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2007 Visit to Great Britain
Sept. 12-Sept.17, 2007
Connie Street, Alan Dobert and Beth Rippenkroeger

(Welcome to Wales)


We rented a car at Heathrow Airport for our visit. Alan was the only one with the nerve to drive since the traffic is on the left side of the road and drivers are on the right side of the car. Here we are approaching the Severn bridge that crosses the river Severn taking travelers from England to Wales and vice versa. There is a toll of $10 to enter Wales. No fee to leave
. Within minutes of entering  Wales we saw Raglan Castle ruins. We were so surprised we didn't even think to  take a photograph of it. To our knowledge, the castle doesn't fit into our family history.


Our goal was to see the land where our Welsh ancestors had lived in Breconshire, now Powys, and if time allowed, to see as much of Great Britain as we could. My mother's mother, Rosabel Watkins, was the youngest of the nine children of John and Ann Evans Watkins and the only one born in the United States. Her family immigrated in May 1881. Wales is absolutely charming. Getting out into the villages and talking to the residents made the trip even more special. We never saw a gravel road in Great Britain. Even the narrowest of country lanes were hard surfaced. Many of the single-lane roads were hilly and curvy - after all we were in the Black Mountains. When meeting another vehicle, someone must back up until they find a wide enough place to pull off. The rural roads have stone fences or hedges right up to the edge of the road with no shoulders. Parking spaces are pretty much non-existent. Drivers make do on the sidewalks or wherever their vehicle will fit. Many of the older homes are stone covered with  stucco and are painted bright colors such as blue, pink and pumpkin and numerous flowers decorate the homes. All traffic signs are in both English and Welsh.  More about the family. The photos below are, with the exception of our hotels, mostly east to west from Crickhowell northwest to Llangynidr, then north to Nant y felyn and Rhydybont farms, then southwest to Ty Newydd near Llanfryanch, then southeast to Talybont on Usk, Aber Village and continuing south to Vaynor and Pontsticill. Swansea, Scotland and England were sites not connected with the family.  You can follow the route by going to multimap.

This is believed to be Morgan and Ann Williams Evans, parents of Ann Evans who married John Watkins. Morgan and Ann and some of their children  are buried at Benaiah Chapel, Talybont On Usk.

John Elias Watkins, son of John and Ann Evans Watkins, was kissed by Queen Victoria when he was a child. Many of the family stories we have from Wales are based on his memories. John Elias, one of my grandmother's brothers, lived in Kansas.

John and Ann Evans Watkins taken several years  after their  arrival in southeast Iowa, U.S.A. They left their beloved Wales after John was wrongfully accused of murdering a gamekeeper on the Glanusk Estate near Crickhowell.

Castle Coaching Inn, Trecastle, Wales. The owner, a fan of Iowa native and author, Bill Bryson, was thrilled to have guests from Iowa.

The white building on the right is the old Six Bells Inn in Llangattock. This is where the John Watkins' trial was held after he was charged with murder. When he was acquitted, the audience cheered. Note the mounting steps for climbing onto or off of horses or into and out of carriages.

This is looking the opposite direction from Six Bells Inn. Notice the typical narrow street. Llangattock is across the river Usk  from the larger town of Crickhowell

Herds of sheep are a typical sight in the Welsh countryside.

No one was home at Llwynon Farm, Llangattock Parish, Breconshire, when we stopped. This is where John and Ann Evans  Watkins lived in 1861-1868 when first married and is the probable birth place of his first four children. The farmstead is located on the south slope of Llangynidr Mountain at the end of a narrow one-lane road and has a sweeping view of the beautiful Usk Valley.

In 2007, the entry area of the house was filled with toys, indicating it  is again home to a family with small children. The pasture behind Llwynon house, above, was dotted with grazing sheep.

Outbuildings at today's Llwynon date from different time periods.
Elias Watkins lived at Llwyncelyn Farm 1855-1870. The ancient house originally had only two rooms downstairs and bedrooms upstairs. This end was likely a barn. Probably during Victorian times, the size of the house was doubled, but even today only the kitchen is heated. It is the home of  the "Rebel Farmer" James Powell and his partner Lynn. This photo is by John Ball ca 1993. (It shows the building better than the photos we took.)

Most of the old stone barns like this one at Llwyncelyn (Llwyncewlyn) have vertical holes in the side of the buildings, presumably for ventilation.








The original stairwell the house at Llwyncelyn Farm leads from the kitchen to the second-story bedrooms.

Lynn feeds lambs at Llwyncelyn with a bottle.

This rooster would have liked to have joined us in the kitchen for tea at Llwyncelyn. There were several breeds of chickens on the farm.

More sheep. Cattle herds are also abundant in the countryside.
One of the most charming villages we visited was Llangynidr. This narrow bridge leading into the town was built over the river Usk in the 1600s.

The bridge crossing the river Usk to the village of Llangynidr is  believed to have been built in the 1600s.

