We went away for a couple of weeks in June, cycling from London to Wales. We stopped at lots of places on the way, and after we reached Wales, continuied up the borders as far as Hay-on-Wye, before returning to London from Hereford. Seems we don't have very energetic friends because many of them have viewed this trip as if it is the equivalent of cycling from London to Tibet. In fact it was not difficult on our ordinary bikes, with ordinary clothing and panniers - although it got decidedly hilly when we reached Wales.
The weather wasn't particularly cooperative but mostly we avoided the worst of it. One of my favourite places on the trip was Llanthony Priory, not far from Abergavenny, in the Vale of Ewyas. There's no doubt that this area is romantic and full of legends, and it really feels like it, too, when you're cycling around in the silence and loneliness.
Llanthony was an Augustinian priory which, like most other priories in Britain, was suppressed by dear Henry VIII, one of the near-psychopathic monarchs who enliven British history. Before that, Llanthony had its share of distinguished visitors, including Edward II who stopped by en route to his appointment with murder at nearby Berkeley Castle.
When we arrived, there was mist over the hills and a constant drizzle of rain.
The ruins are in the care of CADW and were nearly deserted, although I like the E type Jaguar poking out from behind a wall. But they were not entirely deserted because built into the ruins is a very old inn. It's a slightly unexpected thing to find in a priory, although I suppose the monks brewed ale and offered accommodation. But it seemed a pleasant old place.
And in fact since it began to rain heavily at this point, we decided to go inside. The bar is down several steps in the old cellar, welcoming enough.
Some locals who had been working nearby had come in to escape the rain and have some lunch.
A local lady's excellent home made cakes were for sale at the bar, along with various other things like a local artist's picture book and so on. The food seemed fine, and the whole place with its stone flagged floors and simple wooden furniture was down to earth and in no way "fancy."
If you look at the back of the room you can see a small door in the wall, reached by steps. This is the door into the dining room and I don't think non residents are supposed to go in there. I did creep in and it was really old. Not fake olde-world, nor interior-decorated vintage charm. Just ancient, and its great age gave it a much rarer appeal. I always think it's sad that many supposedly "old" places have in fact been altered to make them look old, and in fact a close inspection reveals everything to be modern and well-finished.
No, this was old, just as it would have been a hundred years ago, and more. In fact, it reminded me of a Vermeer interior. (You can just spot T. outside in his fluorescent coat). I don't suppose in Vermeer's time there would have been an "exit" sign on the door, though.
I picked up a leaflet which gave details of the accommodation. It pointed out that there is no running water in any of the bedrooms, as you would expect in a 12th century building. They DO have bathrooms, of course - they don't take authenticity that far. Here are the Tripadvisor reviews. I'm usually sceptical about Tripadvisor, which so often rates the blandest five star places above the quirky interesting ones. However, the reviewers seem to have appreciated the special atmosphere at Llanthony.
I was peeved that we hadn't stayed there, but that's one of the downsides of booking as you go along, and it was too early in the day to stop. So it's gone on my list of things to do another time.
As for the weather - well, it did cheer up after that, as the black clouds moved away. It was a lovely cycle over the pass to Hay.