I’ve been hearing good things about the physic garden at Cowbridge for some time but have never visited, so when I heard that there was a food fair there, I just had to make the trip over the Severn Bridge to the Vale of Glamorgan.
Cowbridge Food Festival, a two day event – Sunday 27th/ Monday 28th May (I went on Sunday) – takes place in nine locations within the ancient town. They are all quite close together and easy to walk to. Wishing to avoid the traffic in Bristol (I have to drive through the city to get to the Severn Bridge), I set off early and arrived in the gorgeous market town shortly after the festival opened. This gave me plenty of time to explore before the crowds arrived – and arrive they certainly did, this is a very popular event.
At only £5 admission (or £9 for the weekend), Cowbridge food festival is extremely good value.
Commencing in the main Food and Drink Exhibitors site – so much choice, so many enticing samples to taste! – I then made my way to the Forgotten Foods area to hear The History Chefs share some historical recipes. Ceri was brilliant! Clearly deeply knowledgeable, she was able to entertain and inspire both children and adults in the audience – and we got samples of the food to taste: a Roman date-based sweet and Medieval gingerbread.
Afterwards, I explored the physic garden. It is small, beautiful and fascinating. Originally part of Old Hall Gardens created in the C18 by the Edmondes family, it was neglected for a long time before being rescued by volunteers in 2004. They have redesigned it according to this plan:
Each area focused one plants for a particular part of the body, for example the liver, or a condition, eg: infectious diseases. With fruit trees, a bed filled with plants for dyeing and surrounded by gorgeous buildings, this physic garden is well worth a visit.
I unexpectedly met some old friends, Phil and Lauren. Last time I saw them, they were busy making films of different permaculture projects, including this one of Homeacres and Charles. Now they are living the dream and have bought some land in Wales, to create their own growing project. As plans develop, they are selling homemade organic fermented foods, very delicious.
From the stall next door, I bought the first part of my lunch from Mr Laverman: “Welsh-fusion street food” made with laverbread, a kind of seaweed – fantastic. I couldn’t resist gin and tonic tempura from The Bearded Taco, too. Yum.
My son Ruairi (pictured here making coffee at Roth Bar and Grill, where I have the kitchen garden) is a fantastic barista and also loves cycling. I thought of him when I met these guys with a barista bicycle – combining two of his enthusiasms!
Full of delicious food and stimulated by the diverse range of stalls and experiences at the festival, it was time to leave Cowbridge and head to a nearby National Trust property, Dyffryn Gardens. Postcode entered into my phone map app, I set off down stunning winding Welsh lanes, through exquisite villages. My phone confidently declared that I had arrived at my destination in the middle of nowhere! There wasn’t a house to be seen. I checked the postcode was correct; it was. Trying to find my way again, I came across this extraordinary ancient monument.
Well worth getting lost to find oneself here!
Yn wyneb haul, llygad goleuni
Roughly translated as “Facing the sun and in the eye on the light” or “The house of the rising sun”, it was constructed 6000 years ago as a house for the dead. Originally 12m wide and 30m long, this is all that remains.
Such is a magical place! Standing within, under the weighty capstone, one can look through the spy hole in the rock at the back upon the countryside beyond. I wonder what the Neolithic Welsh people to whom this must have had deep importance saw through this.
The local name is gwal-y-filiast (Kennel of the greyhound bitch), relating (it is thought) to an Arthurian legend, the story of Culhwch and Olwen.
Tradition has it that if you whisper wishes into the tomb on Hallowe’en they will come true! And that the capstone spins round three times on Midsummer’s Eve, then the stones go down to the river to wash…..
The magic of this beautiful place had a beneficial effect on my phone app, as a second attempt to find Dyffryn proved successful. It is very impressive!
The gardens are fantastic. Of course I was especially interested to see the kitchen gardens! Plans of the planting schemes for the year are helpfully written on blackboards in the gardens. It is a huge space, spread over two walled gardens with extensive outbuildings. I was especially interested to see the reconstruction of a 1918 allotment garden, complete with shed. I met one of the gardeners there and had an interesting chat about the work there.
The plan of the main kitchen garden:
Inside the glasshouses, there is a tropical paradise, a cactus filled desert and a room full of pelargoniums.
The Bothys were open to visitors. I have serious bothy fantasies now! Look at the stacks of pots, imagine writing at that desk!
It was a fascinating visit. I plan to go back to Dyffryn later in the summer to explore the expansive gardens some more and see how the allotment garden is progressing.