Spring in the valley of the River Usk is a glorious time of year but of course you knew about that didn’t you? It’s just the opportunity to dust off the pad, pencil and box of paints. All around, vibrant new colours are flashing fresh and sparkling. They flicker past the car window as you speed up the A 4042 to Abergavenny.
Splashes of dandelion, bluebells and late yellow daffodils appear in the hedgerows. The rich reddish browns of the chestnut buds sparkle and above all that sharp, clear smell of spring, fragrant and such a reminder of the times when a pair of wellies, an old mac and a stick from the hedge was all we needed as kids to set off to explore those brambly and nettle strewn paths that always seemed so inviting.
Pause for a moment. Stop the car.
Take a break. Open the window and just listen. It’s all there isn’t it, just as you remember it and can’t you just feel it inviting you? Now, where were those old boots and the paint box?
Within just half a mile of that same main road to Abergavenny lies the little gem that is Goytre Wharf (Lat. Long. 51.751976/ -2.997178) on the banks of the old Brecon and Monmouth Canal.
Turn off the A 4042 at Penperlleni and follow the signs…. patiently, the lanes are narrow. At the wharf, there is a grand car park and a delightful restaurant, the Canale Café, and the whole area is beautifully snugged into a fine stand of darkest green pines.
Linger, if you just can’t resist it or save the cream-tea treat for later when you return this way because the object of the day is an enchanting stroll along the canal bank to the beautiful little village of Mamhilad just three and a half level miles to the south.
If you have not been seduced already by the green tranquillity of the tow-path or the beguiling distant views of the Skirrid Mountain, the walk will take you a gentle hour.
Keep counting the bridge numbers along the way and when you reach bridge sixty two, turn off to your left. In fifty yards you will reach the welcoming Star Inn at Mamhilad (Lat/Long: 51.724831/ -3.007685).
If you have arranged it right, it will be time for some refreshment and a delicious lunch.
Now look out of the window. You didn’t notice that before, did you? There, nestled deeply under the overhanging two thousand year old yew tree and set back behind an ancient stone wall, lies the enchanting church and church-yard of St. Illtyd, all crooked tombstones, brilliant white walls and vibrant spring colours. That is what we have come to find.
Once you are refreshed, get out the brushes and sketchbook and set your back against the cool slab of the old stone stile, next to the gate. If, like me, you are lucky, at that moment the sun comes out, dazzling off the white, lime-washed walls while casting deep shadows all around and the glorious moment is captured in your eye, for ever.