Walkers and those with an interest in local history love the Llanthony Valley. KATH SKELLON reports.
]THE soaring ruins of Llanthony Priory are among Monmouthshire’s historic landmarks that have inspired world famous writers and artists such as JMW Turner.
Some nine miles from Abergavenny, the medieval site provides spectacular scenery which attracts thousands of walkers, cyclists and pony trekkers from across the UK and Europe each year.
Llanthony lies between Llanvihangel Crucorney and Hay-on-Wye in the shadow of the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons National Park and provides some of the best views in Wales on its border with England.
The Priory is looked after by Cadw, the Welsh body that manages historic monuments, and is adjoined to The Llanthony Priory Hotel, which was originally part of the Augustine Priory itself.
The Priory was founded by a wealthy nobleman, William de Lacey in the 12th century. He built a small church and established a community of Augustinian monks.
Nothing remains of the original buildings today because attacks on the primarily English community by local people forced the monks to retreat to Hereford and Gloucester. The original buildings were destroyed.
In the 13th century, the priory was re-established and the Priory Church rebuilt but later attacked in the 15th century during the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr as part of his campaign to recapture Welsh land from the English. During this period of upheaval most of the religious community at Llanthony retreated once again to Hereford and Gloucester.
The site is open all-year round between 10am and 4pm and free to visit.
In nearby Capel-y-Ffin, there is a 19th century monastery, part of which was once the sculptor Eric Gill’s home.
Of the many routes for walkers, hill walkers and hikers is the popular Offa’s Dyke Trail which runs between Sedbury Cliffs at Chepstow to Prestatyn, North Wales, covering 177 miles.
Offa’s Dyke National Trail provides an undulating landscape that was named after King Offa and follows the spectacular dyke King Offa ordered to be constructed in the 8th century.
The trail, said to be the best footpath in Britain, opened in 1971 and passes through eight different counties and crosses the border of England and Wales over 20 times. It passes through the Brecon Beacons on Hatterall Ridge and links three areas of outstanding natural beauty –one of those being The Wye Valley.The trail is one of many long-distance footpaths that criss-cross the Wye Valley and Vale of Usk.
Walkers can follow the path for 17 miles to Monmouth, then from Monmouth to Pandy and then onto Hay-on-Wye where they climb 2,300ft to reach the nearby Hatterall Ridge.
Many chose to break their journey across the ridge and stay overnight in Llanthony at the Priory or the Half Moon pub with accommodation. The ridge can be followed for 11 miles to reach Hay Bluff, which boasts panoramic views and lies within a site of special scientific interest.
Jim Saunders, from the Offa’s Dyke Association which a voluntary organisation that provides guide books and accommodation lists for visitors, said people come from all over the world to walk the path.
He said: “Offa’s Dyke runs along the ridge on the English side of Llanthony.”
“Walkers come off the ridge and stay in Llanthony for the night. There is much to see of interest in the area, including a bronze-age burial mound that is 3,000 years-old.”
Mr Saunders said there are fantastic views from the ridge looking towards Herefordshire and Malvern.
“You can park at Llanthony Priory and climb up onto the ridge above it and back,” he said.
He said this week has seen walkers arrive in the area from Germany, Holland and Japan.
“Visitors are very interested by the area because it is little-known about and unspoilt.”
The Beacons Way walk also offers spectacular views.
The 95-mile walk takes eight days to complete or you can walk one day at a time. The Brecon Beacons National Park’s visitor and information centre provides all the information about the Walk which runs from the Holy Mountain to Bethlehem.
The first section of the route is ten miles and takes walkers from The Holy Mountain to Llanthony, Via Ysfryd Fawr, Llanvihangel Crucorney and Hatterall Hill, climbing 697metres, before reaching Crickhowell’s Table Mountain and continuing further into the National Park.
The Brecon Beacons Park Society regularly leads guided walks along the route.
Llanthony resident and proprietor of the Half Moon, George Lawrence says the valley is one of Brecon Beacon’s gems.
“It is a mystical and magical place that draws thousands of walkers here each year,” explained Mr Lawrence, 58..
“It has inspired artists such as Turner and remains timeless.”
“We also have the Cambrian Way and Beacons Way walks and are lucky to have such outstanding scenery.”
“We offer accommodation and have had guests visiting from Europe and America,” added Mr Lawrence who is a former guide at a trekking centre and now acts as an ambassador for the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, providing information to those wanting to explore the park.
“Most people stay for two days and we have guests who travel by train from London and chose to walk 12 miles from Abergavenny to Llanthony.”
“It’s not just about walking and seeing historic monuments- visitors can also enjoy paragliding, pony trekking at Grange Trekking Centre at Capel y Ffin and Trevelog Farm in Llanthony.”
“The views from Hay Bluff are outstanding as is the view from above the Abbey where the two paths join and used to be known as The Monks Trail.”
Mr Lawrence said that the park’s Dark Skies Reserve status adds to the appeal of Llanthony as there is low light pollution and clear skies at night.
Another popular route is between Llanthony and Capel y Ffin. The six-mile hill walk through one of Wales least known areas climbs above the valley onto Hatterall Ridge and follows Offa’s Dyke path before descending into Capel y Ffin and back down the valley to Llanthony.
Artwork and poetry inspired by the sacred site of Llanthony Priory is among the work on display in an exhibition entitled ‘Sites of Inspiration-Tintern Abbey and Llanthony Priory at Abergavenny Museum until September 28.
Llanthony is also well-known across South Wales for its annual Show, which is held at Court Farm on August 2. The Llanthony Valley and District show features show jumping, races, shearing demonstrations and agricultural and craft competitions.