'The Shadow of Nanteos' Trail
So many of the locations I used in the novel, set in 1750s, Cardiganshire still remain. Whilst writing the book and in writing the pre/sequel, I've not had to imagine many of the places that feature in the lives of the historical characters - I can just go there. R.S. Thomas said of the Welsh 'We were a people bred on legends/Warming our hands at the red past'. There is a future of course - we have a Senedd, as we briefly had the parliament of Owain Glyndwr in 1404, but it is not hard to find the continuity of past lives in Wales, given the evidence all around us.
Plas Nanteos, the Powell family seat is the starting point of The Shadow of Nanteos Trail. It is possible to walk through rooms little changed since Georgian times; to look out across the valley of the Paith at views their eyes would have seen, walk through the woods on the estate that were planted by them as pleasure gardens. Scenes take place in Eglwys Llanbadarn, an important church and centre of learning dating back to the early Medieval period and the family's memorial tablets can be clearly seen by the altar - one generation's homage to the last, on through time. The view up the nave would still be familiar to them. Cai and Elizabeth visit the Norman Aberystwyth Castle and there is still a fair at Tregaron. Meanwhile, up in the hills towards Devil's Bridge there is evidence of the lead and silver mining history everywhere and it is even possible to go underground at the excellent Llywernog Mining Museum. In Aberystwyth Museum there are pieces of furniture, crockery, pictures and household objects from the period and at The National Library of Wales it's even possible to read letters written by and to the characters themselves. The 'Grail' or Nanteos Cup, so important to the international reputation of Nanteos, is also on permanent display there.
In The Dipping Pool, many of these same locations feature, but, just as the narrative arc is longer, so the scope is broader in terms of location. The village of Llangeitho, base of the hugely influential religious leader Daniel Rowlands is still a fascinating pilgrimage for those interested in Welsh history and culture and there is a scene which takes place at Abaty Ystrad Fflur and The Steadman House where important excavations are uncovering new material which may even relate to the Nanteos Cup itself. Even the little church in the grounds (St Mary's) is worth a visit and houses a heartbreaking memorial to a member of the Powell family from the period. Tradition has it that the poet Dafydd ap Gwilym is buried just outside under an ancient Yew.The mysterious valley of Cwm Einion near the village of Eglwysfach and the pool of Llyn Ianto are important to the new novel which is set at the time when the furnace at the mouth of the valley, now in the hands of Cadw, was being built. The ancient town of Machynlleth with Glyndwr's Parliament House and famous Maen Gwyn features in several key scenes.
Other gentry houses, so important to the Powell family story, in which families such as the Pryses, Vaughans, Lloyds lived are still in existence, though Gogerddan, Trawsgoed and Mabws are now unavailable to the casual visitor. As a writer, I'm thoroughly spoiled in Ceredigion, the process of imagining being concentrated on dialogue, behaviour, motivation and relationship. Creating location is so often the easier task of description, of recording rather than conjuring from the imagination here. One day I dream of hiring a bus and driver, filling it with readers and going on the Shadow of Nanteos tour! Come witht me?