Tŷ Ddewi

Pentre Ifan

Tŷ Ddewi (St Davids), as cathedral cities go, is more like a large village than anything you’d expect of such a place. It sits on a headland at the end of the northern peninsula of St Bride’s Bay (with the village of St Brides at the end of the southern peninsula). So Bride, or Brigid, is equally celebrated in the naming of places in this land- and sea-scape. Co-incidentally, further north up the coast in Ceredigion, there is a village called Llannon, suggesting that it contains a church dedicated to Non (who was David’s mother). But the name of the parish is Llansanffraed, suggesting that it is named after Bride.

There are several islands off this coast, one of the farthest out being Grassholm, the island identified as Gwales where, in the second branch of Y Mabinogi, Bran’s head was taken and time stood still. From nearby Abergwaun (Fishguard) ferries cross to Ireland and this continues a tradition of links between the two lands going back to the earliest times. A walk up the valley of the Gwaun can take you to places that evoke the Otherworld atmosphere of Y Mabinogi in the texture of the landscape and the quality of the light that always feels special and different from anywhere else. The cromlech at Pentre Ifan, for instance, suggestive itself of the Bronze Age that made it, stands in a landscape of rocky outcrops, the mountain of Carn Ingli, looking across to Preseli. A path from here leads through a gnarled and atmospheric woodland that itself feels like an enchanted forest.

I recently walked along the coastline west of Tŷ Ddewi, the stretch facing Ramsey Island just off the rocky headland. Seals coasted in the waters below. Farther out porpoises dived out of the water chasing a shoal of fish with gannets in attendance to take advantage. Among other treasures gathered that day was the sight of a pair of choughs on the clifftop, their red legs making them unmistakable.

Back in Tŷ Ddewi, or just beyond the Cathedral, is Non’s Well. Here, according to the most common of the stories relating the birth of Dewi, the spring is said to have gushed forth when he was born, The ancient standing stones in the field have led to suggestions that it was a holy place long before the birth of Christ. This may well be an example of the adoption of a long-established cultic site, linking the spring to the Welsh saint to continue its importance as a religious centre.

There are many such echoes in this landscape. Listen to these words of the poet Waldo Williams, referring to a long poem of his called Tŷ Ddewi, “I had quite a remarkable experience out on Carn Llidi … Sometimes you feel yourself at one with the land around you, as if some wonderful communion comes about between you – and that, I think, was one of the main spurs for me to write Tŷ Ddewi – it was personal.” (my translation)

Such communion between an individual and the landscape is, of course, possible anywhere. But somehow in Pembrokeshire, and more particularly in the Preseli Hills, it always seems probable rather than merely possible.

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