Tag Archives: Gilbert of Wales

Bridge To The Table Mountain

Crickhowell Bridge C-86836X
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http://www.judges.co.uk

Staying on the Welsh theme, a postcard of Crickhowell Bridge. This was a thank you card for birthday presents from my niece, and so might be the newest card on this blog. It shows, in the boring style, an expanse of tufted green field, with the 13 spans of the bridge behind, carrying the A4077 across the Usk (Afon Wysg; River Usk) into the town of Crickhowell, and behind that the Crug Hywel, Table Mountain, from whence the town gets its name.

This is an intensely familiar vista for me, since I spent many long holidays in the Brecon Beacons with my family in the 70s and 80s; and my sister now does the same. My family have owned a house, up the A479 in nearby Tretower, since before I was born, and I know the area from before it was the gastropolo mecca that it is now. That’s not really the subject for this blog, which is about images, but maybe for another day. The bridge was built in 1709, and modified up until 1749 (and many times since; I can remember when cars passed on the bridge, and for many years a bailey bridge ran alongside before they installed the traffic lights. This was a feature that my father, an army engineer in Burma in WW2, was never tired of pointing out; and I follow in his tradition).

These vernacular architectures, designed by many other forgotten engineers and architects over the centuries are a largely untold story. Coming from an academic art historical tradition of taxonomies and conaisseurship, I long, Ballard-like, for a typology of these bridges, an analysis of source and influence. It’s amazing to me, especially given where I live now, that these simple structures still carry traffic, and are still known. Crickhowell was the birthplace of Colonel Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India, from whom we get Mount Everest. Names and histories are important.

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Waiting for the worms to come.

It’s not so bad. Here’s an carved plaque from the  C13th church of St Martin, Cwmyoy. The Vale of Ewyas is one of the most magical places in the British Isles (don’t take it from me: just ask Simon Jenkins). We holidayed here every year of my childhood, and there’s not a day when I don’t miss it. One of the last truely hidden places in our over crowded island.

St Martin is the traditional saint of soldiers, and the vale is was one of the sites of the iter of Baldwin of Ford, Archbishop of Canterbury as he preached the Third Crusade in 1188, according the Gerald of Wales. Saints preached in these valleys, raising mighty armies to fight thousands of miles away in the desert. Baldwin left for the east with King Richard 1 Lionheart and the elderly emperor Frederick Barbarossa later in the same year, and he died at the siege of Acre in 1190. It was a long way to go, and a long way from home.

As for Thomas Price at Cwmyoy, he still lies at ‘the crookedest church in Britain’. He doesn’t make death sound too bad; the inscription has a comforting, almost pagan, poetry entirely in keeping with the peacefulness of the valley. Most people know the Black Mountains through On The Black Hill , but the movie and Bruce Chatwin’s miserablist novel are too at odds with my childhood memories to work for me, since I remember the vale as a place of sunshine and dreams. I’d like to write about Tom Price, Talfryn Thomas‘s shifty (and ultimately tragic) Welsh tramp in Survivors (BBC 1975-77), since the vale is exactly where I’d go if there was a worldwide disaster (see also poet  Owen Sheers‘ Resistance), but maybe I should let Thomas rest in peace, on his mother’s lap, waiting for the bridegroom.

Further up the vale is the priory of Llantony, and still further still St Mary’s chapel and David Jones’ monastery at Capel-y-ffin, where Eric Gill lived and worked. But those are cards for another day.

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