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Hafod Landscape
I was horrified when I discovered where Hafod was, and that it was nowhere near anywhere else, if you see what I mean. This bit of Mid-Wales is a long, long way away if you start from, well, almost anywhere.

But this was where Thomas Jhones, member of an old family of Welsh squires, decided to exploit the Gothic possibilities of landscape. He seems not to have been particularly crazy himself, but his father was married to Elizabeth Knight, a cousin of Richard Payne Knight of Downton, and he and Elizabeth had rebuilt their house, Croft Castle, in Gothic style, so young Thomas had Gothic Gardening in his family. After attending Edinburgh University and the Grand Tour, he returned to Wales, visited Hafod, and was captivated by it. By 1788 he had replaced the old manor house with a Gothic (though very Classically-formed) mansion, and set about developing the network of walks and points of interest to decorate them that would overlay the dramatic valley of the Ystwyth river which carved its way through this barren, otherwise unproductive estate (Mr Jhones tried many inventive ways of improving the agricultural output but they seldom succeeded). His daughter Mariamne died aged only 27 in 1811, and while he and his wife stayed on for another four years, it seems that with her the place had lost its charm. They moved to Dawlish, where Thomas died the year after.

At Hafod the landscape included wild stretches of woodland, rocky gorges where the waters crashed and raged, and punctuations of pastoral grassland: Mr Johnes's genius was to design a series of walks that utilised the most dramatic contrasts of these, and offered views across the valley to remind walkers of the mode of landscape they weren't walking through at that moment. North of the Ystwyth was the Ladies' Walk, while to the south lay the Gentlemen's Walk through rather rougher and more challenging terrain. All that can be said is that, time having intervened, the gentlemen have much the more interesting time of it. The mansion has gone, the trees have closed in, and the greatest treasure of the Hafod landscape lies on the river's southern side.

Hafod Church
Hafod remainsHafod Jhones
The walks start at Hafod New Church - only 'new' since the 17th century - which has a certain threateningly Hawksmoorian look to it despite James Wyatt, the Gothic Revivalist, being Mr Jhones's architect. In 1932 it burned down, destroying the monument Thomas and Jane Jhones had had erected to Mariamne. Mariamne has lost her face as a result - her father still has his (albeit not in the right place), but now looks more peeved than griefstricken.
Hafod treesHafod bridge
Hafod bridge
The path leads down from the churchyard. The pine trees soon begin to grate on the nerves with their mixture of oppression and monotony. Just when you think your reason will break, things change, and you enter a landscape of bridges and cascades.
Hafod plank bridge
The grandest of these is the Ystwyth Gorge, which slices through the rock either side of a ricketty chain bridge. At the top of the cliff in the picture to the right you can just glimpse two pillars - one unfortunately swathed in blue plastic - which are all that survives of the Gothick Arch, one of Mr Jhones's few follies - he preferred to let the landscape do its own work.Hafod Ystwyth
The Gentleman's Walk to the south snakes up the valley of Nant Gau, skirting the base  of a hill where Mr Jhones toyed with building a 'Druidic Temple' - shame nothing came of it, it could have done with something. However, the Gentleman's Walk has a thrill far in excess of fake Druids in store. The path climbs and becomes more rocky and hazardous as it goes, especially if you have unsuitable shoes (and I always make a point of having unsuitable shoes). There are falls, piles of rocks left by visitors, and a Dripping Well.
Hafod falls
Hafod cairnHafod cave
Finally the path levels out, providing a last episode of comfort before the climax. The path stops, and on the right is an ominous hole. You must clamber in here, and find a dark (and wet) tunnel leading into the rock, along which you grope your way, the thundrous sound of water increasing with every inch. A turn into the dark, and there it is - the Cavern Cascade. And when you've had enough of being blinded by the light and deafened by the crashing water, you make your way back again. I found myself exhilarated and giggling - it's a (quite) safe brush with feelings of danger which epitomises the 18th-century Gothic Sublime perfectly.Hafod cave
Hafod cascade
Hafod walksHafod fallsBack onto the
path, where a
Tunnel, the Mossy Seat falls (without any actual Mossy Seat), and more bridges and darkling trees await you.
It is quite a relief to re- emerge into the wider open spaces of the estate.
Hafod landscape
Hafod ice house
In this area is (as you can see in the photo to the left) not a holy well but the ice house of Hafod mansion. Of which, of course, barely anything remains apart from piles of architectural junk labelled 'Unstable Structure' lest you be tempted to climb.Hafod remains
Hafod Mariamne's GardenHigh up on the north slopes are Mariamne's Garden ('awaiting restoration') and below it 'Mrs Jhones's Garden' where even from a distance I could see the floral arrangements were a little too minimalist even for my tastes. Hafod Mrs Jhones's garden
On the hillside north of the gardens you can still find the wonderful Arch Thomas Jhones built in 1809, spanning the old turnpike road, to commemorate the jubilee of George III. 'A mad monument for a madking', he might have said. Hafod archWith its amusing but folly-light landscape, Hafod would be little more than charming - a very polite expression of the Sublime - were it not for the Cavern Cascade which locks the whole experience together. Ladies should not deny themselves.

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