Author, Niall Griffiths, explores this fascinating part of Pembrokeshire…
The Landsker: Has quite a ring, doesn’t it? Suggestive, somehow, of sorcery and dragons and druidical goings-on, of slippage between worlds. In truth, it has a rather more prosaic origin, and comes from the Saxon word for ‘frontier’, and is used to define the division between the Welsh north Pembrokeshire and the more Anglicized southern part of the county.
This division is ancient, being drawn during the Norman conquest, but the name Landsker is much more modern, dating back, probably, only to the 1930s. Much better, really, to refer to this area as the Mabinogion does, as a ‘land of enchantment and magic’.
Which is undoubtedly what it is. The western part of it, between Newgale beach and Treffgarne Gorge (pictured), where the Asheston Eco Barns are situated, is alive and ringing with myth and legend and folklore. Personally – and I don’t know why this should be – I associate such tales with wintry weather, but I was there recently on a Med-hot day and the human and not-so-human history of it was as alive and as vibrant as the zipping swallows and swifts and determined droning bees and the beautiful arrows of the dragonflies.
That such intense and boiling activity should be so conducive to an inner calmness is mysterious and contradictory, but nonetheless it’s true; I feel a kind of internal settling when I’m in the area, a bodily calmness, which – paradox again – inspires me to explore the valleys and scramble up the hills and swim in the ever-blue sea or in one of the deeply cool and soothing hill lakes, of which there are many hereabouts.
By way of an example, take the story of Adam, of Roch Castle; terrified by a witch’s prophecy that he’d die from snakebite he hid himself away in the castle attic, far from slithering things, only to be bitten, fatally, by an adder carried up in a bundle of firewood. Stand beneath the castle, louring and imposing as it is on its warty and gnarled rock pedestal (and available for spectacular weddings), and think on Adam’s lonely and preordained end, then thrill to the thought of the serpents nesting in the ground’s statically thrashing vegetation.
Or ponder on the Tylwyth Teg, the wickedly mischievous Welsh fairies; stray into one of their circles, or ‘fairy rings’, and you’d be compelled to dance for a year and a day, or forever if the spell were not broken by one of your own kind. This has all the ingredients of a typical Landsker tale; the mixture of the celebratory and glorious (the dancing) with a hint of dark impishness (the curse, the compulsion).
Contrary and contradictory, this part of the country is; at the very moment that you think you’ve accommodated its oddities, it offers proof that you haven’t, and perhaps never will. Which, of course, makes for inexhaustible stimulus and intrigue.
Antique and curious histories are always at your shoulder, here, in all their magnificent strangeness; you can stand on a tumulus next to a monolith and see the roof of the pub to which you’re headed to feast on seafood so fresh that it writhes on the plate and ale so closely sourced that you can taste the earth through and in which its raw materials have flowed and grown. A perfect combination.