Walk 106: Abergavenny Town Walk: Gateway to the Brecons

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2.1 miles (3.3km)

Time to walk: This is another town walk so it’s impossible to say how long it will take you to walk. Abergavenny is full of small, individual shops & cafes so there’s lots of places to browse

Difficulty: Easy walking on hard paths

Parking: Plenty of Pay & Display (free on Sunday). We parked in the large Fairfield site

Public toilets: Plenty of cafes & bars

Map of the route:

Abergavenny is another town we had the opportunity to visit through work in February 2018 &, despite there being snow on the mountains, we found it to be a lovely small town with much to offer & laying at the foothills of the beautiful Brecon Beacon range of mountains

The town has a Blue Plaque walk which we though we’d explore. Abergavenny means “Mouth of the River Gavenny” & is a market town in Monmouthshire promoted as a Gateway to Wales. Originally the site of a Roman fort, Gobannium, it became a medieval walled town within the Welsh Marches. The town contains the remains of a medieval stone castle built soon after the Norman conquest of Wales. It’s situated at the confluence of the River Usk & a tributary stream, the Gavenny & is almost entirely surrounded by mountains & hills

Abergavenny provides access to the nearby Black Mountains & the Brecon Beacons National Park. The Offa’s Dyke Path is close by & the Marches Way, the Beacons Way & Usk Valley Walk all pass through the town. Although there is evidence of humans in the area from around 4,000 BC, the first major settlement was built by the Romans. They called their fort Gobannium, & it was occupied from 57-400 A.D. The town expanded until the Black Death arrived in the late 1340s, but recovered in the 16th & 17th centuries, when the trades of weaving & tanning became the major source of income

Today Abergavenny remains a vibrant town. Although there is no major industry here, the busy markets, the annual festivals & the tourists they attract really support the local economy

It’s a fab place so shall we go & explore?

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts down the bottom of Cross Street outside the very impressive Tan House which was the centre of the tanning industry in the town until 1884

Apparently tanneries were built on the edge of towns, due to the smell they generated. You’ve only got to be in our Northamptonshire Irthlingborough when the wind’s in the wrong direction to know this to be true! Have a quick look round the back of the house to see the mill race, although the wheel was moved after someone was tragically killed

Across the road are steps leading up to Abergavenny Castle which we’ll visit shortly…

2. Walk back to the Cross Street & turn left up the hill passing the large, but sadly empty Swan Hotel

The Town Hall can be seen at the top of the hill…

3. The corner with Castle Street was the centre of the leather, boot & shoe industry until 1865 & probably took most of its supplies from Tan House. The large building on the corner’s the impressive Angel Hotel which was a coaching inn during Georgian times

An 1834 map reveals that there was once a carriageway through to the inn yard at the central entrance, but by the early 20th century this had been altered. During the 1830s, the Sovereign Light Coach service ran carriages back & forth daily from the Angel Hotel to Hereford, while the Mountaneer service ran from Merthyr Tydfil, through to Newport before going on to Worcester, Wolverhampton & Birmingham

The hotel became a Grade II listed building in 1952 &, in 1980, underwent a major renovation & restructuring programme. Today The Angel is owned by the Griffiths family, who also run the Michelin-starred Walnut Tree restaurant in nearby Llanddewi Skirrid with Shaun Hill. It was voted AA Hotel of the year for Wales in 2016 & is one of only nine hotels outside London to be a part of the UK Tea Guild & host to “Afternoon Tea”

4. Walk up Castle Street…

On the left’s a place we can’t just pass…the Angel Bakery which is a fairly new independent, proper bakery that’s enjoying great success. Everything sold in the Bakery is made from scratch, including the chutneys which feature in the sandwiches at lunchtime each day

5. At the top of the hill, turn left to visit Abergavenny Castle, which was established by the Norman Lord Hamelin de Balun about 1087. It was the site of a massacre of Welsh noblemen in 1175, & was attacked during the early 15th century Glyndŵr Rising. William Camden, the 16th century antiquary, said that the castle “has been oftner stain’d with the infamy of treachery, than any other castle in Wales”

It was built by the Normans to overlook the River Usk & its valley, & guard against incursions into the lowland areas south & east of the town by the Welsh from the hills to the north & west. The castle had a stone keep, towers & ditch as fortifications. It also housed the family & army of the lord. The high, formidable curtain wall, dating from the 12th century, is now the most impressive part of the ruin. A 19th century lodge was built on the top of the motte in the 19th century

