Picture of William Gilpin

William Gilpin

places mentioned

Monmouth to Llandovery

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FROM Monmouth to Abergavenny, by Ragland-castle, the road is a good stone causeway, (as the roads in these parts commonly are,) and leads through a, pleasant inclosed country; discovering on each side extensive views of rich cultivation.

Ragland-castle seemed to stand (as we saw it from the heights) in a vale; but as we descended, it took an elevated station. It is a large and very noble ruin: more perfect than ruins of this kind commonly are. It contains two areas within the ditch; into each of which you enter by a lofty and lengthened gateway.

The buildings which circumscribe the first area, consist of the kitchen and offices. It is amusing to hear stories of ancient hospitality. "Here are the remains of an oven," said our conductor, "which was large enough "to bake a whole ox; and of a fire-range "wide enough to roast him."

The grand hall, or banquetting-room, a large and lofty apartment, forms the screen between the two areas; and is perfect, except the roof. The music-gallery may be distinctly traced; and the butteries, which divide the hall from a parlour. Near the hall is shewn a narrow chapel.

On viewing the comparative size of halls and chapels in old castles, one can hardly, at first, avoid observing, that the founders of these ancient structures supposed a much greater number of people would meet together to feast than to pray. But yet we may perhaps account for the thing, without calling in question the piety of our ancestors. The hall was meant to regale a whole country; while the chapel was intended only for the private use of the inhabitants of the castle.

The whole area of the first inclosure is vaulted, and contains cellars, dungeons, and other subterraneous apartments.—The buildings of the second area are confined merely to chambers.

Near the castle stands the citadel, a large octagonal tower; two or three sides of which are still remaining. This tower is incircled by a separate moat; and was formerly joined to the castle by a drawbridge.

Ragland-castle owes its present picturesque form to Cromwell, who laid his iron hands upon it; and shattered it into ruin. A window is shewn, through which a girl in the garrison, by waving a handkerchief, introduced his troops.

From Ragland-castle the views are still extensive, the roads inclosed, and the country rich. The distances are skirted by the Brecknoc-hills; among which the Sugar-loaf makes a remarkable appearance.

The Brecknoc-hills are little more than gentle swellings, cultivated to the top. For many miles they kept their station in a distant range on each side. But by degrees they began to close in, approximating more and more, and leaving in front a narrow pass between them; through which an extensive country appeared. Through this pass we hoped the progress of our road would lead us; as it seemed to open into a fair and beautiful country.

It led us first to Abergavenny, a small town, which has formerly been fortified, lying under the hills. We approached it by the castle; of which nothing remains but a few staring ruins. Hence we, were carried, as we expected, through the pass , which we had long observed at a distance, and which opened into the vale of Usk.

The vale of Usk is a delightful scene. The river from which it borrows" its name winds through the middle of it; and the hills, on both sides, are diversified with woods and lawns. In many places they are partially cultivated. We could distinguish little cottages and farms, faintly traced along their shadowy sides; which, at such a distance, rather varied and enriched the scene, than impressed it with any regular and unpleasing shapes.

Through this kind of road we passed many miles. The Usk continued everywhere our playful companion; and if at any time it made a more devious curve than usual, we were sure to meet it again at the next turn. Our passage through the vale was still more enlivened by many little foaming rills crossing the road, (some of them large enough to make bridges necessary,) and two ruined castles, with which, at proper intervals, the country is adorned.

After leaving the latter of them, called Tretower-castle, we mounted some high grounds, which gave variety to the scene, though not so picturesque an exhibition of it. Here the road brought us in view of Langor's-pool ; which is no very inconsiderable lake. As we descended these heights, the Uk met us once more at the bottom, and conducted us into Brecknoc.

Brecknoc is a very romantic place, abounding with broken grounds, torrents, dismantled towers, and ruins of every kind. I have seen few places where a landscape-painter might get a collection of better ideas. The castle has once been large; and is still a ruin of dignity. It is easy to trace the main body, the citadel, and all the parts of ancient fortification.

In many places indeed these works are too much ruined even for picturesque use. Yet, ruined as they are, as far as they go they are amusing. The arts of modern fortification are ill calculated for the purposes of landscape. The angular and formal works of Vauban and Cohorn, when it comes to their turn to be superseded by works of superior invention, will make a poor figure in the annals of picturesque beauty. No eye will ever be. delighted with their ruins; while not the least fragment of a British or a Norman castle exists, that is not surveyed with delight.

