Britain's winter wanderland
Mid-Wales: Walk among Welsh mountains to a holy sanctuary
Hidden away in the tranquil Vale of Ewyas, the ruins of Llanthony Priory are impossibly romantic, especially when a winter morning mist drifts between the Gothic pillars and archways. At this time of year it can also be particularly chilly, due to the steep hillsides keeping the low morning sun at bay. However, the gentle light and frosty temperature simply add to the peaceful – and some say spiritual – atmosphere surrounding this ancient place of worship. Often the only sound comes from the sheep grazing in nearby fields.
Although winter days may be cold, if you follow the path from the Priory aiming roughly north, within minutes you’re walking uphill and warming up. The path continues over a few stiles – take time to catch your breath and admire the view. Keep heading up, ignoring sheep trails in the bracken, and stick to the main path to eventually reach the crest of a long ridge that overlooks the east side of the valley. This ridge runs between Hay Bluff and Hatterrall Hill (the latter name is sometimes given to the whole ridge) and marks the border between Wales and England. To the west, you can see across to the rolling whalebacks of the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons, and to the east, the ground slopes away to the fields and cider orchards of Herefordshire. The ridge-crest is also the route of the Offa’s Dyke longdistance National Trail, and the well-trodden path is easy to follow roughly southwards. When you reach the junction, choose the path that leads back downhill to Llanthony.
At the Priory an unobtrusive door leads down to a snug little bar. This must be one of very few drinking holes located in a 12th-century monastic ruin. According to legend (well, the bar’s website) it used to be the prior’s own cellar. The vaulted ceiling is still in place and creates a crypt-like appearance, but the atmosphere is welcoming, while the stone-flagged floor and simple furniture means walkers with muddy boots don’t feel out of place.
Make it happen
The walk is about five miles, starting and ending at Llanthony Priory, around 10 miles north of Abergavenny.
In winter, the bar is open Friday evening and weekends only. Also here is the Llanthony Priory Hotel (known locally as the Abbey Hotel) with delightfully old-fashioned rooms and a tangible historic ambience (from £60).
For more information about walks in Wales, see walking.visitwales.com.
London: The sights of the capital with a taste of history
You don’t need the countryside to enjoy a good winter walk and a cosy pub. This meander along the Thames takes you through the heart of London – from famous landmarks of Westminster and the South Bank to the less-frequented backstreets of Wapping. In summer, the streets can be full of tourists, but riverside paths offer a refuge and are especially peaceful in winter.