Llanthony Priory resembles a mini Tintern Abbey but, being totally buried in a little-known spot in Wales, amid the enormously gorgeous Black Mountains, in the heart of the Brecon Beacon National Park, it’s far less of a tourist trap.And unlike the great ruins of Tintern, it has its very own pub attached. Once you’ve persevered through the winding country lanes of the Ewyas valley and arrived at these antiquated ruins, it’s hard to imagine how a small band of Augustinian monks managed to build such a majestic structure way back in the early years of the 12th century. As you take in the glorious scenery it is, however, easy to see why they bothered.
As well as a public bar in the crypts of the abbey and a hotel occupying the Llanthony Priory’s former lodgings, Court Farm – next door to the church opposite and the priory – has riding stables and a field reserved for camping.The facilities are simple and thankfully the Passmore family who own the place are firm believers that Less is often in fact More. For example, rather than having a toilet block obscuring your view of the dramatic mountainside, the two-acre field has a cold-water tap with access to the public toilets in the nearby Priory car park.With no showers near this field, only hardcore campers are going to stay clean.
Bugle (pronounced Bew-glie) bridge is a well-known place to jump into the river on hot summer days, both to cool off – and clean up. The bad news is that even on colder summer days the campsite doesn’t allow fires. Never mind: if the chickens, who amble freely around the site, get round to laying, there are eggs available from the farm as well as homemade beefburgers and sausages to sizzle over barbecues on request.And the location, with the dramatic landscape framed by the arches of the abbey’s remaining window frames, can’t be beaten.
The campsite is rarely full, but because of its proximity to the abbey it remains popular all through the summer and much of the winter. Its other big draw is the omnipresent wall of the Black Mountains either side of the valley. Don’t let the hardy climbers who often frequent the campsite put you off: once that initial climb is made, the ridge runs for miles without losing or gaining much height.All is not lost if you’re not a hillwalker either: this valley holds a line of secretive paths and tracks along its entire length, which lead from one heavenly scene to another. The stroll to Cwmyoy, to view its mostly 13th- century parish church of St Michael, which leans improbably all over the place due to subsidence (honestly, it is unbelievable), will be one of life’s little highlights.And leaving the confines of this Shangri-La to the north (10 miles as the crow flies or about 35 minutes of winding road) brings you to the bookish town of Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli) right on the England/Wales border – a nice town in itself, but above all great for loading up on reading matter from its 30-odd second-hand bookshops before heading back to the site to read in perfect tranquillity.
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A campsite framed by a ruined abbey and dramatic mountains – what more could you want?Location, location, location.
Tents, dogs, small campervans, big groups (if booked in advance) – yes. Large campervans, caravans, young groups – no.
No campfires, but BBQs allowed off the ground. Cold-water tap and access to public loos. No other facilities.Few and far between. Court Farm has a cold-water tap and there are public toilets (open 24 hours) at the Priory’s car park.
The countryside at Llanthony is stunning so you may not want to do much or move far once you’re settled, indeed there’s a spiritual feel to the place that is addictive. A track leads up to join the Offa’s Dyke long-distance footpath, there’s horse riding available (01873 890359), while to the south, in the village of Cwmyoy, the Downey Barn Gallery (01873 890993), displays and sells the work of children’s author Caroline Downey. In Abergavenny, the market is worth a look, with general retail (Tuesday, Friday and Saturday), flea market (Wednesday) and a monthly farmers’ market.
If it rains
Food & Drink
The Llanthony Priory Hotel bar (01873 890487) – known locally as The Abbey – in the crypt under the Priory ruins, cooks up imaginative bar meals, served in unforgettable surroundings. Treats (01873 890867), in the village, does breakfasts and lunches. The Half Moon Inn (01873 890611) is a short stroll away and serves simple meals between 7pm and 9pm. The best place to eat, though, is the Foxhunter Inn in Nantyderry (01873 881101), whose modern British cuisine is well worth the trip. The Abbey Hotel (01873 890487) is in the crypt under the Priory ruins, with imaginative bar meals, all served in unforgettable surroundings.
Court Farm charges £3 per person with a discount for families; age 5 and under free.