Monday, 27 September 2010

The Strange Case of the Ancient Camp

So why am I writing about the Ancient Camp Inn, which is in Ruckhall near Eaton Bishop in Herefordshire, when this blog is supposed to be about Hay?
Well, the owners of the pub are also the owners of The Swan Hotel, Hay, and the Bull's Head at Craswall. According the the Hereford Hopvine, the local CAMRA* newsletter, the Ancient Camp has been on the market for a couple of years now, at what they consider to be way above its true market value. CAMRA regularly campaigns to keep pubs as pubs, rather than them being sold off as residential buildings. One of the tricks that sellers use is to offer the pub at a vastly inflated price as a pub, claim that there's no interest in it as a licenced property, and then get permission to sell it as a dwelling. This has also recently happened in the case of the Prancing Pony at Stifford's Bridge.
Previous owners of the Ancient Camp had tried to convert the building into a house, and had been refused by the planners, so sold it on to the present owners. They only lasted about two years, and then put it on the market for more than double the price they had paid for it. The government planning inspector, when he was called in, decided in favour of the owners, and within three days (says the Hopvine) it was on sale as a private house, again for about double what they had paid for it.
Having lost the fight to keep the Ancient Camp as a pub, the local CAMRA group seem philosophical. They hope that the money raised by the sale will enable the owners to develop and enhance the Swan and the Bull's Head for the future.
*CAMRA - Campaign for Real Ale

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Sustainable Herefordshire

We've had h.Art, the Herefordshire wide programme of events and open art galleries and craft exhibitions. Now it's the turn of h.Energy, events and exhibitions of sustainable energy all over the county, running from 10th to 16th October.
I mention this because one of the participants is right here in Cusop. Ainsleigh, of Hay's Transition Towns group, is opening his house in Cusop Dingle to the public (booking essential). They have solid wall insulation and double glazed sash windows, solar panels for hot water, a mini-hydro system (they're right by the Dulas brook) and wood burner, and they'll be on hand to discuss the costs of installing the systems and the benefits of using them. They say "Our household should have a negative carbon footprint this year."

There will also be events in Hereford, Leominster, Kington, and dotted around the county. I must say I like the idea of Flash Garden, a musical being put on at the Courtyard: "The planet Mongo is once again held in the evil clutches of the dastardly Emperor Ming. The resistance - led by a beautiful princess - embark on their quest to find Flash Gordon. What they find instead is Flash Garden, a simple gardener from Barnsley! Can he save the entire universe armed only with green fingers and a watering can?"
I think the odds are that yes, he can.

For more information, contact New Leaf at
They also have a blog.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Lots of things going on in Hay!

What a Busy day it's been!

I started off by visiting the car boot sale at the school, and I have to admit that I was expecting about half a dozen stalls, and be round and out in about five minutes.
It's huge! The cars cover the entire school grounds, with a wide variety of stalls. It's not just families trying to get rid of out grown children's toys, or knick nacks they don't want to dust any more. There were fishing rods, and fresh veg, and brass door knobs, and all sorts of general stuff as well. I came away with a pair of boots and some linen trousers and some pot plants. The school gets some of the profits, and WyeLocal, which organises it, gets the rest.

Then I loaded Islay into her trolley and wheeled her up to the Buttermarket and Castle Street for the Transition Towns event. Castle Street was closed off, with Isis cafe expanding into the street, under a canopy, and the outdoor pursuits shop displaying canoes in the street, and children throwing rings at traffic cones at the other end. There were other children cycling up and down as part of a cycling proficiency day, and round the square there were wood burning stoves, and wind turbines, and electric cars, and a little stall doing art where you squirt paint onto a disc that's revolving (I remember doing that, on an old record turntable, in the early seventies). The Young Farmers were cooking burgers, and Drovers Holidays were maintaining bikes. In the Buttermarket there was a quiz about food miles, and children's art, and the winners and runners up of the short story competition (some of which were very funny). There were scale models of barn conversions from a company based in Llanigon, at (CO2 Designs for Life), and information about Transition Towns and the 350 campaign (with a ladder to illustrate where the CO2 emissions are now, and where they should be for a sustainable Earth). Hayfields Garden, the community garden project, were there too, with some of their produce. They're running an Introduction to Permaculture course on the 6th and 7th of November, with talks, discussions, workshops, observation walks, slide shows and practical demonstrations! Contact for further details.

