Having deposited Son the Elder in Newport for his Robot Wars sessions, we drove up the Usk valley to Llangybi, stopping first at the St Cybi's well which has A Literary Connection courtesy of T S Eliot, who wrote in his early poem, 'Usk':
Hope to find
The white hart behind the white well.
Glance aside, not for lance, do not spell
Old enchantments. Let them sleep.
'Gently dip, but not too deep.'
Lift your eyes
Where the roads dip and the roads rise
Seek only there
Where the grey light meets the green airThe hermit's chapel, the pilgrim's prayer.'
This sounds a lot less mystical when you realise that the White Hart is a pub. Unfortunately for the cash-strapped Dru and me, it's a gastro-pub so we had to make do with faggots and peas from the chip shop in Usk, but if you have a few spare coppers to rub together, it might well be worth trying, even if just for the channelling of the poet.
Llangybi also has a lovely 13th/14th century church with mediaeval wall paintings and all. See how the walls lean outwards? ... or is it me on the cider? ... no, they are definitely leaning.
This picture is a very rare type of wall painting depicting Christ with the tools of those who work on a Sunday in the process of wounding him. Hmmm. Begs the question, just how painful is a black Bic biro and a laptop?
And this is the top of my favourite headstone in the churchyard. It holds the bodies of Frederick Evans who died in 1831 aged 2, his father Evan Evans, died 1839 aged 59, and Sarah Evans, a widow until 1867, aged 82.
'Long nights and days I bore great pain,
To waite for cure twas all in vain;
Till God above he thought it best
To take my pain and give me rest.'
After Llangybi Church but before the faggots and peas, Dru and I took the road less travelled by (probably because it is marked private) up to the castle, which is also known as Castle Tregrug. En route we were joined by a black dog, which seemed fitting in this shadowy borderland, even if the dog in question was a Labrador with a red collar and a tag in the shape of a bone bearing a Newport postmark.
The ruins were impressive, however. I particularly liked the Tower House with its carved remains of fan vaulting amongst the ivy and umbellifers.
Dru was able to tell me that what looks like an age-old holloway are, in fact, civil war fortifications.
Having reunited the Labrador, who turned out to be called Sid, with his owners, we went three miles on up the valley to Usk.
This is Ted waiting patiently for our dinner in the chip shop.
Usk is one of those towns that time forgot, apparently, and whilst not really being Tom Jones country, appropriating the title of one of his hits for the name of a shop selling undergarments doesn't feel like too much of a liberty (bodice).
Usk Police Station.
'Hey, let's be careful out there!'
While we ate our not very picnicky picnic we watched locals cooling off in the River Usk, non tidal here and not muddy. Terrifyingly, some of them were jumping from the disused railway bridge into the not very deep water.
Usk Castle is less hidden and neglected than Llangibby Castle, but it's still pretty far from being National Trustified.
This is the view over the town with the Tithe Barn in the foreground. Trelawney's Cedars to the right were grown from seeds brought back from the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, the last resting place of Keats' body and Shelley's ashes.
The garden is sensitively maintained, with room for wild strawberries ...
There was a service going on at Usk Church so we couldn't go in, though we did see the grave of the last Welsh martyr, St David Lewis, who was executed for being a Catholic priest in 1679 and buried in the churchyard.
There was just time for a drink before picking up the Roboteer, so we stopped off at the Hanbury pub in Caerleon, again on the banks of the Usk, only to spot this plaque commemorating yet another poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, who, like Eliot, was sufficiently inspired by the area to put pen to paper.
'What have you two been up to?' asked Son the Elder, after our traditional post Robot Wars debriefing.
'Oh, castles ... and poets ... and ... '
'The usual stuff then,' he interrupted.