Saturday, 20 December 2014

Small Business Saturday

The sheets and towels stall.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Christmas Dinner at the Three Tuns

They put us on Table 13 - which seemed a bit ominous, but we had a very pleasant evening. The last time we had Christmas dinner at the Three Tuns, we took over most of the upstairs, and had quite a rowdy night. This time we were in the room at the front, on the far side from the bar, and we were far more restrained.
The room was hardly ever opened up in Lucy's time, but I remember a slide show being held in there. The speaker was an Arctic explorer, and about ten of us managed to cram ourselves around the big round table that took up the middle of the room, and pile ourselves onto the armchairs at the side, with the screen wedged in the far corner, and the projector near the door.
Now, the refurbishment has revealed the original features - the stone fireplace that was hidden behind the Victorian mantleshelf, and the thick plank wall at the back of the room, which once went all the way across.
The crackers at the Three Tuns are very posh, the waiters were very attentive and the Christmas dinner servings were more than ample. I nearly rolled home at the end. We were a bit puzzled by the abundance of beetroot in the menu, though - was it on special offer at the wholesalers, perhaps?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Hereford Railway Station

At first glance, there's not much of interest at Hereford Station. But on Monday I had a little time to wait for the train, and I noticed the history boards on the wall in the waiting room on Platform 2.
There were once three railway stations in Hereford, each belonging to a different railway company. The present station (built in 1856) was the biggest, and when it was decided to amalgamate the stations in the interests of efficiency, this was the one chosen. At the same time, in 1883, they re-designed the rail layout to be safer. And what you see now is almost unchanged since then - though they are now rebuilding the bridge across the tracks, and there's a temporary bridge at the other end of the platform.
I hadn't noticed until it was pointed out, because it's quite subtly done, that each of the Bath stone corbels around the station are carved to show different local wild plants.

At Great Malvern Station they did something similar with the ironwork, which is beautifully painted up and makes quite a feature on the platform, but this fades into the background unless you're the sort of person who makes a habit of looking for architectural features.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Keeping the Christmas Feast at Abergavenny

When I went to Shrewsbury, it happened to be the anniversary of the execution of Prince Dafydd in 1283 - although his older brother Llewelyn is always called the last independent prince of Wales, technically it was actually Dafydd, who held out until the June after Llewelyn's death.
So when I thought of having another day trip, I decided on Abergavenny because of the (rather gruesome) connection with Christmas.

The Lord of Abergavenny Castle, Henry de Braose, was ambushed and murdered by the retainers of Seisyllt ap Dyfnwal. Henry's heir was his nephew William. On the pretext of announcing a proclamation from the King, he invited the leading Welsh landowners of the district, including Seisyllt and his son Geoffrey, to a Christmas feast in Abergavenny Castle. As they sat to dinner the Sheriff of Hereford, Ranulf le Poer, started a quarrel - and gave the signal for the men at arms to attack the unarmed dinner guests. It was a massacre which became one of the inspirations for George RR Martin's Red Wedding in his Game of Thrones series - there was also a similar (and even bloodier) Scottish massacre.
And this is where it happened:

The hall was on the same level as the windows, with storage below.

Later, the sons and grandsons of the murdered men attacked the castle - but William was not at home. Gerald of Wales records that he saw one of the arrowheads from the raid, embedded in the thick oak door of the castle, six years later. The vengeful Welsh did catch up with Ranulf le Poer later, though, and killed him.

It took me a long time to find the castle. I followed the signposts which are scattered through the town, but I ended up going round in circles. Partly this was because I was assuming that the castle would be at the top of the hill. It is not. When I found the map at High Cross in the town centre I saw that the castle was actually built at the bottom of the hill, overlooking the River Gavenny, with the town sprawling up the hill behind it. It's still a superb defensive position, and the town walls would have provided good defence there. The town museum is in the Victorian building where the keep was originally, and it's all free.
The Romans recognised the potential of the site, too - their fort was just next door to the castle, under what is now the Castle Street car park, which also has one of several public toilet blocks around the town.

The Priory was outside the bounds of the walls, as was traditional, and is now the largest parish church in Wales. I went there looking for the wooden statue of Jesse, the ancestor of Jesus, who was originally the base for an enormous carving of Jesus' entire family tree. He's lying on his side as if asleep, and he's unique in Medieval art.
I hadn't realised that there are a whole lot of other monuments in the church, mostly in the Herbert Chapel to one side, and I was delighted to find that one of them is Eva de Braose. She was the granddaughter of Matilda de Braose, who built Hay Castle. In 1230 her father William (another William - the family didn't have a lot of imagination with names) was hanged after being found in bed with Llewelyn the Great's wife Joan (another Llewelyn - grandfather of Llewelyn the Last. That family didn't have much imagination with names either). William had four daughters, and Eva got Abergavenny Castle. She still had interests in Hay, though, as it was she who applied for permission to raise a murage tax to build a town wall for Hay. She died at Abergavenny - she is said to have fallen from the walls of the castle while chasing her pet squirrel.

