Journal of a Country: A Majestic Rock with an Enormous History | Written by Jim Perrin
In the 13th century, there was a legendary figure known as Moll Walbee in the local region of Radnorshire. It was said that she was a giant and she was believed to have built Hay Castle’s gatehouse in just one day. According to the tale, while crossing the River Wye, Moll Walbee discovered a piece of grit in her boot. She removed it and threw it across the river, where it landed in the circular churchyard at Llowes. This stone became known as Moll Walbee’s Stone and stood at 7 feet tall, made of a hard, pale-grey sandstone.
The location of the menhir has changed, and it is currently situated inside St Meilig’s church in the village. However, it used to be located at Croesfeilliog on the eastern side of Begwns mountain, above Llowes. It was positioned next to the road between Clyro and Painscastle. I can envision weary travelers making the sign of the cross as they hurried by on the secluded road. The menhir, like numerous other pre-Christian artifacts in Britain, was incorporated into the Christian faith. A devout monk carved a unique wheel-cross design onto it.
During the storm last week, I sought refuge from the rain in the porch of St Meilig’s church. As the wind raged, I noticed small groups of fieldfare and redwing birds flying eastward or snacking on the plentiful haws of the season. The hazel hedges’ foliage glowed in a bright lemon color in the fading light. Curiosity led me to try the church door, which was surprisingly unlocked. As I entered, I was met with an unexpected sight at the western end of the nave – an ancient megalith facing towards the altar. While I have seen other megaliths repurposed for different beliefs, such as the Stones of Drumtroddan on the Isle of Whithorn in Dumfries and Galloway, none have been as strikingly out of place as this one.
My mind drifted back to Moll Walbee. Behind her name lurks an historical personage from the 12th century – Maude de Sainte Valerie. The Elizabethan historian William Camden characterised her as a “malapert, stomackfull woman”. She upbraided King John about his treatment of the young Prince Arthur, and paid for it with her life – imprisoned with her young son in Corfe Castle, with just a sheaf of wheat and a piece of bacon by way of provisions. After 11 days the room was opened. Both were found dead, the boy’s cheeks gnawed, and not by rats.