This angle gives a good view of the design of the Llangynidr bridge.

This stone at Sardis Cemetery in Llangynidr reads: "Sacred to the memory of Gwenllian daughter of Elias and Ann Watkins Llwyncewlyn in this parish she died April 26th 1860 aged 12 years. Also the above named Ann Watkins died Sept 18th 1881 aged 70 years. Also the above named Elias Watkins died April 29th 1887 aged 81"

The Sardis Cemetery with the Sardis Reformed church in the background. If you look closely, you can see Beth. Like many of the old burial grounds, this is an enter-at-your-own-risk cemetery with tall grass and several holes in the ground.

"Byways", the home of Pat Davis at Llangynidr is an example of the love of natural beauty in Wales. Pat walked up a steep hill off the beaten path to Sardis church and cemetery with us so we wouldn't get lost or miss it. Her property had once belonged to a family named Watkins, but it is a common name in the area and we don't know if that Watkins family is related.

The ancient farmstead (Lower) Nant y felin, is where John Watkins’ father, Elias, lived with John's brother Thomas from about 1885 until his death on April 29, 1887. Nant y Felin is located a short way up the valley (southeast) from the village of Llangorse. Next door up the lane is a larger brown-colored stone building named Upper Nant y felin.

A view of Langorse Lake from a farm near Nant y felin.

Before moving to Nant y felin, Elias lived for fifteen years at Wern Watkin, 2 miles south of the village of Crickhowell. This photo of Wern Watkin was taken in 1998 by Kenneth Watkins of Southborough, Kent, England. We did not visit it in 2007.

Rhydybont, southeast of Talgarth, Breconshire, Wales, was the last home that the John Watkins' family lived in before leaving for the United States in 1881. Today, the  owner is  G. Austin Gwillim who  lives there and runs a large cattle and sheep operation.

This mountain stream is down the lane from the house at Rhydybont Farm. We later stopped at the entrance of the Glanusk Estate and spoke to an employee. It is private property and we weren’t allowed to go further. The employee said the estate is “only about 4,000 acres” today and the owner is a friend of Prince Charles and “the princes” (William and Harry) spent a lot of time at the Glanusk Estate when they were young. .

The family dog at Rhydybont took a liking to Beth. Austin Gwillim, who's father bought Rhydybont in the 1940s, said the farm would have been part of the Glanusk Estate in the 1880s, which means Sir Bailey must have allowed the Watkins family to continue to live on his property after the trial.

Ty Newydd, across the Usk river from the village of Llanfrynach, is believed to be where Ann Evans was born in 1839. Ann was the daughter of Morgan and Ann Williams Evans. She married John Watkins in 1861. Twenty years later, they immigrated with their family to Iowa, U.S.A.. Family history says Tannewydd. Ty Newydd translates to new farm or new house and there are other farms in the area with the same name.

This portion of today's house at Ty Newydd was likely part of the barn when the house was built. Although historians differ on the reasons, it was typical for the barns and the houses to be connected. Note the craftsmanship on the dry stone wall.

The stone barns at Ty Newydd.

The view from Ty Newydd. It probably isn't much different than when my great-grandmother Ann Evans was growing up here.

This family of swans was living at Ty Newydd. They were used to having people around. Watching them was a special treat.

Alan took digital movies of the papa (or mama?) swan. Ty Newydd is the home of Cambrian Cruisers where canal boats can be rented for trips on the Monmouth and Brecon Canal.

Beth made friends with the family dog at Ty Newydd.

This shop at Talybont on Usk had souvenirs, snacks, a Post Office and most anything you would find in a convenience store. Very friendly.

The cemetery at Benaiah Chapel at Talybont on Usk contains the graves of Morgan and Anne Evans, parents of Ann Evans who married John Watkins. Several children of Morgan and Ann Evans and other Evans kin are buried  here. Benaiah and Aber are sister chapels. They have services monthly and share ministers

Aber Chapel near Aber Village, Breconshire, Wales is where several members of our Evans family were baptized in the early 1800s.

View of the Black Mountains from the Aber Chapel Cemetery. Aber Chapel was established in 1760.

This stone at the Aber Chapel cemetery shows how limestone peels, leaving the inscriptions on gravestones blank. Hope someone has recorded these records!

Danywenallt near Aber Village may be where Anne Williams was born. The family history says "Danywault". Anne married Morgan Evans in 1818. The property is now part of the National Park Authority's Study Centre for youth.

Original ceiling beams inside Danywenallt. The hooks would likely have been used to hang slabs of meat.

A typical country road in Wales. Better be ready to stop in a hurry.

Craig y Nos, the "haunted castle" was opera singer Adelina Patti's country estate in the Swansea Valley in South Wales. It was an early Victorian country house built in 1840. Although it isn't really a castle, it is elegant and our room was very nice.

Fountain at night in front of Craig y Nos.

