An August 2006 trip
to Hay-on-Wye by MichaelJM
Quote: Hay had been chosen as the venue for my son and his fiance's wedding. We'd never visited south Wales, what a great experience.
Hotel | "Baskerville Hall and its Activities"
With advance notice Baskerville had arranged a clay pigeon shoot for the guys whilst the women enjoyed some on-site pampering with a visiting beautician and masseuse. I am by no means an expert shot (I’ve never tried hitting moving clays before) and although I wasn’t over-keen it soon became clear that our tutor was extremely good. We started off with a group briefing and then as we stepped forward to centre stage we were given a couple of minutes guidance. After a couple of shots most of the group became fairly proficient and were picking off the clays with amazing accuracy. Although I’m not absolutely sure that I’ll remember the lessons if I ever have another go.
Meanwhile "back at the ranch" the women folk were enjoying their hour of pampering with Indian head massages, reflexology, nail painting etc. It certainly relaxed them in advance of the big event the following day.
The hall is available for corporate events as well as weddings and offers a host of prearranged activities including quad trekking, mountain biking, go-carting, canoeing, abseiling, pony trekking and golf. Alternatively you can enjoy a gentle walk around the grounds enjoying the tranquillity of the area, the backdrop of the Brecon Beacons and the huge Lebanon Cedar Tree that dominates the front lawn. Our daughter-in-law wanted to be married under this tree but apparently there was some concern that it may loose the odd branch and fall on the assembled gathering. I accepted that as reasonable, until I noticed that the "top table" was situated right underneath its mighty boughs. I can, however, report that there were no causalities.
The catering for the wedding and the breakfasts was superb, but Baskerville let itself down with poor bar meals. These, despite the fact that we gave good notice were poorly presented and the fish, in particular was not cooked at all well. I reckon, I’d eat out in the neighbouring town of Hay-on-Wye, if I were to return.
Venture outside of the grounds and there is a range of walks within an easy drive. Being near the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountain national park (520 square miles between England and Swansea) there’s loads to do in the great outdoors. It is a stunning area and, as if you’ll need reminding, each view from Baskerville Hall offers a great vista. A truly picturesque setting in a magnificent region of the country.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 25, 2006
Hay-on-Wye, Wales HR3 5LE
+44 (1497) 820033
The Hall is set off the Brecon to Clyro road - 1½ from the centre of Hay-on-Wye, and is accessed down a long narrow drive. The Hall, although it appears much older, was built in 1839, by Thomas Baskerville for his second wife, Elizabeth. It is set in a 100 acre park and has absolutely superb views over the hills of the Brecon beacon National Park. As Thomas built this purely as a house for entertaining in it is highly appropriate that this building is now available to party in. There is a strong Sherlock Holmes connection as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a family friend who often stayed at the Hall and during his visits he heard the local legend about the hounds of the Baskervilles. It is even said that he wrote the majority of the famous Holmes novel whilst a guest at the Hall. He did agree to set the novel in Devon to "to ward off tourists" but of course nowadays the Hall’s owner would wish to "put the record straight."Since 1984 it has been under the present ownership and every attempt has been made to retain the original features whilst offering modern facilities for guests. The rooms on the first floor are upmarket and fairly unique suites with stylised decor. Ours had an en-suite shower room, a high four-poster bed with steps up to it (we needed the steps to be able to get in and I certainly wouldn’t wanted to have fallen out from the height of the bed). Others we saw had large circular baths in the main bathroom with separate shower room and wc’s. Our son’s and his fiancée had a brilliantly extravagant room with superb 270° views across the Brecon Hills. Our view was less inspiring – roof tops and the rear access to the disco!The grand hall way, with its fireplace and "resting area" on the landing is impressive and although you don’t really need to rest you will need to make a choice about which of the staircases to choose. They both lead to the first floor so it’s not a major dilemma but it does give a certain elegance to the building. On this floor are the main bedrooms, as already described, and then there’s a rabbit warren of stairs and corridors to access the remaining bedrooms. Some of these back corridors are in need of some tender loving care and I presume work is still in progress to upgrade the smaller bedrooms on the top floor. The nooks and crannies in Baskerville are fascinating and I "got lost" on each of the three days that I was there. Check out the music room’s ceiling and the view from the "corner room"
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 25, 2006
Even on a Thursday night Kilverts, in the centre of Hay-on-Wye was packed out. It has a small restaurant and if you want to eat in there you will need to book a table at least two nights in advance. However, the extensive menu is available to eat in the main pub but getting seats can be a problem. We were in a large group and had to cram round two small tables (one of them being outside, so I was pleased that it was a balmy night) as we’d singularly failed in the first lesson in eating out in a large group. MAKE SURE YOU BOOK IN ADVANCE.
Kilverts named after the Reverend Francis Kilvert (1840 – 1879 ), vicar of Cylro and later Bredwardine who is known for his diaries. As far as we know he never intended them for publication, and his widow destroyed many, but the three-volume publication gives a detailed and charming account of the people living in this border area between Wales and England. This village pub has eleven en-suite bedrooms on a Bed and breakfast basis and friends who stayed here were very happy with the accommodation. They had the sense to book for a meal on the Friday night and were most impressed with the quality, quantity and overall service of the establishment.
