BBC2 Wales has a wonderful Secret Wales programme, one episode of which has a 10 minute segment about Capel-y-ffin, just 1 mile from Castle Farm. Recommended viewing if you ever get a chance to watch it!
In the meantime, you can see a transcription of the segment here. Part 1 decribed the stunning route up from Hay-on-Wye to Capel-y-ffin. Here, Sara Edwards describes some of those who have come under the spell of this remote area…
Presenter Sara Edwards:
“One of the first people to come under the spell of Capel-y-ffin was Joseph Lester Lynn, who was known as Father Ignatius. He built the monastery here in 1870 and tried – unsuccessfully – to reintroduce the monastic tradition to the Anglican Church.
Many years later, in 1924, the monastery was bought by the artist, sculptor and calligrapher Eric Gill, who set up a commune here. This included his vast family, and other artists such as the poet and painter, David Jones.
Life here was basic, there was no electricity and it would have been considerably more remote in the 1920s than it is now. But it was that very remoteness that attracted Gill. There was plenty of stone here for sculpting and the only visitors here were a doctor who came here on horseback once a week, and a postman.
Gill had an unconventional lifestyle that was more than a little controversial, and the privacy and seclusion of Capel-y-ffin suited him.
“I think what Eric Gill was trying to do was flee from modern industrial society. What attracted him to the valley was that there were sort of mountain walls on each side, he was completely enclosed. It was kind of like a fortress in which he could live his rather special kind of life.
For David Jones it was the opportunity a) of working with Eric Gill which he was doing at the time, and b) of actually coming to live in Wales. He was Welsh on his father’s side, Cockney on his mother’s side. He’d been in the London Welsh Battalion during the first world war, had this tremendous pull towards Wales, hadn’t had the opportunity to come and live here and this provided him with that opportunity.
What Capel-y-ffin offered above all was the chance to retreat from Urban life. Gill wanted to escape the 20th century. And later he looked back at the four years he spent here as a very creative time.
There’d been of course a religious presence in the valley since the beginning of the twelfth century. So I think Gill responded to a kind of mystical, sort of religious feel to the landscape. I think that was apparent when he arrived here.
For David Jones the landscape, and also the weather, the atmosphere, the changing light that we have today, the clouds – these gave him a kind of metaphor for the creative process, that everything was a bit sort of obscure and transformative.
He also responded very much to the difficulty of the life here. He’d been in the trenches in the first world war, and in a way living at the Monastery at Capel was rather like the trenches, the same hardships. They used to dine with greatcoats, by candlelight. The Gill women would weave clothing and the water supply for the monastery was the local stream that ran down the valley.”
So just living here would have been quite difficult in itself?
“Tremendously difficult, yes tremendously but tremendously exciting.
And for Gill the interesting thing was that it gave him the reason for living in the way in which he wanted to live. Not in a twentieth century way, no electric light, no advertising he wanted to live a simple quasi-medieval existence. And the remoteness of this place, the lack of electricity, gave him the opportunity to do that.”
And yet they all eventually left, they didn’t stay here?
“Yes they left, Capel was simply too far from London, from what he needed as a functioning artist.”
Next: Part 3 Capel-y-ffin, border and mystery
Visit www.more-to.org for more about this beautiful valley and enjoy a bit of tranquil timelessness for yourself.