Returned safe and sound last night from a three day trip to Holywell in North Wales which, because there is no easy way to get there from Portsmouth, is more like a one day visit with two day's travelling either side. That said, I got to travel one of my favourite routes, i.e. over the Severn Bridge and up the Wye Valley. There are two simply breathtaking moments on that trip, the first as you ramp up onto the Severn Bridge and it feels as though you and the car have taken flight. It's as though the journey up till then has taken place inside a box on which the sky and road have been painted and that, as you mount the bridge, the box opens up, origami-style, into this huge new reality in which the vastness of the new sky in which you are hanging is only matched by the expanse of the Severn estuary beneath you. I never tire of it.
The second great moment on that journey is the appearance of Tintern Abbey. You drive a few miles along a winding road with heavily wooded sides which rises slowly higher and higher up the side of the valley and then, out of nowhere, you round a corner and the road plummets downwards and Tintern Abbey rears up from the valley floor. It is a spectacular ruin but made more awe inspiring because of its situation, on the valley floor next to the thick-flowing Wye, which means that for all its own size and massive scale, it is dwarfed and framed by the immense wall of green which is the opposite side of the valley behind it: beautiful.
Fortuntately, not far along the road after all this excitement reside the McDowells, Nicolas and Francis in the their beautiful home by the Wye, housing also the Old Stile Press. So a comfort break, which turned very happily into a scrumptious lunch and conversation that could have lasted for days, was just enough to calm me down again on the outward journey on Thursday.
Holywell itself was very productive. I was there, as you might imagine, to do more research into Rolfe and his time in the town, and was very kindly granted full access to the archive of St Winefride's Well. Most of my full day in the town was spent in the small but very carefully ordered and beautifully decorated room which contains their collection of photos, books and documents relating to the shrine over five hundred and more years and I was able to dig out some real goodies which I'm sure will come in very handy in the not too distant future.