Holidays and Other Excursions

Category: Wales

Barry, Gavin and Stacey, James

Wednesday 8 March 2017

We are going home today – but not immediately as we have one more restaurant booking.

We head down to the M4 and then bypass Cardiff coming into Barry from the west.  Barry Island historically was the home of the Woodham Brothers scrap yard, the location from which many of the preserved steam locomotives now in service around the country were rescued and this accounts for the relatively high number of former Great Western and Southern engines which were saved.  The small scrapping team cut wagons rather than locos and so many of the latter were there a long time.  I never visited in those days, but Dai Woodham is remembered with a street named after him.  The area generally has been redeveloped as there are new roads and buildings – we know about the former as the sat nav does not know where we are!

Much of the television series “Gavin and Stacey” was filmed in the area and the funfair (closed and undergoing winter refurbishment) is close to the front where we park and wander around.  The most amazing aspect of watching the world go by here is that nearly everyone seems to have a dog as there are huge numbers of them being walked on the beach in front of us.

In need of a cup of coffee (to warm us up) we enter one of the coffee shops and find (to our surprise) that it is packed.  They are all knitting or crocheting and we are told we have stumbled into the “Barry Hookers Crochet and Craft Club”!  And about half of them have dogs under the tables.  It honestly feels like we have actually walked into “Gavin and Stacey” (or perhaps “Stella”).  Apparently they are a club which meets regularly and they do have a Facebook page etc!  Who knew?  I believe there is also a full tour of “Gavin and Stacey” locations which can be done – but we do not have the time.

Returning to the car we meander along the coast to Penarth as our lunch is booked at James Sommerin which is one of the Good Food Guide Top 50 restaurants.  As ever photos come from the phone of Jackie Whitbread:

Goat’s cheese appetizer

Wood pigeon

Pea canneloni. With jambon. Was amazing! James’s signature dish that won him Great British Menu.

My lamb and broad beans.

Jackie’s sea bass which was scrummy (well it  all was)

Tastes of Tarte Tatin.

The cheeseboard from which to make a selection!

Once lunch has been completed we head out of town to the M4 and then bumble home.  We take the M4 itself eastbound and use the second Severn Crossing as we leave Wales.  As we are eastbound there are no tolls (you only pay to enter Wales) so we can just keep going.  Another holiday completed!

No distances this time – but for one holiday not enormous.  Bellies are very large after all those lovely meals.  James Sommerin and Walnut Tree Inn are both excellent.  And a couple of interesting train trips!

The Hardwick Inn

Tuesday 7 March 2017

A short post today.  I was taken out for lunch – but first we popped into Abergavenny to get the papers.

Today we are eating at lunchtime and the restaurant is between Abergavenny and our residence for the week in Penpergwm.  The chef at the Hardwick Inn is Stephen Terry.  As his cv shows he has moved around over the years including a period running the Walnut Tree before it went bad and came good again!  Jackie and I ate at the Canteen in Chelsea either during his time there or just shortly after as it was still pretty famous and that was a long time ago.  We never managed Coast which was famous about 20 years ago – one of those which got away.

Jackie recorded our lunch in photos and so she has provided this record of our excellent meal.


Jackie partook of crab and shrimp linguini followed by Moroccan chicken.  I had some wonderful pork tenderloin with lentils and fennel in a parsley sauce.  Jackie finished with ginger cheesecake with rhubarb and we shared the cheeses.

Jackie kindly drove us the relatively short distance back to our cottage and hardly surprisingly we went to sleep for most of the afternoon.

We found the film “The Railway Man” and watched the story of Eric Lomax.  Inevitably and for dramatic effect (it is a film not a documentary) some aspects of the eventual meeting of Lomax and his former jailer are not entirely true but it is powerful to have it played out.



Monday 6 March 2017

Today turned out to be a little more interesting than anticipated – by accident.  Jackie had expressed a wish to visit Hay-on-Wye which is about an hour’s drive and as Monday tends not to be a restaurant day it made sense to go and see the book capital – even if we were not overly worried about buying books.

So we wander around and it is clearly an amazing collection of bookshops.  I take a look at the shop proclaiming to have a good selection of railway books but I manage to persuade myself that I do not need any more!  We look in some of the other shops (books and other items) as we meander around the town.

