An Ancestral Pilgrimage

The main purpose of our weekend away to the Welsh border was to go on an ancestral pilgrimage. I have ancestors from Monmouth and the surrounding area and had researched what I wanted to see and try and look for. The day we arrived it was pouring with rain and I had forgotten to bring my walking boots. Not a good start when I had planned to walk around some graveyards and churches. But after a bit of searching in nearly every charity shop on Monmouth’s high street, I found a pair of wellies for only £4. Yes they were women’s and three sizes too small, but as I could squeeze my feet into them I bought them anyway!

The first port of call was St Mary’s Priory Church on Whitecross Street in Monmouth. It’s a nice looking church, but I had no success. We had to use the car for the rest of our destinations. The next on the list was Monmouth cemetery, which was less than a five minute drive from where we were parked.

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It was still pouring with rain when we parked in one of the very few spaces next to the cemetery’s chapel. Emma stayed in the car and I headed out with my women’s wellies and umbrella. It was quite a fascinating cemetery, with some interesting looking headstones and it was larger than I expected. I searched and searched for possible ancestors, but once again it was a failed attempt. I had a ganders inside the chapel before I left. It had a sign on the door saying open, so my curiosity got the better of me. Nobody was inside but there was a significant amount of information on the walls about the cemetery and Monmouth and there were even a few artifacts.

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A ten minute drive north of the cemetery, just over the border back into England, was Welsh Newton and the Saint Mary The Virgin Church. We had to drive through Buckholt to get there, which was where my great great great grandfather was born. I don’t know what the area was like in the 1800’s but today Buckholt is basically a road with a couple of houses on. I didn’t expect to find anything at this church, but I knew it was where this same ancestor was baptised and married.

Emma parked outside the gate and I fought with my umbrella as I walked up the path towards the church, as the wind had picked up significantly. The church was open and not a soul was about. The graveyard and the church had a very quiet and airy feel to it. The weather added to this with the wind swirling around outside and the odd sound of raindrops tapping against the roof and windows of the church. I admired the font where my ancestor was baptised, stood where the vicar would when speaking to their congregation and I managed to refrain from pulling on the church bells. I found one headstone outside that could have been an ancestor, but after researching it later I couldn’t find a connection.

The last stop on the list was back towards Monmouth, in the little area of Dixton where St Peter’s Church sits peacefully next to the River Wye. I liked the look of this church. It’s unusual white appearance gave it a distinctive look. Once again the church was open and empty. Maybe this is a normal thing in this area, but it was a very strange feeling to be able to wander round a church alone with no one watching over me. I checked out the pamphlets on the table by the front benches, walked up and down the aisle and sneaked up the staircase where there was a piano, or maybe it was an organ…I really should pay more attention! I had a look at the graves around the church and admired the view of the river. On a nicer day we would have walked along the footpath by the river.

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I didn’t have a huge amount of success overall. I was hoping to find a significant grave or maybe a very conveniently placed records book in one of the churches but I knew it was a long shot. It was still fun to explore these old buildings and cemeteries and I was able to walk in the steps of some of my ancestors.

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