IT WAS a golden day in September.

My friend and I had left Newport by car in the early morning. We were last seen by people of this world buying petrol near Raglan. Soon afterwards, we entered that other world—that upland, never-never, cloud-cuckooland, that honey-and-cream world, that virtuous, matchless, delectable home of enchantment, the Penallt country.

There is little need for alcohol in that country. The air is exhilarating, heady. So it is that men with voices like corn-crakes find themselves singing—aye, singing songs from "Aida"—while the shocked and highly-civilised folk of Penallt hold up their hands in horror.

We visited the church, The Generals, Anne's Cottage, and a dozen other abodes. Wherever we travelled, I noticed that a great pole, or a tower seemingly of Meccano construction, was visible. The pole, so George informed me, was the maypole; the tower was the new fire-watchers' tower on Trellech Beacon. We found the maypole in a district labelled Maryland. I am convinced that the name should be Merryland, in the same class as Merrymeet, Merryvale, Merryhill, where, on May Day, the good folk assembled for sports and dancing, games and merrymaking. Then we climbed. The survey point on the Beacon is 1,003ft. high and the crossroad from Vicar's Allotment to Cotland took us to within shouting distance of the summit.

A young and friendly forester joined us and watched as George and I climbed the tower. We were satisfied with the second landing, where we stopped and smoked and sketched. Soon we heard the steps of the forester as he climbed to rejoin us and we have wondered since why he sought our company. Was it that he found our conversation highly improving? Did he prefer us to his own habitual forest solitude? Or — or —did he fear for the safety of two decrepit patriarchs . . .? Ultimately, the other two descended and I, from my eyrie I,050ft. up, pro-ceeded to find the well-loved landmarks. The great prospect was framed westwards by the pastel-blue hills, from Twyn Barllwm (strangely attenuated) in the south, to the peaks of the Black Mountains ; northwards lay the Wye Valley and the rolling greenness of Herefordshire; to the east, the incredible beauty of Dean in early autumn; south-east and south shone Severn silver.

Yet it was the foreground of the picture which gripped me. Trellech I have known for a lifetime, in sunshine and under snow. Seen from this height however, this singularly charming village seemed to sink into a lovely unreality. Away to the south I fancied I could distinguish the field of the Virtuous Well; to the left of the road from St. Arvans that most glorious knife-edge ridgeway—like three tiny fingers arose the grey menhirs planted thousands of years before the Romans came; between Court Farm and the church I could make out Terret Tump, which the Normans had crowned with their transient keep; slight and graceful, the brown spire arose from the solid church; somewhere near, I knew, was the inn above whose porch growled the smallest lion on earth; great trees, beautifully placed, guarded the village; and all the landscape lines -the roads from Monmouth and Raglan, St. Arvans, Tintern and Llandogo: the hedges; even the undulations of the land—focused on Trellech.

I remembered also, that the three great stones had been flung from the Skirrid by Jack o' Kent along the line of midwinter sunset into Trellech. Yes, Trellech was the principal object in the landscape, but nevertheless, I could not escape from the dream-feeling of unreality. Maybe it was the beauty of the afternoon light; maybe it was the knowledge, so often gained in this old land, that while we come and go, Gwent remains, changeless; maybe it was the effect of my elevated viewpoint. But at all events, I was glad to get down to the heather of the pine wood. Back in Penallt, I met more of the people. I was introduced to a veteran, aged 86, who was pruning a hedge.

"Mr. Handle?" he commented, "Are you the gentleman who wrote all that music?"

I noted their slow, Gloucester-burred speech, their calm, their assurance, their courtesy. And when day was done and our car was stealing homewards, we both agreed that it was good once again to mix with folk whose tempo of life was synchronised with the tempo of their countryside.

Fred Hando’s work is published courtesy of Chris Barber.