Sunday 16 November 2014

A sojourn in Wales

We got married in the rain. I adore the sound of heaving drops tapping on the roofs when I am warm and cosy inside. Rain, I have always felt, brings many blessings. 

This is just as well, since for the second week of our amazing honeymoon we journeyed into Snowdownia.

I recorded the tale of our best adventure there in the log book:

' After our wedding on the 2nd August Ty Uchaf was our own piece of paradise for the second week of our honeymoon. We spent our first week at St Winifred's Well, a Landmark trust property in Shropshire. Already recharged and full of energy our plan was to set out on some big walks and enjoy the views. We spent our first full day orientating ourselves, looking around Betws y Coed and walking from the house to Llyn Elsi. We weather was mixed on Wednesday and so we headed to Penrhyn Castle - a beautiful and interesting stop. 
Finally on Thursday the day for our adventure arrived. Following local advice we spurned the tourist laden Snowdon trail to Llanberis and drove the short distance to Moel Siabod. We parked at the Cafe by Bryn Glo and turned right onto the road, then took the left hand road over the bridge. Already the walk was beautiful as the path turned steeply upwards. we had been reassured that from the summit it would be possible to view 13 of the 14 peaks of Snowdownia, and at 2950ft Moel Siabod was a majestic challenge. Past an abandoned slate mining village and two beautiful mountain llyns the ridge we were to attempt still rose above us. Moel Siabod was not going to give in easily. 
The path, or route we had to follow, rose steeply upwards and large steps became bouldering challenges! We climbed, scrambled and helped each other along the way. When things looked very tough a man named John and his friendly dog Max appeared. Max only had four short legs so we helped him up a few of the rocks. the company of John and Max helped make a punishing ascent enjoyable. Sadly, not 10 minutes from the summit Max had had enough and he and John turned back. Graham and I soldiered on - and we made it! The view was immense and every bit as spectacular as it claimed to be. We could see clearly all the peaks of the Snowdownia range. We stooped for a short while to celebrate before descending on the shallower north side - not that it was that shallow. Moel Siabod had us scrambling and choosing out footing until we were only a mile from the car. We headed home happy and exhausted, fully deserving of our hot baths and cold wine.
 On Friday I could barely walk! We explored the amazing Swallow Falls and Fairy Glen - both well worth it. we had intended on taking on Snowdon via the Watkins Path on Saturday, but we finally chose a cosy day in admiring the cottage. Sunday came all too soon - we headed to Beddgelert - a beautiful little spot with stunning views all the way. now it is our final evening and Snowdon will have to wait for our return. Ty Uchaf is a special place and a wonderful setting in which to begin your married life. Moel Siabod we salute you!

11 - 17th August 2014'

Winter food was the fayre in Wales - for some reason it is always colder there than anywhere else! But, in the beautiful slate miners cottage 20 minutes hike from a forestry farm track and more than 3 miles form the nearest public road, the huge warm fire and big dinners made Ty Uchaf the cosiest place in all the world.

Honeymoon is, of course, a time of great blessing. It is a time to revel in each other and learn new things about each other. The challenge of Moel Siabod certainly ensured that we both knew what the other is like under pressure! And, we both helped each other. I remember feeling quite tired and scared at some points in the journey, and I am sure that my husband felt the same, but we laughed and joked, and sat and took a few minutes to reflect and recoup our energies to travel the next bit. For all the difficulties the mountain offered I would jump at the opportunity to do it all again. 

On our way to Ty Uchaf we visited the major shrine to St Winifred at Holywell. It was there I discovered that we would have to move home when we returned from honeymoon. I was alarmed by this, and prayed to St. Winifred that everything would work out. I was also nervous about explaining this to Mr. Cloister at first, but when I told him he looked up from his wine glass and said, 'Do you think we could stay here?'

Sadly, we couldn't stay there, but we do have a lovely new home in the country, and having a new place has been good for us. So, I thanked Winifred for he prayers and have made her the patron of our home.

St Winifred's Well

What a place of blessing this truly was!

