unravelling Bryn yr Ysbyty

Like Y Glonc, Bryn yr Ysbyty provides something of a toponymic puzzle in this upland part of Montgomeryshire. However, unlike Y Glonc, at least Bryn yr Ysbyty finds an easy translation in modern Welsh. Assuming there has been no corruption to the place name it translates to the English hill of the hospital.1 So, the puzzle in this case is where is the hospital? A previous post started to explore this question but leaves much left unsaid. What would farmer Richard Jenkins and his family have known of this hill (then bare of forestry) as they passed it on their way to church or market?2

Two and a half miles south-west of Bryn yr Ysbyty is the village of Carno, famed for its battles around the end of the first millenium and as a staging point on the Roman Road from Caersws to Pennal at the head of the Dovey estuary. In the twelfth century the religious houses began to expand their power and gain land throughout England and Wales as local chieftans shared their Crusade gains with the church. And so it was that small portions of land by the river in Carno were granted to the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem and the earthwork (Caer Noddfa) in the centre of the village has been associated with them (although it seems of Roman origin).

These Knights Hospitallers had their origins in the Crusades “for the protection and entertainment of pilgrims in and to the Holy Land” as Mrs. Davies puts it.3 Back in Britain this duty was extended to the protection of travellers more generally and this point on the road was seen as a suitable one in this rough landscape. The Mother House for the land at Carno was at Halston in the Marches and at the dissoultion of the Monastries in the 1530s the land passed initially to Alan Horde.

Where once battles were fought over land by the seventeenth century the fight had moved to the legal system. From a dispute between Sir Richard Price Knt. (Carno) and Sir Roger Owen Knt. (Arwystli) around the end of the 1600s disagreement would continue for the next two hundred years over the exact line of boundaries (a scenario played out across the kingdom). Much attention is paid to the runes of the antique toponyms especially as the distribution of tithes relies heavily on the accuracy of land production. Much of the tithe would go to the church but in Carno two townships seemed to retain an echo of a previous ownership: “In the townships of Derwlwyn and Trawscoed, the great Tithes belong to the Owners and Proprietors of the land”—Davies ascribes this comment from an 1812 Terrier to the fact that these are the former lands of the Hospitallers.4

However, the Hosptallers were not the only religious order granted land around Carno—to the north side of the village the Cistercians held land and Davies outlines the extent of this land up to Talerddig (including the farm of Cefn Brith which lies only three-quarters of a mile to the north west of Carneddau).5 Here Davies also exposes some of the sentiment that went in to the bequeathal of lands to the church as she quotes from the Charter of Gwenwynwyn:

I Wennunwen the son of Owen of Keveyllawc under the influence of piety for the salvation of my soul and of my father and mother and my ancestors and siccessors have given and granted and by this my present charter have conferred […] in free and quiet and pure eleemosinage and perpetual possession freely and quietly well and peaceably without any sort of reclamation and exaction and secular custom the whole land which is called Havot Oweyn […]

After the Dissolution this land found its way to the Purcell family, and remained more or less in that line until it was sold by Sir W. Williams-Wynn Bart. in the late 1800s. This is an side but hopefully illustrates the complexity and passion involved in these minor boundaries. Outside of the great manors and their paled Parks the upland ‘wastes’ around Carneddau would have been of lesser importance. But as land ownership became more precise and enclosing of land became the vogue the details assumed greater importance. Where today we may rely on a GPS plot of a boundary line previously lines were marked across the ‘wastes’ by reference to obscure topographical features or, where required, the setting up of boundary markers.

So why the hill of the hospital up here on the edge of the ‘wastes’? Despite Davies’ observations about the land of the Cistercians incorporating Cefn Brith it does seem that (according to the 1851 and 1861 censuses) the area of land around Carneddau (and one can assume the neighbouring hill) was tied to the Trowscoed township. Davies has assigned this township to the erstwhile land of the Hospitallers. She also notes that the place name Croesdy (1.25 miles NW of Carneddau) may reference a former boundary cross for the Hospitaller’s land as possibly did the long stone of Garreg-hir.6 So, maybe this hill was the hill of the Hospitallers (as they owned it) or maybe its prominence indicated a proximity to the hospital itself in the vally nearby especially if you were travelling from Manafon in the east (and so, away from the main valley road) and in need of a safe place to stay.

