Sunday, 31 October 2010


On Tuesday night, my sister and her family retired early to their camper van to put little James to bed at a more reasonable hour, and Mark and I went up to Kilvert's for the Open Mic evening.
Mark does quite a bit of karaoke back home, so he was determined to sing - but it's not so easy when it's just you and a microphone with no backing track.
While he was there, though, he got chatting to Eddie at the bar, and when he came back to where I was sitting he told me he'd been invited to a private beer tasting session on Thursday night! Apparantly he'd been extolling the delights of King Goblin, the special version of Hobgoblin which was on the hand pump for Hallowe'en.
Earlier on Thursday evening, we were engaged in nefarious pursuits around town with the Stitch and Bitch ladies, but we had plenty of time to get up to Kilvert's afterwards.
I have to confess, my memories of the evening are slightly blurred. We were trying Dorothy Goodbody's Wholesome Stout; Night Beacon, the stout from Breconshire Brewery, and Brewdog Punk IPA, all of which are very fine beers. With Eddie was Buster from the Breconshire Brewery, and later in the evening a chap from Adur Brewery turned up with something special in his knapsack for Eddie. The chap from Adur Brewery said he was still learning, but the brewery already brews twelve different beers.
Looking at the Dorothy Goodbody beer clip led to a discussion of complaints that have been made against breweries - it's now a head and shoulders view, rather than showing Dorothy with her legs tucked up in front of her. The brewery got a complaint that Dorothy wasn't wearing any knickers! (Though how they could tell, unless they were scrutinising the picture very carefully, is a moot point). Buster said that the pump clip for Rambler's Ruin had also been complained about - because the picture is of a cartoon character, and therefore (went the slightly warped reasoning) they were encouraging minors to drink.
As a mere drinker of real ale and ex-member of CAMRA, it was quite a privilege to be in the company of a group of people with such an encyclopaedic knowledge of beers. They talked about malts, and the different varieties of hops, and the Georgian table ale that Buster is re-creating (he's pleased with the bright ruby colour of it). Knowing now how passionate Buster is about creating good beer has given me an extra reason to visit Brecon, where his beers are available at the Boar's Head, and to look out for his bottled beers - the Night Beacon was a very nice stout, with complex flavours, and quite distinct from the equally delicious Dorothy Goodbody's.
The bar was quiet that evening, but there was a group of drinkers sitting quietly down at the other end - one of whom turned out to be the social secretary of the East Bedfordshire CAMRA Branch, on her holidays! She told us that she has recently widened the scope of their local newsletter to include a section called "What I did on my Holidays", where members can write about beers they have tried which are not generally available in their local area - and since she wrote down details of who was there, I think a glowing report will be published there soon!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Castles and Churches