The castle & the hunting lodge, now the Abergavenny Museum, have been Grade I & Grade II listed buildings, respectively, since 1952. The castle’s museum is located in the 1819 hunting lodge on top of the motte. Amongst the museum’s exhibits are a saddler’s workshop & a Victorian Welsh farmhouse kitchen

6. Walk back out of the castle entrance & continue along to the car park. The rear entrance to the Angel Hotel’s on the right & we liked the huge poster promoting the business. Unfortunately the picture below doesn’t show the size…

Walk into Castle Street car park & head left to the pay & display machine where there’s a blue plaque on the stone wall. This is the line of the Roman wall running around the fort they built on the site of the car park in 55-57AD. It linked with forts at Usk & Brecon to try to control the fierce local tribe of the Silures. It was rebuilt several times over the next 200 years

The Romans chucked their rubbish over the steep bank down to the Usk river, which can be seen flowing across the Castle Meadows below

7. Walk back out of the car park & carry on left looking for the plaque that’s in the bushes on the left celebrating the fort

The street contains several religious buildings. Firstly The School Room, which was built in 1903 as a school room for the adjacent Congregational Church (now part of the United Reformed Church), which was founded in Abergavenny in 1690

The school room echoes the architectural style of the chapel building, & was rebuilt in 1838. It’s seen many commercial & educational uses over the decades, including a saddlery, which made, repaired & sold tack for horses

Slightly further along’s the Methodist Church which dates back to 1829

8. Now…never let it be said that when we do a blue plaque walk we don’t find some in strange locations! The next one is back over the road on the rear of the gents toilet in the car park…

…& commemorates that there used to be a sheep market here from 1825 – 1863 when it moved to the other livestock market site in Lion Street

9. Castle Street now opens up into a very attractive area as it joins Tudor Street…

However before we turn down the square have a look at the large house on the left. This is the Old Court which was the site of the medieval West Gate of the town. It was also known as Tudor Gate after Jasper Tudor who was the great uncle of Henry VIII, who once held the title ‘Lord of Abergavenny’

10. Walk across to the attractive Kings Arms Hotel…

The is a late 16th century coaching inn, although its appearance has been changed many times in the three centuries that followed its building & the stone frontage may have replaced a timber-framed original

In 1817 the 15th Hussars were stationed here having two years earlier fought at the Battle of Waterloo. The soldiers’ names, scratched on a beam in the pub, can still be seen

It’s also got a resident ghost! A figure of an old woman dressed in black has been observed descending the staircase & passing through the lounge

11. Neville Street’s a wide open pedestrian area that we imagine is quite busy on festival days

Indeed it was once the medieval market place of Abergavenny & there’s a plaque to commemorate this on the wall of the modern Post Office on the right of the street. The nearby blue plaque also shows that the Bull Inn once stood here which was one of many pubs surrounding the Market Square

12. The square splits at the bottom end & our route lies down the left side which was once known as Cow Street & Rother Street after the cattle that were once sold here…

On the right’s the Trading Post Coffee House, which was once the Cow Inn – you can still see the decorative cow heads at the top of the building which were probably added when it became a Temperance Inn

Originally though, the house was the home of Thomas Vaughan of Tretower. The more you look at it the more quirky things you see, including Catherine of Aragon pomegranates, Tudor Rose & the Vaughan Arms

13. Almost next door’s another ceramic plaque which celebrates that Abergavenny was once famous for the manufacture of white periwigs. Apparently during excavations, curlers were found in this property

The large Georgian fronted properties on the left date from 1750, but they actually hide buildings dating back to Tudor times. Before that properties here formed part of the Norman part of the town

14. At the end of Neville Street turn left into Frogmore Street & stop outside the Bank…

This was the site of the medieval North Gate. It’s worth considering that it’s only taken you a few minutes to walk from the Old Court House, which was the site of the West Gate. This gives you an idea of how small the old town was

15. Walk down Frogmore Street towards the War Memorial…

…& if you’re into small individual shops then Frogmore Street’s the place for you

16. The memorial was designed as a memorial for the Monmouthshire Regiment & is of a standing bronze soldier leaning on an upturned Lee Enfield rifle, dressed in full battle kit with sling & tin hat

Ahead, behind the memorial is the Baptist Church

17. Walk down to the left & stop at the barber’s shop. This was the birthplace of Ethel Lina White who was a British crime writer, best known for her novel ‘The Wheel Spins’, on which the Alfred Hitchcock film, ‘The Lady Vanishes’ was based

