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Penarth Ramblers discover ancient church buildings on summer walk

ON a glorious sunny morning which turned into a very warm day, ten walkers joined Sheila from Penarth and District Ramblers on a circular walk from the 13th century St Mary’s Church and alongside the church is The Rectory which also dates from this time and is said to retain many Tudor features and claims to be the second oldest inhabited rectory in Wales. Following part of the long distance Valeways Millennium Trail and negotiating their way through fields full of bright buttercups and over some very challenging stiles, they arrived at the peaceful village of Llandough, named after the 5th century St Dochau.

After admiring the gatehouse of the Castle and hearing some of its history they continued through fields with sheep and their fat lambs and over many more stiles, before reaching the pretty village of Llanblethian. Passing the 16th century Great House in the main street before attempting the steep climb to the church, the group paused for coffee and a socially distanced break beside the clear, cool brook with its old pump and a telephone box which contains a defibrillator.

Making short work of the climb to the 12th century Church of St John the Baptist they learned the west tower was reputedly gifted by Lady Anne Neville, heiress to the lordship of Glamorgan and wife of Richard, Duke of Gloucester who later became King Richard III. During restoration work in the 1890s the crypt under the vestry was found to contain roughly the bones of around 200 bodies but it is not really known why they were placed there. Entering the cool leafy wood of Llanblethian Hill and following a twisting, climbing path where a fort and a castle once stood, they descended to a field which faces the new housing development on the west side of Cowbridge. A short pavement walk past a nature reserve brought them to the delightful 12th century Church of St Brynach named after a 6th century Irish saint, where the churchyard is still used as the burial ground for Llanfrynach and Penllyn.

Exiting from the churchyard a lovely leafy lane led them up to the crossroads on the very busy B4270 before entering a quiet lane leading to the village of Llysworney. One of the large houses they passed on the way is Crossways House, which for 60 years from 1929 had been the Prince of Wales Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital and school. However, with the expansion of Rhydlafar Hospital the number of patients fell and the school continued there until 1991, finally closing with any remaining children being transferred to the Cardiff Royal Infirmary. The house is a 17th century manor house now in private ownership and converted into apartments.

A long bridle path led them back to the B4270 and skirting a large wheat field they attracted the attention of some very inquisitive cattle that were soon calmed by Louise and Sheila. Stiles very much in need of attention led to Wilton Farm for lunch in the shade of some magnificent old trees. Then on through lush fields hosting young cattle to arrive at Sigingstone and on past the 19th century Victoria Inn and the memorial to the people who died in the March 1950 air crash returning from Belfast with Welsh rugby supporters when 80 people died.

A cool leafy lane with a clear brook beside brought them into the hamlet of Llanmihangel, and past the beautiful manor house of Llanmihangel Place which probably dates from the 12th century and has has been owned by many families. In the 18th century it passed by marriage to the Wyndham family and formed part of the Dunraven estate and from that time it has been tenanted, until 1988 when Sue and David Beer bought it and carried out extensive renovations. The Beers have since passed away but there is a beautiful memorial to them in the nearby church.

The Church of St Michael is said to be 13th century but built on earlier foundations and unusually, it has a dovecote over the belfry with nesting boxes set into the walls, inside and out and has no electricity and is lit with oil lamps and candles.

Then passing a beautifully converted barn and crossing two fields led them downhill through a wooded area to a mini valley filled with lush grass and wild flowers. Following a stony bridle path and heading uphill, St Mary Church slowly came into sight and crossing one more field, this time filled with sheep, they made their way back to their start point.

You can follow the group’s exploits before, during and after lockdown on Facebook.

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