We then head into one of the cafes and decide that hot soup is needed to warm up before we make the return journey.

Hay-on-Wye is a pretty little town and exists for book buyers and tourists with a very large car park at the southern end of the town; not overly full today.  I suspect a damp Monday does not bring out the best in the town and I have no doubt it gets busier in the summer.  Our outward journey skirted the Brecon Beacons as headed northwards and the entire setting is very attractive.

The sat nav when asked gives several routes back south so I choose one which is not the main road but appears to run largely parallel to the road that brought us north this morning.  We head out of town and find the right turning and almost immediately we start climbing.  And climb some more.  And keep on going up!

I later discover we are going over the Gospel Pass. As we climb we have to be careful as there are sheep everywhere and a sheepdog trying to collect a flock at one point.  When we reach the top there are some stunning views over the countryside.  Magnificent but unrecorded and I cannot find Jackie’s pictures.

As we progress I express the view that I am glad we are doing this trip out of season as the lane gets narrower and narrower and I have no idea what we might meet coming the other way (later in the year there is a programme on channel five where celebrities take some large camper vans over this road – I am surprised they fit!).  Some wonderful trees along the road too – Jackie’s photos:

We pass Llanthony Priory but again it is getting later in the day and we do not want to stop as it is not very warm.  We shall need to return one warmer day.

Back to Penpergwm and we hibernate out of harm’s way!

Dean Forest Railway

Sunday 5 March 2017

Another day, another meal.  As it says up there it is Sunday so what we have planned is a proper pub Sunday lunch – the Crown at Pantygelli is a little way up the valley from Abergavenny.  Whilst we are there at opening time the place soon fills up and we have the nice roast meal that we had hoped to have.

Being the weekend I had already established that the other main railway nearby was working – the Dean Forest Railway.  When doing my research I was a little surprised that both Brecon and the DFR were open and operating before Easter so this is a welcome bonus so early in the year.  The Dean Forest of course is actually a bit of a drive so we get moving immediately after lunch!

Again the line has been much extended as I seem to recall that the train ran out of the low level platform at Norchard when I last visited and then shuffled back and forth on the main line before running back into the same platform.

Passengers still mainly join the railway at Norchard which is in the middle of the line – there is passenger access at both ends but very limited parking whereas Norchard has a huge car park.

Now the railway has a platform at a higher level on the through line at Norchard and that line stretches between Lydney Junction (somewhere close to the National Rail line) alongside which there appears to have been ground clearance for a new development.  The other end of the line is Parkend which opened in 2006 and there are plans to extend further to Cinderford.  Wet and cold in the forest today.

Parkend is a beautiful little branch line terminus station for the end of the current railway and it has taken much work to bring it back to current standard.  From Norchard to Parkend the line is largely running in the forest and it is possible to take the railway one way and walk back and there are walks around the forest.

Photos of the railway are here.

We miss out on the Perrygrove Railway which I had not realised was also in this area, although we drive right by it.  And may well not have been operating.

Our return journey is via Symonds Yat (well a very small diversion).  However it is getting towards the end of the afternoon and it is not very warm so we do not park and walk to the view.  The area is heavily wooded and so we cannot see any views.

Brecon Mountain Railway

Saturday 4 March 2017

This morning we are off to Pant (it is a place not a shortage of breath) which is at the northern end of Merthyr Tydfil.  The first part of the journey which had been so slow through the roadworks on Thursday on the Heads of the Valley road was not too bad this time and we get to Pant in plenty of time to go and buy some papers and then sit in the car park to do some sudoku – well it is Saturday and therefore sudoku day!  It is raining and not very warm at all today, much the same as yesterday – perhaps even colder.  Not ideal weather for a narrow gauge railway ride!

The trackbed was originally the Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Railway, opening in 1859 and closing in 1964.  The current station is marginally to the West of the original site as it was not available when the narrow gauge railway was first built.  The new narrow gauge railway opened in 1980; it is of 1ft 113/4in gauge.

Loco no 2 and three coaches appear for our ride on the Brecon Mountain Railway – and surprisingly the coaches steadly fill up more than I had expected.  No 2 is a Baldwin locomotive, built in 1930, a 4-6-2, originally built for the Eastern Province Cement Company in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and acquired in about 1990.  At the time of our visit it is the only steam loco with the power to haul a train up the gradients.  Another locomotive is being completed to share the duties.

