One man chased after me waving his stick because my train ticket fell out of my pocket. Another beckoned me down a shortcut into town.
The pasty saleswoman seemed to be competing with me for variety and number of ways to say thank you.
The cafe owner took me outside to show me the Three Peaks (they were hidden by the houses and a dense bank of cloud), describing the distinctive challenge of each and the wonderful views to be had (on a fine day).
I set off down the pedestrianised centre of Abergavenny, clutching my map and compass, in a thoroughly good mood, and in thoroughly the wrong direction.
Correcting my course back to what turned out to be the wrong church, I realigned my map and strode up the lane to The First Stile. Continue reading The First Stile
Exceptional holiday accommodation deserves – nay, demands – to be saluted in that most modern of valedictions, the online review.
Sadly, my 1,000 word review (not including photographs, diagrams, maps, illustrations and appendices) of the Abergavenny Black Sheep Backpackers Hostel exceeded Hostel World’s paltry 500 character limit, so instead I will post it here and urge you all to make your own visitation at the earliest imaginable convenience.
My attention was first drawn to The Black Sheep Back Packers by a Malaysian gentleman’s almost poetic review on the Hostel World website:
Value for money. Lovely staffs.
Just need to throw a stone to hit the train.
And I knew I was in for a treat the moment I checked in. Onto a perfectly professional backpackers business card, the barman copied out the front door code, my room door code and, hallowed be, the wifi code.
Security here was obviously of primary importance. I disregarded the lager umbrellas, the daytime telly gameshows, the rising taste of damp in my nostrils, the enormous bulldog fast asleep on the table, and I considered myself reassured.
I waved away the kindly barman’s offer to show me to my room and mildly asked, ‘Are you busy tonight?’ The barman checks his bookings book: ‘There’s a couple of guys in the other dorm, but looks like you’ll be on your own in Number 4.’
Gleefully, I bound up the stairs, ignoring the peeling paint and not testing the cracked bannisters with the full weight of my backpacker’s frame. I carefully tap out the dorm door code and throw open the door: only to be greeted by a wave of sweat and Lynx deodorant, then by the shock that I am far from alone.
Choking, I stumble to the windows, pull aside the curtains and, by now gasping for air, jam the windows open. The light reveals my predicament in all its glory. Room 4 is fully occupied by a menagerie of foresters who’ve been living here for at least a couple of months.
I return to the bar, where the barman frowns at his bookings book, apparently somewhat mystified by the presence of half a dozen woodsmen in his otherwise respectable establishment. I am reassigned to Room 5, across the hallway.
The barman, once again, meticulously copies out my new door code and I retrace my climb up the stairs, with somewhat diminished enthusiasm.
It soon becomes apparent that, no matter how carefully transcribed, I won’t be needing that door code. Although there is a keypad, there is no longer an actual lock mechanism in this door. Indeed, there is not even a catch.
A quick scroll through the online reviews for the Black Sheep shows that this may have been the case since at least April.
It is at this point that I wonder what possessed me to pay for two nights up front. And, of course, being congenitally English, it is my genetic inheritance to save complaints for the Schadenfreude of friends and family. You’re welcome.
Luckily, there is a fire extinguisher in the room which, when propped against the door, at least stops said door from swinging in the wind that blows through the ample cracks in the hostel walls.
To be perfectly fair to the Black Sheep, the bedsheets have been washed with Lenor or own brand equivalent and I’ve got the whole dorm to myself. Can’t think why.
That night, I struggle to sleep. Not merely because the broken bed (whose springs are like fists) is only held up by a tub of ‘Anabolic Muscle Fuel’, but also because I fear some benighted traveller might haplessly book into Room 5 and, in gaining access, set off the fire extinguisher and trigger a spectacular discharge of pressurised water all over my belongings.
Sleep, nevertheless, comes and with it the morning. I stretch, pull back the curtains, and admire that famous Brecons view: a pebble-dashed house sporting, in the garden, an aggressively massive Welsh flag and, on the exterior walls, an enormous replica spider.
I shift aside the fire extinguisher and step into the hallway to locate the showers. The first bathroom I try does indeed possess a shower cubicle. Sadly it appears to be for decorative purposes only: the shower head is Missing In Action. Perhaps the foresters prefer to hose themselves down of a morning.
Undeterred, I try another door. This one, perhaps, could be a broom cupboard, so imagine my delight when I see that the owners have snuggled another shower inside! Sadly, this one doesn’t even dignify its purpose with a hose. It’s just two taps and a shower tray.
Where the water emerges when the taps are turned remain a mystery that I will leave to the more adventurous spirits among you who follow.
I head downstairs and into the basement. A Times New Roman sign points the way through to the kitchen and ‘Backpackers Lounge’.
The kitchen, it’s fair to say, most resembles a warzone. The windows are barred and the brickwork has suffered heavy shelling. A George Foreman grill is covered in a thick layer of dust (and probably shrapnel).
A man sits on a leather armchair in the ‘Backpackers Lounge’, rocking gently back and forth, staring at the blank wall. Almost certainly Gulf War Syndrome.
With a faraway look in her eyes, another of the foresters directs me to a twin set of showers just down the corridor. Now, remember that this is a basement: ventilation is at a premium, and the walls bear the brunt of the mildew and mould.
One of the urinals has been ripped from the wall in what can only have been a fit of sleepless rage. Someone has tried to punch their way out of one cubicle, and another has had its floor stolen.
I undress on tip-toes, trying not to imagine the germs leaping delightedly onto the exposed soles of my feet. Needless to say, the taps marked H do not proffer H water, but most definitely C. Luckily, it’s a vice-versa situation and I’m able to wash off the worst of the bacteria.
Suitably refreshed, I load up my pack a day’s hill walking. I walk into the bar and see, like aboard the Marie Celeste, a breakfast abandoned midway. I dimly recall from the website that breakfast is included.
For a moment I weigh up the risk associated with eating anything that has emerged from the kitchen below. But, ultimately, the decision is made for me. There’s no sign of the proprietor and my damp allergy is rising, so I step out into Abergavenny.
Having said all that, I escaped with my life, my possessions and an entirely new set of anabolic muscles, so: 10/10 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.