Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A Last Farewell

Last resting place
Two days ago I journeyed to North Wales to fulfill my sister's last wish; she wanted her ashes to be scattered in a beauty spot not far from where we were brought up, called the Panorama.

This was a special place as we were growing up, and as six of us drove up from Penycae for the little ceremony along the narrow, winding road, I marvelled at how many times in our youth, our mother had walked this route with us.

When you arrive at the Panorama, you are met with breathtaking views in all directions. To the left you can see extended views to the Shropshire and Cheshire plains; immediately to your right is part of the Eglwyseg Mountain, which is an outcrop of Carboniferous Limestone which stretches from World's End to Trevor. The Panorama road and walk follows this mountain. Look down and you see the Vale of Llangollen, with its broad valley floor, which is between 300 and 450 feet below the top of the Eglwyseg Mountain. You can see the River Dee, as well as the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. Looking across the valley you can see Ffynon-las-Wood and Tyn Celyn Wood. When looking to your right, you can see the beautiful town of Llangollen nestled in the valley, and high above the town on as isolated hill can be seen Castell Dinas Bran (or Crow Castle). Just out of sight is the remains of the 13th Century Valle Crucis Abbey, which was largely destroyed by Henry V111 during his purge of the Monasteries. A slight hop further along brings you to the famous Horseshoe Pass.

Llangollen from the Panorama
It's little wonder that Sue chose this spot for her last resting place. As I stood and gazed across the valley, my mind went back to over 50 years ago and the many times that mum and her two children would walk from Penycae, along the Panorama road, sometimes up the steep hill to Crow Castle (sometimes taking the road around the hill) and down the other side to Llangollen. I'm getting weary just thinking about it.

My sister's last wish has now been fulfilled, and after a difficult last twelve months for her, I hope she now has some peace. Though very emotional, it was a joy for me to be back on the Panorama, and in the Llangollen area; who knows whether I might ever see it again. Let me flesh out a few details, so that it explains why this area is so special.

Castell Dinas Bran
As previously mentioned, Castell Dinas Bran or Crow Castle in English sits high above the town of Llangollen, and is reached by a long and steep climb. It is steeped in myths and legends.

It has been said to be the possible burial site of the Holy Grail of the Arthurian legends. It was the 13th Century home of Madoc ap Gruffydd Maelor who founded the nearby Valle Crucis Abbey, and is also believed to be the stronghold of Eliseg, Prince of Powys in the 6th Century. The views of Llangollen and the Dee Valley are stunning.

The town of Llangollen dates back to around the 7th Century, and in keeping with so many ancient Welsh towns, takes its name from its founding Saint; Collen was a 7th Century Monk. The story goes that St Collen was instructed to find a valley by riding a horse for one day and then stop and mark out a "parish", a place to build his hermitage, with tiny Church, hospice and outhouses all enclosed within a wall. The word Llan means Church or village, and Gollen is after the Saint Collen, so Llangollen means "Village of Collen". [Some say that Llan means "fortified Church yard"]

Autograph 1958
The town has a population of just over 3,000, but every July this swells to over 120,000 visitors as they flock to the world famous Llangollen International Eisteddfod.

Many of the surrounding towns and villages play host to competitors from across the world, and my village of Penycae was no exception. In sorting out my sister's effects, I came across a long lost autograph book of mine from 1958. It has a number of signatures and messages from around that period which I'd forgotten all about. It is now part of my treasures.

The Railway in Llangollen was opened in 1862, and though it's hard to imagine now, at one time it was possible to board the train at Llangollen Station and travel to London without a single change. Don't anyone tell me that the rail network is an improvement today. The railway was closed to passengers in 1965, and to goods in 1968, and it was seven years before railway enthusiasts could reopen part of the line. Steam trains now operate along part of the Dee Valley, giving a glimpse of what it must have been like to pass through this wonderful scenery in its heyday.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Majestically running across the valley floor is the Llangollen Canal. Today, from Llangollen Wharf,  you can take a 45-minute horse drawn trip, or a two hour trip on a traditional Canal narrow boat.

The journey takes you through the Vale of Llangollen and across the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain. Completed by Thomas Telford in 1805, and standing 126 feet above the River Dee, it is undoubtedly a masterpiece of engineering.

For over 100 years pleasure boats have been operating from Llangollen Wharf, and they seem to be as popular today as they have ever been. The town, castle, railway and canal all add to the beauty of this part of the world, and help to make the Vale of Llangollen a very special place.

Monument to I.D. Hooson
Let me finish by going back to where we began - the Panorama. Just a short distance from where we scattered Sue's ashes; up a short path further up on the Eglwyseg Mountain is a monument to the Welsh poet Isaac Daniel Hooson (who was always known as I.D. Hooson).

His grandfather was one of a group of lead miners who left Cornwall and settled around Holywell in Flintshire. Later I.D.'s father, Edward moved from Holywell to Rhosllanerchrugog and set up his own grocers and drapery shop in the village.

I.D. Hooson was born in Victoria House, Market Street, Rhosllanerchrugog in 1880, and lived in the same house until his death in 1948. He was a solicitor, and from 1920 to 1943 was Official Receiver in Bankruptcy in the Chester and North Wales area. He was a patron of Urdd Gobaith Cymru (which translates as "Welsh League of Youth", and is Wales' largest youth organisation, with over 50,000 members today). He was also a member of the council of the National Eisteddfod. In 2007 a new Welsh school was opened in Rhosllanerchrugog and called in his honour, "Ysgol ID Hooson". He was a very proud Welshman.

Undoubtedly he is best remembered for his poetry, though as I don't speak Welsh, I haven't had the joy of reading it, but have had to rely on the comments of others. He is recognised as one of Wales' premier poets. During his lifetime he published only one collection: "Cerddi a Baledi" in 1936, but a second collection, "Y Gwin a Cherddi Eraill" was published shortly after his death in 1948. Those that know his works reckon that he is best known for his poems written for children.

I.D. Hooson is looking down over where Sue's ashes were scattered, so she has good company on the Panorama, and you can't ask for much more than that in life or in death, can you?

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