Danywern, now in ruins, was another site we did not see. It was the home where the John Watkins family lived 1869-1876. They were living on  this tenant farm when the shooting of the Glanusk Estate's gamekeeper took place in January 1876. This photo was taken by John Ball ca 1993.

Talybont Reservoir south of Aber Village

The Dolygaer church building was originally in the Pontcicill Reservoir area (near Dolygaer Lake) and is reputed to have been built in the 15th century. About 1927, it was saved and moved to higher ground  when the valleys were flooded to create the reservoir.

A view of the  back of the Dolygaer Church building  today. Compare it to the photo of the original church at The original building would have had a tower on the front. The beautiful home is for sale. The asking price in American dollars is about $1 million.

We did not realize when we were there, that the ruins of Blaencallen, the home of William Watkins (1723-1800) might still exist. This photo was taken ca 1993 by John Ball, a Welsh historian/photographer. The house was located about 1,000 yards northeast of today's Dolygaer Mountain Rescue station. According to today's maps, there may not be a road to the home anymore.

Gravestones  and remains of deceased persons removed from graves at Capel Taf Fechan were moved about 1924 to a cemetery about 10 miles southwest of Llangydnir on the shore of the Pontsticill Reservoir to a new burial ground. The "new" cemetery has been abandoned and the weeds were so thick and high when we visited that Alan couldn't even get close to the stones, which are supposed to include one for John and Margaret Thomas Watkins. John (1775-1840) was the father of Elias Watkins. Margaret is believed to have been John's second or third wife.

We could only see two stones among the weeds at the Pontsticill cemetery. In 1993, when cousin Gene Hales visited, he described the cemetery as "poorly tended." Apparently that hasn't changed.

This old sign points the way to the Vaynor Church.

The gravestone of William Watkins (1723-1800) and his widow Mary, the grandparents of Elias Watkins.  "William Watkins, Blaencallan late of Rhiw y chein died Oct 20, 1800 age 77. Mary his relict d. Jan 29, 1825 age 93."

The gravestone of William Watkins is leaning against the wall of the Vaynor Church. William is the grandfather of Elias Watkins. There was one spot in this cemetery that was really spooky. All three of us felt uncomfortable there.

Brecon, one of the larger towns in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, was charming, friendly and filled with interesting shops.

Directional signs in Wales.

These dry stone fences, typical of the stone fences in Wales and other parts of Great Britain, were built with great craftsmanship.  The stones placed vertically on the top row were apparently placed for decoration  or perhaps to identify the fields.

"Pound World" - the British version of Dollar General in the U.S.

At Swansea, Wales, Alan was hoping actress Catherine Zeta Jones would be there too, visiting her parents, but all he got was me, his sister, a McDonalds sandwich, a few seashells and great memories.

Beth getting her feet wet in Swansea Bay.

Beth hamming it up for the camera.


Driving along with his eyes on the road, Alan didn't get to see much of the beautiful countryside and scenery.



Lockerbie is the first large town north of the Scottish Border on the main road  from Carlisle. It is believed to date back to the time of the Vikings around AD900.

High Street in downtown Lockerbie. The tall building at the end of the block is the town hall. Friendly and helpful shopkeepers here.

Beth did get to eat fish and chips, but not in Lockerbie. This shop was closed when we arrived.

This little guy waited patiently outside a convenience store for his master. When the woman came out wit a bag full of groceries, she laid down an item and the dog picked it up in his mouth  and carried it home with his tail wagging. Wonderfully trained.

On the way to Scotland. The land had been pretty flat until we got into the northwestern part of England, called "The North".

A family of Scottish highland cattle near the Solway Firth and the town of Annan.

Another view of the Scottish cattle.

The water of Solway firth comes from the Irish Sea. I thought I might be seeing the coast of Ireland when I took this photo, but turned out we were too far east in Scotland for that view.

Picking up rocks at Solway Firth near the town of Annan. Very windy there that day.



Cross Hands at Old Sudbury, Bristol, England. Queen Elizabeth sought shelter  here in 1981 during a snowstorm. Food here is excellent, however we weren't fond of the black pudding served as part of the traditional English breakfast, which includes an egg, ham, sausage link, pork and beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes.

This is where you cross the English Channel to France by driving your vehicle onto a train that goes through an underwater tunnel. The cost roundtrip is about $200. We decided not make the short trip and headed south to a town called Hythe on the shore of the English Channel.

The waves were roaring  and the wind was clod on the English Channel at Hythe. Even so, it seemed to be a popular place to visit.

Hythe, England on the English Channel

Kite surfing was a popular sport on the English Channel at Hythe when we were there. The strong winds made it a good day for those brave enough to try it.

Kite surfing.

Our hotel in London. The food was Malaysian.

Graffiti in London.

London. We didn't have time to see the palaces and other tourist attractions.

A London police station.

Thanks for visiting!