The Parson and the Publican

PUBLISHED: 13:46 17 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:23 20 February 2013

The Parson and the Publican

The Parson and the Publican

The Parson and the Publican at Dore Abbey and The Dog Inn, Ewyas Harold

The Parson the Publican

St Marys, Abbey Dore in the words of the Parson

Today the gleaming bonnet of the old transport of delight is passing through countryside that is often described as amongst the best that England has to offer. The shifting border, however, means that this was once Wales. The Golden Valley shimmers in the early summer sun, truly appearing to deserve it appellation. The fresh leaves of the poplars tremor, a golden haze, the vibrant fields of rape, dazzle the eye, day-glo yellow splashed across the valley floor. Yet this valley draws its name not from some Norman French derivation but from the Welsh.

I am still explaining this to my companion as we get out of the car at St Marys, Abbey Dore.

The Dore, I point out, is not dor, or gold, but dŵr, water. Now he has problems with water at the best of times. Good for plants he will admit but terrible stuff otherwise. That it is used in torture is no surprise to the Old Licensed Victualler (OLV). My attempts to persuade him of the veracity of my point are wasted and he stumps off down the slope towards the church.

St Marys was formerly a Cistercian abbey. Ruined at the Dissolution it was restored as a parish church in the early years of the 17th century. It is worth noting that of the 50 Cistercian houses in the country prior to the Reformation only two of them are still in use as places of worship today.

What makes Dore Abbey even more remarkable amongst those monastic buildings rescued for parish use is that it is the east end and transepts that survive rather than the more commonly used naves (at Leominster for example). At the restoration, a tower was inserted and so as we drop down the gentle slope St Marys presents a far from typical view. It is, however, utterly enchanting. Cistercians chose isolated places to establish their monasteries and although the modern world has crept a little closer there is a wonderful sense of peace about this place.

Tantalising remains of the former nave are still attached to the west end of the church, pillars and an arch fade way into the churchyard, the humble folk of the village laid to rest within what was once the preserve of wealthy benefactors. Around to the north it is possible to trace the remains of some of the buildings: a cloister, a sacristy, the door from the dormitory. The guidebook tells us that amidst the nettles lie the remains of a remarkable Chapter House, but such glory is past our reckoning now. We pass under the eastern windows and around to the porch.

There is always a wonderful moment of suspense as one grasps the handle of a church door. What wonders will we find inside? St Marys lives up to expectations. We enter into a box of golden light. Here is space and peace. We are in the former south transept of the abbey looking across to the north. A golden oak screen of some age and solidity separates this space from the former presbytery, now chancel, and against the west wall a delightful gallery sits on slightly squashed oak columns. The walls retain shadowy images of texts and royal crests whilst a rather well-muscled Father Time stands with his hourglass and a suitably gaunt skeleton of death leans on his spade.

This is a church in which to linger; to walk slowly around and appreciate. Following the Dissolution scrap sale, the internal roof vaulting collapsed into the body of the church. When the Scudamores came to restore and re-roof, this was wheel-barrowed outside and so it wasnt until later restoration several remarkable roof bosses found. These, along with other fragments of the once rich stonework decoration of the abbey, can now be seen laid in the ambulatory (processional walkway) that wraps around the east end of the church. Perhaps the most impressive stone though is the plainest. The altar stone is the original high altar mensa. Here stood Thomas Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford and future saint, at the consecration of the church while in nearby Ewyas Harold the Bishop of St Davids fumed claiming that this place was part of his Welsh diocese. Sometimes where the border is clearly matters a lot. It is towards Ewyas Harold that we point the bonnet to seek refreshment of a more earthly nature.

The Dog Inn, Ewyas Harold in the words of the Publican

His eyes light up as I take the well-polished snuffbox out of my waistcoat pocket. Our new found friend sitting in the bar of the Dog Inn at Ewyas Harold with as fine a set of whiskers and buggers grips as Ive seen for many a year. He helps himself from the proffered box, thanks me courteously, wrinkles his rouge-hued nose and sinks the remainder of his pint of cider. Passing the tankard to the Pint in shirt sleeves on his left and then to the Half of bitter perched on a stool adjacent who puts it onto the counter; whereupon it is refilled by the landlady who brings the brimming vessel back to the Hairy Cider.