I trained as an archaeologist, and I got interested in history as a child partly because we visited lots of castles and churches on family holidays.
There happens to be a rather fine castle in Grosmont, not far from Monmouth, so that was the plan for Tuesday. It was a bit of a rainy day, but we all had wellies and waterproofs.
Grosmont castle is free to get into - there are a few signboards dotted around to tell you what you're looking at, but apart from that you just wander straight in. It was built as part of a system of defence against the Welsh, along with the nearby White Castle and Skenfrith, but Grosmont soon became a sort of Royal holiday cottage. The fine chimney which once served the private chambers at the back of the castle is known as Eleanor's chimney, after Queen Eleanor of Provence, wife of King Henry III - though the chimney itself was built after her time, when the castle was held by the Earls of Lancaster. Eleanor was known as the White Rose, and that's supposed to be where the badge of the House of York comes from. One of the side chapels in the local parish church, St Nicholas', is known as the Eleanor Chapel.
It's a beautiful little castle, very compact with a deep dry moat (well, dampish at the bottom), standing in what is now a sloping field but was originally the outer bailey of the castle, where all the stables and bakehouse and brewery and other essential buildings were. Sadly, the cloud cover was low over the hills when we were there, because the view from the top of the wall is very fine.
I think the highlight of the visit for little James (though he did enjoy climbing up to the battlements) was when he found a dead slow worm in the grass near the moat!
Just across the way from the castle (and there would have been a small procession every Sunday from the Castle led by whoever was in residence at the time) is St Nicholas's Church, which is rather larger than a normal medieval church for a small town, because of the importance of the castle.
You enter the nave, which is cleared of chairs and just as it would have been in medieval times, with round pillars and a stone flagged floor. The church was renovated in Victorian times, and basically split in two by a wooden screen. The part that is used today as the church is through the screen, at the chancel end of the church, with two side chapels. The font has been moved to one of these. There's also an organ which doubles as a barrel organ, playing 12 hymn and psalm tunes for when an organist was not available, showing that programming keyboards is nothing new!
Their memorial to the soldiers of the First World War is quite unusual - first it lists all the men of Grosmont who went to fight, and underneath that those who died. There were some unusual jobs, too, like Air Mechanic and Driver, which aren't normally mentioned. We couldn't find anything to commemorate the Second World War - maybe nobody from the town went.
After that, it was time to repair to the pub, the Angel, which served good, hearty food and some excellent real ales and ciders. One of the choices was Angel Burger, which worried me a bit - thinking of those poor, defenceless angels being hunted down for their meat. It was delicious, though. My young man had a rather wonderful cider called Black Dragon, from Gwynt y ddraig, and they had three real ales on hand pump, including Otter. I asked for a half, and Mark wanted to know if I wanted the top half of the otter or the bottom half.
On the way back to Hay, we passed through Abbey Dore, so we stopped at the church there. In the middle ages, this church was enormous. It's big now, and only the stump of the East end is left. When the Cistercians had the abbey, the nave of the church stretched the entire length of what is now the graveyard - 60 metres. There's plenty of space inside for concerts - the stage was set up when we went in - without that interfering with the area around the altar, which is the original Cistercian one. Perhaps because it's so simple, it looks strikingly modern. The altar and pews are set in the centre of an ambulatory which goes right round the outside of the church, and where fragments of the original decorative stonework are displayed.
It was lovely to get out to these places again (it's very difficult without a car), and to share them with a group of interested people, including a fascinated five year old boy. We'll make a historian of him yet.

Friday, 29 October 2010

I've had Visitors!

Hence my silence for the last few days. My young man came up from the Big Smoke for a week, and in the middle of that my sister, her husband and my little nephew James arrived for a few days in their camper van ("Are they hippies?" I was asked at work when they heard about the camper van - my sister is just about a polar opposite of a hippy.)
Because of the camper van, though, I could take them all to see things outside my usual range.
On Monday, we did some light shopping around Hay, finishing up at Kilvert's for lunch. They seemed to be having a bit of trouble with the kitchens, as the wait for food was quite long, and at one point the chef sent two meals out that nobody had ordered.
However, we then set off for Kington's Small Breeds Farm and Owl Centre. It's the sort of thing you kind of need the excuse of entertaining a five year old to visit, though all the adults were fascinated too. We never knew there were so many different sorts of owl! The collection here is the biggest in Europe - burrowing owls, fish eating owls, spectacled owls that look like penguins, owls from Africa and the South American jungles, and the Arctic, and more.
Then we went into the field, where there were pygmy goats and miniature donkeys and Kune Kune pigs and Golden Guernsey goats, and fluffy legged chickens, and geese with a shoe fixation - they followed people around pecking gently at their toes! In the corner of the field were a couple of pavilions housing fancy pheasants and red squirrels - the squirrels could move between the cages in wire tubes.
Further down were the buildings with the small animals - chipmunks and chinchillas and guinea pigs and rabbits - and tortoises. There were ducks and geese in little ponds, and finally three reindeer and three llamas! I'd like to say that I was interested in the llamas because their wool can be hand spun, but actually I just enjoyed stroking them. And there were plenty of places to wash your hands afterwards.
There's a little cafe as well, and I think it was well worth the £7.50 for adults and £4.50 for children.
They have a website at

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Hereford Fire

Hereford Town centre was closed off today after a fire near the Old House, which damaged a card shop and Booth Hall. The Hereford Times (link in the side bar) has the full story, with a video.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


The bad news, which everybody had worked out by now, is that there will be no Hay-on-Fire this year. The good news is that a scaled down version will be part of Le Crunch Arts Festival at the Globe instead. So obviously it will be called Globe on Fire. This will take place around the weekend of 19th to 21st November, with lantern making workshops, a parade and fire-y things happening on the Globe's little field.