But the most beautiful scenery we saw at Brecknoc, is about the abbey. We had a view of it, though but a transient view, from a little bridge in the neighbourhood. There we saw a sweet limpid stream, glistening over a bed of pebbles, and forming two or three cascades as it hurried to the bridge. It issued from a wood, with which its banks were beautifully hung. Amidst the gloom arose the ruins of the abbey, tinged with a bright ray, which discovered a profusion of rich Gothic workmanship; and exhibited in pleasing contrast the grey stone, of which the ruins are composed, with the feathering foliage that floated round them: but we had no time to examine how all these beauteous parts were formed into a whole.—The imagination formed it, after the vision vanished: but though the imagination might possibly create a whole more agreeable to the rules of painting, yet it could scarcely do justice to the beauty of the parts .

From Brecknoc , in our road to Trecastle, we enter a country very different from the vale of Usk. This too is a vale: but Nature always marks even kindred scenes with some peculiar character. The vale of Usk is almost one continued winding sweep. The road now played among a variety of hills. The whole seemed to consist of one great vale divided into a multiplicity of parts. All together, they wanted unity; but separately, afforded a number of those pleasing passages, which, treasured Up in the memory, become the ingredients of future landscapes.

Sometimes the road, instead of winding round the hills, took the shortest way over them. In general, they are cultivated like those of the vale of Usk: but as the cultivation in many of them is brought too near the eye, it becomes rather offensive. Our best ideas were obtained from such as were adorned with wood; and fell, in various forms, into the vallies below.

In these scenes we lost the Usk, our sweet, amusing companion in the vale: but other rivers of the same kind frequently met us, though they seldom continued long; disappearing in haste, and hiding themselves among the little tufted recesses at the bottom of the hills.

In general, the Welsh gentlemen in these parts seem fond of whitening their houses, which gives them a disagreeable glare. A speck of white is often beautiful; but white, in profusion , is, of all tints, the most inharmonious. A white seat at the corner of a wood, or a few white cattle grazing in a meadow, enliven a scene perhaps more than if the seat or the cattle had been of any other colour. They have meaning and effect. But a front and two staring wings, an extent of rails, a huge Chinese bridge, the tower of a Church, and a variety of other large objects, which we often see daubed over with white, make a disagreeable appearance, and unite ill with the general simplicity of Nature's colouring.

Nature never colours in this offensive way. Her surfaces are never white. The chalky cliff is the only permanent object of the kind which she allows to be hers; and this seems rather a force upon her from the boisterous action of a furious element. But even here it is her constant endeavour to correct the offensive tint. She hangs her chalky cliff with samphire and other marine plants; or she stains it with various hues, so as to remove, in part at least, the disgusting glare. The western end of the isle of Wight, called the Needle-cliffs, is a remarkable instance of this. These rocks are of a substance nearly resembling chalk: but Nature has so reduced their unpleasant lustre by a variety of chastising tints, that in most lights they have even a beautiful effect. She is continually at work also, in the same manner, on the white cliffs of Dover; though her endeavours here are more counteracted by a greater exposure. But here, and in all other places, were it not for the intervention of foreign causes, (he would in time throw her green mantle over every naked and exposed part of her surface.

In these remarks I mean only to insinuate, that white is a hue which nature seems studious to expunge from all her works, except in the touch of a flower, an animal, a cloud, a wave, or some other diminutive or transient object; and that her mode of colouring should always be the model of ours .

In animadverting however on white objects , I would only censure the mere raw tint . It may easily be corrected, and turned into stone-colours of various hues; which though light, if not too light, may often have a good effect.

Mr. Lock, who did me the favour to overlook these papers, made some remarks on this part of my subject, which are so new and so excellent, that I cannot, without impropriety, take the credit of them myself.

White offers a more extended scale of light and shadow than any other colour, when near; and is more susceptible of the predominant tint of the air, when distant. The transparency of its shadows (which in near objects partake so little of darkness, that they are rather second lights) discovers, without injuring the principal light, all the details of surfaces.

I partake, however, of your general dislike to the colour; and though I have seen a very splendid effect from an accidental light on a white object, yet I think it a hue which oftener injures than improves the scene. It particularly disturbs the air in its office of graduating distances, shews objects nearer than they really are, and by pressing them on the eye, often gives them an importance, which from their form and situation they are not entitled to.

The white of snow is so active and refractory as to resist the discipline of every harmonizing principle. I think I never saw Mont Blanc, and the range of snows which run through Savoy, in union with the rest of the landscape, except when they were tinged by the rays of the rising and setting sun, or participated of some other tint of the surrounding sky. In "the clear and colourless days so frequent in that country, the Glaciers are always out of tune.

William Gilpin, Observations of the River Wye, and several parts of South Wales (London: Cadell Junior and W. Davies, 1800) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2012.

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