Picture of William Gilpin

William Gilpin

places mentioned

Llandovery to Llandeilo

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FROM Trecastle we ascended a steep of three miles, which the country people call a pitch . It raised us to a level with the neighbouring hills, whose rugged summits interrupted our views into the vallies below.

From these heights we descended gently through a space of seven miles. As we approached the bottom, we saw at a distance the town of Llandovery, seated in the meadows below, at the conflux of several rivulets. Unadorned with wood, it made only a naked appearance; but light wreaths of smoke rising from it in several parts shewed that it was inhabited, while a ray of the setting sun singled it out among the objects of the vale, and gave it some little consequence in the landscape. As we descended into it, its importance increased. We were met by an old castle which had formerly defended it, though nothing remains except the ruins of the citadel.

Llandovery stands at the entrance of the vale of Towy, which, like other vales, receives its name from the river that winds through it; its delightful scenery opened before us as we left Llandovery in our way to Llandilo, which stands about twelve miles lower in the vale.

The vale of Towy is still less a scene of cultivation than that of Usk; the wood-land views are more frequent, and the whole more wild and simple. The scenery seems precisely of that kind with which a great master in landscape was formerly enamoured.

          —— Juvat arva videre
Non rastris hominum, non ulli obnoxia curae:
Rura mihi, & rigui placeant in vallibus amnes;
Flumina amem, sylvasque ——

In this vale the river Towy, though it frequently met us, and always kept near us, yet did not so constantly appear, and bear us such close company, as the Usk had done before. Some heights too we ascended, but such heights as were only proper stands, whence we viewed in greater perfection the beauties of the vale.

This is the scene which Dyer celebrated in his poem of Grongar-bill . Dyer was bred a painter; and had here a picturesque subject; but he does not give us so good a landscape as might have been expected. We have nowhere a complete formed distance; though it is the great idea suggested by such a vale as this: nowhere any touches of that beautiful obscurity which melts a variety of objects into one rich whole. Here and there we have a few accidental strokes which belong to distance,1 though seldom masterly. I call them accidental , because they are not employed in producing a landscape; nor do they in fact unite in any such idea; but are rather introductory to some moral sentiment, which, however good in itself, is perhaps here rather forced and misplaced.

Dinevawr-castle , which stands about a mile from Llandilo, and the scenery around it, were the next objects of our curiosity. This castle is seated on one of the sides of the vale of Towy, where it occupies a bold eminence richly adorned with wood. It was used not long ago as a mansion; but Mr. Rice, the proprietor of it, has built a handsome house in his park, about a mile from the castle, which, however, he still preserves as one of the greatest ornaments of his place.

This castle also is taken notice of by Dyer in his Grongar-hill, and seems intended as an object in a distance; but his distances, I observed, are all in confusion; and indeed it is not easy to separate them from his foregrounds.

The landscape he gives us, in which the castle of Dinevawr makes a part, is seen from the brow of a distant hill. The first object that meets his eye is a wood: it is just beneath him, and he easily distinguishes the several trees of which it is composed:

The gloomy pine, the poplar blue,
The yellow beech, the sable yew,
The slender fir that taper grows,
The sturdy oak with broad-spread boughs.

This is perfectly right; objects so near the eye should be distinctly marked. What next strikes him is a purple-grove ; that is, I presume, a grove which has gained its purple-hue from distance. This is, no doubt, very just colouring; though it is here, I think, introduced rather too early in the landscape. The blue and purple tints belong chiefly to the most removed objects, which seem not here to be intended. Thus far, however, I should not greatly cavil.

The next object he surveys is a level lawn, from which a hill crowned with a castle arises: this is meant, I am informed, for Dinevawr. Here his great want of keeping appears. The castle, instead of being marked with still fainter colours than the purple-grove , is touched with all the strength of a foreground; you see the very ivy creeping upon its walls. Transgressions of this kind are common in descriptive poetry. Innumerable instances might be collected from better poems than Grongar-hill. But I mention only the inaccuracies of an author, who, as a painter, should at least have observed the most obvious principles of his art.——With how much more picturesque truth does Milton introduce a distant castle:

Towers and battlements he sees,
Bosomed high in tufted trees.

