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Penegoes in Powys

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Penegoes, Powys, is a small village about 3 miles due East from Machynlleth on the road to Cemaes and Mallwyd. Its interest is considerable. It is reached from Machynlleth over an ancient bridge, Felin Gerrig (Mill-Stone), beneath which can still be seen the even more ancient ford over the rocks through which the stream passes. The antiquity of this road is established by the name of the group of cottages that act as a kind of suburb to Penegoes; Craig yr Henfordd (Stone of the Old Street). The road, leading ultimately to Newtown, is said to be of Roman foundation, and its length and directness support this belief. A drive to the left here leads to the old mansion Gallt y Llan standing halfway up the side of the “gallt” (wooded hill). This house, together with another mansion close by, Dol Guog (Fastness Field), shares a legendary connection with the vanished fortress of a ruler famous in Welsh history, Owain, known as Cyfeiliog from the name of the area he ruled, but in his day recognized as Prince of Powys. This division of Wales, originally the triangle lying between Chester, the mouth of Dovey, and Monmouthshire, was the front line of Welsh resistance against English encroachment during the Middle ages, and, in name at least, it has been revived as the comprehensive title for the counties of Central Wales under the new grouping. Dying in 1197, Owain left a considerable reputation both as a poet and as an economic administrator, for to him the introduction of hill sheep-farming, still a vital industry to the district, is attributed. Probably his residence was on the top of the hill of Galit y Llan; broad approaches up its sides can still be seen, and the native rock shows signs of artificial dressing. The site is of strategic importance, commanding the outlook towards the Dovey estuary to the West, the approaches through the narrow defile of the River Dulas from Corns to the North, the passage from Mathafarn to the East, and the routes from the Five Summits of Plynlimon to the South Like Machynlleth, its near neighbour, Penegoes stood in earlier days at the focal centre of warlike manouvre.

Its name has been traditionally said to mean Head of Egoes, a Celtic chieftain of mythical proportions, whose buried head is said to lie beneath a grove of oaks whose remains still stand a few yards beyond the church. So strong was the legend, that as recently as the l950s an attempt to fell the grove was defeated by protests from the villagers. The truth is perhaps even more interesting, since Egoes appears in fact to be the plural of “ag” (an opening), and the name of the village to mean a place set at the head of the five valleys that open from the northern escarpment of the Plynlimon range.

Undoubtedly the village, though in an area made available to modern transport, keeps alive many ancient traditions. On the southern side of the road, almost immediately opposite the church, is a well, still used by the inhabitants and accepted as a wishing well. By the bank of the surprisingly rough stream lies an old pointer-stone, which suggests that the road through the village is much older than the Romans.

Of the five trackways to the South, those now practicable for cars are the four to Darowen, Aberhosan, Dylife, and Forge. Each runs through a valley with a considerable range of beauty, and each at last reaches the foot of the South escarpment of the Plynlimon range; but only the road to Dylife can be recommended for comparatively safe ascent into the Plynlimon moorlands.

Apart from its local interest, Penegoes is distinguished by a name of international significance. At the end of a lane running South from the church stands the rectory. This was the birthplace of Richard Wilson (1714-82), one of the earliest and most brilliant of the modern school of landscape painting. Although trained in Italy under Zuccarelli, and successful as a portrait painter of the British royalty and peerage, and noted in his day for such works as the Coast Scene near Naples (in the National Museum of Wales) and scenes in the Italian Campagna, the influence of the countryside where he was born, and the delight he took in it, never left him. The sharp shoulders of Cader Idris can be seen from the height of Gallt Llan, and his painting of the mountain-crest with the lake beneath it (1774) captures the character of the mountain. His view of the Mawddach valley, running to Barmouth beneath it, is one among several of his works in the Manchester Art Gallery. His Caernarfon Castle can be seen in the National Museum of Wales, which has a number of his pictures; others can be studied in London in the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. The rectory stands now much as it did in his day and, on application, it is possible to be shown the room in which he was born.

The old house Gallt y Llan can easily be seen from the main road, half way up the hill with its subsidiary, Bryntudur, standing high above it. Now in the shape given to it by the 19th century, it has wide windows opening upon a lawned space where meets of hounds were held. Its foundations, deep in the rock of the hill-side, are at least of early l8th century construction, and its family was connected with the large houses studding the district from Penrhyn Gerwyn, near the Dovey mouth, to Garthgwynion at Glasbwll and the manor of Dol-goch in Cwm Einon. Their record is marked in the 1720s by the tragedy of an eldest son's drowning in the lake of Tal-y-llyn. The oakwoods of great age covering the hill-top have to some extent been felled, and the thickets of coloured rhododendron are much reduced. But they are remarkable for giving a haunt to one of the rarest creatures in Wales or the British Isles, the pine marten, whose habits of descending upon the farm fowl are as dangerous as the forays of foxes, which make the place so much their own that their courting dances can often be watched there.

On a hill to the North of Penegoes, to the right of the stream that flows by the mill, Pen Rhos Fach can be seen. Though not mentioned in Peate's classic work, it is a unique example of the long-house construction that persisted in Wales from the Middle Ages into Stuart times. Cattle and human beings shared their quarters to the extent that the family living-rooms led directly to the byres and were part of the same construction. It is said that warmth from the beasts, as well as convenience in providing fodder in winter, was responsible for the arrangement. It no longer applied to Pen Rhos Fach in the 19th and 20th centuries; but the place is well worth a visit for the balance and dignity of its architecture.

Nearby towns: Dolgellau, Llanidloes, Llanfair Caereinion, Machynlleth

Nearby villages: Aber Cywarch, Aberangell, Aberdovey, Abergynolwyn, Aberllefenni, Arthog, Bryn-crug, Cemmaes Road, Corris, Cross Foxes, Darowen, Dinas Mawddwy, Dylife, Eglwys Fach, Elerch, Esgairgeiliog, Llanbrynmair, Llancynfelyn, Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, Llanwrin, Mallwyd, Pandy, Pantperthog, Pennal, Pennant, Staylittle, Tal-y-Llyn, Talerddig, Talybont, Tre-Taliesin

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