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25 May 2008

Nanteos Mansion

My heart is still in my homeland and I often go back to visit. One of my favourite places is Nanteos Mansion, set in about thirty acres of land near where I used to live. I used to keep my horses at the stables and spent many a happy hour soaking up the atmosphere of this historic house.Nanteos is a Grade I listed, early Georgian country house situated just outside Aberystwyth, on Wales’s west coast. The house was built in 1738 by William Powell, and it remained the Powell family home for over 200 years, until the 1950s, when Lady Powell, the last of the family, died without children and the Mansion fell into the hands of a distant relative. The grounds of the house are also home to a number of other buildings, including a Grade II listed stable yard dating from the 1830s. Two large coach houses and eight stables are arranged around a cobbled courtyard, accessed via an impressive neo-classical archway. A brazen eagle used to stand on the each of the pillars each side of the arch, and the statue of a horse graced the top of the arch itself. Unfortunately these were taken down the family who inherited the mansion, and sold to the United States!

I was lucky enough to be able to keep my horses here, during the late nineties, and loved the old stables. The horses also had the run of the thirty acre ‘park’ in front of the mansion.To the side of the ‘Park’ is a lovely glade with trees, carpeted by primroses and snowdrops in the spring.Along one side is a row of small gravestones, marking the resting place of the Powell family’s pets, ranging from dogs and rabbits, to ponies. After I’d ‘mucked out’ and ridden the horses on a weekend, or after work on a summer’s evening, I used to love sitting on the grass, enjoying the peace and quiet of this beautiful place, writing and composing my stories

One of my favourite rides was along the drive that runs in front of the mansion and past the large ornamental lake. On a sunny summer’s day it is absolutely beautiful, and the lake is visited by a variety of wildfowl, as well as the local wild ducks and geese.

Many legends name Nanteos Mansion as the one-time resting place of the Holy Grail, the chalice that Jesus and his disciples are believed to have drunk from at the Last Supper. The cup was apparently brought back from the Middle East in AD 63 by Joseph of Arimathea, who settled at Glastonbury Monastery in the west of England. When the monastery was dissolved in 1539, a number of monks fled with the Holy Grail to Strata Florida Abbey, in the Aberystwyth area. and from there to Nanteos, where the cup passed into the hands of the Powell family. The Grail was famous for its supposed healing powers, and water poured from it was highly sought after as a cure for various diseases. I’ve actually seen the ‘grail’, or what was left of it The owner of the house (and the cup) a Major Merrilees, eventually moved to Herefordshire, taking the Nanteos Cup with him. It is understood that it currently resides in a bank vault somewhere. It is a small wooden vessel (5″ diameter, 3″ deep) in a very poor state today, due to pilgrims’ biting large chunks out of it, over the years, in order to aid recovery from their ills.

Nanteos Mansion is also reputed to be home to a number of ghosts. These include the spirit of Elizabeth Powell, the late wife of William Powell, who wanders the hallways looking for her lost jewels; a phantom horse and carriage that pulls up to the front entrance in the middle of the night; and the ghost of harpist Gruffydd Evan, who played for the Powell family in the music room every Christmas for 69 years and whose music can still be heard in the woods around the house. My favourite story is a rather sad one. One of the windows on the bottom storey has been boarded up for many, many years. The story goes that the lady of the house was watching her husband ride up the drive towards her, when the horse spooked and threw him, killing him instantly. She could not bear to look out of that window again and ordered it to be boarded over and so it remains to this day. I have to say I never saw a ghost there myself, and always felt the house was a friendly place, rather than a sinister one, but sometimes, late at night the stables would ring with unearthly screeches, like souls in torment. Actually it was nothing more sinister than a colony of screech owls nesting nearby.

The Mansion itself was slowly decaying when I was there, the stables having been sold several years before. Now the stables and Mansion are in the hands of a consortium who have renovated the mansion and use it for functions such as weddings and conferences. Sadly, last time I visited,the stables were empty, apart from some firewood and a few bicycles. The elegant, roomy looseboxes silent, with no stamping hooves or soft welcoming whinnies. I closed my eyes and imagined my three horses, as I often used to see them in the early morning, next to each other with their heads over the doors in that lovely old stable range, reminiscent of days long gone by.

This post originally appeared in 'BritBlog' but I thought I'd share it with my blog followers here.