A COMPLICATED grid of tidal ditches named reens drains the sea-moor.

Reen is an ancient water-word, derived from the same roots as Rhine, Rhone and Rhondda.

But the reens have with one exception Saxon names like Bowleaze, Saltmarsh, Gout and Elver Pill. Gout is pronounced gut and is the expressive name applied to the exits, beyond the sluices of the reens.

Most impressive of the reens is Monksditch.

From its head waters in Wentwood, past Tregarn mill and the Ford farm it flows until at Llanwern it is raised eight feet above the road level and continues thus to Whitson and the sea.

The monks of Goldcliff Priory performed this remarkable feat of engineering.

I have vivid memories of boyhood days alongside Monksditch.

My father’s passion for eel-pie took him and us, to the great reen, and while the fished we enjoyed the fearful thrill of emulating Blondin, crossing and re-crossing the narrow tree-trunks which spanned the reen.

Yet we never mustered sufficient courage to pole-vault the reens, as the farm-labourers did with their “powts”.

I have known Monksditch in the depths of winter, when the high winds whistle through the rees; I have seen, on a still summer evening, a heron, unaware of my presence for minute, standing as if in meditation in the cool water; but for magical loveliness give me the banks of Monksditch near Great Barn in February, when the snowdrops nod to their sliver reflections,.

Human habitation of the sea-moors goes back to remote ages.

We have as evidence the Iron Age landing camp at Sudbrook, a Stone Age communal tomb and a Roman villa site near Portskewett, Roman relics from Redwick and Goldcliff, and a ‘stone of hope’ maen gobaith - a guiding stone beyond Magor alongside the old road which crosses the plain from Sudbrook to Christchurch, where it joins the prehistoric and Roman Ridgeway.

It was a mistake to talk of Caldicot Level as ‘devoid of Welsh place-names’.

Recall Lliswerry, Llanwern, Pwllpen (Pulpan), Craig-y-Perth wood, Pant-yr-Eos, Spytty (Yspitty), Bryngwyn, Llanfihangel Rogiet and especially the sonorous Llancadwaladr at Bishton, Nash of course is ‘an ash’, its Welsh namebeing Trefonen.

On a grey morning I was driving homewards from Goldcliff.

Ahead of me Newport lay under a pall of cloud and smoke.

Suddenly the sun broke through from a southern cloud and shone like a searchlight on the tower and spire of an ancient church.

Forgetting the highway code and all other mundane affairs, I pulled up short to see this mysterious manifestation from heaven.

It was a view which would have set Turner or Constable aflame.

They grey stone steeple, strongly stereoscope against the sky gloom, glowed with a silvery radiance: the flat meadows were enamelled a vivid Irish green: the sheep looked up, startled by the sudden brilliance and I felt as Moses must have felt when he stood before the burning bush.

In such moments of transfiguration the beauty of this county of ours is so exquisite as to defy expressio by word or line: it demands the “cold purity of music”.West of the church arose two stacks like the funnels of an enormous linter.

I thanked the gods of Gwent that our bigger generating station had been placed here, at Uskmouth, instead of at Llanover, but a sudden prophetic vision showed me Nash Church in A.A. 19 lost in a wilderness of brick and mortar, concrete and stucco.

So I set to work to record it in its pristine settings.

The sketch completed, I took the turning marked “Uskmouth”, and found the hedges in late October, laden with the big blackberries which we usually pick in Mid-September.

At the bend of the lane I came within sight of the church, known hereabouts as the Cathedral of the Moors, although the people of Magor and Peterstone give the same name to their churches.

Nash Church belonged to Goldcliff Priory in1349, when Robert Arney was institued to the benefice.

I wonder what the original builders would say to the misguided folk who have maltreated this stately old sanctuary.

They would call down maledictions on the vandals who removed the stone mullions from the windows, replacing them by timber mullions from a village.

Nash, I believe, is the only Monmouthshire church to retain its original box-pews, three-decker pulpit, and musicians' gallery.

Yet somebody with the soul of a cockney cheapjack has daubed thick paint on this priceless ancient furniture.

Buttresses support the tower and the nave on the north side, so the "pull of the sea" must be reversed here.

A mark on the tower indicated the hight to which the flood rose in 1606.

As at Whitson there is a scratch dial on the south wall of the nave.

Big as it is - and there were congregations of four hundreds during the war - Nash was originally much larger, for the west side of the tower indicates there was once a north aisle.

The axis of the chancel diverges southwards from the nave axis.

When I visited Mr Herbert Stevens at Manor Farm, Whitson, he described a terrible storm in the early years of this century.

At the height of it a neighbour ran to tell him that a ship was wrecked off Nash Lighthouse.

"We collected other men living near," said Mr Stevens, and "made our way to the lighthouse.

"the tide was going out and soon we were able to reach the wreck.

"One drowned sailor lay on the mudbank, the other four - the crew of a Bristol trader laden with general cargo - were lashed to the mast, all dead.

"We carried them and laid them on the floor."

This is an extract from Hando's Gwent