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This report is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams
Because we have friends there, and commitments of one kind and another, we are often on the road that skirts Cwmbran (‘valley of the crow’ – a local stream) and Pontypŵl (‘bridge of the pool’) and rises sharply towards Penperlleni (‘hill orchards’), one of the many entrances to rural Gwent, and heads northwards still to Abergavenny (‘mouth of the river Fenni’ – that is, its confluence with the Usk). As you approach the old market town, if it is a bright, clear day, though you have done this a hundred times before, you marvel at its setting. On three sides it is enclosed by mountains: to your left the Blorenge (the name of uncertain origin, but one of those rare rhymes with ‘orange’) at 559m., to the right the rugged and broken-backed Ysgyryd Fawr (‘great split’) at 486m, and straight ahead, dominating the scene, a symmetrical simulacrum of an extinct volcano, the 590m Sugar Loaf. They are not high, compared with the Black Mountains, of which they are the outliers, still less with the Brecon Beacons a little further to the north and west (some might think of them as hills), but as a backdrop to the town they are spectacular. You have a short while to enjoy the scene before the road bends and dips into Llanofer (‘church of Myfor’), and the mind, pondering time-wrought transformations in place names as all else, turns from topographical to historical considerations.

English made early inroads into Gwent, the fate of a borderland, but it was not a steadily advancing linguistic ...

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