AS I walked up the narrow stony lane, its hedgerows bright with pink wild-roses, I saw in my imagination a saintly face with burning eyes, a frail figure garbed in Benedictine habit, knotted scourge girdle, a silver cross on his breast and a golden cross hanging down from a rosary of black beads.

This was the man who dared in a Scots episcopal church to preach the eucharistic presence, and the veneration of God's Virgin Mother, the man who aroused fierce hatred in English hearts, yet had faced the mobs of London's dockland. And in conflict with Charles Bradlaugh, had won to his side an audience of atheists by the sheer magic of his personality.

Robbed by a trick of his monastery and property at Norwich, Father Ignatius came to the Llanthony valley in 1869 hoping to house a neo-Benedictine brotherhood in the abbey.

When the owner objected, he bought 33 acres and the right of a sheep-walk above Capel-y-Ffin, laid a foundation stone and administered the first mass at an improvised altar in the old farmhouse of Ty-Gwyn.

By the July he had installed his small community in a shed.

The story of their transport, of their hardships during that first winter (when their only physical comfort was an open fire on the damp earth floor of the refectory) of the superhuman efforts to cut the stones, bring them on rough tracks to the site, and to raise them to considerable heights, is a minor saga.

Frequently the monk of Llanthony left for the great cities where he preached and collected so much money that in spite of the enormous expense - the reredos from Munich cost £2,000 - he was able to aver that no stone entered the precincts until the money was available for its payment.

What remains from those extraordinary days? I met Miss Joyce Newport who, with Mrs Eric Gill owns the property, which is now a unique guest house. She gave me carte blanche to investigate, and this is what I saw.

The church, open to the sky, is an awful ruin. In the floor, smashed by a fallen heavy corbel is the cross which marks the grave of Father Ignatius. 'PRIMUSOVE ABBAS, RIP OBIT 16 OCT MCMVIII'.

Gone is all the splendour; the church, chancel only, was never completed; of the altars, stalls, canopies, nuns' galleries, reredos, great organ, nought remains; the walls are in such a perilous state that visitors enter the ruins at their own risk.

The monastery buildings on the other hand, far from being as a recent writer described them, 'in ruins', are in excellent preservation.

They form a block around the garth, the lower storey being the 'cloister' which is not a cloister. Nearly all the windows are pointed and instead of opening on to the magnificent hills, give views of the garth.

The superior's cell, shown in my drawing under the oriel window in the centre, the refectory, sacristy, common room, gusts' dining room and sitting room (once the 'prophets' chamber) and cubicles and library retain the authentic monastic atmosphere, and on the sunny afternoon of my visit surprised me (for I have no element of the anchorite) by their attractiveness.

Eric Gill, whose portrait and message greet the visitor at the entrance, had founded, with Hilary Peppler and Desmond Chute, the Ditchling Guild.

Dedicated to beauty, goodness and truth, this company of craftsmen had as their motto, 'Man's work should bear witness to his love of God', and became members of the Third Order of St Dominic.

The publicity which the guild attracted was anathema to Gill. In a famous exodus he and three families - 13 people, a pony, chickens, cats, dogs, goats, geese, ducks, magpies and luggage - hired a lorry at Pandy and arrived at Capel-y-Ffin in a typical Welsh cloudburst, to find that their new home had no conveniences except water.

With immense energy they faced their jobs, and soon became a self-contained community, the others running the house and farm while Gill cut tombstone inscriptions and wood engravings, especially for the Golden Cockerel Press.

It was at Capel-y-Ffin that he devised his world famous alphabet of sans-serif type, and others, for the Monotype Corporation.

With his engravings and sculptures and lettering, mass before breakfast and frequent psalms and prayers in the chapel which he built (and which still survives), Eric Gill strove after the Dominican way of life, 'My dearest thoughts,' he wrote, 'and all my desiring shall be always in His presence.'

With his people he took long walks in the enchanted land around the monastery.

'One of the loveliest things in the world is the walk from Rhiw Wen at the top of the valley back to Capel-y-Ffin,' he used to say, and who would challenge him?

He was at the monastery from 1924 to 1928, when he chartered two railway trucks and three pantechnicons for another exodus, but in 1930 he bought the monastery for his eldest daughter, who lived there until 1956.

From Capel-y-Ffin we continued to climb past the last coppice, up and up, past the new youth hostel at Castle Farm, and parted company with the young Honddu at 1,300ft altitude.

Within two miles we topped the pass at the breathtaking 'Bwlch yr Efengyl' - the gospel pass - a name which is variously explained. Some authorities say that it dates back to the day when Archbishop Baldwin came this way, others that the Lollards came singing along this way, and still others that when the Baptists were turned out of their chapels, they came this way to another.

For us, as always, there was one programme. We parked the car on the Bwlch, and while Ysiad enjoyed her mountaineering vicariously, the two boys and I set off for the summit.

l Excerpt from Hando's Gwent Volume One, edited by Chris Barber