"You spoil them," says I.

"Ten pints of cider in a session and you get table service," says the Hairy Cider winking to the departing lady much to the delight of his two drinking chums.

Together these three make up the taproom think tank. Rosy of hue, and thick of ankle, with an opinion on everything, their wit sharpened by years of practice discussing the topic of the day between themselves and anyone else who cares to join in.

The stone pub lies at the centre of the thriving village, adjacent to the old pack bridge over the Dulas Brook which flows into the Monnow and thence to the Wye. We are told there is a village shop with a post office, two butchers, a school, dentist, doctors surgery, vets, two garages, fish and chip shop, three places of worship, a library van and three old codgers eyeing us up and wondering whatever we are doing on their home ground.

There is activity from the gaffer in the kitchen and the lady of the house appears shortly with our two plates. His substantial steak pudding nestles contentedly amongst a mound of peas and a generous stack of golden chips. I choose the healthy option; political correctness names it the Dogs Pyjamas but the landlord was thinking perhaps of other canine appendages when christening his burger, bacon, mushrooms, caramelised onions with double cheese and ketchup in a bun. Healthier only since it comes with a salad so I nick some ecclesiastical chips.

"They sell snuff here," says the Hairy Cider.

"Yes I tried some once," says the Half Pint who appears to be the chairman, "sneezed all day after."

"They also sell something for the weekend in the gents, takes a pound coin," says the Hairy Cider with a knowing wink of watery eye.

I grin to my old chum the Parson when, with a juicy forkful of pudding and scrunched-up chips, he freezes mid-stroke. I follow his gaze and there is an African Grey parrot walking through the open door astride a tweed-covered shoulder and dark brown heavy corduroy trousers.

"Morning Polly," says one of the gang of three. Polly remains indifferent while his perch orders a pint of Jarrow bitter, crosses his well-heeled light tan market boots and waits for his drink.

The chef/patron comes into the bar, his stint at the Bain Marie concluded, and becoming The Landlord stands in the gap made by the open flap of the counter and with his hands firmly gripping either side surveys his domain.

Pubs are like people, each with a character of their own; this one is a rarity in todays world, the landlord appears passionate about his territory and brushes aside any inference that he may in any way be affiliated with the ovine-obsessed marauders from over Offas Dyke. This is his boozer, run his way and is thus rewarded by a loyal following from his regulars and proven by his numerous pool and darts teams.

After coffee, we join the Hairy Cider and the Pint on the old pack bridge listening to the gentle voice of the brook, swifts screaming overhead and the jackdaws busily chattering to their offspring around the distant church tower across the meadow. Two hikers loiter, passing the time on this glorious sunny day telling us of their mornings adventures and their planned trip to Abbey Dore this afternoon.

We leave our chums, the stout stone hostelry with its welcoming door open to passing visitors, locals and the sunshine and point the old Wolseley back up the Golden Valley.

I remind my old chum the Parson that I used to throw a pretty mean dart myself in my youth and start thinking about some of the characters with whom Id shared the chalk. I well remember old Alfie from New Barn who couldnt strike his barn door when sober but with a few pints under his considerable girth was invincible. Like all throwers he had a quick and accurate command of mental arithmetic but also a curious and fascinating terminology for the double left to win the game. Two twos was two Jews; two fours, two whores; two tens, two hens but his favourite was two ones at the top of the board which for some obscure reason hed call Annie upstairs. How hed chortle, roll his eyes and do a little jig. Whoever Annie was we never knew but I fear we lost the odd game just to finish on that sad double so we could all laugh at Alfies antics. â– 

Who are the Parson and the Publican?
The Parson and the Publican are The Reverend Ian Charlesworth and his trusty navigator, co-author and watercolourist Richard Stockton

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