Brooklands Driving Group Update
30 November 2020
What impeccable timing - On the eve of the mid-October “Firebreak” COVID-19 lockdown being imposed across Wales, the intrepid Brooklands Driving Group scuttled across the border to converge at the wonderful Llanerchiddna Farm, just outside Llandovery in beautiful Carmarthenshire. With some uncertainty right until the previous night, we were not sure that the trip would even be allowed to go ahead. Fortunately, the farm was not located in a high-risk area and so we were all delighted to once again, enjoy the hospitality of Martin Hadley and his family.
For many of us this was not our first visit to this establishment, it being a regular haunt for Brooklands friends. This time, however, felt extra special as it was the first opportunity during a very strange and challenging year to “get away”.
As usual, when we arrived our host was keen to ensure we received a proper family welcome, and we were greeted with afternoon tea and a bubbly reception. This gave us all the opportunity to catch up with our friends and forge new connections as well. Mindful of course of social distancing, the lounge and restaurant area had been reconfigured since our last visit, to provide a cosy but relaxed and safe place to interact. After a quick wash and brush up, it seemed only a few moments until we sat down to our evening meal. Scrumptious. Llanerchiddna Farm has a reputation for amazing food and hospitality. Everything is prepared by the Hadleys from local produce and quality is the word. Sampling the extensive wine cellar and local cheeses to round off the meal, we excitedly talked about the first-day driving tour we were all eager to start the following day.
Awaking with anticipation of the driving we first had to – of course - indulge in a proper farmhouse breakfast. Fully sated and raring to go, we gathered for the tour briefing. Martin had considerately planned out two routes for our weekend that kept us away from all the COVID hotspot areas. And importantly would not worry any locals seeing a group of 9 lovely cars in convoy meandering through the valleys.
The Day#1 route of around 107 miles, first took in the market towns of Llandovery and Lampeter. Llandovery has a rich history, it being the town where the first Black Ox Bank was founded by a certain David Jones which in the 20th Century became Lloyds Bank! The town square was also the site for a beheading of a local Llewelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan for being a patriot. Lampeter, on the other hand, is best known for being a university town and famously was the home of the first Welsh rugby team formed in 1850 by Rowland Williams when he brought the game back from Cambridge. Lampeter was also the town where the “Free Wales Army” first marched from in 1968.
Next stop was Cardigan and the coast. It was quite surreal because although the town was quite busy, it was very quiet. And a lovely place to find a small local café for a coffee and a welsh-cake. In the 18th century, Cardigan was the commercial centre and most important port in South Wales, exporting slate, oats, barley and butter. At its height, it had 314 ships, which was 7 times as many as Cardiff and 3 times as many as Swansea.
Our last stop of the day was Cenarth Falls. Home of the national coracle centre, this natural attraction is a cascade of waterfalls and the first significant barrier on the River Teifi, famous for the salmon and migratory trout leaping up them in the autumn months. Cenarth is also home to Caws Cenarth who make artisan welsh cheese – available on-line and every night at Llanerchiddna – I can highly recommend the Perl Las – which means Blue Pearl. And enjoying that is exactly what we did after another wonderful evening meal following our return to the farm.
Day#2 started with breakfast and many eyes fixed on the TV in the lounge area where the Goodwood speed week events where being televised over the internet. That energised us and led us nicely into the day#2 briefing. This route of around 102 miles would see us take in the towns of Llanwrtyd Wells, Llandrindod Wells, Knighton & Builth Wells via the glorious Hergest Croft Gardens. Road books in hand we headed off. Llanwrtyd Wells with a population of 601 claims to be the smallest town in Britain. It was once a spa town and the wells were referred to as “Ffynnon Ddrewllyd” which means, “Stinking Wells” because of the hydrogen sulphide gases being given off. It is also home to the World Bog Snorkelling Championship – lovely!
Our next stop Llandrindod Wells is also a spa town but now the administrative centre of Powys and the seat of the Powys County Council. Our route took us to a lake with huge, bronze statues of dragons majestically leaping out of the water and an opportunity to watch the local model boat club try-out some of their skilfully constructed vessels.
Continuing on we passed through Knighton, a border town with part of it being in Shropshire the other in Powys. It boasts the remains of not one but two early castle mottes. Knighton also houses Europe’s largest camera obscura and planetarium and is part of the Spaceguard UK project which searches for asteroids.
Our lunch stop was at Hergest Groft Gardens. For over 120 years, four generations of the sam Banks Family have created the gardens which extends over 70 acres and contains more than 5000 rare trees. It also holds the National Collections of maples and birches. It is a stunning venue and the autumn colours were simply staggering in their vibrancy and variety.
Looping back towards Llanerchindda we drove through the market town of Builth Wells. There was a noticeable difference from our previous visit to this lovely little town. The level of the river on this occasion was about 8 feet lower and not lapping against the ground floor windows of one of the riverside buildings.
And that was the main difference to this weekend’s tour and our previous visit, there was a complete lack of torrential rain. Instead of being mostly flooded out, our routes were relaxing drives on mainly B & C roads and virtually no traffic other than our own eclectic mix of vehicles and sheep!
More fabulous fare from the Llanerchindda kitchen greeted us on our return and all too soon it seems, we were packed up the following morning and preparing to head home.
Many thanks to the Hadley’s for their unequalled hospitality and to Angela Hume for her tireless efforts to arrange events such as this, which on this occasion certainly provided a weekend of tranquilly in a world of concern. We are already booked in for a return trip next year. If you too are interested in finding out more about this and other events organised by the Brooklands Driving Group, please contact Angela at the museum. Email: email@example.com