Cowbridge garden



Speaking English at school was probably a good plan in the long run but native language does mark a difference between who I am now and who I was when I stopped speaking Welsh as a child.   There was a Welsh speaking school near Cowbridge, which was too far for me to travel to as a youngster but it felt exotic to know a different language could be spoken in school.

Visiting Cowbridge always unpeels a few mysteries for me, it is one of Wales’ oldest walled towns and is named after the Roman fort it stands on called ‘Bovium’ or cow-place.  The Welsh name for the town is Y Bont-faen or stone bridge.  Walking down Church Street leads to a high stone wall and behind this is the Cowbridge Physic Garden.  A central plot of land which once lead off to separate houses during medieval times is now today’s Physic Garden.  Ironically the last purpose of the garden was to feed the local school in 1940s when young lads would be asked to ‘dig for victory’, on this occasion the cabbage patch was the place where victory was achieved.

The Woad grown here was so in demand in the 1200’s it was rationed.  Woad dyes fabric blue but was replaced by the richer colour of the Indigo plant (native to Asia) as soon as shipping links between Europe and India were established.

This market town, which is a few miles West of Cardiff, has intriguing medieval origins that are still evident today.  The streets are still arranged in ‘burgage plots’ or rows typical of a Saxon borough layout which made it easier for the King to take payments for land rental.  In the gardens were toilets, rubbish heaps, pigsties, stables, and chicken runs.  The style of the garden was similar to monastic horticulture and was maintained by the community.  The space was divided into 10 strips. There were houses or thatched cottages at the street end of each strip, while the rest formed a long garden for each dwelling.

The site is relatively small, just ½ acre  but is laid out in a traditional medieval pattern and contains  a variety of  species native to the UK that would have been grown for their medicinal uses.  The kidney bed that remains here today contains mint, borage, parsley, wild strawberry and wild carrot all thought to benefit the kidney the area of energy in Chinese medicine.

Looking at the labels on the plants I realise that everything has more than one name.  Borage is also known as star flower because of the bright blue star shaped flowers to attract bees.  It has been grown in the UK since at least 1200.  “Borage” is derived from barrach, a Celtic word meaning Man of Courage.  Another possible origin is the Italian borra or French bourra meaning rough hair or wool, which describes the hairy covering of the plant.

The stories behind seemingly ordinary plants fascinate.  Liquorice (latin – Glycyrrhiza, translates into the Welsh – glabra Llaethwyg) has a chequered history.  In 1305 Edward I taxed liquorice imports to pay for the repair of London Bridge. The Dominican friars introduced it to Britain and today it is still made into Pontefract cakes.

Before 1782 all supplies of rhubarb were controlled by the Chinese and Russians until Europeans managed to get samples of the crop we enjoy today.  The plant is taken to improve digestion.


A nearby living history museum shows how medieval plants were used in a practical manner.  Saint Fagans Museum makes plants come alive, with actors living the life of the people who would lived in a self sufficient community.

There is a big gap between how I am today compared with how I was when I lived near here as a child but trailing around a garden brings it back instantly.  I almost trip over myself walking home on the same paving stones.  I remember images from the museum inspiring me as to what life would be like when I grow up.  One fanciful image shows Greek scholars wearing garlands of rosemary to aid their memory during examinations.
It strikes me that because something can be called by different names, this changes our perception of it.  The ‘adult ‘ me uses different (longer) words to say the same things as the ‘child’ me and this paints a different picture.

On the lawn a pergola is surrounded by pleached apple trees, where trees are pruned to merge with the nearby tree to form a hedge.  The Latin inscription on the sundial reads’ Vis medicatrix Naturae’ translating as ‘The healing power of nature’.  Thankfully some things never change.



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57 thoughts on “Cowbridge garden

  1. I had no idea that you were a native Welsh speaker, Lita – how fascinating! I did my first two weeks of teaching practice at Taliesin Primary School – all lessons were in both Welsh and English. I loved it! I never learnt more than the odd phrase myself, but I loved listening to people speaking Welsh. xxx


    • I am glad you like the sound of the language. Taliesin is in such a gorgeous area!! Lucky you. I think the South of Wales is perhaps not the prettiest but the Gower is stunning of course. It’s great that now around Cardiff half of the people on the street will be chatting in Welsh! I was checking out one of your theatre productions in an older post on your site. Looks great! xx


    • That is sadly so true!! Just 30 miles away from here the council knocked down a wall with a historic mural on which was tragic really.

      I just caught up with your colour photography on your blog. The skies look phenomenal. Beautiful colours.

      Wishing you a super weekend.


