I had been researching mini adventure locations within an hour’s drive from Cardiff and settled on the Skirrd Mountain Inn – supposedly the oldest and most haunted pub in Wales – when a colleague told me if I was heading to Skirrd, I had to go and check out Llanthony Priory.
I had never heard of it before, so did a little research. Located on the eastern side of the Brecon Beacons, Llanthony is a couple of miles from the Wales-England border, seven miles north of Abergavenny (about halfway between Abergavenny and Hay-on-Wye). The ruins nestle in the secluded Vale of Ewyas, a steep sided once glaciated valley within the Black Mountains area of the Brecon Beacons National Park in Monmouthshire.
We drove to Abergavenny for a spot of lunch first – we couldn’t find anywhere on the main drag, but I saw a sign for somewhere called ‘The Greyhound Vaults – homemade food and good ales’. That was enough for me!
We ordered a chicken livers omelette with veg (£7) and a burger with chips (£8). Portions were very generous, the beef in the burger was delicious. Only complaint was the chips were underdone, but the veg was amazing and we had so much food it’s a good thing we couldn’t eat the chips, or you’d have had to roll me out of there.
After we’d wandered around Abergavenny for a couple of hours, we headed north towards Llanthony. I’d been told there was a campsite right next to the Priory, but there’s no website for it so I wanted to get there while it was still light just in case.
As you’re heading north on the old Hay road, Llanthony appears almost from nowhere and is a cluster of buildings all around the Priory. The Priory is a right turn from the road, where the ruins and the hotel (and the campsite) can all be found.
We turned up towards the Priory and found the campsite – it’s just a field, beneath the barns that (I think) belong to the riding club – there are a lot of horses around but we didn’t see anyone riding while we were there. It’s quite an informal set up – you park up wherever you like, and then the farmer comes round in the morning to collect £3 per person for the night. It’s basic camping – there’s running drinking water and a toilet block, but that’s it. But for £3 each, it’s not bad at all.
After we had set up shop, we wandered around the ruins for a bit – they are really stunning (the history of the Priory is at the end of this blog post if you’re interested), and under the management of Cadw now, free to wander around and enjoy.
The ruins are attached to the Llanthony Priory Hotel, which offers a very relaxed place to get away from it all (there’s no mobile signal anywhere – and they have no televisions in the rooms). As of time of writing, the rooms are £90 for a double room midweek, including a farmhouse breakfast.
We headed to the hotel in search of the vaulted under croft bar, thought once to have been the prior’s cellar. It’s tiny – you probably can’t fit more than about ten people in it comfortably – and it was rammed when we turned up (probably peak time, early evening on a Saturday). Homemade meals are served in the dining room (although this appeared to be only for residents of the hotel while we were there).
Eventually we got a table in the cellar and got some real ales down us, but the vibe was a bit strange, and as it got more and more packed with wet walkers, we decided we would try the other pub that’s just down the road, The Half Moon Inn. We entered and found a roaring wood burner, very friendly dogs and friendly folk – much more our vibe.
We ordered some food (the Butty beef £9 and ham egg and chips £8): I will definitely say I recommend the ham egg and chips there, it was delicious. We had a couple of pints, chatted to a very friendly local who runs a goat farm up the road, and also chatted to some walkers who had driven down from London for the weekend.
When it reached 10pm we were really feeling our long day, so headed back across the field to Llanthony, which looked amazing in the moonlight.
Although I was looking forward to a good night sleep, we were disturbed by some annoying hippies who had camped up next to us and decided that everyone in the field obviously wanted to listen to them singing and shouting at each other all night.
You’ll pass a sign for Treats when you turn into the Priory. If you turn left, you get to Llanthony Treats Campsite and B&B. We didn’t stay there, but heard nothing but good things about it. It’s a bunkhouse (£15/night) that also offers camping and they do breakfasts from the their catering trailer from 8am, so if you’re camping at Llanthony and want breakfast, head over there!
Llanthony Priory – history
Llanthony Priory was one of the earliest houses of Augustinian canons to be founded in Britain, and is one of only a handful in Wales. The spot was chosen by William de Lacy, a knight in the service of Hugh de Lacy, who found the place when he sheltered in a chapel there dedicated to St David. A church was established, dedicated to John the Baptist, eventually reorganised as a priory in 1118. This was eventually attacked by local people, but peace eventually came and the priory’s church was rebuilt between 1180 and 1230.
If you are especially interested in the architectural details, I suggest you read this from the Craster Official Guide to Llanthony Priory.
Once it had been rebuilt most of the monks had to eventually retreat to Gloucester (mostly due to devastation from Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion at the beginning of the 15th century). By 1504 there were only four canons left. After the Dissolution the site was sold for £160, and was left to decay.
Today the main ruins are under the care of Cadw and entrance is free. The Priory was listed as a Grade I building on 1 September 1956, and the Abbey Hotel and St David’s Church (both within the Priory’s grounds), were listed on the same date.
Images: all mine, apart from the first one which is from the hotel’s FB page