Visit and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Hay-on-Wye, Powys. “On Wye” is included in the name of this town to mark the fact that it stands directly over the river that Gerald de Barn in the 12th century had no doubt was the frontier between Wales and England. Hay can be reached either from Kington or from Hereford by road. But in either case you have to pass Whitney, and Clifford, with its castle ruins, once Norman and later strengthened in the time of Edward I, each of them standing directly on the border. Hay itself was traditionally divided by the river into the Hay that was Welsh and the Hay that was English, and the town as a whole looks to the East over the area falling between the Wye and the Monnow, in which places like Llanveynoe, Pontrilas, the Bage, and Moccas; and the three Maes-Coed villages, Upper, Middle, and Lower; insist on their Welsh character while being administered by Hereford. Here, too, the people bear names like Beddoes (Meredith), Benians (Ab Einion), Gittins. Watkins or Hopkins, Lello (Llewellyn), and many others of direct Welsh derivation and even maintain other names, like Cadwallader or Gethin, that are equally Welsh and ancient but have died out among the Welsh themselves.
Hay is set on a height and gives a steep ascent to the roads into it from Clifford and from the Brecon side. To the North, the Wye, shallow and broad at this point, lies below, crossed by the Clyro Bridge, and on the southern side the Black Mountains raise what has proved to be the untakeable parapet of Wales. Its site is most beautiful, and it is the best of centres for going by car among the many border castles and churches, the relics of medieval war, and the lost Roman sites that fill the area; or for going on foot across the heathered hills to Llanthony Abbey and the Vale of Ewyas.
Hay Castle, which marks its earliest foundation, is now an impressive house in the early 17th century Jacobean style attached to remnants of a Norman castle, represented by a gateway and a tower. But this castle was not the first. The original Norman invader made a knight's castle here, of which the motte can be seen between the town and the church, rebuilt, except for its tower, in the 19th century. Revell was the name of the knight who built it and endowed the church, a man of Henry I of England. Under John, the place came into the hands of William de Braose, a Marcher Lord whose name was a by-word among the Welsh for his ruthlessness and treachery. The fragmentary castle that survives was set up by him or, as tradition says, by his wife, Maud de Valerie. She too has passed into Welsh legend, but with a more favourable if in some ways more alarming character than her husband's. It was alleged that she built the castle entirely by her own hands. That she was strong-minded is certain; she alone among the Norman aristocracy had the courage to accuse King John openly of murdering his nephew, the young Prince Arthur whom Shakespeare paints so movingly in his King John. She was seized and imprisoned in Corfe Castle, where she died miserably of starvation, while her husband made his escape to the France from which he had originally come. Of the two who perplexed the inner politics of Wales so much in their time, it is she who is remembered with a degree of affection, as the almost-magical Maud Walbee. But the castle and the walls of the town were laid low by Glyndwr about 1400.
Hay is busy as a market town, and has the pleasantness of traffic and of people that is associated with such places. Its inns are busy, and among them is the Three Cocks, which has earned itself a place on the maps. It is about 4 miles out of the town, beyond the village of Glasbury, with its lovely bridge over the Wye. In coaching days the Three Cocks was an important place. Daniel Paterson's Direct and Principal Cross Roads (1811) sets it by Glasbury on the way to Hay and calls it simply the Cock Inn. But Paterson makes it an important stage in the route, with its own schedule of distances between point and point. It retains its ancient inner layout of yards and rooms, its doors worked by bobbin-strings, and with gates to its stairs: it leaves no doubt that it is properly the Three Cocks by showing them in gilt. The cock, however, was never a bird. It meant the supply-horse (cock-horse) necessary to help the team to climb the steep ascents that lay along the route. That three cocks were necessary at this point emphasizes how Hay lies at the foot of the steep and dark red barrier of Wales.
From Hay you can most conveniently reach another frontiered monument of history, both at Clifford to the North and at Longtown to the South. Clifford is near Whitney, and is a village memorable for its castle. Whether this was first founded by FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford, as a knight's castle in the early days of the Norman penetration, is a little doubtful. The present ruins are of Edward I's time, with the construction characteristic of the day. But it certainly became a seat of a Marcher Lord, owned by a De Clifford. In the reign of Henry II, that vital King of England who was equally King and Overlord from the Scots border to the Pyrenees and had Aquitaine and Ireland as his fiefs, Walter de Clifford fathered a daughter who became the King's mistress. She is long remembered in song and story as Fair Rosamund, Rose of the whole World. “A rare and peerless piece”, the Chronicles of Holinshed call her. But Henry's wife did not see with the same eyes as her husband, and Rosamund died of poison. The church has 13th century monuments, but may be older.
Longtown on the Olchon brook is a straggling village with another motte-and-bailey castle, the tower, still largely intact, standing guard now over nothing more than a quiet lane. Dorstone, where FitzOsbern may in fact have settled his strength rather than at Clifford, is a prosperous agricultural village with a church entirely new and modern. But it has in it some l3th century relics worth note, and an inscription dated 1256 recording the virtues of an endower of the original church, one John Brito, whose name seems to insist that he was a Briton, or Welshman. But Dorstone also shows a Stone of Arthur, actually the bared inner stone of a long barrow, belonging to pre-Roman days; and on the return to Hay, Mouse Castle, a prehistoric earthwork that gives most beautiful views into the horizon of the Black Mountains and, more distantly, of Radnor Forest.
Clyro, with its Roman recollections, can be reached in minutes from Hay, and Painscastle lies beyond it over the Begwn hills.
Nearby cities: Hereford
Nearby towns: Builth Wells, Kington, Leominster, Talgarth
Nearby villages: Almeley, Boughrood, Bredwardine, Bronllys, Capel-y-ffin, Clifford, Clyro, Colva, Cregrina, Dorstone, Eardisley, Glasbury, Glascwm, Grosmont, Hundred House, Huntington, Huntington, Kinnersley, Llandefalle, Llanigon, Llanstephan, Llanthony, Llanveynoe, Llowes, Llyswen, Michaelchurch Escley, Newchurch, Painscastle, Peterchurch, Rhosgoch, Velindre, Willersley, Winforton
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