Friday, 11 August 2017

Saint Tewdric's final journey

I mentioned Tewdric's final journey in yesterday's blog post and it occurred to me it may be helpful for anyone not knowing the area to get some idea of the distances involved.

We know Tewdric's battle against the Saxons took place in or near Tintern. Tintern is famous today for its ruined Cistercian abbey nestled against the banks of the River Wye, but of course the abbey didn't exist before the 12th century, 700 years after Tewdric. In the 5th century Tintern would have looked very different compared to today.

The actual site of Tewdric's battle is disputable, but I very much doubt it would have been fought on flat, open ground given the overwhelming odds against Tewdric's army so I rule out the Wye's floodplain. It is far more likely in my view that Tewdric would have chosen high ground, forcing the Saxons to fight uphill, hence putting them at a disadvantage. What we do know is that Tewdric was mortally wounded during the fight.

Legend has it that Tewdric, knowing he was dying, asked to be carried to Ynys Echni (Flat Holm Island) to be buried and that he was borne away on a carriage or cart pulled by two yoked stags. We are also told his journey from Tintern to Mathern, where Tewdric died, took three days. They must have travelled very slowly since the distance between Tintern and Mathern by ancient footpaths is only around 8.5 miles.

Tewdric's Last journey
What has always confused me is why a journey would have been made overland at all. We are told Tewdric was being carried to a boat waiting at an ancient wharf, a location now known as Mathern Pill, to complete his journey to Ynys Echni (Flat Holm).

Mathern Pill - still being used as a haven for small craft
Let's put this in perspective. Tintern stands on the banks of the River Wye, which flows through Chepstow into the Severn Estuary (see top right corner of the map below). Since the Wye is navigable way past Tintern it is hard to believe that a boat of some description could not have been obtained at Tintern, in which case Tewdric could have sailed in relative comfort to Mathern to pick up his own boat, or all the way to the island of Flat Holm.

The Severn Estuary indicating the relative locations of Mathern and Flat Holm Island
A river voyage would surely be preferable to being tossed and bumped about on the bed of a cart being dragged over rough terrain. Those ancient footpaths are hard going, trust me I've walked them, especially on the high ground above Tintern. I'm sure there are numerous good reasons/excuses why Tewdric was carried overland, but it makes little sense to me. But of course to have Tewdric's last journey take place by boat would put a considerable dent in Tewdric's legend, possibly deny the church of a saint and probably deny present day Mathern its very existence. 😉