I’m writing from a nook on the second floor of the West Arms Hotel in mid-Wales. The hotel was formerly a drovers inn, built around 1570, a stop for those driving sheep and cattle along roads that intersect here. A hundred years later the inn was turned into a hotel.
Remote, but cozy and comfortable, the Arms, as it’s affectionately known, is located in a verdant valley, and draws walkers and pheasant hunters, and those wishing for a country getaway. The food is wonderful — fresh trout caught nearby, meat pie, puddings, crème teas and other culinary delights.
The Arms is located in Llanarmon DC and is owned by my mother’s second cousin Gillian and her husband Geoff. Last fall, Gill and their teen daughters, Stef and Sarah, spent a week with us — it was their first trip to the States and we thoroughly enjoyed each other, though we previously hadn’t spent much time together. It was a risk that worked out.
Their visit led to Spark and me making a return trip to the U.K. and though we’ve been to Great Britain a number of times, we’ve never been anywhere quite like the Ceiroig Valley. The area reminds me of the Lake District in northern England, but many compare the scenery to Ireland.
It’s breathtaking and serene, the quiet only broken by tractors and farm equipment being moved from place to place and a band of foxhunters preparing to hit the fields, dogs and guns ready to rid the countryside of the pesky foxes that have become so prolific.
From the wide window to the right of my nook, a slate roof juts out, dipping in one section like the back of an old draft horse. Over the top of the gray tiles, sheep graze bleating on a steep hillside; all they seem to do is eat, and I’m happy that they do. The mutton I had two nights ago at the hotel was yummy, as is the cream, cheese, butter and ice cream, comparable to the best of Ben and Jerry’s.
Here the cattle come in black and white, ginger, chocolate brown and off-white, much the same shade as the sheep. Along the narrow roads, many no more than 6-feet wide, pheasants abound, scuttling down the winding lanes bordered by hedges and stone walls.
This area, not far from the border of England and Wales is where my mother’s family originated. Both languages appear on signage listing names of villages, rivers, churches, historical and scenic sites.
A double LL is common, as in LLanarmon. The double LL is pronounced like a “CL,” a fact I was gently reminded of when I botched the pronunciation when talking to a family member at a party for Kenneth, mother’s cousin who celebrated his 90th birthday at the hotel on Sunday. It was quite a party — marvelous food and laughs, and lots of introductions as Spark and I met people I’d only heard Mother talk about over the years.
Monday our tour guide was 16-year-old Sarah. While she deftly directed, Spark drove to an area landmark, one of Wales’ Seven Wonders, a waterfall with a 240-foot drop. Then it was on to a market town for lunch, and a tour of Sarah’s boarding school, located on beautiful, stately grounds.
When I asked if it was stuffy, she said if a student acted that way, they’d have the “Mickey taken out of them,” yet another quaint expression. We’re hearing and seeing lots of those—like “No fouling,” on a sign up the street which warns folks not to let their dogs poo on the premises, and a highway sign giving notice that the “crawler lane” was about to end.
That will be the lane we’ll live in tomorrow when we leave the valley and drive two hours south to Hay on Wye, a village known for its bookstores and literary festival. In Hay, I’m going to interview the Welsh author of “The Last Dragon Slayer,” a past Book Buzz Pick. It’s the first in a series by Jasper Fforde, and a favorite of mine.
After the interview, we’ll drive another two hours south for a three-night stay near the Pembrokeshire Coast where we plan on walking a portion of the seaside trail that borders South Wales. Then it’s on to Tavistock in Devon for a week, near where “Warhorse” was filmed.
There are so many sites yet to see, but it’s a certainty that the hamlet of Llanarmon and the West Arms will remain close to our hearts, as will our newfound family members, friends we hope to soon welcome back to the U.S.