Monday, 30 May 2016

Llangybi village: a half-hidden gem

View from the road
   You will immediately see this attractive inn in Llangybi as your number 60 bus (Newport/Monmouth) passes the appealing little village near Usk - but you may not realise how much else there is to see and learn about. There is a lovely church and an ancient well apart from the historic interest of the pub itself.

The name: Llangybi
  This can be unhooked as Llan + Cybi with the 'C' mutating to 'g' as Welsh consonants often do under certain grammatical rules. These may seem to happen simply to confuse the non-speaker but the change does ensure smooth pronunciation. 'Llan' means church (and the sacred enclosure around it) and St. Cybi was a 6th century Cornish bishop and saint who was believed to have founded a church here. This construction of place names is frequent in Wales.

St. Cybi's well
  If you walk down the sign-posted road behind the pub you will come to the well on your right after a couple of hundred yards: it was the village's main water supply for many years. It is under a stony flower-covered mound and leads through to a picturesque stream on the other side of a tiny bridge: there is a silver coloured ladle chained there so that you can taste the clear water by spooning some onto your cupped hand. It is a highly evocative experience and I took many minutes savouring it.

The well is believed to be the subject of a poem by T.S. Eliot who went on a ten-day tour of Wales with his friend Frank Morley in 1935:
                   Do not suddenly break the branch, or
                   Hope to find
                   The white hart behind the white well.

In case this is not about this well, I wrote my own verse which WAS composed here:
                   A dipping well, a day in June
                   Blue silence hanging from the sky,
                   St. Cybi's spirit stands beside
                   My right arm. Now he leans to guide
                   It waterwards. He smiles as I
                   Sip crystal from the silver spoon.

The church
   This dates from the 11th century and contains medieval wall paintings of St. Christopher, the Creed - and a remarkable Christ of the Trades. Such images, also known as the Sunday Christ, show Jesus surrounded by objects, often the tools of various trades, wounding him afresh: they were a warning to tradespeople not to work on days which should be devoted to God. The church itself was shut when I visited but I enjoyed the spectacular views of the countryside around. In the churchyard is the communal grave of William Watkins, his wife and their 3 youngest children (Charlotte, 8; Alice 5 and Frederick 4 years old) all gruesomely murdered one July evening in 1878 by Joseph Garcia, a 21 year old Spanish sailor. He was hanged before an enthusiastic crowd in Usk: the events were celebrated in verse and drew hordes of sightseers.

   I stood appreciating the total silence in the village and recalling that the inn was once owned by Henry VIII as part of Jane Seymour's wedding dowry. A century later it reputedly served as Oliver Cromwell's headquarters in Gwent. Then I took my bus back to Usk, feeling greatly refreshed, either by the water of the holy well or by the delicious gingery cake in the White Hart. You could, of course, use this bus to visit Monmouth with its connections to Henry V.

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