Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 8, 2018

Eighth wonder of Wales

Husband Art and Welsh water seem to be connected. Members from his great-great grandfather Richard Vaughan’s church and those from his great-great grandmother Anne William’s congregation would sometimes walk from opposite directions to meet at nearby Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall for a combined picnic. Without that watery attraction, there would be no Art.

Around that time near the end of the 18th or beginning of the 19th century, someone wrote a now widely-known poem called “Seven Wonders of Wales.”

Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple,
Snowdon’s mountain without its people,
Overton yew trees, St Winefride’s well,
Llangollen bridge and Gresford bells.

The writer was probably an Englishman who visited only the northern part of the country as all seven are in the north and, with the exception of Mount Snowdon, are clustered along the eastern border near England.

Our vacation home this year, like last, was less than a mile along a one-track road from the waterfall. We also have visited the Llangollen bridge many times, frequently leaning over the railings to look into the clear trout-filled waters of the Dee River below. It’s not much of a wonder today, but in the poem writer’s time, it was the only stone bridge across the Dee.

We’ve seen Mount Snowdon too. At about 3,500 feet, it’s the tallest mountain in Wales. Today, as in the author’s time, it is crawling with visitors. While the view at the top is spectacular on a clear day, it’s Britain after all, and high humidity means there aren’t too many of those.

This past trip, we decided it was time to visit the other four wonders.

The farthest was St. Winefride’s Well in Holywell. According to legend, the well erupted at the place where Caradog cut off the head of Winefride, a 7th-century Welsh woman trying to escape his attempt to rape her. Her uncle, St. Beuno, prayed over her body and she came back to life, living out her days as a nun. The well has been a place of pilgrimage and healing ever since.

The shrine is a two-story building erected in the early 16th century. The small museum has exhibits which tell the story of the saint. It includes wooden crutches discarded by those who were cured.

The bathing area was closed on the day we visited. Friend Deb questioned whether she’d want to get in with a bunch of other people. Art said, “It’s called swimming!” She replied, “Yes, but there’s no chlorine!” He answered that the acidity in the water would kill many microbes.

We then drove to the All Saints Church in Gresford. A gentleman came in to turn on the lights for the 6 p.m. service. He said there would probably only be six to seven of them, at most. As people arrived, we chatted with each one, sharing experiences about Wales and America and asking them questions. We left just as the service was to start, but not before they invited us back for bell-ringing practice at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

On Tuesday, after a busy day in Chester, England, we went to Wrexham so we could see the St. Giles Church steeple - another of Wales’ wonders. The church is said to be one of the best examples of ecclesiastical architecture in the country and its tower can be seen for miles. Although there is some evidence of a church there as early as the 11th century, the current building dates from the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries. Eliugh Yale, the benefactor of Yale University, is in a vault there. A bonus was to hear the choir practicing.

We then went to Gresford to hear the bells, but no one showed up! Art later emailed the church, giving them a hard time for misleading us Kansas tourists.

That left one more wonder - the yews in the St. Mary’s church yard in Overton. The yews were planted at various times from the 3rd through 12th centuries, but one of them is estimated at between 1,500 and 2,000 years old. It is split in several places, propped up by poles and held together by wire and chains. Deb said they should just put it out of its misery.

But without intention, we were destined to experienced an eighth wonder of Wales. Returning after a day of "wonder wandering," we didn’t give much thought to the earlier heavy rain while traveling the main road. But that changed on the narrow, winding Welsh roads. We repeatedly came upon high water. Locals stood here and there with abandoned cars in the flood waters, warning us not to chance it since we had a small car. But since the water was not moving quickly, Art ventured ahead.

I told him on more than one occasion, “Back up! Back up!” and Deb said I was pushing my front seat into her in the back. We could see washed-out driveways and water rushing into one churchyard.

Finally we came to a place Art felt was too high, so we turned around to try an even smaller road. We met a man on a huge tractor, and unless you have driven a Welsh back road suitable only for a single normal vehicle, you have no idea what that was like. He said it was pretty bad ahead and we shouldn’t try to go through. His wife, standing beside him in the cab, nodded in agreement.

Art wasn’t convinced. He opened the car door to see what the height of the water was. Since it didn’t come above the 10-inch high door opening, he soldiered on. In the meantime, Deb clicked away, documenting everything. She said later it took great willpower not to laugh at my distress.

We finally made it to Llanrhaeadr and then up the narrow road to our place. I had never seen so much water in Wales. An eighth wonder - at least in my book!

Top (l-r): Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall; Wrexham steeple; Gloria and oldest Overton yew tree with props at right; St. Winifride's Well shrine. Bottom (l-r): Llangollen Bridge (upper) with Gloria, friend Deb and Art on bridge; All Saints Church in Gresford; flood water on the Tanat Valley Road. Snowdon Mountain was not pictured as it was not visited this trip.

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