In the year 560, legend has it, Llangoed Castle and its stretch of land along the River Wye were gifted to the Church by the Welsh Prince Iddon. Opinion’s divided on his reasons: some claim it was expiation for his sins, others it was as thanks to St Teilo for granting Iddon a victory over the Saxons at the battle of Llantilio Crossenni.
If the former – and depending on the scale of his sinfulness – Llangoed Castle might have been a pretty good attempt at expiation. Standing at a staggeringly lovely edge of the Brecon Beacons, and caught between the river on one side and the Black Mountains on the other, this is surely a piece of real estate that would make up for an awful lot of smaller-ticket, smutty-thoughts type of transgressions.
It’s the early afternoon when we pull up at Llangoed Hall, having taken the more direct route from London to the Brecons. Although even that journey – a train to Hereford, and then winging through narrow, forest-fringed roads in a rented Fiat 500 – is indirect enough to give the impression of the city receding behind you in increasingly beautiful stages.
There have been a few changes since the days Prince Iddon walked the Wye Valley. The intervening millennium-and-a-half have seen Llangoed Castle change hands several times, and name at least once. And there’s some irony in Llangoed Hall – the Clough Williams-Ellis designed mansion now standing on the same site – being such a perfect place for expansive feasts, luxurious days, late nights, true romance and a whole host of other things not strictly within the scope of approved medieval-churchly activities.
Because Llangoed’s history might be solemn and full of historical significance – before being bestowed on the Church it’s thought to have been the White Palace, home of the first Welsh Parliament – but there’s a definite, cheerful decadence to Llangoed’s present. Brian Irving, Llangoed’s manager, meets us at the entranceway with a welcome so warm it’d do fine for long-lost relatives, and shows us to a Master Suite that dovetails a very stately-home sort of luxury – antiques, heavy curtains, a decanter of sherry standing on a mahogany table in our living room – with modern fittings like digital radios and probably the sleekest bathroom in the British Isles.
That deference to worldly pleasures isn’t confined to the bedrooms, either. In the course of our weekend’s exploring we turn up a maze in the grounds and croquet on the lawn. A breakfast menu featuring honeycomb and Drambuie porridge, the honey from the beehives in Llangoed’s gardens. Dark red sofas for sinking into in the drawing room, with just enough glow from the fireplace and early evening light from the bay windows to catch on the amber whisky – much of it from the nearby Penderyn Distillery – and crystal tumblers in the honesty bar.
On this first afternoon we dedicate ourselves to the nearest corners of the grounds, and walk through the orchards, triumph over the maze and then spend an hour or so basking on a bench by the wildflower meadows. And then return to our room to dress for dinner. Which is something Llangoed’s warm informality doesn’t impose upon you, but we’re inspired to do anyway by rumours that have reached us – rumours that however beautiful the house, romantic the suites, breathtaking the scenery, all of those adjectives are earned twice over by what’s happening in the kitchens.
And what follows leaves those rumours in the dust. Starting with unflinchingly strong cocktails in the drawing room, we’re offered a menu and an enormous, exotic wine list for light reading. Shown through to a dining room covered with Whistler sketches and candlelight, we kick off an evening that’s less a standard three-course dinner than a love letter to Welsh produce. In a night that takes in Welsh Black beef tartare, wild mushrooms, nettle risotto, potato and chive gnocchi, and lamb cannon, nothing we eat is less than incredible, and few of the staple ingredients are sourced from further away than Llangoed’s kitchen garden.
Though it’d be easy to spend a whole weekend – weeks, even – drifting around the rooms and gardens, there’s no shortage of attractions a short drive from Llangoed Hall. And since my sidekick’s only slightly less thrilled by the Fiat 500 than I am by the thought of just spending two full days constantly circling Llangoed’s restaurant like hopeful vultures, it seems fair that we take to the roads for at least some of Saturday.
We spend the day walking along the River Wye and in the Brecons, somehow even more beautiful in a light mist than they were in yesterday’s blazing sunshine. Felin Fach Griffin – south of Llanfaredd, north of Llangorse Lake, and surrounded by poetic names on all sides, turns out to be perfect pitstop-distance from Llangoed Hall. And on the way back we stop at the ivy-submerged Griffin Inn in Llyswen, closer to Llangoed and an easy distance for lunch or nightcap. Since we choose it largely because my sidekick’s a completist and wants to tick off the missing half of this tale of two Griffins, it’s just good luck rather than solid reasoning that it turns out to be a relaxed, inviting local strewn with brass pokers, log fires, velvet armchairs and taxidermy.
No outside attractions are enough though, to stop us from turning back to spend the rest of our evening at Llangoed – watching the supermoon rise over Powys from the depths of our sofa, and bidding a lingering Hwyl the next morning to this land of single malt and honey.
Llangoed Hall is at Llyswen, Brecon, Powys, LD3 0YP. A Master Suite starts at £700 for a 2 night break, and the Llangoed Hall tasting menu is £85 per person. For enquiries and bookings please call 01874 754525 or visit www.llangoedhall.co.uk