The other rumour going round town has been that there will be no Christmas lights this year, and that one turns out to be not quite true. Instead of spending £4000 on erecting the lights, this year the local Council will be spending £1000, with match funding from the Chamber of Commerce. So there will be some lights, around the centre of town. Roughly, this works out to spending 50p per person in Hay (assuming a nice round population total of 2,000) rather than £2 per person.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Bovey Belle in Hay

And since she takes much better pictures than I can, here's a link to her blog, Codlins and Cream 2. The Hay entry is around 6th October.

Sunday, 17 October 2010


Baskets and boxes full of different varieties of apples are filling Stuart the Greengrocer's shop at the moment.
I particularly liked the label on one box: "Very local, probably Worcester".
When I asked him, he said they came from the tree next door - so you can't get more local than that!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Art of the Album Cover

"They're very reasonable, you know," said Jean Miller, with a copy of the new book tucked under her arm.
It was the launch party for Richard Evans' new book, The Art of the Album Cover, and there was a good crowd in Booth's Bookshop (and a ginger dog). Richard Booth himself was there, recently back from Berlin - "They're very big on science fiction there," - and talking about SF in Croatia.
There were also a fair few people wandering around with a glass of wine in one hand and a book tucked under their arm. A surprising number of them seemed to have been at Richard Evans' talk at the Festival. One of them was Mike, who sells railway books in Broad Street, who confessed an early passion for collecting albums and posters, though now he mainly collects railway posters.
As I was leaving, Jean Miller was coming back in, with a sheaf of bank notes in her hand. "I'm going to get another one," she said, as she made a bee line for the signing table.

If you would like your very own copy, copiously illustrated and surely definitive, there is a website at

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Open Mic Night again

It began, this week, with Tim the Gardener and a visiting Scotsman quoting Robert Graves' poetry at each other - Tim was reading The White Goddess again. Later, the Scotsman sang two traditional songs, unaccompanied. As well as singing, Tim recited some poetry - I did like the one that started "There is no dwarf!" - but though the lady protests her innocence, the man notices the love bites on her legs.
So a good mix of singing, poetry, guitar and banjo and something that looked like a long necked lute, and Chris the Bookbinder reading another bit of his magnum opus (is Olwen Ellis really dead? And where does the property developer come into the story? Tune in next week....).
Late in the evening, the TV on the wall got switched on, silently, for the breaking news that the Chilean miners were about to be rescued - they were testing the cage for the final time before it went down the shaft.
I drank some more of the Paradox - and it seems to have mellowed over the last week. Last week, the 'old port' taste came first, followed by a strong smokey flavour - this week the smokiness is more mingled with the 'old port' taste, and very nice it is too.
The other beer I tried was the lovely porter from Acorn Brewery. It's the season for warm, dark beers, I think.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Brecon re-development

New plans are on show for the re-development of Brecon town centre. They can be seen at the museum and the library at the moment, and until 23rd October - the re-development of the museum is an integral part of the scheme. There will also be an open day on Saturday 16th October from 10.30am to 3.30pm with representatives from the museum, library service, Powys Archives and the project architect - which I presume will be at the Museum, but The Post, where I got this information from, doesn't actually say, and the B&R doesn't mention an open day at all.
The original plans, revealed late last year, involved knocking down the Library, which may not be beautiful, but is a very good library - and there didn't seem to be any plan to build a new library anywhere else.
Now a new library is part of the plan, to be put on the present site of the New County Hall building, which used to be used as the Magistrates Court, at the back of the museum.
There's been quite a bit of controversy about the plans - not just about the library, but also the plan to attract high street chain stores into town.
The National Parks is the planning authority over the area, and the County Council are putting the plans forward and plan to sell some of their existing buildings to partly fund the scheme.
Now they're waiting to see if their lottery bid is accepted.

Meanwhile in Hereford, there is huge opposition to the plans to build what amounts to a whole new town centre on the old cattle market - when the present town centre is struggling to survive (could the large number of supermarkets in the city have anything to do with that, I wonder?).