1. Although known for Anglicising ‘awkward’ non-English place-names the Ordnance Survey has remained relatively consistent with the labelling of this hill since the last quarter of the nineteenth century. See: “OS Map name 028/SW,” in Map of Montgomeryshire (Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1885-1896), accessed March 4, 2016, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/os-1-to-10560/montgomeryshire/028/sw
2. Richard Jenkins and his family occupied Carneddau at the time of the 1881 census and so the first series of the Ordnance Survey.
3. Mrs Davies, “The History of the Parish of Carno,” Collections, historical & archaeological relating to Montgomeryshire, 33 (1904): 106-7.
4. ibid, 127 and 129.
5. ibid, 134-135.
6. ibid, 137-138.

mounting intension

BenLuiThey ask after the intentionality of the mountain; if a mountain can have intention.

Intention. pa. ppl. stem of L. intendere extend, direct, intend, promote, F. in- In- (into, in, within; on, upon; towards, against) + tendere stretch.

The simplicity of the question ignores the complexity of the mountain. In a sense a mountain is a human construct. Pictured here is Ben Lui in the Scottish Highlands. Or Beinn Laoigh. Or the hill of the calf. Appellation names, identifies and separates for human minds but yet, already the mountain moves; eludes. The Picturesque frame of the photograph isolates Ben Lui (from Glen Cononish) from its wider surrounding landscape. Although a flat backdrop the mountain has a bulk. On the Ordnance Surveys maps the appellative is most often pasted in close to the mountain’s summit. Many a Munro-bagger may concur that it is all about the summit yet they would equally agree that there is much mountain to climb before the all important pile of stones or trig point is reached.

I run west from Tyndrum Lower Station and as I round the corner through the forest I first glimpse Ben Lui at the head of Glen Cononish. Downhill to the main track up the glen and the mountain absorbs attention, its bulk almost incomprehensible. The eau de nil barns of Cononish farm punctuate the middle distance. The two-mile run along the track sees the mountain apparently pulling itself into a steeper pitch with each approaching step. By the time I reach the Allt an Rund the mountain almost occupies my whole view. But am I on the mountain yet? Where does the mountain start? The mountain certainly (pre)occupies me.

The flora and fauna of the mountain is surely part of the mountain and the air that tickles its surface?

From here we are moving towards Nan Shepherd’s “total mountain”.

Have I become part of the mountain?

[notes unfinished]

Assembling Here

ArchExcSitting here at my desk in the English West Midlands I contemplate a small patch of upland Montgomeryshire. This small piece of Wales that my attention dwells in is toponymically identified as ‘Y Glonc’ – assuming, that is, that the Ordnance Survey cartographers have dropped those six letters and their space in the right place on the 1:50,000 scale Landranger 136. [1]

In the act of naming arguably this patch of land has been given some physical limitations and although these limits may be uncertain we can certainly limit the area that was named such to a few dozen acres at most. [2] It is this limitlessness or limit-haziness that makes the question of place (for that is what we are dealing isn’t it?) particularly interesting and relevant to my project. Place has permeability even if viewed in this strictly physical ‘real’ sense – there is no black/white boundary line just a hazy blurring into the neighbouring toponyms of Esgair Cwmowen and Garreg-hir.

We name for power (frequently in the form of ownership) and this power (and ownership) may be just the power of recollection – ‘do you remember that lovely holiday we had in X?’, and so on. Or, the defining might be part of a legal process that certainly will have a red line drawn on a plan but of course then we argue how far above and how deep below does this ownership penetrate. Despite these variations, somehow the naming becomes a gathering and does define a place even though there are overlaps but it defines it for a particular audience. Of course, the naming might be completely wrong to local people as an outside agency comes in and utilises a micro toponym to denote a vast area or perhaps simply mis-spells the toponym.

The naming slips. The placement of place names on OS maps frequently varies between scales and editions and the words literally seem to slip across the charted landscape. This slipping increases perhaps when the language of the place name is not English and the precise definition of the toponym is lost; there is no obvious feature to append the name to and so it slides between cwm and mynydd. As with so many of these discussions the toponyms become more about the namer than the named. What did they see as prominent in the landscape to make it all a grey heap? What stake did they have to name it after themselves particularly where geological feature and human name become combined – a marriage between species, between man and land.

What I want to say is that there is so much more here at stake than an area outlined on a map or framed by a picture. Even in the physically limiting definitions of a place there is uncertainty that is brought to landscape an act of assembling that aggregates different features for different parties. No longer do we go to the fixed place to picture it. Instead a place grows durationally out of its landscape like a more-than-human, multi-stranded version of Bergson’s incomplete elastic being teased out by so many different ‘hands’. [3][4]

I will have to continue this another day as I’ve missed out a lot of what I set out to discuss


[1] For those wishing to look more closely locate grid-reference SO 000 990 on the OS Landranger 136. Ordnance Survey. Landranger Map 136 – Newtown & Llanidloes / Y Drenewydd a Llanidloes. Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 2002.