Since my last visit (in the early 1980’s) the line has been extended twice and on the outward journey we do not stop at the previous terminus of Pontsticill which is at the southern end of the Pontsticill Reservoir.  Indeed it is fair to say that Pant station is also completely different and it is clearly a much better developed railway with significant new investment.  But that is true of so many lines over such a long period.

Still some great scenic views as we head towards the hills.  The most recently opened section of the line is in forested area.  The new terminus is at Torpantau and further extension is I suspect unlikely as the railway feels to be a decent length of run and the outward journey, particularly the last section, is certainly an uphill task for the loco.  The northern terminus is also not quite on the original trackbed.

On the return journey we pause for a while at Pontsticill as the loco goes off to take water (and I suspect to clean the fire and a good oil round).  The passengers can (as most do) head for the tea room but there are also stored vehicles which can be inspected and stretch passenger legs.  Probably nicer on a warmer day!

However I am really surprised by the level of patronage as I had half expected an almost empty train – but by whatever means they are clearly getting good support.

Lots of photos can be found here.

We return home to read the papers after some light refreshment at Pant.  Come the evening we trek through the back roads (I suspect the sat nav is having a moment) to Restaurant 1861.  I am not sure we do not almost go round in a circle.

By and large we choose restaurants which are well regarded in the Waitrose “Good Food Guide” and hence the inclusion of this restaurant.  Jackie kindly posted this on her Facebook page:

“Umm!  That was interesting.  Started off well with confit and smoked goose for me and fish soup for Richard.  Then the driest venison in history.  No pud for me as I never throw good money after bad, but we shared some cheeses, so were served one pre dessert (a tiny cup of orange and pumpkin soup) between us with 2 teaspoons!  On objection, I was told is was a complimentary treat from the kitchen.  Needless to say, there was no complimentary tip from the diners.  AND they charge to use a credit card. So a debit card was used.”

My main course was hearts from the daily menu which I rather liked and I enjoyed.  So we have slight disparity of views over our main courses.  I do feel that the lack of a pre-dessert for Jackie was simply wrong and since this was experienced we are moving to the point where credit card surcharges will largely be abolished as I understand it.  Tonight was a disappointment.

The homeward journey was by the main roads rather than the back roads – which requires almost going into Abergavenny and out again.  But better than the narrow backroads after a glass of wine.


Friday 3 March 2017

The plan today is for a much quieter day than yesterday.  We bumble into Abergavenny and find both the cheese shop and the market where there is of course a cheese stall.  A number of smelly cheeses are acquired.  The weather is nowhere near so nice today and there is ongoing drizzle and  it is not as warm.  Burton have had a shop in the town for many years and it is possible to record evidence of the attractive signage that used to be used and its incorporation in the building structure.  It makes the current one word “Burton” seem very stark by comparison.

The main plan for today revolves around taking lunch at a place which has been on our “to eat at” list for many years.  The Walnut Tree Inn at Llandewi Skirrid has been famous for a very long time.  The original owner (Franco Taruschio) retired and sold on and the restaurant had a few bumpy years before being bought by Shaun Hill in 2008 and has returned to good standing.  The chef we last encountered in Ludlow when it was the centre of restaurant excellence a few years ago.

We both choose the same starters, a Lancashire cheese souffle, and main courses, confit duck, black pudding and pigs cheeks.  Eating the same meal used to be a little more common than it is these days.  As we eat the restaurant steadily fills up and the kitchen keeps the meals coming.  Here are Jackie’s photos of the two courses mentioned:

With lunch complete we return back to our cottage.  I admit to Jackie that the last time we ate the chef’s food it was in Ludlow and we had not been terribly impressed at the time compared with our other meal there.  Certainly this was not lacking in any way.  I know it was a Friday and the restaurant is just a few miles outside Abergavenny but the place steadily filled up with at least one celebratory party and meals were also being delivered to people sitting in the bar so the team were working very hard.  And I have no doubt it is like that most of the time.

Discussing it after the holiday we agree that this was probably the best meal of the week.

