Friday, August 19, 2011

The Great Love Story of Llangollen

by Susanna Ives

The following is an archive from my travel blog documenting my trip to Wales.

So mom, the kids, and I were stuck in the tiny cottage, cut off from all civilization. Just us and the sheep. Lots and lots of sheep. Mom and I would take turns venturing out on the long and treacherous walk to the local Tesco for groceries. By the time my husband returned from his business trip, we were almost crazed with cabin fever. According to my husband’s plan, we were to head straight to our elite and insanely fashionable Holiday Inn on the east side of the London. In my head, I saw myself desperately clutching my wild children’s hands while trying to navigate the crowded London streets. When they were younger, I had taken them about the city strapped in the McClaren stroller, the best stroller in the entire universe. It was a lightweight and could be folded down and strapped over your back. In Liege, we bought this thing that allowed G to stand on the back and be wheeled along.

In the absence of the best stroller in the entire universe, I asked N to take a small detour to calmer Bath for a day. I had had it up to my dazed eyes with British traffic and desired a nice walking city.

Our first stop on our way south into England was to the Valle Crucis Abbey. In the images I had seen of the old Abbey, it stood like a graceful, majestic ruin set against the wild mountainous scenery. Turner painted the Abbey in his sojourn to Wales. However, now the abbey is adjacent to a Caravan/RV park.

The abbey was founded by the Cistercian Order in 1201. The “White Monks” sought remote locations where they prayed in solitude, while the poor lay brethren farmed the land for them. Henry VIII shut the abbey down -- that Catholic problem and all.

Our wonderful Welsh landlords suggested touring Llangollen. It’s a lovely place with soaring mountains and a rocky, roaring river filled with kayakers.

The most famous place in the town is a unique cottage called Plas Newydd. In the late 1700s Miss Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler settle there and became known as the “Ladies of Llangollen.” The two came from aristocratic Irish families and met at an Irish boarding school when Sarah was Eleanor’s pupil. Eleanor was 29, sixteen years older than Sarah. Nonetheless, the two fell in love. Sarah’s family pressed upon her a rather offensive engagement to man who was waiting for his terminally ill wife to die. Meanwhile Eleanor’s brother schemed to put his sister in a nunnery. The two women tried to elope, dressed as men and armed with a pistol. They were stopped by their families and separated. Yet, they refused to be kept apart, and Eleanor ran away to Sarah. With a maid's help, Sarah hid Eleanor in her room. Finally, their families relented and let them live together. The women came to Llangollen. At that time, it was just a tiny village beside the River Dee. The ladies became quite controversial celebrities in their day, entertaining the Duke of Wellington and William Wordsworth.

Plas Newydd is filled with oaken carvings and stain glass collected by the ladies. Unfortunately, the house was closed when we visited. Here are pictures of the grounds.

At the time the ladies lived at Plan Newydd, I don’t believe there was a front garden, nor was the house painted white and black. We can thank the wonderful Yorke family from Erddig for these enhancements. As a boy, Simon Yorke III’s younger brother John had fallen from his pony near the ladies’ cottage, and Sarah and Eleanor had given him oranges. Later, John would be severely wounded in the tragic charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. He bought the house in 1876.

I highly recommend stopping in Llangollen if you are touring Wales. Queen Victoria chose to stay here rejecting an invitation from Erddig (The Yorkes never forgave her.) Here is a shot from the deck of the restaurant where we stopped for lunch. If you look high on the mountain, you will see the ruins of an old castle that was built upon an even older wooden hill fort.


Wendy Soliman said...

Susanna, You remind me of a holiday I took years ago in a remote part of Wales. My dog got ill so my (then) husband and brother in law were quick to volunteer to go to the local pub and find out where the nearest vet was, (this was in the days before cell phones).
They came back the worse for wear, and triumphant. We had to take the dog to the pub without delay because the landlord also acted as unpaid animal doctor. Amazingly the dog survived the experience!

Georgie Lee said...

Beautiful pictures. The post reminds me of my two trips to Britain. I want to go back, now.

Great story Wendy. I'm glad the dog survived.

Susanna Fraser said...

Gorgeous pictures, and I've always thought the Ladies of Llangollen made for a fascinating story.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Wonderful post and great pictures. Thanks for sharing. Cheers~

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