The Parson and The Publican start their new column for Herefordshire Life
PUBLISHED: 11:41 14 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:50 20 February 2013
Two (self-confessed) 'slightly eccentric' characters write up their thoughts on each – Richard the pub, Ian the church – and then The Publican illustrates them with watercolours.
The Parson and the Publican
For some time now country parson The Reverend Ian Charlesworth and Richard Stockton (formerly innkeeper of a local hostelry of some repute) have taken days off and rambled through the lanes of Herefordshire and Powys. On their return these two (self-confessed) slightly eccentric characters write up their thoughts on each Richard the pub, Ian the church and then The Publican illustrates them with watercolours.
Some places are well-known while others are more obscure but, never discouraged, our plucky pilgrims get out the map, freely exchange opinions and then do precisely what the driver (The Parson) wishes. Not for them the wonders of the TomTom or Sat Nag as it is more commonly known. Rather instinct and an unwavering nose for musty hassocks, malted barley or fermented apple juice draws them
The result is an engaging travelogue with a twist and an invitation to follow in their footsteps. Beautifully illustrated with watercolour sketches from the brush of The Publican, none should resist the call of the open road, the crackle of the open fire or the treasures to be found in an open church.
His early passion for shooting, fishing, natural history and all things appertaining to rural life was matched only by his passion for the small hotels, inns and hostelries he was fortunate to stay in.
When in middle age he was blessed with the opportunity to buy a small inn amongst the rolling, wooded hillsides of the Wye Valley in the Welsh Marches he committed without hesitation.
Here for nearly two decades, with his family the innkeeper created a friendly establishment renowned for its food, ales and fine wines where country sportsmen, locals and weary travellers found comfort, sustenance and amity.
The Reverend Ian Charlesworth
The allure of the history of our communities to be found in the churches of this land has always been attractive to The Parson. Now Rector of five rural parishes centred on Llyswen in the Upper Wye Valley he delights in the opportunity to continue the long tradition of service to the souls in
Keenly aware that history is at the visitor's fingertips he believes in the power of lovingly cared for churches to speak of the faith not just of generations gone but of today's custodians and warmly welcomes all who cross the threshold.
It is not unknown for The Parson to take to the mission field and so he is to found at times in the local hostelries, a round peg in a round hole as the Bishop once commented. He is yet to emulate the first miracle wrought in Cana of Galilee and turn water into wine but he has developed a considerable body of work in this regard.
The Churches: Llanfihangel Cefnllys and Llanfihangel Cascob
The Inns: The Metropole Hotel, Llandrindod Wells and the Radnorshire Arms in Presteigne
Chaucer claimed that April showers made men want to go on pilgrimage but for me it is that indefinable whiff of autumn in the air, a compound of wood-smoke and leaves on damp ground given added piquancy by a sense of the chill to come.
Together with the change in the robins song these things make my fingers itch for the starter handle. So when the feast day of St Michael and All Angels dawned bright and clear it seemed the ideal opportunity to take a pottering pilgrimage around some of the churches dedicated to the Archangel Michael.
Tales recall the great battle between this flaming servant of God and the devil in the guise of a dragon and I ponder on these things as I put a few essentials in the old jalopy. The dragons of old were often known as worms and I considered it a little unfair to lump the slayers of maidens and wreckers of havoc with my gentle friends of the vegetable garden who do so much good. As I come to the end of the Rectory drive I recall that once upon a time I had seen a large worm preserved in a bottle of foreign spirit on a shelf in a bar and with thoughts of pickled worms behind bars I turn to collect the old publican for a jaunt through the lanes of Radnorshire.
Legend has it that one of the last dragons in Wales is imprisoned beneath the Radnor Forest and around it are placed a number of
churches dedicated to St Michael to ensure the security of the prison. Whether we believe this or not there is no denying the number of St Michael dedications nor the fact that if any landscape lends itself to myths and legends it is the heart of Radnorshire, secure in its rural fastness.
The complexities of the ancient language of Wales meant that it is a little while before my companion is convinced that a church in anywhere called Llanfihangel was going to be a St Michael church but in the end it sinks in and we plan a tour that takes in Llanfihangel Cefnllys, passing through Llanfihangel Nant Melan and taking us to Cascob.
Now very little pleases my old chum the Rector more than sitting in a window and watching the world go by in someone elses parish; its the anonymity. He is not drawn in to hear a problem, settle a doubt or listen to matters of a morbid medical nature. He is hands on especially at Baptisms; at least I have a bar counter and beer pumps dividing the congregation.
So today he is a happy man. We are in Spencers Bar in that bottle green palace, the conferencing capital of the principality, the Metropole Hotel in Llandrindod Wells.
With steaming cups of good strong coffee and tasty fingers of shortbread we sit at a polished table set under a large picture window like two travellers in a railway carriage, watching busy people with places to go scurry by, whilst also admiring the art deco and tasteful dcor of the surroundings.
With countryside reminiscent of Scotland, Cefnllys church is approached across a rather prosaic bridge that replaced the eponymous Shaky Bridge from which the area still draws its name. Then its a bit of a pull under overarching hawthorns to the church gate.
Nestling in the curve of the river Ithon and under the lee of the eminence that was Cefnllys castle the church is a simple building with no obvious divide outside between chancel and nave. A charming little broach spire rises briefly above the surrounding yews.