Friday, 8 October 2010

Bizarre Conspiracy Theories

Stuart the Greengrocer has a letter in this week's B&R. He was very unhappy that Castle Street was closed for the recent Transition Towns fun day. Very unhappy indeed. He's talking about wanting compensation for his loss of trading earnings.
Now, when the fun day was going on, Powys County Council sent along a street cleaning wagon that runs on electricity to display for the day. Stuart saw this, and leapt to the bizarre conclusion that Hay Transition Towns group had bought this vehicle and presented it to the Council as a bribe to get them to shut the road!
Hay Transition Towns group are all volunteers - they don't have that sort of money - and they don't need to bribe the council anyway. Anyone can apply to close a street and as long as they meet the right criteria, it is done. I remember Bredwardine Bridge being closed for several days for the filming of Dandelion Dead, for instance.
Stuart did make one reasonable point - although there was a diversion sign at the top of Castle Street, there was no sign or banner saying why the road was closed. If Transition Towns want to do something similar again, they probably should think about having a big banner to put up.
A second point, which I've heard elsewhere, is that the street was not really well used during the fun day. Isis cafe had tables and chairs out, and the Outdoor Pursuits shop had their canoes outside, but there wasn't a lot else to justify closing the road.
Mind you, Stuart also complains that traders on Castle Street were not consulted. This is not true - I was at the Transition Towns meeting where one of the members said he had been round all the shop keepers and he told the meeting how many of them had agreed with the plan, how many had opposed it, and how many were ambivalent, together with the arguements he'd used to bring them round to his way of thinking.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Of Poetry and Paradox

In other words, the open mic night at Kilvert's.
I took along a song (and Anne Brichto remembered singing from the same songbook at school - The Wild West, which went with a BBC schools radio programme) There were a couple of guitars, a banjo, and Briar learning violin by playing along. Chris brought his magnum opus along - and he is officially now a real writer. He's had a rejection letter from a real publisher! Which made three of us sitting round the table outside. I have some young adult fantasy novels stashed away that need a bit of work (the rejection letters were very nice ones) and Simon from Addyman's Annexe has had a couple too. Later, he recited some poetry which he and a friend have been translating from the Czech - and very good they were too. Islay, of course, charmed everybody - she may not perform, but she's a very good listener!
The Paradox is a beer. I don't know which brewery it's from. It's 10%, so they weren't selling it in pints - it was halves or thirds, or enough for a taste at £1. Anne reckoned it tasted like port that had been left out all night, and I could see her point, but it had a strong smoky aftertaste too, possibly because it was aged in a whisky cask. Very much a sipping beer. There was also North Star Porter from Flintshire brewery, which I started the evening with - which slipped down very pleasantly, too.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Book Crossing

Passing by the bank this lunchtime, I noticed a book in a clear plastic bag on the bench. Looking slightly closer, I saw that the bag was labelled BookCrossing. This was my first sighting of a "book released into the wild".
There is a website,, where books are registered. Then they are left somewhere public for another person to pick up and read. The sticker on the book informs the new owner about the website and invites them to join in by leaving other books for people to find. You can also track the path of books which have been left out and read several times.
Then I met Vee, the dog walking lady, who had just been down to the Warren with two of her charges. She had found another bookcrossing book there, hanging from a tree, and was taking it home to read it.
I think it's a fun idea.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

... and the Heavens Opened

It's been a remarkably wet weekend. This morning I had to throw Islay out of the front door or she'd never have gone out and done what a dog needs to do.
It's been the pony sales all weekend, and the car park has been full of horse boxes, and visitors have been reporting long queues of traffic coming up from South Wales. The main road beyond Clyro in the direction of Hereford was closed because of the water, and traffic had to go round by the toll bridge. I think it's open again now, but the river is very high - the canoe landing stage and Booth Island are under water, and the river itself is the colour of ovaltine.
Our interesting customer of the week was a Welsh farmer doing research into family history. He had discovered that one of his ancestors had led one of the Rebecca Riots, down near Carmarthen, where he made coracles for a living.
The nearest the Rebecca Riots came to Hay was a small disturbance at the toll cottage in Glasbury - it was a protest about the high cost of tolls and the restriction of travel for poorer people. The leaders of the riots disguised themselves in women's clothing.
If you look at an early 19thC map of Hay, you can see that a traveller had to pay a penny just to get out of town, whichever direction he wanted to travel in - and then there would be other tolls to pay as he used the main roads after that.