Crickhowell from above

Crickhowell from above
Photo by Mike Chamberlain

Heritage & Legend

From the Iron Age through Hywel Dda to the industrial activities of the 19th Century, Crickhowell has an interesting and varied history.

Crickhowell takes its name from the rampart and ditch stronghold – Crug Hywel – which is the flat topped hill which stands above the town, also known as Table Mountain. It is possible that the fort was established by Hywel Dda who was the first ruler, around 950AD, to frame a code of laws to govern the Welsh.

“Hywel Dda” means “Howell the Good” in English.

The town has a fine 19th century high street with local shops selling a wide variety of goods. Nearby there is the remains of a 13th century castle and across the road, the Clarence Hall, named after the Duke of Clarence. Leading down to the river Usk there is a picturesque 18th century street, where you can see the bowed windows of former shops. The longest stone bridge in Wales links Crickhowell to Llangattock.

Sir George Everest lived in Gwernvale Manor – now the Manor Hotel. The mountain is named after him.

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal winds its way through Llangattock and high above, on the escarpment, you can see the remains of limestone quarries. From the quarries there are steep tramways, which brought the limestone down to the canal side, where you can still see the kilns used to create quicklime.

The canal celebrated its 200th birthday in 2012. All the churches along its length rang their bells to recreate what happened on its opening.

To the north is the Grwyne Fechan valley which has the small village of Llanbedr at its southern end but the lane meanders for another 5 miles, before coming to a dead end at the derelict ruins of the Hermitage.  There are fine walks to be had of the complete horseshoe or parts of it from a number of places along the valley.

Legend has it that John Macnamara of Llangoed Hall kept a mistress in the Hermitage in the 1780’s and that he built a road (now a footpath) over the mountains to get there.

To the north east is the Grwyne Fawr valley which ends with a large car park and an easy ascent on foot to the Grwyne Fawr Reservoir. This was completed in 1932 to supply water to Abercarn. It has a wonderful setting and an impressive stone built dam. It is one of the highest dams in Britain and took over 20 years to build.

To get goods and people to the site of the dam a railway was built the length of the Grwyne Fawr valley along what is now the road.

The next valley to the east is the Honddu Valley or Vale of Ewyas. At the start of the valley and on the hills to the west is the isolated and wonderful church of Patricio with its original rood screen and medieval wall paintings. Further up the valley on the eastern side is the crooked church of Cwmyoy, built on the site of a landslip and hardly a straight line in it!

Cwmyoy church tower is said to lean more than the leaning tower of Pisa.

The main attraction is, however, Llanthony Priory. This ruin dates from 1175 but by the 1500s most of the monks had gone and the building was left to decay. It now has a small hotel and bar serving meals and drinks in the crypt.

Llanthony Priory was owned by Walter Savage Landor in the 1800s and has been the subject of many paintings, notably by JMW Turner.

The road continues up the valley, past the hamlet of Capel-yFfin, with its two tiny churches and another ruined monastery, and on via Gospel Pass to Hay-on-Wye.

The painter Eric Gill lived at the monastery at Capel-y-Ffin with a community of painters in the early 20th century.

For more ideas on what to see in and around Crickhowell see the What to Do section of this site or come into CRiC for some friendly advice and information.


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