We took the long way to Cardiff, and stopped at the major attractions on the way down the length of Wales: Hereford Cathedral and Tintern Abbey.
No! you cry. Not more churches, please! Relax. There’s more to it than that, I promise. Hereford Cathedral is home to the Mappa Mundi, the largest medieval map in existence. The map is freaking huge, and it looks its age (late 13th century). First I got to see modern reconstructions of the map, which are brighter and easier to see, then I went to the dark room where the map itself hung, which was pretty impressive.
A circular map with Jerusalem at the center (thanks to Christianity’s influence on the Middle Ages) and the United Kingdom at the very edge of the known world, the Mappa Mundi contained ordinary map-like attributes like rivers and towns (in dubious geographic locations), with the added bonus of magical creatures (phoenixes, basilisks, and satyrs), mythological treats (a labyrinth on Crete), religious symbols (Noah’s ark), and outlandish people (with eyes on their stomachs or a foot on their heads for shade). Also at Hereford Cathedral was the only chained library in England outside of Oxford, which was just awesome. No pictures allowed for any of these things though, so you get to look at two more cathedral pictures. :)
A wholly unexpected bonus of our “long” (5 hours with one stop or longer with our detours) drive was passing through the Forest of Dean on the Welsh-English border. Any Harry Potter fans out there will appreciate the level of my excitement as I looked out the window at the forest where Hermione went camping with her parents and Harry followed the silver doe and Ron… I digress. (But luckily this was only the start of the nerdy sightseeing on this trip!)
Tintern Abbey: Where do I begin? 1131, the year of its founding as a Cistercian abbey? The 13th century, when the immense abbey we see today was rebuilt? 1536, when King Henry VIII’s forces came to brutally dissolve the abbey along with all other Catholic institutions? Or 2011, when I first saw pictures of the ruins on Pinterest and decided I had to see it?
Wherever you start, there’s no question this ruined Welsh abbey in the heart of the Wye Valley is worth a visit, just to look up in awe at the height and scope of it all.
Ruined, weathered, but resting with more grace than it could have held in its original incarnation, Tintern Abbey rises out of the emerald grass with a sprawling, soaring immensity.