Sunday, July 31, 2016

Quiet, and Peace

Six years ago on the Mountain at Blaendigeddi Fawr, it was peaceful but not so quiet. The bleating of sheep was nearly constant. It was a peaceful noise and maybe that’s why you’re supposed to count them to go to sleep. Other than the sheep, it was very quiet and certainly peaceful.

This excursion began, as per usual with every muscled strained and tightened to the max as I held the wheel of our tiny Toyota only occasionally, and more naturally I might add, the left hand slipping to the gear shift hoping not to slip the gears. Standards are very popular here and much less expensive to rent. I thought that was compelling reason enough to be economizing and not extravagant as my wife would usually prefer. But apparently her muscles were tighter than mine when she tearfully said, “You’ve known me for 36 years, so you should know!”

“Know what?” I wisely said only to myself. As we went along, she explained that she would expect me to know how nervous it made her for me to drive in Britain and how I should have paid the extra money to get an automatic as that would be one less thing for her to stress about. And I thought I was a male hero for economizing. Venus and Mars.

Our marriage is still intact and I didn’t hit anything at all except for a small rabbit for which I am very sorry. It wasn't the rabbit that bothered her.

Back to the quiet. Our inn at Three Cocks (the proprietor told us that some overly sensitive Americans prefer to call it “Three Roosters”), was so quiet with its thick stone walls and modern windows inside the thick casement of the older window. And there was not a sheep to be seen or heard for at least a quarter of a mile!

There is no problem adjusting to any time zone as I tend to wake at dawn and feel sleepy at dark. That makes for short nights in Midsummer Britain, so I do get tired. And sleep like a rock. But it’s holiday, er, vacation time for me and I think I will be able to retire just fine. (I will have to think real hard about what I am supposed to know about my wife these past 36 years as I consider the retirement option.)

Three Cocks Inn is just up the road from St. Peter’s at Glasbury where I was hoping to find the gravestone of my sixth-great-grandparents. Maybe a bit of a stretch, but we knew who they were and what the marker said at least as of 1905 when the parish registers and churchyard were surveyed and published. I wandered through all the areas that were easily accessible avoiding the thicker grass and brambles because it was bit damp and there was some kind of nettle stinging the legs below my vacation shorts. There were a lot of older, legible stones, so I went back to my wife and full Welsh breakfast with much hope and absolute peace, and quiet, from that beautiful, holy ground.

St. Peter's at Glasbury on the Breconshire side of the Wye
She was very happy to go back with me and start our adventures but we noticed cars at the church door and realized this may be our chance to get inside. There were several women in there cleaning as I began to snap photos of the font where ancestors were christened. The women greeted us warmly and said that the choir would be rehearsing for a funeral of one of their own. They invited us to listen and then we could talk family history.

The Choir ladies cleaning St. Peter's, Glasbury. We told them that we had cleaned our own church just the Saturday before!
It wasn’t a traditional Welsh choir with all its skill as only two men showed up. Still, it was beautiful especially in the acoustics of old stone walls and elvish timbered rafters. The altos were a bit weak and flat as the choir director pointed out. Altos! What can you do?

We met the most lovely woman before the rather short rehearsal. It was a Friday morning and I suppose they all had things to be about. But this lady was the parish treasurer, she who keeps the books. And she was most interested and helpful to us. My wife asked if they would take donations in dollars as we hadn’t had a chance to get to a bank teller machine yet (You don’t exchange money at Heathrow!) The Treasurer said they would be glad to take anything. So I later slipped some in the donation envelope that asked for “house name or number” so I wrote “Ty Fychan” before our street numbers.

Anyway, the Treasurer said that a group had been collecting information on the text and location of all the grave monuments. It was on a CD and she would check if would come by her house across from the church. “Corners,” it was fittingly named on the corner and all. And we went off for the day.