She left employment in a government job working for the Ministry of Pensions in order to pursue writing. This was to make her one of the best known crime writers in Britain & the United States during the 1930s & ’40s

Her first three works, published between 1927 & 1930, were mainstream novels. Her first crime novel, published in 1931, was ‘Put Out the Light’. Her works have enjoyed a revival in recent years with a stage adaptation of ‘The Lady Vanishes’ touring the UK & the BBC broadcast of an abridged version on BBC Radio 4 as well as a TV adaptation in 2013

18. To continue this walk we’re going to retrace our route back up Frogmore Street…

If you fancy some refreshments or a ‘warm-up’ we can recommend ‘The Coliseum’ on the left. We spent a very rewarding afternoon in there watching England beat Wales in the 2018 Six Nations (it was a bit quiet…)

19. Instead of going back down Neville Street, this time continue straight along the High Street…

You definitely can’t miss the Millennium Wall painting which was designed & painted by Frances Baines to depict Abergavenny in the year 2000 – & fabulous it is too!

20. Turn right at the mural down St John’s Lane where there’s another three murals…

…which depict local scenes & landmarks to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee

21. On the right’s St John’s Church which was the parish church for Abergavenny, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries when it became the parish church. The church then became a grammar school in 1542 & is now part of a masonic lodge

The church was the oldest in Abergavenny, dating from the 14th century. The bell in the tower was rung to signal the start of the curfew when the town gates were closed at night. In 1542 or 1543, St John’s was seized by Henry VIII to become the King Henry VIII Grammar School which was funded by tithes (taxes). The school was the first grammar school in the county

22. Walk to the end of St John’s Lane & turn left & then left again into our favourite Abergavenny alleyway…the wonderfully named Flannel Street

The Hen & Chickens on the left’s also a really good traditional pub serving a fine pint of Brains – we spied the good Reverend James lurking there too! The pub is named thus because opposite was once the town’s poultry market

Flannel Street gets its name from the 18th century Flannel Mill that was once here weaving the cloth brought in from all over the country

23. At the end turn right & stop at the impressive Town Hall at the junction with Market Street…

…which was built in 1870 to replace the previous Market Hall. Look up at the clocks – the one on the north face differs as it’s black

The building also hosts several excellent daily markets which have long been the focus of trade through the town. The market is open for business every Tuesday, Friday & Saturday with additional events as follows:

Flea Market Every Wednesday
Antique & Collectors fair usually every 3rd Sunday of the month
Craft fair every 2nd Saturday of the month
Farmers market every 4th Thursday of the month

24. Continue straight ahead down what’s now Cross Street…

…& turn left opposite the Angel Hotel into Monk Street

25. Stop opposite the Sundarbon Indian restaurant where there’s another blue plaque showing that this was once the site of the East Gate

Just past this is Abergavenny’s magnificent St Mary’s Priory Tithe Barn which is of late-medieval origin, with a likely construction date in the 16th century. The building was constructed for the storage of tithes payable to the church authorities of the Priory Church of St Mary

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, the barn was used for a variety of functions, including a theatre in the 17th century & a discotheque in the 20th century. By 2002, the barn was in a state of considerable dilapidation & was again taken into the ownership of the Priory Church, which, following a major reconstruction, operates an exhibition space in the building

26. Next door’s St Mary’s Priory Church which has been called “the Westminster Abbey of Wales” because of its large size, & the numerous high status tomb monuments & medieval effigies surviving within it

It was originally the church of the Benedictine Priory, established under Hamelin de Balun the first Norman holder of the title Lord Abergavenny, which in the 1090s became Baron Bergavenny. At this time it was a cell of the Abbey of Saint Vincent at Le Mans in France

27. Walk back & turn down Cross Street once more…

Just beyond the Coach & Horses Inn is the Gunter Mansion

The house was built around 1600 & mentioned in 1678 in the House of Commons as a place of public Catholic worship. It was the final place of prayer for Saint David Lewis before his execution on 27 August 1679

28. Slightly further back down the hill we arrive back at the junction to Tan House where started the walk

So that’s the end of our look at Abergavenny which we enjoyed immensely. It’s a lovely town & also the gateway to some superb South Wales & Brecon Beacons walking. We will be returning to visit the famous food festival

If you’re in this area for a while one thing you mustn’t miss is the Big Pit which gives the you opportunity to go underground & experience a traditional coal mine. It might seem scary, but once you’re down there the ex miners put you at ease with their tales – fabulous!

Go Walk…