In the afternoon, I was out again with Islay in her chariot (with a new sign on the side in honour of the day saying: "Alternative Transport - green, carbon neutral, organic, no added nuts*)
*well, apart from the nut pushing the thing!
We went up to Kilverts for the beer festival - 50 Welsh real ales in a marquee in the garden, with another marquee for talks.
It was just what I needed, a really relaxing afternoon, sipping good ale and reading the Hereford Hopvine (from the local CAMRA group) and a copy of Permaculture I picked up from the Hayfields Garden stand.
Early on in the afternoon, I saw Richie rushing round frantically, rounding up some American visitors - and Jackie, his wife. He'd got George, our new town cryer, to announce Jackie's brand new British citizenship outside the front of the pub! George finished his announcement with the traditional God Save the Prince of Wales, and the Queen - "and God help her husband Richie!"
At somewhere around 4pm Pete Brown gave a talk, matching beers to books - his books, since he has written a trilogy of beer related books almost without meaning to ("what about my great novel?" he keeps asking his agent). And very well chosen they were too. Man Walks into a Pub started off as an exploration of great lager adverts and morphed while he was writing it into a history of beer with a few lager adverts tacked onto the end. For this we tasted Tudor brewery's Blorenge, which is lager like "but with taste", for those lager drinkers who are dimly aware that there is something more interesting out there but don't really know where to start. The other beer we tasted, to illustrate the Industrial Revolution, was Facers North Star Porter.
For his travel book, Three Sheets to the Wind, we tried Otley's O Garden (a pun on the Belgian beer Hoegaarten) and Breconshire Green Dragon, made with green hops - so green that they were on the vine four and a half hours before they went into the beer. The chief brewer of Breconshire Brewery was there to confirm this - and there were a couple of chaps from the Otley Brewery there too.
The third book is Hops and Glory, another travel book in which he takes a barrel of India Pale Ale from Burton-on-Trent to India by the original route around Cape Horn, or as near as you can manage it without the tea clippers these days. We were running out of time now, so only had one beer to taste - the only IPA on the beer festival's list, Kingstone brewery's Humpty's Fuddle, which had a lot more taste going on in the glass than most big brewery IPAs, and is believed to be closer to the original IPAs that did make the trip to India in the days of the Empire.
It was all great fun, and towards the end of the afternoon I noticed a few of the Sealed Knot re-enactors arriving, who will be doing drill (if they can find the space) tomorrow.
And Islay made friends with Captain, Pete Brown's little grey mop of a dog.

Business round-up

A few changes around the streets of Hay:
The stone masons have gone from the castle, and have been replaced by Purveyors of Fine Junk - usually seen on the market with Ben the sheepdog. This will give them more chance to display things outside the shop. I believe the Stone Masons needed to spend more time with their bow topped caravans.
Herbfarmacy have a new beauty therapist called Harriet Walker, doing facials and pedicures and manicures and various sorts of massage. She seems like a nice girl. (Here I should admit to having a voucher for a mini massage, or facial, manicure or pedicure. I've never done anything like that before, so I might be tempted.)
And the Three Tuns is in the new Michelin Food Guide, which is quite an achievement.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Crossing the Road with Islay