We walked down across the Wye into Glasbury Village on the north side of the river. The parish has a split down the river with its changing channel flooding the old church. The current parish church is on the south, or formerly Breconshire side. The Radnorshire side has general prominence but nearly every record we have of our Vaughans is in Breconshire. We noted at least two non-conformist chapels on the Radnorshire side. And my wife found the Scout House on the north bank at the bridge where Scouts apparently outfit for canoeing the River Wye as many groups of all types were doing that day. There is a county restroom facility right up against the bridge which is always good to know even if Scouts have other ways for call of nature.

Glasbury has a few posh establishments but the green was rather unkempt and both chapels seemed to be used for non-religious purposes. The one on the green, a residence, and the one near the bridge, as a boating sports outfitter.

Private residence on the Green in Glasbury Village
We then took to the car daring the hedge-lined, thin little, country lanes. We wound our way to Felindre (Velindre) and the Three Horseshoes that was associated with the Prices. On the east was the former blacksmith’s shop now incorporated into a dining room for restaurant meals. There were other shops associated with the corner but the pub-keeper was not an old-timer and did not know much of the history. There are Prices about but it’s not too polite to ask them if they are descended from the rascal who fathered your illegitimate 4th-Great-Grandpa. He did say there were ghosts. Oh, yes, ghosts. When I asked for specifics he said knockings, footsteps, some visions. I didn’t inquire any further. I said that Rees Price would have had a guilty conscience for abuse to women.

The Three Horseshoes in Velindre (Felindre)
We wound around the slopes of the Black Mountain Side (not just a Led Zep song!) and happily got some great views of Twmpa, Pen-y-Beacon (AKA Lord Hereford’s Knob and Hay Bluff), and the Wye valley now below us. We stopped briefly at Tregoyd, the former Viscount Hereford’s estate and now much improved as a mountain adventure camp for youth. And we found Heol-y-gaer.

Black Mountain Side near Tregoyd
So the house that sits on where the 1840s tithing map says was William Vaughan’s Fir Tree Cottage is actually named “Ash Cottage.” The lady came out and while admitting there was an actual fir tree, she noted it couldn’t possibly be that old. She was probably right and she didn’t know anything about a fir tree cottage except for the one on the Green. I said I knew about the two and explained the tithing map. She sent me up Heol-y-gaer to consult with a lady who knew a lot of history.

Somewhere around here on Heol-y-Gaer [Street of the Fort] was William Vaughan's Fir Tree Cottage
She did. But no Fir Tree Cottage. It most likely did not survive the 19th Century. The tithing map and several tax lists evidence it. Just no known physical remains. She did question about the grave we were looking for noting that it was “church’ and explaining that she was of “chapel” and she did know of Vaughan names at chapel. She also explained her heartbreak at having to sell the chapel her ancestors had built by the bridge at Glasbury. Oh, yes. The Boating Outfitter.

Still feeling the lack of British currency, we went into Hay-on-Wye because we knew where the bank teller machine was in front of the Castle. Passing through the Castle grounds, I noted how much preservation/restoration work had been accomplished. The bookstore was cleared out and there was an art exhibit in the new museum facility. But all I needed was cash that day and the card worked in the machine. (We had trouble the night before as the back of my card has been rubbed and did not have a clear signature. Apparently that’s a big thing here, at least for the checkers at Waitrose.)

Partially stabilized Hay Castle with restoration work commencing.
We also had to look for a white shirt in Hay because someone forgot to pack one. My wife figures I’m a big boy and can take care of myself which sort of defeats the point of marrying her. (She should know me after 36 years. Oops.). While told by the information lady that there really wasn’t a place, we found one at Rohan with a sale going on which was lucky as it was rather posh in an REI sort of way.

I thought we’d better truck it back to “Corners” in case the Treasurer had found something. The door was wide open and they had probably been waiting for us all day. She was very excited to give me a schematic of the churchyard and the row of graves with the full inscription for Roger and Elizabeth Vaughan:
In Memory of Roger Vaughan late of this parish. Died 1797, aged 63. Also Elizabeth Vaughan his relict, died 1803, aged 71. "May all attend that solemn call/The Silent Grave waits for us all."
The Treasurer was so excited she wanted to walk us over there even if the churchyard, map gave us the location. She was very pleased and I was so moved. The Treasurer left and we were on our own to take pictures and sit and pray. It wasn’t a formal dedication of grave, but that was the gist of it.

