PUBLISHED: 00:32 29 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:08 20 February 2013



Chris Poole explores the place for people who love being out in the countryside and who want shopping as good as that in Knightsbridge

Chris Poole explores the place for people who love being out in the countryside and who want shopping as good as that in Knightsbridge

An Iron Age hill fort at the southern edge of the Black Mountains, just below Table Mountain. From this commanding position you look across the valley of the River Usk to a limestone escarpment beyond which lies the heavy industry of South Wales. Below is a small town sharing the Welsh name of the fort but better known in its anglicised version Crickhowell.

This is a place for people who love being outdoors. Whatever the weather. Crickhowell attracts visitors throughout the year for walking, riding, fishing, playing golf, flying gliders, paragliding, caving, mountain biking the list goes on. The towns Walking Festival, now in its fifth year, has gone from strength to strength with 80 walks and 29 related events during February and March this year.

Crickhowell, though, has another ace up its sleeve for visitors seeking some indoor therapy to complement all the outdoor exertions. For a very good reason the town has been described as Knightsbridge on Usk. There is no branch of Harrods here but there is a pleasing array of quality independent shops lining its streets.

This is a town, says mayor David Collier, where we dont close shops in our High Street, we open them. A case in point is an elegant ladies fashion and lifestyle shop called CwCw. For those who might find this puzzling to pronounce it is Welsh for cuckoo (and spoken much the same way). Caroline Stratton, owner, explains: The cuckoo has magical qualities in Wales and there are many folk-stories. Shopping here is magical too. Crickhowell is relaxed and at quite a different pace. Our customers value this and come not just from our own region but from much further afield including London.

As you explore the High Street you start to discover why this small town of around 2,000 souls holds such fascination. It has, for example, not one but two department stores.

Webbs has been here for decades. Father started the business in 1936 with a paraffin van, serving the outlying rural properties, says John Webb, one of the three Webb brothers who now run the store. We specialised in hardware and expanded into furniture, now with a new bed shop in Standard Street.

Not a hundred yards way you will find Nicholls. This store has been here since 1925. Originally selling clothes for the farming community, Nicholls now offers fashions, accessories, furniture and giftware. Theyve expanded too with stores in Brecon and Abergavenny all using the same approach of shops based on tradition but contemporary in character.

And the High Street has much, much more to offer. Lined with quality independent traders such as Askews Family Bakery, Bacchus Off-Licence specialising in Welsh ales, grocer and greengrocer Grenfell & Sons (& Granddaughter & Grandsons), butcher M T Cashell, outdoor specialist Crickhowell Adventure and many more. Book-ish opened in 2010. Manager Gemma Cook says: Were finding a growing demand for Welsh language books and courses. The shop sells toys and gifts as well as books and maps for walkers.

For those seeking a little wicked but irresistible pleasure you need to wander (nobody rushes here not at all the thing to do) up Standard Street, passing Webbs bed shop, to the charming converted farm buildings in the courtyard of Upper House Farm. Here you will find Black Mountain Gold chocolate heaven hand-crafted luxury confectionery.

With food in mind, it should come as no surprise that the superb local produce of the region has strengthened another aspect of Crickhowell eating out. For those who know the area the number of seriously good restaurants sprinkled through Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and this part of Powys are legendary.

As you approach Crickhowell on the road from Abergavenny The Bell at Glangrwyney (English speakers shouldnt be distracted by the apparently unpronounceable name of the village) has a solid, comfortable appeal. Tony Griffiths and his brother Dave with chef Andy Addis Fuller have created something very special here. If youre looking for starched white tablecloths and polished silver then we arent for you. What we do, though, is good country food, superbly cooked and presented in a welcoming country pub environment, says Tony.

The centre of Crickhowell, just
across the road from Webbs, is dominated by The Bear Inn. Manager Linda Hall says: There has been a coaching inn here since 1432. Now we have 36 bedrooms and a restaurant that, like the inn, has won many awards. Judith and Steve Hindmarsh, the owners, play an active part in maintaining our convivial
atmosphere. The Bear was recently filled with film crews (the area
regularly attracts film-makers), this time filming Shakespeare productions for BBC television.

Leaving Crickhowell, on your way towards Brecon, another style of accommodation presents itself. Glan y Dwr is a very stylish B&B owned and run by Alison and Julian Stedman who aim to share our home with our guests. You will find an extremely comfortable home and a welcome that is both warm and genuine a gentle touch that is, perhaps, typical of this amazing part of Wales.

While you are in Crickhowell you shouldnt miss the Dragon Inn in the High Street. A listed building dating from the 16th century. Owner Ashley Nield will talk to you with passion of the town and the region. And if you listen carefully you will hear about the mystery of Room 15.

Vince Thomas of surveyors and valuers Digby-Turner in Crickhowell says: Demand is steady but the town has a problem more people want to come and live here than there is property for them. Many are those who were born and grew up here, went elsewhere to seek fame and fortune but now want to return.

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