  2. Lovely post. My husband went to Cowbridge Comprehensive. It’s lovely round there. We live in Wiltshire but pop back over the bridge every so often to visit the in laws.


    • Wow! I love how WordPress can be a small world!. It is so pretty and I’m so glad it has stayed that way. I hadn’t been back for years so I’m thrilled to catch up.

      Thank you heartily for the pointers on your blog about good geneaology sites. I have an ongoing project of looking at Celtic roots in Ireland so this has been handy!


      • 🙂 you’re welcome! You might also want to try the roots Ireland or Irish roots website (can’t remember which is it called off the top of my head!) but it has parish records and civil registration transcriptions for many counties.


    • Thank you so much. Welsh is thankfully on the rise (in Wales at least, which I guess makes sense!)

      We had a horrendous electric storm last night but today it’s almost mediterranean sunshine beaming down. It does highlight the weeds that need pulling but hey, they can wait!

      Sending you hearty good wishes for a super sunny weekend!


  3. This is a really interesting take on the challenge. The town sounds lovely. I once took this course on the Arthurian legend and we started with the old Welsh Mabinogion tales. Kind of hooked me on the place ever since. I need to go to Wales.


    • Cowbridge is friendly and one of the oldest walled towns in Wales. I think you would enjoy it. I love the Mabinogion too, I saw it done on stage once and that was epic!

      I had the best time checking out some of your days out horse riding. Your blog is so beautiful. The photographs, especially of Molti Pacing are dramatic. So thrilled you share these.


    • Hearty thanks! It’s great to find an excuse too to be outdoors and discover more!

      I love the surprise in your recent photo ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’. I didn’t spot it first of all. Great to catch up on some of your beautiful poems today. Enjoy your weekend.


  4. Such a great read, I absolutely love your writing style. Draws me in to dream about actually being there. My daughter has been doing our genealogy and I just recently discovered I have Irish blood. I knew my grandmother was welch. How exciting to read the details of where my ancestors may have walked. Thank you for sharing. Your article persuades my imagination to dream of a day I will come there and visit.
    Again, thanks for your articulate description of such a historical land.
    Great read!


    • Hey Dawna we have shared Celtic origins. Genealogy fascinates me. I’m sure your daughter is making some exciting discoveries. The BBC have a TV show called ‘Who do you think you are’ where celebrities look up their ancestors and until they dig up something amazing. It’s so empowering to find out our past (IMO!!).

      I have been loving your recent photos capturing amazing contrasts between vivid shadows and also the images celebrating LGBT, double rainbows all the way! Have a great weekend.


  5. Does it really seem like collision …? People who are born in [X] and live in [Y] are very brave, it’s true … How many fascinating things you have told us – thank you, Lita !!! 🙂


    • Hm I think you have a sense of yourself in the places you visited as a younger person with all the memories you had there. So the two people meet in that moment. I love how childhood is so vivid 😉

      I was reading your post on Pension Sums, and it is terrifying!! Also to read the many comments from around the world explaining how it is the same with them! Eek. Better start switching the lights off early I think.

      Have a great weekend M-R!


  6. An opportunity once presented itself, about thirty years ago. I was the driver, and my three passengers had no idea where exactly in England we actually were at any given moment–they had left the navigation and driving completely up to me. We were at one point in the extreme southeastern corner…across the river to the west lay Wales. I toyed with the idea of making a wrong turn west, on purpose. But I chose to stay “on schedule” instead…to proceed south post haste. An open door to an entire, charming country had presented itself…and I did not walk through that door. I have always regretted that decision; and I have grown to abhor schedules.


    • Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful comment! You passed close enough to get the Welsh air in your blood 😉

      I loved your ‘Zero Thought’ post. Just re-reading it now.

      Happy weekend and here’s to no schedules (at least for the weekend…!)


  7. Lita,

    What a lovely trip down memory lane, and sharing the essence of your childhood and the history of Cowbridge. The post is layered with so many wonderful and beautiful truths and ideas. As I reached the end of the post and read, “I almost trip over myself walking home on the same paving stones”, I could not help but think about who we are as individuals, and what we take for granted as children, only to return as adults in thought or in actuality, and realize how superb and spectacular our experiences have been. It also triggered another thought at the same time, how different they could have been, taking a different path or never venturing out and exposing ourselves to a bigger picture. Thank you, this post it is a fabulous way for me to start my day!
    Always a delight to read your work!

    Take care,


  8. Such an interesting walk through history, Lita! Your words bring it alive; I’d love to visit and see Cowbridge in person.