This is what I wrote in the log book before we left:

'On our Wedding Day, 2nd August 2014, my husband noted that the one thing we had always done together was walk. One thing that we had both done, but separately, was make pilgrimage. Our stay at St. Winifred's marked the beginning of our pilgrimage together. You could not ask for a more beautiful and moving place in which to have the honeymoon of your dreams.  What a start to married life! There is little I could recommend this place that is not self evident from the moment you arrive. This holy well is bustling with life and it restores and refreshes anyone who comes and stays - the log books stand testament to that. Robin, Wren, Sparrow, Mouse and Frog all bid us welcome during our stay. Mr and Mrs Blackbird darted around merrily; and Mr and Mrs Songthrush dedicated themselves to the daily execution of snails - their demise heralded by the regular 'tap tap' of mollusc shells on the walls surrounding the cottage. 
When we felt the need to venture out, a hike up Rodney's Pillar provided excellent exercise astounding views, whilst a day in Shrewsbury illustrated the profound religious history behind St. Winifred, the beautiful Welsh Saint. It is a truly moving experience to see what remains of the Great Abbey in which St. Winifred found her final resting place. A day at home at the well provides the time needed to truly appreciate so special a home - there are deck chairs in the store cupboard and sitting out with tea and one of the many excellent books provided shows this silent retreat at its best. Both Graham and I paddled in the holy water and explored the spring and stream each day. This afternoon we might head to The Navigation Inn - until just soaking up the special atmosphere of a small chapel cottage in the woods is contentment enough. I am sure we will both be sad to leave behind St. Winifred on Monday - but she has lent us an amazing spell of happiness with which to begin our journey together, and so we must thank her and promise to return in years to come. 
4th - 11th August 2014.'

I cannot come close to explaining the peace and beauty of that special retreat in the woods. Each day we were happy to be there, and enjoyed exploring, sitting quietly, reading, talking, listening, watching and walking. We feasted and drank cool wine in the sunshine. I loved it every day.

Of course, part of what made it special was the fact that we were there together to share the joy of it. We prepared our meals together - roast chicken, an amazing bolognese, a mild curry, fresh burgers with sweetcorn, salads and cheese. If we were not chatting quietly we listened the birds chirruping and the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. We sat in front of the crackling open fire, each engrossed in a book, Cadfael for me, The Morville Hours for him, sometimes stopping to read particularly gripping passages to each other. There was not a care in the world. The absence of television, radio, internet wifi and mobile phone signal was as much a welcome blessing as the sounds of the creatures stirring in the undergrowth.

Cloister Honeymoon

In August I married the man I love; we have been working together ever since to build our own family cloister! We have a new home, not far from my work but also close to a Guernsey Dairy Farm, fields and places to have adventures. We have kitted out the kitchen and explored the local greengrocers and butchers. The feasts have been celebrated, every one. And, although we have observed the Friday abstinence from meat, fasting has been non existent as we have settled into our new vocation to journey together till death do us part.

On honeymoon we stayed first in a small wooden framed cottage in the woods near Shrewsbury. It was called St Winifred's Well - the 15th Century hideaway was once a chapel and place of pilgrimage, built above a natural spring that pilgrims came to pray by and bathe in.  You can just see it in the background of the picture to the left. St. Winifred's body had been lain there, they say, when they carried her body from Holywell to Shrewsbury in 1138 - from that night onwards the spring water flowed, famous for its healing powers - most particularly bruises. I was very pleased about this, as I accidentally fell in whilst exploring and looking at Mr. Frog one morning! Winifred's Well was a place of tranquility where you could be with nature and nature could be with you. The bathroom was separate from the house, in the old pig-sty. As there was never anyone around you could run gloriously hot bubble baths and soak with the door open, looking up into the trees and making friends with Mr. Robin and Mrs. Songthrush. I wrote about our beautiful week here in the cottage log book, and you can read my entry a separate post.

After a week relaxing among the trees we were headed for the mountains of Wales. En route we stopped at the UK's oldest place of continuous pilgrimage - St Winifred's Well, Holywell. Since the 7th Century, through bad times and through good, pilgrims have gone to this place to pray and ask for the prayers of St. Winifred. And, well, having just spent a week in the woods learning about her, it would have been rude not to pass by. 

In Wales we stayed in an old slate miners cottage at the top of the mountain, surrounded by sheep. Neither of the cottages we chose to spend the first weeks of marriage in were accessible by road, and both had roaring fires. We had plenty of time to read, chat, cook, eat and explore. We climbed Moel Siabod in Wales - an epic climb you can read about in the diary entry I made to the cottage log book. You can read the entry in a separate post.

Marriage also seems to have brought out my creative side: I have knitted the blanket of my dreams, perfect for winter hibernation. It is made of pure wool from Suffolk sheep. I started the project on honeymoon and finished it only yesterday. Much of the wool was bought with John Lewis vouchers bought as kind gifts from relatives and friends. So, thank you to all of them. I am very proud of our blanket, and Mr. Cloister loves it too.

I attach some pictures, and will write separately about some of our bigger adventures. I hope to get back to writing some recipes soon.

All in all, although the last few months have been very busy, they have been blissfully happy. I hope that you enjoy reading the log entries.

In the meantime,

St. Winifred - Pray for us.