make this gorgeous place into a venue for retreats but they are going have to do something major about the heating. Thermals and a hot water bottle are essential to enjoy this interior in comfort. We made do with a rapid exploration, then sank gratefully into the car’s heated seats for the journey back to Abergavenny.
Established as a Cistercian Abbey in 1147 but dissolved by Henry VIII in 1537, some treasures were hidden but much was destroyed or recycled and all the valuables were removed by the King’s men. It’s hard to believe that once the interior was painted in brilliant colours but some evidence of the decorations remain though faded now on the walls. It’s certainly austere now but the plainness is grand and attractive rather than off putting. There is still a heart in the place although it’s a fraction of the original size.
The Abbey of today was restored by John, Viscount Scudamore in 1635 as a suggested penance by their friend Archbishop Laud. It’s a tragic tale for the Viscount and his wife had lost all their sons in infancy and this was a desperate attempt to make good their perceived guilt. Seems to be harking back to the days of Catholicism but then this was typical of Laud. The autocratic Archbishop lost his head on Tower Hill just ten years later but the Viscount’s last son did survive – no doubt the Scudamore family felt Laud’s advice was sound in this respect at least.