Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Postcard 25: A Gander's Tale from Gower, South Wales

Book cover of 'A Gander's Tale', showing Burry Green and Bethesda Chapel

'Consider the birds ... but listen to the message behind the Gander's Tale' David Gill

The Gower Peninsula - known locally simply as 'Gower' - was the first area to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Many vistors to Burry Green approach this lovely Gower village from the rise known as Cefn Bryn, with its sweeping views across the Loughor Estuary. The building of Bethesda Chapel was financed in some measure by Lady Diana Barham. It opened for worship in 1814. William Griffiths, a Calvinistic Methodist who later became known as the 'Apostle of Gower', served as Minister from 1823 until 1861.

As you can see from the photograph, the village is dominated by the fine white-washed chapel and by the pond. Chapel Elder, Miss Eleanor Jenkins, has had an eye on both these features: her book is the culmination of her astute observations of the geese who live on the green. Eleanor's aim, however, in writing about the gander and his friends was to link these avian observations with Biblical truths about Jesus Christ. 'A Gander's Tale' is made up of fifty short chapters or 'goose fables' (in the sense that Paul White used the term for his 'Jungle Doctor' series), which began as monthly articles in the Bethesda magazine.

We were delighted to attend the launch of the book last week at Old Walls Leisure: it was a wonderful occasion, and there was a good crowd. 'A Gander's Tale' is adorned with Eleanor's beautiful colour photographs. Each 'chapter' contains a Christian message in addition to unusual insights into the life of the geese themselves. Did you know, for example, that a Frizzley Sebastapol is a breed of extra-feathery goose? If you buy a copy of the book, you will discover the joys of life in a Gower village and why Goosey should perhaps have been called Gandalf!

The link below will allow you to purchase a copy of the book or to opt for a free download.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Postcard 24: Neath Abbey, Wales, UK

Neath Abbey

We visited Neath Abbey (founded by the Cistercians c.1130) on a grey afternoon. It was a much larger site than I had remembered from a previous visit; and although it lies in a post-industrial and rather built-up area, it has a certain feeling of tranquillity about it, induced to some extent by the ambience of the canal that runs along the abbey grounds. Gerald of Wales, aka Giraldus Cambrensis, alludes to one of the Welsh poets, Meurig, aka Mauricius Morganensis, whose brother, Clement was Abbot of Neath. It seems likely that Meurig was the author of several books in Welsh, in addition to a volume of Latin epigrams. He appears to have been Treasurer of the Diocese of Llandaff in South Wales. It has been asserted that Meurig was responsible for a Welsh translation of St John's Gospel, but this has not been proved and may not, in fact, be true.

Neath has been described in very different ways over the centuries. You will find two opposing descriptions here, showing how its appearance was radically altered between the 16th and the 19th centuries. The abbey was dissolved in 1539, and copper and lead ores were being smelted on the site during the 18th century. These days, Neath is well known as the home of the singer, Katherine Jenkins.

Postscript: I find it curious that the words ambience and ambiance come under the same entry on the AskOxford site, and yet are given distinct meanings in my copy of The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Postcard 23: Horse Talk (& Chalk)

The Kilburn White Horse, Yorkshire, UK

White horses on chalk hillsides have long been a source of fascination. We visited this one last summer, on our way to see the house of The Mouseman, which I shall mention in a future posting. The Kilburn horse has the largest surface area - just over an acre - of any of our chalk horses, and is the most northerly one of its kind in Britain. It is not, however, a very ancient one: it was completed in 1857 by a school master, John Hodgson, whose friend, Thomas Taylor, had seen chalk figures on his travels in Wiltshire. Harrison Weir was responsible for the design, and the area was cleared by 31 assistants and the scree was given a lick of whitewash. The horse has had a chequered 'career', but stands in splendour for all to see today.

You may be wondering why I have chosen the white horse as a motif in this blog about landscape AND literature. Those of us of 'a certain age' (like me!) will remember those 'snowy white horses' on the television series of our youth, and the footage of them galloping through the waves. The signature tune still hums in my head, but it is actually a different white horse that I have in mind, The Little White Horse, in the children's fantasy novel by Elizabeth Goudge. The story has nothing to do with the Kilburn site, but is a charming tale in its own right. You can read a comment about it from the New York Times at the Happy Wonderer's blog. Goudge's tale has just been released (6 February 2009) as a film, The Secret of Moonacre. Apparently the allegorical tale was one of J.K. Rowling's favourite childhood books. It won a Carnegie Medal in 1946.

I have yet to see The Angel of the North in situ, but I read in The Guardian (11 February 2009) that Kent, the county of my childhood, is to have an enormous white horse on a hill. The horse icon is the brainchild of Turner prize-winner, Mark Wallinger, who won a recent contest to design a 'landmark sculpture' for Ebbsfleet. The sculpture is due to be over twice the height of its northern cousin, and the sheer expense is proving problematic in this climate of recession. Wallinger's horse was inspired to some extent by a horse painting by Stubbs: Jonathan Jones in The Guardian noted that its 'whiteness' recalls the chalk figures.

Wiltshire boasts thirteen white horse figures out of the twenty-four known in Britain. Soil samples from the Uffington White Horse have given three approximate dates for this Early Iron Age or Late Bronze Age creature: 1400-600 BC, 1240-360 BC and the latest 900-340BC. Modern white horses can be seen in places as diverse as South Africa and West Virginia, Morocco and New Zealand. The horse motif appears in Lascaux cave paintings of about 16000 years ago. The first domesticated horses have been attributed to the Botai Culture of Kazakhstan, of 'around 5500 years ago', according to research undertaken by the universities of Bristol and Exeter. Homer, of course, mentions the Trojan Horse, which concealed the soldiers. I particularly like the 7th century BC representation here, with all the faces peeping out!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Postcard 22: Wordsworth at Tintern

Tintern Abbey on the River Wye

Chris Tally Evans has been presenting a four-part BBC Radio programme on the River Wye, called 'My Mile of the River'. This may be what sowed our seed of thought to revisit Tintern Abbey. We left the traffic on the M4 behind us, and drove on through beautiful countryside until we dropped down into the village. Wordsworth (1770-1850) was much on our minds, and his lines were ringing in my ears, as we enjoyed the 'wild green landscape' he described in Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey (13 July 1798). The poem was penned on the poet's second visit to the site. He was in a buoyant frame of mind and was accompanied on this occasion by his beloved sister, Dorothy. Wordsworth's previous visit had not been under such auspicious circumstances. He had travelled alone some five years earlier in the summer of 1793, after the French had declared war on England, shortly after the death of Louis XIV on the guillotine. Wordsworth's daughter, Caroline, had been born to Annette Vallon in 1792: Wordsworth had returned home, leaving his daughter and her mother in France.

A few facts about Tintern