Prayers and pints with the Parson and the Publican in LLandefalle
PUBLISHED: 14:46 17 February 2011 | UPDATED: 11:59 28 February 2013
Our dynamic duo go in search of heavenly inspiration, divine food... and technology from on high
The Parson & The Publican
in St Matthews, Llandefalle and The Felin Fach Griffin
Our dynamic duo go in search of heavenly inspiration, divine food and technology from on high
In the words of the parson
Our Man In The Know says we ought to have a website and suggests that we meet to do a mood board. We look at each other, the Publican and I, somewhat nonplussed. Is mood boarding a winter sport for cows we wonder? Perhaps it is a cruel and unusual punishment akin to water boarding. Whatever it is, we are pretty certain that it is not our sort of thing at all. So we turn our enquiring gaze upon the techno-pup opposite and ask precisely what it is he means.
At first glance he is a well set up young man, fresh from the big smoke and bursting with confidence but the Old Licensed Victualler (OLV) knew his father, a finer man with rod you would be hard pressed to find, and under his quizzical gaze he stammers to explain that a mood board is a collection of images and phrases that express something or other. Now I have him. I have seen brides turn up with that sort of thing. Though, in such cases, it is usually a large album frothing at the edges with tulle
and ribbons and shedding samples of stationery, and I wondered at their usefulness.
The explanation dries up and a silence descends, broken only by the
tap tap as the OLV gets his snuff box out and prepares to open it. He is about to pontificate.
The lid of the box tapped and then opened the Publican politely offers it around, looks moderately surprised when neither of us take him up on his offer, deeply inhales two great pinches of the stuff and then dusts himself down with the red spotted kerchief. Dreading what will be said I quickly make the suggestion that we have lunch. Our web man can bring his laptop and we can look at a rood screen on the way. Now clearly this reads a lot better than it sounded and the looks I received were verging on the scandalised, although I think I noted a hint of eager anticipation in the eye of the OLV.
The rood screen I have in mind is in St Matthew's church, Llandefalle (pronounced Lan-d-vath-lee), tucked away down a turning off the A470 about six miles from Brecon. More or less invisible until one stands outside it, this church is a hidden gem. The churchyard slopes downhill and as we passed through the overhanging yew the mist was melting off the Black Mountains giving us a wonderful view across rolling fields in the foreground, their fresh green shoots contrasting with the red brown earth in an effect that always reminded my grandmother of tweed to the hills beyond. The hedgerows and copses making a patchwork merging into open ground and steep, ravine-ridden hillsides. It is a wrench to turn our attention to the church at our backs.
The effect of the slope and its tall tower make this church quite imposing. We climb the steps to the porch with its worn stoup in a niche to one side and large brass war memorial, well polished and hung with a wreath of poppies, and pass through the ancient nail-studded door into the church. This is a surprisingly large church. It is airy and light since, thank goodness, the lime-wash has been left on the walls and the sun streaming through the tracery of the large southern windows fills the church.
This is one of those unassuming churches that tells the tale of how parish churches dealt with the changes of fortune that a long history brings. The window in the north west corner is much simpler, and therefore older than the other windows of the nave and probably indicates a rebuilding at some point when there was a bit more money around. The rest of the church is 15th century in design, with an unusual barrel-vaulted ceiling in both chancel and nave. Fine tracery and the remains of wall paintings as well as an arcade to the south aisle indicate the sometime wealth of this parish as do the stained glass fragments which are jumbled into a window in the south aisle.
Although much reduced, the crowning glory is the rood screen that divides the chancel from the nave. Taking its name from the Anglo Saxon word for the cross (rood) that once topped it, the screen would once have had a balcony richly adorned with carving. What remains is a delicate frieze of a beast eating its own tail which in turns becomes a vine, a wonderfully fantastic piece. There are clues that this screen would once have been highly coloured and when one thinks of this, combined with stained glass, red chevrons on the arches (echoes of which can still be discerned) and the rich colouring on the walls, this must have been the wide screen, high definition, plasma television of its day.
At the Reformation, the paintings were whitewashed here as elsewhere and they seem today to emerge from their overcoat, a pale shadow of their former glory. Box pews were added and barley twist communion rails, as well as a communion table, now in use as a side table by the later light oak altar. At some point these pews were replaced by and the guide tells us the old ones became the wainscoting around the nave walls. Recycling at its best.
The OLV is staring with puzzlement at the wall. The indecipherable wall painting is obviously, he tells us, a pregnant lady playing the didgeridoo in the nude. It is clearly time to move on. He has started to see his own rude screens. So, with our young mood man in tow, we head for the nearest pub to give him another taste of what we do.