There's a line of Roger Vaughans from Llangors where the lake includes the carreg established by an ancient king from Ireland. This, and legends that sprang from it, may have been the inspiration for Tolkein’s Laketown. I didn’t realize until in Wales this time that the lake is drained by the Llynfi River (brook) which flow into the Wye at Three Cocks as evidenced by its true Welsh name Aberllynfi. We don’t know where Roger Vaughan born 1734 came from, but if I were an illegitimate son heading out to seek my fortune in the world, I would head downstream, maybe ending up in Glasbury.

We decided to drive out to Llangors to find a pub for dinner and maybe watch the Welsh beat Belgium in football. Oh, yeah! The pub was nice and my fish and chips OK but my wife’s Welsh hamburger was a bit off. We went out to the lake and saw rainbows making up for it. It was clearly a family pub with an uncle teaching a nephew to play pool, a family with a young child eating, and only one elderly man drinking alone. But then one by one of his family came by and he seemed to be connected to the proprietor family. A young girl of the family came in and waltzed right behind the bar. We went out to the lake and saw - - - rainbows! Unfortunately, as legend requires, I called on the lake birds to sing, “Canwch!” And apparently I am not the natural born Prince of Wales as they did not.

Llangors and the Carreg of a 7th Century King - a Laketown, of sorts - blessed by a rainbow.
Another peaceful night and we were off for adventure again. I wanted to drive to Hay on the good highway side of the river to stop at Llowes where Roger and Elizabeth were married. It is another beautiful Welsh village with great views of the Black Mountains. We headed into Hay dropping my wife off (expertly, I might add) at the coin laundromat which we knew from last time and I went to the car park scrambling with change having to buy a postcard (which I think I have misplaced) to get the parking fee. A children’s parade passed shouting “Wales, Wales!” with hand-colored flags of the Euro Cup and wonderful costumes. One child with a dragon head, girls in daffodil bonnets and traditional Welsh dress along with other international costumes. They were having a children’s fair or fete (which I never know how to pronounce). It was a fund raiser for the school so I bought a couple of small cakes (cupcakes) and chocolate biscuits (cookies) so I could get some more change (you always need as much coinage as possible in Britain as even the restrooms sometimes charge 20 p. to pee).

Hay-on-Wye Children's Parade for the Primary School Fête, while Wales was still excelling in the Euro-Cup.
They were also setting up at the castle for a craft fair which appeared to mean “British Hippie Fair.” And, you know, it’s really sad that the hippies are all getting so old now. We finished up the wash and wandered the town where my wife went back to Rohan for a jacket she wanted. I was not as organized with my scheduling (must be the hippie in me) so I missed meeting anyone from the Hay Castle Trust for a tour. We had a later exchange that will set us up better for the end of the month after the BYU tour. But the castle was open with the festival and wood sculpture exhibit. And the Trust has it arranged with fencing so you can get all around the castle with safety. I was able to take all kinds of pictures. One shows a stair down to a dark door underground which I assume is the entrance to the keep used as a gaol until 1810 [later, we learned that the town gaol was under the Georgian House with entrance through the kitchen] where the scoundrel of a tailor spent some time for not maintaining John the B. (That’s “B” for Butcher or Bastard, if you prefer).

We had to get down to Abergavenny for our next lodging just over the Afon Gwysg (River Usk). It was a fairly smooth drive and we pulled in just after the bridge abutment and I went into the pub. It was very busy and the girl was handing out pints and keeping track of all the tabs. I had to wait until I could get her then the proprietor’s attention. One old guy at the bar was offering to buy the barmaid a drink. Flat turndown. No flirting. An elderly gentlemen next to me went on in a soliloquy, or maybe it was directed to me, that it’s just not right to swear when there is a lady present. Swearing is for men in men’s company only. I just nodded glad the barmaid was there.

