Prince Charles visited a famous bleeding yew tree in western Wales and rang the bells at a local church for the first time in 120 years

Charles, Prince of Wales
Prince Charles
| Credit: Chris Jackson-WPA Pool/Getty

Wales is known as a land of myths and legends, so when Prince Charles came to a tiny corner of Pembrokeshire, he had to see the mysterious bleeding yew tree in the graveyard at St. Brynach's church. 

The yew tree has stood for more than seven centuries in Nevern, with a trickle of thick red sap seeping out for hundreds of those years. 

As one story goes, a man who was hanged on the tree for a crime he didn't commit told bystanders that the tree would bleed in memorial of him forever. Others, like the church's minister Stephen Watkins, like to encourage a more religious reason — that it mirrors, and shows sympathy with, the sacrifice of Christ.  

Nature-loving Charles, 72, is fascinated with yew trees, so when he was shown the mythical wound "he was not really impressed with the legends," Watkins says. "He was more interested in the botanical reasons why it bleeds. I told him that, after the heavy rain we had in May, I noticed it was coming a great deal more. I think it is rainwater mixing with the heartwood."

Each year, 25,000 people visit the church yard — not only to see the tree and the ancient Celtic cross among the graves, but because it is also a key spot along the pilgrim's trail that leads to St. David's at the western tip of South Wales. 

Now there is another attraction: the church bells have been restored, and Charles was treated to the first official full peal of them for 120 years following a long campaign to get them back inside the 13th century church. 

Inside, he tried his hand at ringing the three Ellacombe bells, including one named for author Agatha Christie, whose grandson Mathew Prichard helped with donations for the $702,000 (£510,000) restoration fund. 

Charles was also interested to be told that among the ten restored bells in the square tower is one dating from 1590: It is from a set of four bells, of which two are still used today at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle.

It was a typical engagement for Charles, blending his love for traditional art and heritage with his passion for restoration projects, churches, and farming communities (indeed, he spoke enthusiastically about the some members of the congregation's cows).

He met local artist Alice Tennant, who showed him her watercolor and pastel paintings of local town Newport and surrounding areas. "He said he doesn't get the time to do it as much these days and he misses painting," she says. 

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It came as part of the annual Wales Week that Charles and wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall spend in the country — though his "darling wife," as he called her to the church volunteers, couldn't be there today. 

He was shown some local flower arrangements featuring delphiniums, which he grows at his home Highgrove. "He is a genuine gardener and was so delighted to see them," says Ceridwen Phillips. "He said his wife would have loved to have seen the arrangements." 

Outside Charles spoke with local volunteers who care for the local castle ruins. A local named Peter Davies proudly wore a tie for the local Tivyside Hunt. Charles, who used to hunt on horseback before it was banned, was told how they still do so in Wales, within the law — chasing after scent rather than foxes. It is rough terrain over the rocky, and sometimes marshy, Preseli mountains and forests. Recalling his own experience on similar terrain, the prince told Davies, "I remember galloping in Dartmoor once, on somebody else's horse, and I've never been so frightened in all my life!"

Then, just before getting into his battery-powered Audi, he met a shire horse with a familiar name: Prince George!

Today was themed around churches as it is the centenary of the Burch in Wales. He begun the day with a service at St. David's Cathedral.