[2] On the 1:25,000 scale OS mapping ‘Y Glonc’ is also applied to the ruined(?) farm that sits on the SE side of the ridge. I have yet to establish the etymology of the name Y Glonc but the Ordnance Survey have been using it since the late-1800s and it could be that the name of the land derives from the farm or vice versa.

[3] For a full explanation of the ‘more-than-human world’ see: Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. 13-15.

[4] Bergson, Henri. An Introduction to Metaphysics. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912. 13-15.

Reflecting (ticks)

Well, three Scottish walks in a variety of weathers and in stunning terrain. And in Munroist’s parlance – eight ticks (a reasonable haul). I’ve summed up the bare bones of the walks in the last three posts but what more? I could have mentioned the accompanying soundtrack of rutting season stags barking invisibly from the glens below or the sweet, cool taste of mountain bilberries. Or maybe mused on the experience of numbed feet from a river crossing (River Orchy twice).

So often walking in Scotland is an exercise in looking at the ground a few feet in front of you. It is the pauses to recover breath when the landscape opens up in a traditional way. In those stretches of looking down often you are consumed by the mundane (and very occasionally the profound) you also become absorbed by the smaller scales – the mountain flora, the breadth of colouration in the geology. Walking in the landscape oddly pushes you into yourself a lot of the time. But this isn’t a cut-off sort of pushing in; the exertion is a direct result of the roll and pitch of the terrain. It’s a sort of herniation where the walker becomes closer to the gradient – the landscape pushing further into the body as the effort increases.

Is it too early to mention the ‘f’ word? Maybe I’m wrong anyway, but it seems to me that there is some folding going on here. Certainly a topographic inhalation. The whole time that you are walking the body and landscape are working in unison (not always well, but in unison nevertheless). Lifted along an airy ridge in good weather; buffeted across a summit plateau with limited visibility; that nose to grass experience of a near vertical mountain side; the odd-legged descent of steep grassy slopes after rain; and so on.

'Topology of the Fold' from Deleuze, Gilles. 'Foucault' (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006) 120.

‘Topology of the Fold’ from Deleuze, Gilles. ‘Foucault’ (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006) 120.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Despite the GORE-TEX® layers (other waterproof fabrics are available) we are part of the landscape. We make marks on the landscape; the landscape makes its marks on us. The difference perhaps is that we feel we must record (write) this marking. This recording gives us context (co-ordinates perhaps) that we can work from. Triangulating our way onwards to wherever it is we are going. The GPS is consulted, the summit reached. The mountains and the satellites are in agreement and we can rest happy for a while (or scuttle back to just below the col where it is less windy).

It’s funny, I’ve usually approached my mountain walking in a completely different manner to lowland walks. I don’t consult the history books to uncover the narratives of the places that I’m bound for. It doesn’t matter, it’s just different – a more visceral experience. Pared down. Walking unplugged. We all know that even in the ‘wilds’ of the Scottish Highlands ‘man’ has made ‘his’ mark … and pissed off again because he can’t stand the midges or more realistically was forcibly removed during the Fuadach nan Gàidheal to make way for sheep.

Ill fa’ the sheep, a greyfaced nation
That swept our hills with desolation.

Duncan Ban Macintyre: Song of the Foxes

The Scottish Highlands have (more than) their fair share of ruined settlements and agricultural enclosures. I’ve just found a site run by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) where visitors can search maps of Scotland for recorded sites of historical interest. It provides for me a window into the human lives of the glens and a window into the toponyms (more marking and recording). ‘Scotland’s Places’ is also an invaluable source of the riches that the Gaelic language can hide from Sassenachs.

Near the start of Walk Four just as you’ve completed the crossing of the River Orchy I find there is a place marked on OS maps called Airigh nan Cioch. It’s the site of a long abandoned shieling hut and enclosure. The name means the ‘shieling of the paps’ in English or more simply the ‘shieling of the breasts’ (or ‘nipples’) and probably refers to the two mountains that form the site’s backdrop (Ben Lui and Beinn a’ Chleibh). Two mountains in Scotland wouldn’t have been an unusual site for sure but at least this shieling was differentiated from the ‘shieling of the rough corrie’ just up the valley for instance.

The Airigh nan Cioch now sits under the Tyndrum – Dalmally railway line but the nipples are still there and the one I walked up is called the ‘hill of the creel’ (or ‘chest’). Why the creel? Who knows, but maybe the family that lived at the airigh thought that the mountain on the right looked like an upturned creel. Or maybe it’s just a mis-translation. Certainly the early Ordnance Survey teams often massacred the Highland toponyms; smoothing out their perceived roughness and making them palatable for English tongues.