Islay is not a fast dog any more. Any attempt to cross Broad Street (and we do it most days so she can get her biscuit at Broad Street Book Centre) has to be planned like a military operation, with me making sure the road is clear and then acting like a lollipop lady to see her across.
So, this lunch time there was a van on the double yellow lines on the opposite side of the road to us, and a car behind that. We were about half way across the road when the van moved forward slightly. No problem - we were aiming for the gap between it and the car anyway. So I got to the kerb and turned round to encourage Islay that last couple of yards - and that was when the car decided to reverse towards her. I banged on the back window - banged again when they didn't stop right away, and shouted "DOG!" while pointing down behind their car. Islay was oblivious to all this, calmly making her way towards the kerb. When she reached it, I leaned down to shout through the window "Sorry! Dog behind you - okay now!" The back window was open about an inch, so they must have heard me.
Now, if it were me, and a mad woman was banging on the back of my car, I think I might have at least wound down the front window to find out what was going on. I might even have got out of the car to see what was in the road behind me.
This couple just sat there, even after I'd moved away with Islay. After a while, the van driver, who had seen it all, got out of his van and waved them back.
What worries me is that the driver had obviously not seen Islay crossing the road. She'd seen me, because she waited until I got to the kerb before she moved, but it was pretty obvious she hadn't noticed Islay at all - which makes me wonder what else she doesn't notice when she's driving along.

Monday, 20 September 2010


Seen on the side of the kerb near the Honesty Gardens:
"You are the one, you are the sun, and I'm your dutiful planet."

Sunday, 19 September 2010

"...for I'm to be Queen of the May"

As a lady passed the shop counter today, heading into the depths of the shop, she turned to her friend and said: "This is the bookshop where I had that strange experience...." and just as she was about to say what the strange experience was, she moved out of my earshot.
However, when she came back to the desk, she told me. Her mother learned a lot of poetry by heart at school, as children did back then, and one of the verses she used to quote was about telling mother she had to be up early "for I'm to be Queen of the May." Her daughter had always refused to believe that this was a real poem.
About a month after her mother died, she was browsing in the poetry section of the bookshop. She pulled one book off the shelf to have a look and, as sometimes happens, another book fell out at the same time. It opened to the very poem that she had always said didn't exist! She firmly believes it was her mother, saying "I told you so!"

Friday, 17 September 2010

More Babies

The Green Room, the garden shop between the flower shop and CommuniKate near the clock tower, was closed this morning. There was a sign on the door "Sorry, closed. It's a Boy!"
Which goes rather well with the sign that's been on CommuniKate's door for a little while now, which starts "It's a girl!" and goes on to say she'll be getting back from maternity leave as soon as it's humanly possible.

Meanwhile, the last remaining stock from Horsewise ("No reasonable offer refused") has now been cleared out and the shop is empty (and much lighter inside than it ever seemed before).

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Old Stables does it again

Some of the best restaurants in the country - and a tea shop in Hay! The Old Stables has made it into the Which? Good Food Guide 2011!
Well, they do make some of the best jams and marmalades ever.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

A Life in Colour

Oriel Art Gallery are staging a new exhibition for September, with the launch on Friday 17th September, from 5.30pm. They have a collection of the work of Rachel Windham, who died in 2005 after living in Hay for fifteen years. Before she moved to Hay, she lived in Aberedw, near Builth Wells. There's also a new book out about her, by her friend Cecily Sash, another artist, based in Presteigne. Geoff Evans, the organiser, says that, under Cecily Sash's tutelage, Rachel Windham's work moved towards abstraction and pure colour - but she'd been painting since the 1930s!
Later that evening in the chapel is a concert called September Songs, with local singer Catherine Hughes accompanied by Paul Sweeting on the harp. She'll be singing Welsh folk songs, with some Irish and original songs.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser

