Sarn Elenydd / Monks Trod

We're currently working on a new stillfilm tracing the journey between two Cistercian monasteries.
The Monks Trod is the name given to the 25 mile medieval route which travels over the Cambrian Mountains between two Cistercian monasteries, Ystrad Fflur (Strata Florida and Abaty Cwmhir (Abbey Cwmhir) both founded at the end of the 12th-century as daughter monasteries of Whitland in Pembrokeshre.

Ystrad Fflur was originally founded in 1164, before bing moved a couple of miles to its present site in 1184 some 8 miles north of Tregaron. Abaty Cwmhir, 4 miles east of Rhayader, was founded in 1176. Both sites were typical Cistercian locations: in remote valleys with potential for both spiritual and agricultural productivity. However both monasteries exceeded both of these characters, and developed into sites of significant cultural and political focus. Rhys ap Gruffydd (Lord Rhys) and Llewelyn Fawr (Llewelyn the Great) were significant players in the strategic politics of the monasteries and their granges of productivity and influence. These qualities are seen today amongst the atmospheric, powerful ruins: at Ystrad Fflur, the site of the burial of Welsh princes can still be seen, and under the ancient yew tree, is the purported burial site of the powerful medieval poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. The ambition of Abaty Cwmhir can be witnessed today – the 78 metre nave would have been 6 metres longer than the nave in Westminster Abbey; and here is the purported burial site of Prince Llewellyn (1281?)

The Monks Trod provided a significant safe route between the two monasteries: away from the possibilities of robbers in the valleys; a cut and fill path, built with medieval capabilities of horse riders in mind. Drovers were also to use this route.
The 24 mile journey between the two monasteries is now recognised as one of the best-preserved medieval roads in Britain (A. Fleming –Landscapes Vol. 10 number 1 Spring 2009). Less than 10% of the original route now has a tarmac surface.
Contemporary journey – from 900 years ago
The narrative of this stillffilm will be the journey from Abaty Cwmhir at dawn to Ystrad Fflur a dusk.
Leaving Abaty Cwmhir in the east, the journey leaves the long valley of Cwmhir, and heads towards the Marteg valley where the 15th-century longhouse at Gilfach with its rich natural sounds and images provides a dramatic contrast to the textures in the landscape encountered after crossing the river Wye. Still youthful after leaving its source on Pumlumon, 18? miles upstream the crossing of theRiver Wye takes the Trod to the heart of the Eleyndd. This is the wild catchment of the river Elan. The next 9 miles of the journey is one of remarkable horizons – where blanket bog and sky meet in an ethereal wilderness. But also one which is farmed today by descendents of those who have known the landscape for generations. One where Welsh and English language meet. One where the sound of the wind, and larks, lakes and water dominate. And one which having crossed the Claerwen river, there are glimpses of the sea from above the Teifi pools. The descent down Nant Egnant, on its way to join the River Tiefi provides a rich contrast to the previous wilderness.
Reaching Ystrad Flur at the end of the day, the journey ends with the dramatic Norman arch of the monastery framing the night sky. It is a journey through a landscape which has witnessed dramas of welsh history, and one which today deserves recognition for its increasing relevance to today’s society.