The appropriately named Bridge Inn on the Llanfoist side of the Usk over the Abergavenny Bridge
The proprietor finally found my name in his notebook after pronouncing my name the local, long and deep vowelled “Vahoown.” I tried practicing noting that I had ancestors from the area. That sparked up the old guy who wasn’t swearing who said he knew a Mike Vaughan, “He’s quite a character.” I thought of Grandpa George.

There were two keys. One opened a door around the side of the pub that led up to few rooms above. The key for No. 1 was a modern, shiney skeleton key. I don’t think the others were occupied. I went down and got my wife and then down to get the bags and found myself locked out of the lower door with the keys upstairs. It closes and locks on itself which the landlord here in Cardiff says is a new law for fire safety. I suppose you are safer left out in the rain. No one could hear my knock. I went out to the street to see if my wife was looking out the window to waive at her. I texted her on my cell as our plan covers that over here. I had to go back in and ask the proprietor to open it up. He said it happens all the time.

We had to settle up that night as they would not be there early Sunday morning. There card machine was not working after a couple of tries so we later got some pounds out of a bank teller machine and paid in cash. The barmaid was most appreciative.

We went up through the Waitrose to a pedestrian path under the A465 and found ourselves right on the Cutting, the street where the Vaughans (John 1789, and Elinor Jenkins 1789) lived at least when the tithing map was created in the mid 1840s. They are also “in the village” in the 1841 and 1851 censuses. We knocked on Chapel Cottage to ask permission to take pictures of the outside and the lady was very interested in our story. She was even moved to tears, but then she was Welsh. She said that Chapel Cottage was originally the barn and the farmhouse was just around the corner down the hill on the other side of the old tramway. The tithing map puts the Vaughan property right where Chapel Cottage is now. It could have been a residence converted to a barn and back to a residence in 150 years, or there could have been some other structure that was the actual home. I don’t think the farm house down the gully matches the tithing map. And the house named Windsor Cottage doesn’t match anything old.

At the Tram Road and The Cutting, Llanfoist, Monmouthshire. The Vaughans lived here in the 1840s or in close proximity.
We walked up to St. Faith’s churchyard to the site of John Vaughan 1789’s grave. I also visited Crawshay Bailey’s huge obelisk. He was one of the iron masters who became rich over dead men’s bones – and women’s and children’s too. I admit I had a few unkind words for him. My wife said that’s what the Atonement was for to forgive the unforgiveable. I did note that ol’ Crawshay with his huge, shiney obelisk had no one in the churchyard that day who cared for him but John the B, in his unmarked but known grave site did.

The site of John Vaughan's (1789-1851) grave.
We have a monument maker in Newport preparing bids for a
replacement that will include his marriage to Elinor Jenkins in 1810.
Crawshay Bailey's stark and lonely obelisk is in the pic to the right.

We then walked up the pathway to the Blorenge, the huge mountain up the back of Llanfoist full of iron, coal, limestone, death, and love. It is the very edge or beginning of the Welsh coal fields and the industrialization of the world. I told my wife that in the books I read, many Welsh were conceived on the Blorenge because when you live in a house with a dozen or dozens of people, a trip up to a woody section of the Blorenge was best for romance whether you were married or not. So that mountain of industrial resource and the taking of many lives was also a giver of life.

Old "incline" road up the Blorenge. Ore carts were lowered to and raised from the canal on a counter-balance system.
The path we were on was the old incline where carts on rails went up and down the mountain in a monitored pulley and weight system using gravity with no other mechanized power. It crossed under the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal at the Llanfoist wharf where John Vaughan 1825 worked as a laborer loading, unloading, who knows what all. It wasn’t until the 1851 Census that he was listed as “puddler at the forge.” We went up that soulful mountain a ways and then came down to walk the canal. Just down past the first curve beyond the wharf, there are a series of steps down into the canal. I suppose they were some kind of mooring place but it would also be an excellent place for baptisms as we know that LDS baptisms were performed there in the 1840s. It makes a lot more sense in still water with defined banks and bottom rather than in a river like the Usk.

