As I sit in my top room of the house in the heart of Llanrindod Wells perusing a fascinating hardback volume from 1931 “tramping through Wales in search of the red dragon” by John C Moore, I consider myself very lucky indeed. Less than 100 years ago this walking writer was refused hospitality even though he had a sprained ankle not once but three times, eventually having to creep into a hay barn and climb atop a haystack for a nights shelter.
When I read of the journey between Builth and Rhayder, my journey too, the directions he is given are
You’ll be a muddied oaf if you go by the river
He went by road, as I am, he says
“It was a happy walk,in spite of the customary drizzle, there were dog roses in the hedgerows…”
He walked in June, as I am, it is a lovely thing to know that some things have not changed a bit, not the things that really matter.
Moore seemed not though on the whole to think terribly well of the reception he received from the Welsh, and his walk along the Wye. He did find his red dragon though, in the skies on his final night:
“The sunset flushed with its last glow, the red dragon which Merlin saw springing out of the hills .”
The red dragon represents the Britons and was seen fighting with the white dragon, the invading tribes, by Merlin in his prophecy of Vortigen’s fall. Curious, I wonder about these two battling forces, no doubt they too represent something deep within each of us.
I cast my mind back to the previous evenings storytelling with the goodly folk of transition Llandrindid Wells. I feel sad I didn’t get to hear the tale of the birth of Talesin told by Jess. We have spoken earlier and been inspired. We are working towards the same vision:; to open up the old pilgrims ways and connect up all the centres of inspiration. She is soon to walk from St David’s to Bardsey island. It feels to me we could talk for a year and a day but we don’t get the opportunity to talk more for the tales of transition in these parts they are many and the folk enthusiastic and keen. It is mid night before we leave the famed herb garden where we have eaten well of the curries made for us and heard a whole treasure trove of positive tales.
Where to start with the tales of Llanrindod?
Could it be the annual May fair where likeminded projects can showcase their work, or the very popular repair cafe that takes place in the old pavilions once a month during the summer, or maybe the new Soup project, modelled on a Detroit scheme, where 4 local projects a month get to talk of their work at an evening where soup has been donated and all the comers pay £3 a head and get to vote for the most inspiring project who take home all of the proceeds to put into their venture?
All of these projects are dear to the heart of the founding team but perhaps the one that is dearest to the hearts of my hosts palaentologists Joe and Lucy, is the repair cafe.
I arrive in Llanrindod in time to enjoy the last hour of this months. I am taken to meet the group one by one on their stalls where they are busy at work sharpening shears, mending old bits of machinery, sewing on a shirt cuff button, and Di, founding member of transition Llandrindod, is doing a raffle from her freegle stall where plenty of new people have signed up. This scheme has been going ten years up. I pick up an extraordinarily light packet of paper sweet cases, with making the Brazilian sweetmeat brigadeiros in mind. They are a national favourite and very easily made for parties and get togethers.
spring in Llandridod Wells gardens
Over a delicious curry supper provided by founding member Sally of the hugely acclaimed Herb Garden cafe who I have been hearing tales about all the way from Hereford, I hear more tales including the Powys Alliance which is the local version of what I saw in Hereford, bringing together all the different inspirational projects of the region to get together and support one another. This is clearly the way forward allowing for more things to happen and less people to suffer from burn out.
I hear too of the community garden running alongside the paved walkway outside the herb garden cafe and other businesses now planted up with edible plants. There wasnt a lot of light getting in so a local artist carved a willow tree there into a green man cutting back some of the growth that was preventing light reaching the garden prompting the goodly folk to want to name the walkway Green man lane but this has caused no end of resistance. From whence came this fear of the old things from our heritage?
I want to hear more from my hosts Lucy and Joe too. They are palaentologists and Llanrindod Wells the best place in the world for fossils. I hear that Wales used to be a series of volcanic islands and Llanrindod once an ocean. Hence the medicinal waters the Victorians built their spa for. I drink from the last remaining spring. The water tastes of iron and salts very strong. Volcanic eruption moved plates around trapping layers and the water escapes from fault lines.
Modern Llanrindrod, I hear, is a centre to which people with mental health problems and drug abusers are sent. As usual short sighted money driven decisions create a bigger problem than ever. These folk are now ghettoised in the fairytale turreted castle houses of the Victorians.
I cast my mind back to Builth and the scenes from legend painted on a house wall by the river bridge. A warrior for sure, perhaps the prince the town is said to have betrayed, the last welsh prince. The arts are strong in Builth. My host Alun started the what’s on wales website and he and partner Steph enjoy the famed arts centre just across the road from the mural painted house.
I hear from the transition group here that Builth are to become a transition town too and feel happy that this is so and look forward to the art that come from this.
When I remember the stories of the night I think of what I have been talking to my hosts about; how to support the vulnerable by story. I have learnt over the years I have been involved with community in various ways that a person is not emotionally available to see the bigger picture no matter the context if their personal story has not been heard.
I start to wonder if there were regular storytelling events that allowed for a lot of listening to one another’s stories it might begin to open up opportunities for new connections to be made.
By the time I settle down to sleep my head is buzzing with all the tales I have heard and just how much can be achieved by one small 4000 strong town.
I remember my new Welsh word of the day. As I walked into town I met a lady on a bike just beyond Diserth, an ancient chapel dating back to Arthurian times, but built on a far older site, in a round churchyard surrounded by ancient yews. The chapel is dedicated to St Cewydd patron saint of rain and i suspect with a far older past. Jan, as she introduces herself, stopped to talk and we soon found out we had transition in common. She had stopped going to meetings for a while because she found that many of the awareness raising activities were focusing on the challenges more than the positive stories that fill people with enthusiasm and needed to take a break to reconnect with what was important to her; connection to the nature around us. We exchange many tales including a love of learning the languages of the places where we are and I learn how to say thank you in Welsh:
Diolch yn fawr
Now, after this inspiring evening of hearing all the things that are happening in the town it is clear things are moving forwards rapidly in Llanrindod and the best word to say for it all is;
Diolch yn fawr
Thank you Transition Llanrindod.