Wednesday Wander – Plas Newydd, Llangollen

This week I’m wandering to a rather wonderful place tucked away on the hillside above Llangollen. This is Plas Newydd, once home to the famous ‘Ladies of Llangollen.’

The two ladies in question were Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, who came from Ireland in 1778 to live in Llangollen, North Wales. Their story is a fascinating one. Both born to noble families, they met at school in 1768 when Sarah was 13 and Eleanor 29. Sarah was an orphan and ward of Sir William and Lady Fownes, while Eleanor came from the Ormonde family and lived at Kilkenny Castle. Lady Fownes was friends with Eleanor’s mother, and Eleanor was asked to keep an eye on Sarah while she was at school. The two became close friends, corresponding for several years until, both unhappy in their home lives, they decided to run away together. Eleanor was under pressure to enter a convent, while Sarah was enduring the unwelcome attentions of Sir William, who had decided she would make a perfect second wife (even though his first wife was still alive!).

The two women first attempted to escape in March 1778. Dressed in men’s clothing and armed with a pistol, they made it as far as Waterford before being apprehended and brought back to their families. Despite further pressure, Eleanor managed to escape again, running to Sarah. Faced with such devotion, their families finally relented and they were allowed to leave Ireland in May 1778 to start a new life together.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Manfred Heyde (own work)

They moved into Pen Y Maes cottage, as it was known then, in 1780, renaming it Plas Newydd (welsh for New Hall). They extended and renovated the cottage, including the addition of stained glass windows and extraordinary wood carvings on the interior and exterior of the building, many of which were salvaged from old churches and furniture. You aren’t allowed to take photographs of the interior, but I did manage to find this image of one of the staircases, just to give you an idea of what it looks like inside. The details around the exterior doors are also extraordinary, and it must have been a magical place to live. The Ladies lived there for almost fifty years, in what they called ‘a life of sweet and delicious retirement’, until Eleanor passed away in 1829, Sarah dying just two years later.

During their lifetime the ladies were figures of curiosity, well-regarded and attracting many famous visitors, including Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, William Wordsworth (who composed a poem while staying with them) and Madame de Genlis. Their relationship was seen to embody romantic friendship, a high ideal much sought after at the time. The true nature of their relationship is still unclear – they shared a bedroom, sleeping together in the same bed, and referred to each other as ‘Beloved’. They also dressed in men’s clothing and powdered their hair, as can be seen in the few portraits that survive.

Whether The Ladies’ relationship was simply one of platonic love, or something more, doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that they were both strong enough to live their lives outside the conventions of the time – yes, they both came from privilege, but this was still a time when women were reduced to ‘wife of’ once they were married, no longer allowed to hold either property or their names. I love the story of the Ladies because it’s a story of love, of friendship, and the desire to live life as they pleased. The house in its in green gardens, ruined castle on the hill beyond, stands as a beautiful memorial to life, to the Ladies, and to love.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Out For A Walk

img_1249Today I decided to walk to work. It’s a reasonably long walk, about forty minutes, but the morning was bright and I had the time. It’s a nice walk, along a main residential road, past fields and under a railway bridge, along a reservoir and, finally, crossing a sylvan canal basin and heading up past what is reputed to be the site of a king’s hunting lodge. Nothing remains now except a fragment of red brick wall with a Tudor rose on it, incorporated into the more modern (but still a couple of centuries old) house now on the site.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a really long walk. And today I realised how much I’d missed it. I still do the school walks each morning and afternoon, but my days being what they are at the moment I don’t usually have the time to wander further. However, today’s walk made me determined to find the time.

Apart from the exercise, I find walking to be a wonderful time to think. I’ve worked out countless plot points, untangled knotty problems and generally put my life into some sort of order. For some reason it works for me. However, I do need a destination – I can’t just walk aimlessly.

Apparently Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the lyrics to his wildly popular Hamilton while on his afternoon walks, while William Blake, Wordsworth and JK Rowling are just a few of the many other writers who found inspiration while out for a wander. Recent studies have found that, when we walk, our brain activity increases, as does connectivity between important brain circuits, boosting our mood.

Today I managed to sort out some time management stuff, as well as reconcile a couple of character threads in my current WIP. I also got some exercise and fresh air, arriving at work on time. I realise I’m fortunate to be able to walk to work – however, even when I had to take public transport to previous jobs I always managed to fit in a walk of some kind, whether it was by getting off several stops early or heading out during my lunch break.

So it was nice to rediscover the joy of walking today, and to feel the familiar story telling wheels begin to turn once more in my mind. Looking forward to seeing where the walk takes me next week…

‘Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.’  Henry David Thoreau


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Wednesday Wander – Tintern Abbey, Wales

tintern-abbey-3These lovely gothic ruins are all that remains of Tintern Abbey, a Cistercian monastery founded on May 9, 1131, by Walter De Clare, then lord of Chepstow.

Situated in a picturesque river valley on the border between England and Wales, the Abbey flourished for four centuries, spawning two daughter Abbeys in Gloucestershire and Ireland. Then, on September 3, 1536, the land, buildings and contents were surrendered to King Henry VIII, under his dissolution of the monasteries.

tintern-abbey-1After the dissolution the Abbey fell into disrepair, the lead from its roof removed and sold, workers from the nearby wire works living in the ruins. Then, in the late 18th century, a fashion for visiting the ‘wilds’ came into being, and Tintern Abbey, with its romantic atmosphere and pretty setting, became a popular tourist destination.

The Abbey ruins inspired artists and poets including Wordsworth, Tennyson, Gainsborough and Turner. In 1967, the poet Allen Ginsberg took acid there, which seems a fairly random thing to do – he ended up writing ‘Wales Visitation’ as a result of his experience.

tintern-abbey-2From adoration to inspiration, the Abbey has had quite a journey over the centuries. I visited many years ago and remember it being quite wild and atmospheric, the land rising around it. Apparently now there is a gift shop, as is often the way, but I imagine it has been done in such a fashion as to not disturb the Gothic beauty of the old stones. I might have to go back for another look…

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.