Where Parched Pilgrims Rested

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Williamson Western Mail

A pub which claims to be the oldest in Wales, is up for sale for the first time in 300 years.

Since at least 1188, the Red Lion Inn in Llanafan Fawr, near Builth Wells, has been visited by pilgrims, farmers and tourists in search of food and shelter.

Now the two brothers whose family has lived in the pub since the early1700s, have decided to retire for a quiet life to a pair of bungalows.

But the family are determined the pub will continue to be a source of cheer for travellers and locals alike.

Adrian and Lorna Foster have run the pub for Roy and Rhys Jones for a decade and seen it flourish into a prize- winning place of rich heritage and good food.

'We wouldn't sell it to anyone who wouldn't want it to carry on as a pub,' he said. 'As well as being an historical monument, it's also part of the local community.'

To his surprise, locals and visitors have happily drunk side by side as the pub's fortunes have prospered.

Mr Foster said, 'Because no tourists came in here before we started doing food, it was quite insular. Locals love it because they can talk to types of people they've never talked to in all their lives.'

The pub briefly closed its doors in the late 1980s, but the Fosters left their jobs in computers to live and work in a part of the world they love.

'For a long time it was quite isolated,' he said. 'It was very much a farmhouse that served ale as a sideline. The mother would serve ale out of one barrel - now there are people coming in from all over the world.'

The pub's close proximity to Llanafan church has ensured its survival over the centuries. First pilgrims came, and then tourists.

One of the most famous pilgrims to visit the pub was Giraldus Cambrensis in 1188. He came to pay homage to Saint Afan, whose remains are buried in the churchyard.

Adrian explained the story of the saint.

'He was murdered by Viking marauders on the day he was made bishop,' he said. 'Because he was a bit cocky he went down to talk them into going home and they put a sword through him.'

A story told by Giraldus to illustrate to the locals the reverence in which they should hold the church has been passed down to the present day.

Mr Foster said, 'Giraldus told a story when he stayed here about a guy who took a pack of hunting hounds into the churchyard and slept in the church overnight. When he woke up he was blind and his hounds were dead.

'As recompense he went into the Crusades. He mounted his horse and charged the enemy - blind - and got ripped to pieces.'

But the story many of the visitors, particularly those from the United States, find most extraordinary is the sheer age of the establishment. …