Yesterday, we visited Wentwood, a beautiful forest near Usk. It is well used by mountain cyclists, and witches are said to practice there, but we went to see the famous curly oak that sits among larch trees deep in the forest. The curly oak is said to be more than 900 years old. We walked around it, stroking its pelt and crusty skin, poking our noses into its stomach, looking up inside its elongated body at cathedral towers and spires. I wanted to sit down inside on a cushion of grated bark, but I resisted. Instead we tried to imagine what the ancient tree must have seen in centuries of conflict.
This is border territory much fought over through the ages. As we named the wars we could remember between the Welsh and the English, I saw several Welsh bowmen pulling back the strings on their bows with poisoned arrows destined for the armoured English beyond us. I turned and saw Royalists and Cavaliers in pitched metallic battle. Medieval men and women humped and hauled their wares along the track. Everywhere monsters, dragons, elves and devils appeared from stumps of wood left for beetling insects.
This area is till much fought over. Monmouthshire is the only county in Wales not to support the Welsh Assembly having more powers. It will be interesting to see how the county votes in the forthcoming Welsh General Election.