Steps into the canal just north of Llanfoist Wharf
We were out on the canal looking for good viewpoints down over the valley and on finding them were greeted with fantastic rainbows over Llanfoist, Abergavenney, Sugarloaf and the Skyrrid – the sacred mountain from pre-Christian days. My wife helped two young women on bikes with their pictures. We also met a man who asked where we were from so we told a little about why we were there. He seemed very touched. We walked a bit further and then back seeing him on a cell phone which he got off then came back to us saying he had just told his parents about our story and they were so excited.

Rainbow over Llanfoist from the Blorenge
We went back down into the village to find a restroom then dinner of salad, etc. from the Waitrose. Then in the long evening we walked across the bridge and down to Abergavenny Castle where the Christmas slaughter of the Welsh Princes took place in medieval times. William de Braose is another of those who will require a lot of forgiving. We had a beautiful sunset as we wandered back through town see all the young people heading for their relative class of Saturday night entertainment, from posh to, well, the class my people were probably in.

Sunday was very hopeful as I knew we had a brand-new, divided carriage way to zip us all the way to Merthyr for church (probably should call it “chapel”) in the Merthyr Tydfil 1st Ward which now encompasses Abergavenny, Penrhos, and almost all the way to Monmouth. As luck and Welshdom would have it. The freeway is not quite completed and it kicked us off on a detour which we missed and got going on a country road up the Usk nearly to Brecon. My wife helped figure a way back to Head of the Valleys Highway. And we made it to the Merthyr Chapel just barely before 9, only to find that church actually began at 9:30.

Merthyr Tydfil LDS Chapel. DUP Marker for Welsh Mission and 5,000 LDS converts.
There were good people to there to greet us and it was a fairly large ward filling a stake center chapel. I was introduced to families of Watkins, Jones (of course), Jenkins, etc. No Vaughans, but people did know of them in the area. It was Testimony Sunday and the counselor commented that while it had been a great week “with the football” (Wales just beating Belgium into the semi-finals of the Euro Cup) they wanted to hear “testimonies of Christ and the Church.” And we did. The ward members, and some visitors for the bishop’s baby blessing, kept up a steady flow, each one standing just as the last ended and then walking up. I did not as I had already introduced myself and my family name in Priesthood, Sacrament meeting being last (don’t tell Salt Lake!)

After church, we took our picnic foods up to Cafarthfa Park, former home of one of the cruel iron masters, now given over to the public and much improved that way. There were a couple of little girls who seemed to instinctively know that my wife was a grandmother as they preened in front of her. But she kept all her candy to herself (and me).

The flowers belong to the People now
We then drove rather successfully straight to Blaenavon and the World Heritage Site for the Industrial Revolution. We were on the back side of the Blorenge from Llanfoist. The park was very busy with a Steampunk Festival—very strange. The ladies at the park desk seemed rather perturbed by it all as they were much more interested in my questions and history of family working on the mountain. I checked with them about Garnddyrrus Forge and we drove up on top and down the side to stop at the abandoned site where John Vaughan 1825 worked as a puddler, as the ladies seemed to agree from my information. They suggested we also visit the workers museum in town on a weekday which we intend to do.

Blaenavon Iron Works on Steampunk Day
Garn Dyrrus was beautiful even with the scraggly sheep and goats. The sun was out. The “Monster” of slag heap was just as expected and there were beautiful views all around, up the Usk, over the gully to the farthest east coal outcrops in the Welsh Industrial zone, and down toward Llanfoist and Abergavenny.

"The Monster" of a slag heap to which my 3rd-Great-Grandfather likely contributed.
It was so quiet up at old Garn Ddyrrus - only the bleating of sheep. There were many silent ghosts on the mountain of work, death, and love. And Peace.

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