In the words of the Publican
We find ourselves in the welcoming and warm bar in the Felin Fach Griffin just a short rally drive over the hill from Llandefalle; the imposing and substantial terracotta faade standing sentinel in the tiny hamlet of Felinfach; just off the main road between Brecon and Hay-on-Wye.
The panes of glass in the front door are now totally obscured by plastic signs of every shape and colour heralding years of gongs and trophies and inclusions in many guides and publications.
Inside this country pub, the dcor is slightly quirky with Mediterranean Sea blue matchboarding to dado height and soft sun gold painted walls above. Unusual gifts are displayed on the antique pine dresser, while original oil paintings by a local artist and tasteful monochrome prints vie for wall space; all under the canopy of the original beamed ceiling, with not a piece of burnished metal in sight. Across from our table, low leather settees scattered with colourful cushions face each other around an old farmhouse table littered with todays papers before a crackling fire at waist height which splits the more formal dining room from us heartier souls in the bar area.
I am warming to the Network Nipper for not only does he fish his father and grandfather were both river-men before him but he drinks pippin juice as well. We sit a large pine table in the bar for he has a mobile computer at which he presides, in the hope we will pay adequate attention.
Between sips of the excellent Autumn Gold, me and my old chum the Parson, who sticks to his ale, do our best to think about domain names and suchlike.
Menus are brought and the list of runners explained. The staff are very welcoming and do not seem to be at all put out by the computer on the table. I struggle to decide as I stare at the list of tasty temptations on offer. The lap thingy goes blank as indeed does my mind but by the time the cheery waitress returns we are ready for her. Our orders taken, the screen blinks into life just as we are brought a coffee cup of complimentary, tangy tomato soup.
I am always worried when technology acts in an unexpected manner but I am quite impressed with the old ecclesiastical codger because he appears to understand all this high tec IT talk. I cannot believe that he was taught it in Theological College and I hope that he is not planning to communicate with us via tinny Telstar. He might well be closer to them in his pulpit, but I am not sure that we are ready for satellite sermons.
Our young guest is just getting to the bit about PandPdot.com. Like a concert pianist, his deft fingers fly over the keyboard in a crescendo of activity. When the starters arrive the lid is discreetly closed, the first movement is concluded. Should we applaud?
The Parson tucks into his slice of pork rillette with apricot chutney and toasted fruit rye. I know our chums brown shrimp cocktail will be good (I've sampled it before) and my brandade of smoked mackerel with sourdough toast with pear and watercress salad is excellent.
This is serious food, like the inn itself, self assured and confident. It gets better, the Parsons pan fried calfs liver (hes so predictable) receives rave reviews, the piscatorial pundit is hooked on his rod-caught sea bass and my char grilled minute steak a carnivores delight sat on ciabatta topped with a fried egg accompanied by onion marmalade and crispy chips.
The menu is well thought out and balanced. The ethos of simple things well done is adhered to. Some of the descriptive terms may seem a tad flowery but the pomme puree served with the Parsons liver was mashed potato so creamy it would be picky to criticise. Bread and cheese is Red Leicester with the inns own soda bread, and so on.
Quality costs, as ever, and you will find lunch is better value; here it will set you back 50 for two if you have three courses and a glass of wine (the wine carte and bottled beer choices are formidable). The thoughtful Winter Set Lunch is 12.50 for the plat de jour and 19.50 for three courses.
As the plunger on the cafetiere is lowered, so the lid on the computer is raised once again and the final movement of the concerto commences.
My eyes glaze over and leaving the two of them to the finer detail of facepages and whether we should witter or not I retreat to memories of the river.
I remember his father, a good ghillie who accompanied many of our guests in their quest for the elusive salmo salar, the king of the river. If anyone could find one, he could, amongst the deep pools and rippling glides. I am also reminded of the evening when a much-prized catch intended for the freezer upon the guest's return home, was served at dinner.
A few frantic phone calls later and a keen-eyed observer would have seen a glint of silver scales in the moonlight as a replacement was delivered to the back door, with no questions asked, to be found the following morning residing secure in its wicker bass on the cellar floor, ready for the journey home.
Who are the Parson and the Publican?
The Parson is the Reverend Ian Charlesworth, rector of five rural parishes in the Upper Wye Valley, and in the driving seat for the forays which inspire these articles. The Publican is former innkeeper Richard Stockley, co-author, watercolourist, and navigator.