Out in the bar, however, things seemed a little chaotic, not helped that we turned up, en masse at 8.45 for a meal when the place stops serving bar meals at 9.00 pm. Notwithstanding the chaos, the meal which was the same as on offer in the restaurant was great when it arrived.
On the Sunday after the wedding we were heading out of Hay-on-Wye toward Brecon when we passed Old barn Inn, a modern looking pub at Three Cocks. In the days of Steam trains Three Cocks was a really important junction of the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway with the Mid Wales Railway – nowadays it’s a fairly ordinary linear village. The pub didn’t look over busy so we pulled into the large car park. On a Sunday this did a full roast dinner for £6.95 a head. We all ploughed in for that (I had a lamb roast) and the plate was loaded with meat, vegetables and all the trimmings. If you’re only a little peckish then I’d recommend you eat elsewhere. This is not a meal for the faint-hearted and it represented staggering value for money and the quality was absolutely spot on. The pub lacked a bit of atmosphere, but for a cheap well-cooked meal with a good basic choice you just can’t go wrong.
Hay-on-Wye, Wales HR3 5AG
+44 (1497) 821042
Attraction | "Caerphilly"
The castle was built by one of Henry III’s most powerful barons, Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan, and work started on the site (which unusually had not previously hosted a fortification) in 1268, but before it could be finished it was razed to the ground by a Welsh leader called Llywelyn the Last. His rebellion was thwarted and the castle was rebuilt in 1271. Amazingly, other than some basic tinkering to the great hall no other modifications or extensions were made to the castle - indeed other than a few minor attacks the last time this castle saw "active service" was back in 1327. Its use removed the fortification fell into disrepair and not until the 1950’s was any renovation undertaken.
The castle dominates the town and we were both surprised to see that it was bang in the centre and to read that the grounds extend for well over 30 acres. We’d parked about a 100 yards away in a pay and display car park and decided to have a wander around the outside of this impressive site. There is something quite bizarre about this impressively decayed medieval castle. Towers hang precariously to the side of the fortification and you can almost expect it to make its final collapse in front of your very eyes as the South East tower takes on Pisa-like qualities. Admission is £3 a head but we were on a tight schedule so didn’t make the inside (perhaps another time) but we did have a thoroughly enjoyable walk around the external walls and round the intricate series of bridges and pathways over the extensive moat. The water is heavily populated with a variety of water fowl and birds are ducking and diving all around the castle. It really is not too difficult to imagine this impressive fortification in its heyday. We walked across the permanent drawbridge and could walk through the portcullis gateway before having to pass by the gatehouse where today the only challenge is to extract your admission charge from you. From the castle entrance there is a fine view across the town to the impressive Welsh hills, from where, on this occasion, we were constantly threatened by heavy black storm clouds. But I wasn’t too disappointed because my stereotyped view of Wales is that it is constantly raining - a myth that was put to rest in the 10 days that we spent in the Brecon area of Wales. Of course whilst in Caerphilly there has to be an obligation to try their infamous eponymous named cheese. I guess the end of July is the best time to go when they hold the annual "Big Cheese" – a carnival when the town expects to host over 80,000 visitors.
Cardiff, Wales CF83 1JD
+44 29 2088 3143
It was popularly declared to be the "town of books" by the self-declared "king of Hay", Richard Booth. As the owner of the castle he opened a bookshop in 1961 and then must have worked incredibly hard to have created the largest second-hand and antiquarian book selling centre in the world. Yes – it is as big as that! And over the years Hay has continued to work on its declared specialism and now its claim to fame is that you can find books on anything and everything here. Through the maze of tiny streets there are over 30 bookshops and it is not unusual to find bookcases propped up against wall or in gardens. In some places they operate the "honesty purchase" when you’re asked to contribute between 20 and 50 pence for a second hand book. Some have seen much better days, but in all honesty if you’re looking for a good holiday read this will be the place to stock up on your library.
But its not only the books that attract visitors, because people just love Hay for its accessibility to the Brecon Beacons and the host of activities that are readily available - abseiling, canoeing, cycling, pony trekking, climbing and of course walking. Because it’s a centre for outdoor activities there’s a whole range of shops selling the relevant gear. However, as a passive sportsperson I was quite happy to walk past these shops. There are antique shops, art studios, specialist sweet shops, handmade jewellery galleries, record shops and a great range of upmarket boutiques selling fairly unique clothes. Of course the later come at a cost but I guess you’ll be fairly sure that you won’t bump into someone wearing the same item.
Many of the shops and houses in Hay-on-Wye are particularly attractive and the market area a testament to its long trading history. It’s right on the border between England and Wales and the river Hay marks the county border between Brecknockshire and Radnorshire whilst a smaller far less significant flow of water, Dulais Brook, is the country’s border.
Hay is one of those places that you can wander around and time just disappears. There are plenty of coffee stops if you need to replenish those caffeine levels and a great range of restaurant and pubs for your lunch or evening meal. But it is popular so don’t leave your accommodation to chance – make sure you book well in advance.