Here we have all the indistinct colouring which obscures a distant object. We do not see the iron-grated window, the portcullis, the ditch, or the rampart. We can just distinguish a castle from a tree, and a tower from a battlement.

The scenery around Dinevawr-castle is very beautiful, consisting of a rich profusion of wood and lawn; but what particularly recommends it is, the great variety of ground. I know few places where a painter might study the inequalities of a surface with more advantage.

Nothing gives so just an idea of the beautiful swellings of ground as those of water, where it has sufficient room to undulate and expand. In ground which is composed of refractory materials, you are presented often with harsh lines, angular insertions, and disagreeable abruptnesses. In water, whether in gentle or in agitated motion, all is easy; all is softened into itself; and the hills and the vallies play into each other in a variety of beautiful forms. In agitated water abruptnesses indeed there are; but yet they are such as, in some part or other, unite properly with the surface around them, and are, on the whole, perfectly harmonious. Now if the ocean, in any of these swellings and agitations could be arrested and fixed, it would produce that pleasing variety which we admire in ground. Hence it is common to take images from water and apply them to land. We talk of a waving line, an undulating lawn, and a billowy surface; and give a stronger and more adequate idea by such imagery than plain language can easily present.

The woods which adorn these beautiful scenes about Dinevawr-castle, and which form themselves into many pleasing groups, consist chiefly of the finest oak; some of them of large Spanish chesnuts. There are a few, and but a few, young plantations.

The picturesque scenes which this place affords are numerous. Wherever the castle appears, and it appears almost everywhere, a landscape purely picturesque is generally presented. The ground is so beautifully disposed, that it is almost impossible to have bad composition. At the same time, the opposite side of the vale often appears as a background, and makes a pleasing distance.

Somewhere among the woody scenes of Dinevawr, Spenser hath conceived, with that splendor of imagination which brightens all his descriptions, the cave of Merlin to be seated. Whether there is any opening in the ground which favours the fiction, I find no account; the stanzas however are too much in place to be omitted.

To Maridunum, that is now, by change
Of name, Cayr-Merdin called, they took their way;
There the wise Merlin whilom wont, they say,
To make his wonne low underneath the ground,
In a deep delve, far from the view of day,
That of no living wight he mote be found.
When so he counselled, with his sprights encompast round.

And if thou ever happen that same way
To travel, go to see that dreadful place:
It is a hideous, hollow, cave-like bay
Under a rock, that lies a little space
From the swift Barry, tumbling down apace,
Emongst the woody hills of Dinevawr.
But dare thou not, I charge, in any case
To enter into that same baleful bower,
For fear the cruel fiends should thee unwares devour.

But standing high aloft, low lay thine ear;
And there such ghastly noise of iron chains,
And brazen caudrons thou shalt rombling hear,
Which thousand sprights with long enduring pains
Do toss, that it will stun thy feeble brains.
And oftentimes great groans, and grievous stounds,
When too huge toil, and labour them constrains.
And oftentimes loud strokes, and ringing sounds
From under that deep rock most horribly rebounds.2

As we returned from Dinevawr-castle, into the road, a noble scene opened before us. It is a distant view of a grand circular part of the vale of Towy, (circular at least in appearance,) surrounded by hills, one behind another; and forming a vast amphitheatre. Through this expanse (which is rich to profusion with all the objects of cultivation, melted together into one mass by distance) the Towy winds in various meanders. The eye cannot trace the whole serpentine course of the river; but sees it here and there in glittering spots, which gives the imagination a pleasing employment in making out the whole. The nearest hills partake of the richness of the vale; the distant hills which rise gently above the others, seem barren.

1 As where he describes the beautiful form which removed cultivation takes:

How close and small the hedges lie!
What streaks of meadow cross the eye!

Or a distant spire seen by sun-set;
Rising from the woods the spire
Seems from far, ascending fire.

Or the aerial view of a distant hill:
—— yon summits soft and fair
Clad in colours of the air;
Which to those, who journey near,
Barren, brown, and rough appear.

2 Book III. Cant. 3.

William Gilpin, Observations of the River Wye, and several parts of South Wales (London: Cadell Junior and W. Davies, 1800) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2012.

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