I’ve been dying to explore Hay-on-Wye, the second hand book capital of probably the galaxy, because I fucking love books. I love how they smell and how they feel, and if I can get hold of a book I really enjoy I can smash it out in a day which doesn’t bode well when you’re travelling and books are in short supply. So that was on the list of Shit To Do Today, but not before we gawped at a load of waterfalls someone had told us were in the area close to Talybont Reservoir. We found the waterfalls on Maps.me and headed to what looked like the start of the trail where there’s a conveniently located car park. Boom. Perfect. We struggled into our well sexy waterproof trousers and began our walk around the shit tonne of little falls which would have been massively enjoyable despite the rain if it wasn’t for the fact that the ground was made from slush and every last inch of it wanted to see us fail.
I’m not even shitting you. The first time I stacked it was fair enough, we were walking on rock having decided to take a closer look at one of the waterfalls and said rock was slick with rain and, y’know, the fact it was by a fucking waterfall. My feet went out from under me in pure slapstick comedy style but fortunately my fall was broken by my ample arse. And my elbow. Which was less fortunate. I spent a couple of seconds doing that quivery bottom lip thing where your brain tries to decide if the appropriate response would be pretending like it didn’t even hurt, or just giving up and crying a lot, as Tarrant helped me to my traitorous feet.
Nothing severely hurt but my pride. We carried on and inspected another waterfall which was slightly off track and down a little hill, and on account of Tarrant’s dislike of doubling back on herself we decided to follow what we hoped was a track back to the main path. It kinda was. Only kinda. There was a stile at the top which indicated that there might have been a track there at one point but all that remained was a muddy scramble up an embankment. We carried on along the path and turned off up a track which, according to the map, lead to more waterfalls. There’d obviously been a lot of pissing rain in the area. The track was all but washed out, there were several trees that had fallen, their roots tearing up the trail.
We stepped over them, made our way over a stream and that’s when I slipped again, flailed like a comedy windmill, and managed to grab hold of something before gravity claimed me as its victim again. I looked towards where I would have fallen, I would have landed on a felled tree with broken branches spiking off it. I’d have been impaled. Yeah nah, fuck that shit, I love waterfalls but I love not having gaping holes ripped through my rib cage even more. We fucked off the idea of any more exploration and headed back to the car and on to Hay-on-Wye, via a quick pit stop at Pwyll-y-Wrach, or Witches Pool, which had a much less treacherous walk to another waterfall which, legend has it, used to be used to drown women accused of witchcraft. Nice.
Hay-on-Wye though. It’s everything I wanted it to be. Small and cute and full of stone buildings which house second hand book shops and cafes that served things to apply to your facehole on willow pattern crockery. Food needed to happen first so we ended up in a little cafe where Tarrant ordered some manner of afternoon tea which came served on a tiered thing, and I went for Welsh rarebit. Because we’re in Wales. It’s basically cheese on toast, but it’s not just cheese. The woman who served us told us it was grated cheese mixed with mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and a secret ingredient which even she didn’t know because her cook wouldn’t tell her. Well as long as it’s not love then we’re all good. It was a funky little tea room, I wish I could remember the name of it. They have a lovely little garden out the back too which we didn’t use because opportunities to remain dry have to be grasped with both hand in Wales, but the Welsh rarebit was amazing!
You can pick up a map and do a proper little trail around all the book shops but we settled for a disorganised meander, predominantly because we didn’t know about the map until we got chatting to one of the shop owners. I never knew how much books could cost. You can get everything in this town. Some of the books are worth tens of thousands of pounds, proper collector’s items. There are first editions and really old tomes kept locked away. The fella we spoke to told us they just buy in collections, usually after someone dies and their estate is being sold off. They can’t buy everything they’re offered simply because they don’t have the space for it. I felt like quite the heathen purchasing my easy to read crime novels amongst all these great works of literature but let’s face it, I have no use for a first edition James Bond. Oh, and a worthy mention is the fudge shop. The guy there makes all his own fudge so I bought a selection because fudge is one of the most wonderful creations in all the land.
Next stop was Abergavenny because we’d heard St Mary’s church was nice. As we walked in we were greeted by a woman who asked us if we’d come to see the new window. Prince Charles himself was there for the unveiling last Thursday, she told us. I… well… we… there’s no reason we can’t look at the new window I guess? It’s actually a pretty cool window to be fair, y’know, as religious propaganda goes. It’s very, very vibrant. I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen a brand new stained glass window before. It was commissioned after a much loved vicar died. Before he passed he’d said he’d love to see a Jesse window (this is a thing. I had too Google it but it’s some manner of Christian thing) installed in the church so when they were thinking of a memorial to dedicate to him, instead of going for a bench or a plaque, they had this window commissioned.
Tarrant tried to work out all the imagery in the window, with her being a good Catholic girl an’ all that, but if you want it explained then check out this page here. What we’d actually come to see were the monuments, carvings of various historic figures. They were okay, but what fascinated me the most was the information on bell ringing. This is also a thing as it turns out. A very fucking complicated thing. The style of ringing used in the UK is called change ringing, and the bell swings 360 degrees, and the bell must be rung within 16th of a second of the last bell. Sixteenth of a fucking second! It’s actually way more involved than just that, and there are people who just go around ringing bells, and here’s a fun fact; there are over 5000 ringable towers in the UK, and some people have rang at over 3000. That’s a lot of bells. And a lot of hearing damage. And not something you’d want to be doing with a hangover.
Obviously we needed more beer in our lives by this point so we swung by a little place called Aberaman which is home to Grey Trees Brewery, based in a unit in a small industrial estate. The lads there were very friendly and happily sold us some beer. One guy told us the story of how his dad set the place up. After he left the army he started running his own pub where he learnt a lot about ales and decided he wanted to give it a bash himself. So he did. And this is the result. Nice one. And after a quick catch up with a bloke I met on the internet which is way less dodgy than it sounds, we drove to Henrhyd Falls. Or to the car park anyway, then you have to walk down a fuck off great big hill but at least the ground isn’t trying to kill you.
This waterfall is so worth the minimal effort it takes to get there. To be fair, the effort to get back to the car park up the bloody hill doesn’t bear thinking about, but this is the waterfall featured in some manner of Batman movie. I’m not madly into DC comics, I’m a Marvel girl, so I don’t know which film, but it was enough to get Tarrant very excited. And guys, you can walk behind the falls. You’re not gonna end up in the bat cave, in fact all you’ll end up is piss wet through, but it’s fucking stunning. I’d love to come back here in hot weather one day and spend a few hours just chilling and swimming. And by swimming I mean paddling up to my knees whilst making those involuntary monkey noises you make when the water is too bastard cold.
Home time. The whole point of choosing this camp site was the proximity to the town so we wandered into Brecon in search of a pub called The Brecon Tap which is the brewery tap for Brecon Brewing. I’m not gonna lie, I was kinda expecting a nice little local-ish place with a good range of Brecon ale on tap and bad carpets. It’s actually more of a brightly lit bar with very little character. It was busy though, we did have to perch on the end of a bench with strangers so they must be doing something right. But they didn’t have a huge range on tap and neither of us with our vastly different tastes in beer were particularly enamoured with them. We sipped a pint each, took advantage of the free wifi, and shuffled off to another pub before giving up on the whole trying to stay awake thing and strolling back to the campsite in the dark.
Around Brecon Beacons, Wales
Stayed at: Priory Mill Farm, Brecon, Powys