Brecon Beacons

Thursday 2 March 2017

I had worked out a longish drive today to see some different countryside and for much of the day we are in sunshine and for a period in the afternoon we even have the top down on the TT which is good considering the date.

First we head along the Heads of the Valley Road.  This is now a very busy road and has been much improved over the years – although some sections still go up and down the sides of the valleys!  Indeed just west of Abergavenny there is still a lot of improvement work going on along this  section and so it is very slow moving.  Further west it is much improved and we can move along at a better speed, much of the improvement is EU funded according to the signs.  We are skirting along the southern edge of the Brecon Beacons because the plan is to cross over them at their western end.

Upper Brynamman is our first target on the sat nav (as satellite navigation system is usually abbreviated these days) as it marks the way onto the A4069, which is known as the Black Mountain road.  Jeremy Clarkson is known to get up at a very early hour in London so that he can come down and drive this road when he has a suitable car with little other traffic (I gather it has featured on “Top Gear”).   Given the great weather we can drive at a relatively gentle pace enjoying the views as we descend on the far side.  We are heading north and there is a small stop so I manage to take some photos.

We drop down the other side into Llangadog and find the Red Lion hotel where we have a very cheap and good quality lunch (liver and onions for me).

From there we head cross country to Lampeter which all looks a little run down and old.  So we keep going to Tregaron and I find some toilets.  Jackie then finds some much nicer and newer ones!

Now we are on the western side of the Cambrian Hills and there is another tiny (un-numbered road) which is known as the Abergeswyn Pass.  Some more lovely driving.  We have the sat nav on and we follow its guidance as there is certainly one point where the “track” to take is not particularly clear and we really are in the middle of nowhere.  I wonder where we would have ended up had we turned left rather right!

Down the other side and as we wander through the countryside we see a sign to the Lake Country House hotel which we follow.  Despite having lunch we both fancy a cream tea plus a break from driving and where better than a country house hotel?   The hotel is near Llangammarch Wells.  Here is a photo of tea from Jackie Whitbread:

After our break we pass through some more beautiful countryside heading south through Upper and Lower Chapel and then through Brecon and onto the A40 for Abergavenny.  The A40 here in Wales is a pale shadow of the road which exists in West London.  Quite a few miles today and some lovely scenery, none of which I have covered before that I remember.

Heading to Penpergwm

Wednesday 1 March 2017

A new month and time for a holiday.  The driving is shared out today – I take the first chunk down to Leigh Delamere services for a quick stop.  Then Jackie takes the wheel and we take the old route over the First Severn crossing (now the M48 but of course the original M4)  and we continue into the Wye valley through Tintern; this section is all a bit twisty.  Then we take the turning for Whitebrook and it gets much narrower.  Progress is slower and the sat nav is convinced we have gone past our destination but we do find it and park.

We are at the Whitebrook Inn.  It is almost in the middle of nowhere – a pretty, wooded valley.  We agree that the starters are good but the main courses are a little bland – we both have the local lamb and it seems to lack taste.

Here is the duck confit and liver partfait starter from Jackie Whitbread’s photos:

Post lunch it is my turn to drive onto our final destination of  Penpergwm near Abergavenny.  The first bit is quite narrow as I continue west on the back roads from our lunch break – but some lovely views of the local countryside, as we descend from the hills on the west side of the Wye Valley we can see in the distance the Black Hills.

Our little holiday home is small – but should meet our needs  for the next week.  We are in Penpergwm which is a couple of miles east of Abergavenny and which is in Monmouthshire.  For a long time Parliamentary Acts referred to “Wales and Monmouth” as if it was not part of Wales or England – it is now very definitely in Wales with bi-lingual signs and even though the population is not heavily Welsh speaking.  It is not an area we have visited previously and there are a good number of decent restaurants to be visited this week which is the prime attraction.

And it is not utterly remote either.  As if we were at home Tesco turn up with a delivery so that we have the basics on hand.  It saves having to take the large car if we have the groceries delivered when we arrive.  Another benefit from the internet I suppose!  The owner lives in the main house adjacent – we are in an extension and the chickens are in the enclosure next to us.  There is space to sit outside but we are unlikely to use that this week.  The cottage has two bedrooms but we use the other one to put our cases out of the way.  It has been a longish day!