Leaving Lichfield I remembered Google map’s prediction: 165 miles, 3 hours 15 minutes to Llandeilo Carmarthenshire. That is on the route I suggested, dragging the line away from the M5 /M4 junction, to the M5 /M50 junction. Google thinks I have added 3 minutes. I think I have saved 30 minutes.

So I imagine leaving Lichfield, heading south and west. But actually I reach a series of roads that only travel either north and west or south and east. Google has also already told me that ‘this route has tolls’. A picture comes to mind of the 1770s toll house at St Fagans*, and of the Merched Beca marching towards it.

I am going to my parents house, however, not driving to Llandeilo. I am heading south and east. I crawl through Walsall’s traffic to reach the M6. I regret not paying tolls. It takes me over an hour to travel 20 miles back towards Warwickshire, looking across sheds, industrial units and housing as the Motorway hovers at roof level.

The last time I arrived by car in Lichfield I was breaking a journey from the north of England back to Wales. I reflect on how, coming that way, I thought it was a quiet market town, on the edge of countryside. Taking morning coffee in the Cathedral café garden I thought I could be in a country hotel.

The first time I travelled direct to the Cathedral from Wales was with Richard Higlett. We spent the car journey up the M50 and the M5 talking about churches, Cathedrals, and the differences between those words; about leaving and returning; about writing and the visual; about association and memory.

Richard is fascinated by telling details. We both enjoy considering the relocation of Charles II to his present spot just by the Cathedral’s side door. The relationship between the Gospels in the Chapter House and the rest of the building is full of possibilities. We notice the new plinth for an altar, and listen to the description of how it can rise or retract into the floor.

We have bacon sandwich and tea in the café.

I decided to travel next time by train. Again I stay with my parents. I meet Beth at New Street station. Once on board the stopper, we are told that the train is not now stopping at Lichfield City, but that Lichfield Trent Valley is nearer the city centre anyway.

Lichfield, photo: Beth Lewis

Lichfield, photo: Beth Lewis

Finding our way down the station stairs to street level, the Cathedral spire orients us. We have to act on trust. We walk back to the Cathedral, and enter as if we were arriving for the first time, each other’s company bringing questions and observations. One thing we agree on : having lived so much of our lives within short journeys of the place, why had we not visited before being involved in this project?

We are both fascinated by the relationship between the Cathedral, the spaces around it, sensing its community within a community. I am becoming very fond of the café, I explain. Beth seems to enjoy the garden behind the shop. I photograph her photographing, and notice she has a Spillers Records bag.

Whilst we spend a long time in the Chapter House, and discuss with the volunteers the Gospels and the hoard, the Welsh language and Wales, we also talk about the passage of time, of measuring the passage of time by families, generations. I try and check where and when her family was in Wales and when they arrived in the Midlands, and whether it was the same time as when my mother arrived from Wales.

In the café we have quiche and salad, and share a piece of cake.

We first meet, all three of us, to travel to Llandeilo. It is pouring with rain. It was quicker than I had thought, leaving Cardiff was easy, unusually. It is raining so hard we have to slow right down on the Motorway. I imagine cars overtaking us having come down the M6, down the M5, down the M50, along the M4.

We have a walk up and down the High Street. We escape the rain by going to the café. It is lunch – wonderful sandwiches, salads, tea.

We are admitted to the Church, standing on its triangular corner of the town. The volunteers who maintain the Gospel display are welcoming, informative, and seem to enjoy our interest in the details of the church and its community. They provide us with tea and biscuits while we talk. We discuss the differences between the display about the Gospels here compared to the one in Lichfield. This one is in two languages, and has a dvd about making vellum pages.

Leaving the church, Richard shows us where he was in a residency a while ago. We check out the various public notices and maps. We decide not to have another trip to the café. We have to move on.

* The 18th century Toll House from west Wales is displayed in Amgueddfa Werin Cymru : St Fagans : National History Museum. It is shown at roughly the period of the Rebecca Riots, when workers, known as ‘Y Merched Beca’ due to their wearing women’s clothing (to disguise their identities) attacked toll houses and gates in protest against their imposition.