OM Orchid Meadows. 1 Strata Florida. 2 Dolaucothi Gold Mines. 3 National Wool Museum.
It might sound like the name of a nightclub in Ibiza but Strata Florida was once the most famous church in Wales after St David’s, a place of pilgrimage and a linchpin of Welsh culture.
Strata Florida – Latin for Vale of Flowers – has stood on meadows beside the banks of the infant River Teifi since 1201. It was founded by the Norman Robert Fitz Stephen and then hugely developed by Lord Rhys, ruler of the kingdom of Deheubarth. It became a major centre for Cistercian monks as part of a movement that spread across western Europe in the early Middle Ages.
It was far from an easy life for the monks at Strata Florida. The day began with a church service at 2am, followed by others at 3.30am, 6am, 8am, 11.30am, 2.30pm, 6pm and 8pm, punctuated by work and the occasional meal. Bedtime was at quarter past eight.
When Llywelyn ap Lorwerth decided to summon all the Welsh princes to swear allegiance to his son Dafydd in 1238, Strata Florida was the obvious choice as the centre of Welsh culture. But its importance in this respect came at a price: the enmity of the English crown. It was damaged by the wars of King Edward I, weakened by the Black Death and occupied by English troops during the rising of Owain Glyndŵr. The heyday of Strata Florida was long gone by the time Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. It was partly dismantled in 1539, starting with 10 tons of lead from the roof, and gradually allowed to fall into ruin.
Today a visit to the abbey is a time for quiet contemplation and appreciation of the Cambrian scenery at this high point in the Teifi valley. Not least when you learn it is the final resting place for generations of Mediaeval Welsh princes.
Dolaucothi Gold Mines
Dolaucothi Gold Mines are the only known Roman gold mines in Britain and incorporated both underground and surface workings. They may even have found their origin in the Bronze Age, when washing gravel from the River Cothi probably began.
The site offers a fascinating window onto Roman mining methods, which revolved around hydraulic techniques using aqueducts and leats to bring in water. The longest ran for 7 miles. There is also evidence that water-powered trip hammers were used to crush gold ore.
When the Romans left Britain in the 5th century, the mines were abandoned for centuries until a revival in the 19th century. This finally came to an end in the 1930s when a new shaft was sunk 430 feet in an unsuccessful attempt to find profitable new seams. The mines fell into disrepair and became unsafe at lower levels due to flooding and finally closed in 1938.
Today you can take a guided tour of the mines and there is the 1930s mine yard to explore with its period machinery, equipment and tools. You can also explore the 2500-acre Dolaucothi Estate using miles of pathways.
National Wool Museum
It is an hour’s drive away but the National Wool Museum at Drefach Felindre near Newcastle Emlyn provides an absorbing experience.
Historically and into the 19th century, the woollen industry in Wales, including spinning and weaving, surpassed even coal as the most important industry in Wales. The Teifi Valley was the centre of the West Wales woollen industry, earning itself the nickname The Huddersfield of Wales.
The National Wool Museum is located in the former Cambrian Mills. David Lewis erected the mills on the site of a former small water-powered weaving workshop in 1902. The new mill was to supply the need for woollen cloth for working men in the coal and steel industries. In 1915, 100 people were employed here and flannel was produced for military uniforms for the First World War. Over the years, shirts and shawls, blankets and bedcovers, and woollen stockings and socks were all made here. The mills were still working in 1965, when they were put up for sale with 30 people still employed, but they became a museum in 1976.
The National Wool Museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5pm, and is free to enter. You can see the sympathetically restored listed mill buildings and historical machinery and follow the whole process from fleece to fabric. If you did not fully know what was involved in shearing, harvesting, sorting, willowing, scouring, dyeing, carding, spinning, winding, warping, weaving and finishing, you will come away from your visit an enlightened person. A raised walkway also gives a unique view of textiles in production at Melin Teifi, today’s commercial woollen mill at the site.