There is also a rather fine Wetherspoons at the top of the hill, which was once the Coliseum Cinema. Judging from the grand staircase, it must have been a real picture palace, but I didn't see any way to get to the bar if you can't climb the stairs.
In the morning, I had coffee at the Cwtch Cafe, down near the bottom of the main street. The speciality of the cafe seemed to be Canadian pancakes with crispy bacon and scrambled eggs and maple syrup, so I went back for lunch, only to find that the owner is the only one who can cook it, and he wasn't there that day. The scrambled eggs I had instead were beautifully fluffy, though - I shall have to go again.
Monday is also a bad day to visit the Priory, as the Tithe Barn heritage centre is closed, and they have costumes based on some of the tombs in the Priory. One of them, of Gwladys, wife of William ap Thomas, was on display in the Priory, complete with bejewelled head dress copied from the tomb.
I went by bus to Hereford, and caught the train. The ticket cost £12.20, and trains are frequent. However, the station is nowhere near the centre of town. It was quite a trek down the hill to the river, but at least I could see the bright green top of the Market Hall, so I knew I was going the right way!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Keeping Up Old Christmas

All Saints Church at Cwmbach is bitterly cold! I went with Brian, and we could tell the people who had been to evening performances there before, because they arrived shrouded with shawls and carrying blankets and seat cushions! There is heating - high up the wall so it warms the air in the roof space - and the church was lit by candles in jam jars for the performance itself. The singers had small lights clipped to their song books.
The occasion was the Village Quire (with Phil Smith) singing old carols and songs, interspersed with readings from local folklore, poetry and memoirs. In the first half, several of the readings covered the visit of the Green Knight to Arthur's Court from the medieval poem Gawain and the Green Knight (complete with grisly green head at the appropriate moment, with long red ribbons coming from the neck to signify the blood!) Quite by chance, I had been listening to a version of Gawain and the Green Knight that afternoon, narrated by Ian McKellan before he was a Sir (or Gandalf), so it was interesting to listen to a different translation, recited with such gusto.
There was mulled wine and fruit juice in the interval, and a mince pie each.
In the second half, several readings were taken from Cider with Rosie, when the boys of the church choir go carol singing.
I love hearing the Village Quire. It was a pity that there weren't any younger people there, though, because the songs are beautifully sung, a cappella (the only accompaniment was the occasional use of a drum), and the readings are by turns interesting and amusing. It was a really good night out.
They're a multi-talented lot, too. Two of the singers are a local baker in Hay and his wife, who also dance with Foxwhelp Morris, and they performed a rapper sword dance in the middle of the song Rainy, Haily, Windy Night - when the girl has been persuaded to let the soldier into her bedroom....
The bakery, round the back of the little parade of shops by the Drill Hall, is up for sale as a going concern at the moment. Brian is hoping that the secret recipes will be passed on, because he loves their bread! I do wonder whether even they have an oven big enough for the pie that was described in one of the readings, though, with all sorts of birds from pigeons to a turkey in it, along with game of all sorts, four pounds of butter and a bushel of flour for the pie crust! That was from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, by a Lady, written in 1747 - and a bushel of flour is something around 50lbs in weight! (so roughly 25kg, for the metric users).
Having seen it before, we were delighted that Phil Smith's encore was his rendition of a bell-ringer's Christmas, in which the bell-ringer got more and more drunk as the festivities went on!

When we got back to Hay, we finished off the evening by visiting the Rose and Crown. Paul has The Creature from Jones the Brewer on the hand pump, which I tried at the Castle Tap the other week. He's been serving various beers by Jones the Brewer lately, along with the Woods that he usually has on.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Fairtrade Christmas Fair

It was a cold and frosty day, even in the Buttermarket, so the mulled wine and mince pies were most welcome, provided by the Fairtrade committee. I think just about every stall there had been before - Love Zimbabwe with their pottery and metal garden ornaments and printed fabrics, Zimele with felt Christmas tree decorations and finger puppets, the two Timbuktu twinning stalls with silver jewellery and leather boxes, and make your own lavender bags with local lavender and African printed cotton, and there were handbags and felted slippers and hats and mittens and gloves and wallets made out of re-cycled car tyres, and lots more.
Rob Golesworthy, who is Deputy Mayor this year, officially opened the Fair (sadly, George the Town Cryer couldn't manage to be there), and after his short speech he got chatting about some of the problems Hay faces in the future. To be specific - toilets.
"How much do you think a toilet door costs?" he asked. They have come to the conclusion that the Council will have to charge for use of the toilets in future, 20p seems to be the usual sum to "spend a penny" now, so they have been looking at exterior doors with a coin slot - and they cost £6,500! And they need four of them.
Jo was also keen to promote next year's Borderlines Film Festival, which she is involved in. The first weekend of the festival will be taking over the Festival of British Cinema, which started off as the brainchild of the Hay Film Society, and ran very successfully. Joining up with Borderlines takes it to the next level, and means they can do more, and get more publicity. For instance, Ken Loach has chosen the three films which most influenced his work, one of which is Brief Encounter.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Small Business Saturday

Another stall in the Cheesemarket on the Thursday Market.