Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 19, 2017
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Celtic Relic

From castles to monoliths, Wales'
mysterious magic prevails

Imagine yourself witnessing the last stronghold of the Celts, or attending a solemn ceremony led by Druid priests within a Welsh stone circle. King Arthur's legend begins in Wales too, and you can hardly drive through any section of this old country without passing a ruined castle or a ring of ancient monoliths.

Believers say the mysterious circles of stones are intersected by ley lines, alignments of the earth's energy that run all the way to Glastonbury, centre of Britain's legendary universe. They also say that the wizard Merlin himself transported Bluestones from the Preseli Hills in Wales to Stonehenge, more than 300 kilometres away.

Here are some magical trips through Wales that follow the Pembrokeshire coast from Dyfed. Narrow roads lead travellers past grazing sheep and ivy-clad castles to the medieval walls that enclose the town of Tenby.

The Lady of the Lake, Dyfed
The story of Llyn-Y-Van Vach -- the Lady of the Lake -- is a well-known Iron Age legend from the Black Mountains of Wales. When a farmer falls in love with a woman who lives in a lake, she agrees to marry him but warns she'll leave him if he strikes her three times. They live happily, raising three sons, until he accidentally hits her the fated number of times. She returns to the lake, later appearing to her sons to teach them the medicinal properties of plants. Her eldest son, Rhiwallon, goes on to found a long line of doctors known famously as the 'Physicians of Myddvai,' a tradition preserved until the 18th century.

Set in the foothills of the Carmarthenshire Black Mountains, it takes just a few hours to walk to Llyn-Y-Van Vach from Carreg Cennen Castle.

Caldey Island, Tenby
Like many islands off the coast of Britain, Caldey has been inhabited for centuries by hermits and monks. The site of a Celtic monastery in the 6th century, the monks lived in separate wattle huts around a chapel or in the island's caves, all just five kilometres off the coast of the medieval walled city of Tenby.

Today, the monastic lifestyle has changed. While the monks still pray, read scripture and study theology together, on Caldey their traditional shunning of the contemporary world has not prevailed. Within the quiet walls of the monastery, the talk is of fashion, image and business.

Still, Caldey's peaceful atmosphere has allowed the Cistercians to develop a unique perfume industry. They produce and distribute worldwide hand made, hand-bottled fragrances from the island's wildflowers. An island visit offers the opportunity to meet the monks and visit their perfumery.

 

Manorbier Castle, Tenby
Near the ancient walled city of Tenby stands Manorbier Castle, overlooking pastures and meadows that roll to the sea's edge. The castle ruins have all the requisite features, winding staircases that ascend to tower rooms, arched passageways with arrow-slit windows and a gatehouse with drawbridge.

The castle is open to visitors during the tourist season and you, as the resident nobility, may enter through the iron gate to mix with the commoners. But at closing time, a large key locks the fortress door and your fantasy can continue in the all-equipped house which sleeps 10 inside the castle walls.

Gors Fawr Stone Circle
North Pembrokeshire boasts one of the largest concentrations of prehistoric monuments in Britain. There are 26 Neolithic burial chambers, more than 20 standing stones and no fewer than 70 ancient earthworks. One of the best known relics is the Gors Fawr Stone Circle, a ring of 16 free-standing stones almost a metre high. Upon entering this circle, the windswept moorland seems to close in. The ancient significance of these monuments is unknown, despite the almost certain connection with the Druids and their rites.

Another well-known burial chamber, Pentre Ifan, is located one mile to the east of Newport on the A487 One of the three surviving Celtic crosses from the early Christian period are located at Nevern. Intricately carved with interlacements and key and fret designs, the Nevern cross is located in St. Brynach's churchyard and stands four metres high.

Castell Henllys, Newport
A small inland Iron Age (600-100 BC) hill fort and adjacent farmstead gives a glimpse of life here 2400 years ago. A self-guided trail with information panels helps visitors through the reconstructed thatched roundhouses, animal pens, smithy and grain store.

Castell Henllys flourished during the early days of the Roman conquest of Britain, defended naturally on three sides by steep scarps. The reconstructed buildings are unique in Britain and include the land's longest-standing roundhouse and granary. Costumed staff bring this village alive while they demonstrate various period crafts.

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