Once through the little gates that guard the porch and into the body of the church it is clear that the Victorians have passed this way.
A little display of photographs shows that a Victorian Rector, having built a grand new church in town took the roof off Cefnllys church. Public outrage at this act of vandalism saw the church re-roofed and restored and now it stands to offer a moment of reflection in a busy world.
Neither grand nor fancy with a 15th century screen, as well as a little piscina and the shelves of a cupboard, or aumbry, the church has an atmosphere suited to its remote location.
We pause and wonder at the dedication of the parishioners who appeared to have brought the organ pipe by pipe up the path.
After attempting to guess the ages of some of the venerable yews we watch the rooks circling the top of the castle mound before following their example and heading off to our next St Michael church.
A discussion begun on the bridge about whether it is the water upstream or downstream of the bridge that can be seen to represent the future sees us a good way towards the hamlet of Cascob but the closure of a road and the subsequent journey into the unknown rather diverts our attention.
I am a little worried given my passenger that a lot of the time we seem to follow a police car but he is clearly happier to be the pursuer that the pursued. We pause in a place unknown to get our bearings. The mistake is made of sending the old codger, without his glasses, to look in a phone box for the name of the parish. He proudly announces in Welsh that we are in Calling from this location.
Eventually we draw up by the steep bank by the gate to Cascob church. As we get out of the car a cheery voice across the way offers us the key and my companion pops in to collect it. Our first impression is that we have hit upon a gem.
The sounds of domestic activity across the way fade and we are in a timeless oasis but it is neither still nor silent. A large fir tree, the type of which neither of us can identify but which is adorned with magnificent cones clustered like candles along the branches, dominates the immediate view and it is busy with birds. In the still air the seed pods can be seen helicoptering down from the highest branches.
It is a moment or two before we can go on to the look at the church.
Clearly a lot of love has been expended recently on the porch and tower. The unusual half timbered work of both of them is newly whitewashed with golden hued oak glowing between the panels.
It is a charming picture completed by the apple tree growing up against the tump upon which the tower seems to be built. Another set of low gates protect the porch without closing it in and once through these and the low door we are plunged from autumn sunlight to gloom. It is very atmospheric but no amount of patting of the walls for a light switch brings any illumination to the scene so the handy guide on a board has to be taken to the porch to be read.
We find the plaque to a former incumbent who was prominent in Welsh literary circles in the 19th century but are at a loss to find the Abracadabra tablet that was used in 1700 to deliver one Elizabeth Lloyd from demon possession.
There is, however a great serenity here in this simple building and it no wonder that it has Friends enough to assist with the recent restoration of porch and tower.
Through the simple14th century screen and the small chancel has, as at Cefnllys, a piscina.
This time the aumbry is a pointed headed cupboard above. Clearly intended for sacred vessels here as opposed to the books that would have been protected in Cefnllys low, long, wood-lined cupboard.
Once again in the late September sun we take a tour around the churchyard which on the north side is more a small plantation than graveyard and then with the key returned we turn the nose of the car to the trough and head for Presteigne.
The Wolseley, purring through the gentle Radnorshire countryside deposits us at the half-timbered Radnorshire Arms in Presteigne. Built in navigation takes us direct to the Oak Bar aptly named as the beamed ceiling is supported by dark, Jacobean oak panelled walls.
Taking his pint of crystal clear Theakstons the old codger flits like an errant moth towards another window. Absorbing the atmosphere and listening to the banter of the midday school of locals; more pleasing on the ear than any artificial percussion, I choose the pear cider wondering whatever happened to perry.
The excellent value Bradshaw Lunch Menu changes daily. We choose field mushrooms mornay, smoked mackerel on lemon cous cous for starters with Ludlow faggots and chefs pie to follow.
While we wait supping our well-kept beverages we look out the diamond leaded window on a different scene. We watch a young girl on a fine grey pony leading another and lady in sloppy sweater, faded jeans, green wellies and red spotted head scarf parking the Range Rover and taking the wicker basket to shop.
The starters are a little disappointing, the leeks are undercooked in the sloppy cheese sauce on his mushrooms and my fillet of fish simply chopped in two, plonked on the cous cous and served very cold with rather sad ubiquitous frise.
The Ludlow faggot in a dark, rich gravy with peas and the most delicious chips looks excellent. Although the pie is chicken and not steak and kidney it comes with the same accompaniments and is full of well-seasoned chicken and vegetables. Now this is more like it, proper pub grub.
We look again at the menu and feel it tries to be something it doesnt need to be.
In the bar the dishes should be plain and robust as indeed the main course was; do we need spinach and ricotta cannelloni with broccoli and brie Wellington to follow?
I appreciate that there are other levels of catering required under the same roof but keep it simple and wholesome in this delightful and welcoming family-run establishment; and who can complain at 10 per head?
Only two old codgers looking wistfully out of a window lovingly at their old Wolseley across the road and not really adapting well to a changing world.
The Metropole Hotel,Temple Street, Llandrindod Wells, Powys, LD1 5DY.
Tel: 01597 823700
The Radnorshire Arms, High Street, Presteigne, Powys LD8 2BE.
Tel: 01544 267 406