By now, my northward road had taken me as far as mid Wales and the second stop on my Welsh pilgrimage: the isolated, ruined abbey of Strata Florida. I had gone to pay my respects to the 14th century bardic poet, Daffyd ap Gwilym, who is believed to be buried there.
I find it hard to describe my feelings about Strata Florida. Luckily, I bought a book of poems inspired by the abbey and the introduction says it for me:
“Visitors to Strata Florida often remark that it seems a special place. What they consider to constitute this specialness varies – some feel it is the natural beauty, some its mythic and historical associations, and some its tranquility or holiness. Poets tend to perceive this specialness as inspiration. Often a visit is described as a ‘pilgrimage’, even where there is no spiritual intent.1“
In the Bardic tradition, Awen is poetic inspiration. It’s always present, anywhere and everywhere, but some places have an abundance of it. Strata Florida is one such place. I found a bench out of the wind and, as three green-veined white butterflies danced around me, I listened. At first I could hear a family speaking in an affectionate German; then they left and I was alone. Strains of music danced through my mind like the butterflies, along with voices uttering sentences of beauty in languages I don’t speak but understood. I knew it was useless to try to capture it – none of it was mine to be reproduced, anyway. Hearing it for that moment was enough. Many places that I have listened to seem to need healing and I try to do what I can. But here, I was the one receiving. When I opened my eyes, the butterflies had gone and so had the words and the music. But the sense of Awen itself remained.
I could see why Dafydd was a regular visitor here. Remembering the purpose of my visit, I went to find the yew tree that is said to mark his grave and pay my respects.
The yew-tree for the best young man
By the wall of Strata Florida and its mansion,
God’s blessing on you, paradise of trees,
That you have grown to be Dafydd’s house.
To the Yew-tree above Dafydd ap Gwilym’s Grave.
Gruffudd Gryg (trans. Dafydd Johnston)
As I left, I passed the two Taliesin Stones. I took this as a good sign, for tomorrow, I would be seeking out the great bard, Taliesin, himself.
1 Poetry from Strata Florida: An Anthology of work inspired by the Ystrad Fflur landscape, 1350-2013, edited by Martin Locock