Poor Simon Clayton! He must be feeling a bit put upon at the moment. It's bad enough to have your private life raked over in one publication - but here he is in two in the same week!
Uncle Carbuncle, in the latest edition of Hay-on-Wire, tells the story of Simon and his daughter Esti, and his wish to have the saga made into a film (so maybe he'd be quite happy to have his private life raked over!). In brief, when Esti was four Simon, who was estranged from his ex-wife and Esti's mother, Aneta, took off with the child in his camper van and headed for Europe. There was an international search for the pair, and they were only found, in Portugal, because Esti had her pet ferret with her. Simon spent some time in prison for that, but later he was allowed access to Esti - until this year, when Aneta withdrew permission. Esti is now eleven.
On his blog, Esti and Dad ( ) he talks about his fight to get access to his daughter, together with his girlfriend Adele.
This is where it becomes really strange, and where the second newspaper comes in.
Under the title "Restraining Order Issued", the Brecon and Radnor reports Simon's recent court appearance for harrassing Adele Nozedar of Nepal Bazaar between March and May, by sending phone calls and text messages, flowers and emails.
On his blog, dated January, Simon published a press release by Adele in his support. In it, she clearly believes everything Simon has told her about the case and how unfairly he feels he has been treated. If the court case is anything to go by, that had changed by March. Simon is now prohibited from contacting Adele, or loitering outside her shop, for two years. Strangely, this was the ruling despite no evidence being offered by the prosecution.
I happen to remember Simon first coming to Hay. He was very charming socially, but extremely difficult to work for. I know this because one of my friends did work for him for a while. She took the job when his previous assistant left suddenly. She'd lasted half a day, asked if she could go to the toilet (across the road from the shop he was renting from Golesworthy's) and was never seen again.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Interesting people

Some days in the shop are just full of conversations with interesting people.
Today was a good one for that.
We started off with a lady who's learning Mandarin Chinese ("20% of the world's population speak it," she said).
Then there was a Mr Mayall, who may be related to the Mayall's of Hay's jeweller's shop. They're doing some research to find out.
Someone else who was doing research was looking for old maps of the area where their house is in Surrey. It's medieval, and they're trying to find out more of the history of the house.
Then there was the man who was looking for a half-remembered poem by Keats. "Old Meg she was a gypsy," he said.
"Meg Merrilees!" I said. Like him, I learned the poem at school. He was writing an article and wanted to quote from the poem, and didn't trust his memory. It's a good job he didn't - when he found a copy in an anthology, he found that he'd inserted a whole new verse about her little cook pot! But she did "make Mats of rushes, and sold them to the Cottagers, she met among the Bushes."
A girl who bought a book about living and working in Tokyo was about to go off and do just that, and a man who bought a book about Somerset showed me a picture of the house where he lived as a boy in it.
And finally there was the man who asked me to look in a dictionary of American Scholars for him. He'd forgotten his glasses and the print was tiny. He was looking for Elihu Yale, who founded Yale University (he wasn't mentioned in the book) and wanted to know more about him. Elihu Yale is buried in Wrexham churchyard, his home town, and my family lived in a village just outside Wrexham for many years, so I was able to tell him a bit more than he already knew. I've even visited the grave! (Very fine church - used to be one of the Seven Wonders of Wales on the early tourist trails).

Friday, 3 September 2010

Praise for Hay

Nick Bourne, the leader of the Conservative opposition in the Welsh Assembly, has been visiting Hay this summer. He's reported in this week's B&R, saying: "Hay could easily serve other towns as a social and economic blueprint for success; if you could bottle its charms, it would be a sure-fire bestseller."
Vindication for Richard Booth's vision at last, perhaps?

Meanwhile, just to show that Hay is not quite that perfect, I passed workmen at Spar yesterday, turning it into a smaller version of Fort Knox after a number of break ins.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

"Get to Really Know...."

This is a regular feature in WyeLocal, and this month the subject under the microscope was Joy Gardiner from the chemists. What I really liked was her comment in answer to the final question: "Tell us something about yourself which only you know."
She said: "You must be joking! If I wanted all of Hay to know, I'd just tell one person and it would circulate faster than the Wye Local!"