    I shared your post with my husband; he’s been to Wales several times and shared this favorite memory:

    “I remember Harlech so well. I stayed there for almost a week. Hearing the people speaking Welsh and the famous castle with its history and of course the famous song “Rhyfelgyrch Gwŷr Harlech”…… A beautiful experience that I will never forget.”


    • Oh Cyndi! This has just made my day! Harlech and its mighty Castle is stunning. I used to go on holidays camping at Barmouth, nearby. The March of the Men of Harlech song is so uplifting, thank you for mentioning this! I haven’t heard it sung in ages.

      My good wishes to you both for a lovely weekend. The old Viking history you share on WP from your neck of the woods is so grounding and compelling.

      All my very best regards.


  9. I very much enjoyed this 🙂 Its true, those childhood places really don’t ever leave you. And they can entangle you at times. This piece reminded me of this old abandoned sidebarn I used to play in when I was quite young…old cement walls, surrounded by various native shrubs…and this wonderful thicket of Gooseberries. I remember spending hours in their, sitting quietly, munching away on them.


    • There is a lot of heart to all languages so hopefully we would be OK! The words are different alas. I’m still blissed out by your photo of Coffee from A Viennesse Cafe. That beautiful cream! Wish I could make that creation at home! 😉


  10. Im back again Lita! Hoho can’t believe it’s been long since I last stumbled on your site and read articles! Anyway, wow, Welsh! I love Wales! and Cardiff—I’ve been a fond of this place since high school, and yet, so sad I don’t know much about it, just enough information! I google a lot about Cardiff and Welsh people, because you see, I wrote a novel about it! H ahaha…three years ago I wrote an entry novel for NanoWrimo and my main setting is in Cardiff…in Skenfrith! Yes, yes, I googled about Skenfrith hahaa…is it still alive today, I mean, the place called Skenfrith? Oh well, my novel was set around 1800s anyway, and sadly, I haven’t completed it. But planning to…wow, I said a lot!!!! Just because I read about Cardiff…hahha.


    • Hello Neen! Thrilled to hear from you, I just checked out your latest blogs. What a clever take on life being like a cup of coffee. You are a talented writer with so many original ideas. Thank you for your gorgeous comment. Please finish your Nanowrimo novel I would love to read it! I’ve never been to Skenfrith, I know it’s beautiful though. What a great setting and time frame! Clever! So glad we are back in touch on the WP. Have a brilliant week and I’m looking forward to more of your posts!


      • it’s always refreshing whenever i come here at your site Lita, hoho! it’s true…it’s good to hear from you too! i will come often as possible onwards, and yes, I really want to finish my novel about Skenfrith! im excited to let you read it when it’s done ahahhaa! oh well, come to think of it, this skenfrith novel was written three years ago…been idle of it for 3 years already.


      • That’s a good sign to go back to work after a break. It sounds like it’s in a great place! I know it’s another NaNoWriMo months in July (although you may have a busy schedule by then). Thanks for your kind words Jenine. The super flow of new ideas and good writing on your site is life affirming!


  11. Lita

    Your post, “Cowbridge garden” has continued to swirl around in my head. I have an additional thought to add to my original comment on your post. I was unsure how to do that, so now you have two comments, my apologies. Many of our childhood memories are ideals, fantastic and magical, thank goodness we carry some of those into adulthood. Again, loved the post!

    Have a good week,


    • Pepper

      That is a diamond observation Pepper and I am thrilled to receive this beautiful comment. That thought too, I know, will swirl around my thoughts as always your words have such profound gravity like your awesome poems.

      When I enjoy a Caravaggio masterpiece I will take a little longer now because of the depth of the poem you wrote inspired by him.

      Hearty thanks. A good week to you!



  12. I LOVE this, Lita! What a wonderful response to the challenge. And sorry to have been gone recently. We were without internet for two weeks, and then I traveled to the US for nearly another two. So glad to be home in Cuenca again!

    Hugs from Ecuador,


    • Kathy I keep trying to leave comments on your wonderful blog but it won’t let me! I will keep trying.. It’s fabulous to hear you are back to make WP a superb place to be. I bet you have some super posts up your sleeves from your travels. I’m excited to hear all about it.

      Hugs from Sunny London today



  13. This was a lovely reminder of a special person in my life, now passed on, a marvelous Welsh poet who lived in Canada and was my spiritual teacher. He regaled us often with tales of Wales. Lovely, brilliant man, quintessential Welch voice!

    Thanks, and again for the “like”.


    • This gentleman sounds inspired! I wish I got back to visit Wales more than I do. It’s about a 3 hour drive.

      I’m enjoying your blog so much, loved the recent post on the relevance of the beat of a drum.


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