Sharon Chilcott discovers why, for retired architect Alastair Robertson, living in Penallt means “quality of life”.
When did you move to Monmouthshire?
In 1983, when my son, Alex had just got a place at Monmouth School for Boys. Both I and my wife, Ros already knew the area. She was born in Monmouth and, whilst I am Australian, I also went to the Haberdasher’s Boys’ School.
What made you choose Penallt?
The atmosphere and the space of the village. It is a large parish and the houses are quite spread out. At the time, Ros and I were keen walkers and so the wonderful surrounding countryside was also a big attraction.
Is there anything else that makes Penallt special?
We have extremely good local amenities. The village hall, Pelham Hall, is a great asset. It was originally built in the 1920s and was really no more than a Nissan hut but then a lot of local people put their hands in the pockets to help fund its conversion.
It was completed in 1992 (also with the aid of grants) and that’s allowed the village to offer a big range of activities, social evenings and regular fish suppers. There’s even a cricket pitch and tennis courts there.
It is also great to have Babington Meadow, which used to be the playing fields for the old primary school. About 20 years ago I was asked by Trellech United Community Council to chair a committee to determine what use should be made of it. We conducted a village survey and as a result it was decided to turn it into an ecological park with facilities for all ages, including a play frame, a kicking oval and a carved storyteller’s chair. A local landscape designer drew up a planting schedule, using only indigenous species and now much of that is coming to maturity. The meadows have been used for outdoor performances and as a venue for Art in Penallt and are widely used by local youngsters.
Kate Humble’s working farm, Humble by Nature is also in Penallt and as well as offering a choice of rural crafts and skills courses it’s the venue for a new café and bistro, The Pig and Apple.
What, if anything, spoils the village for you?
We have a very poor bus service, which doesn’t affect us, as we drive, but it is a disincentive for people with young families. Also, there is a shortage of affordable housing for young married couples.
Where do you go for a casual evening out?
There’s our local, the Inn at Penallt, which is very friendly, or we go to La Piccola Italia or the Jewel Balti, both in Monmouth.
Where would you book up for a celebratory meal?
If we were pushing the boat out, the Whitebrook is close by and would be on our pick list but we tend to end up at The Bell at Skenfrith or the Hardwick near Abergavenny.
Where would you go for an evening’s entertainment?
The Savoy in Monmouth has a very good programme of events and we go to the occasional film or show there. There’s also a good choice of films shown at Pelham Hall.
Where do you shop for groceries?
Waitrose or Marks and Spencer Food in Monmouth.
In what ways are you involved in your local community?
After we made our home here, Ros and I went on to convert the old village school and the next-door chapel into luxury five-star holiday accommodation, which we ran very successfully up until quite recently, when we decided to sell them. I like to think our business contributed to the local economy and we also made the chapel, Capel Pentwyn, available as a regular venue for Art in Penallt.
I also serve on the committee for Art in Penallt and continue to chair the Babington Meadow Registered Charity. I even help out as Father Christmas at the church nativity and as the Easter Bunny at our annual Easter Egg Hunt at Babington Meadow!
Tell me more about Art in Penallt…
About ten years ago a small group of local artists and makers got together with the aim of showcasing and promoting high quality visual arts in this area. This led to the creation of a three-day art exhibition which is now held every autumn. Originally the event was held at Capel Pentwyn and in the adjacent Babington Meadow, but now we have artists queueing up to exhibit with us so this year the venue is moving to Humble by Nature, where this year it takes place over the weekend of August 30 to September 1.
If adult friends were staying with you for a week, where would you take them on an outing?
I’d take them for a drive down the Wye Valley to Tintern Abbey and Chepstow Castle and then I have my own favourite spot out at Llanthony Priory, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons – it’s absolutely stunning there.
Tell me one fascinating fact about Penallt that you don’t think is generally widely known.
Penallt straddles an old pilgrimage route from Gloucester to St David’s in west Wales, which in medieval times was as important a destination as the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. Penallt’s old church has connections with that, too – the west window, picturing St James and a Pilgrimage Tapestry in the chancel highlight the fact that it overlooks the route down the Wye to Bristol and on to Santiago de Compostella.
Facts and Figures
The hilltop village of Penallt is a thriving community of about 200 houses, set high above the market town of Monmouth, which is about a 15-minute drive away. It offers a country lifestyle, yet with easy access to the motorway network to the city life of Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham and beyond. The village’s Pelham Hall hosts a variety of sports and leisure activities and social events. There’s a lovely, award-winning community park at Babington Meadow, in the heart of the village and the picturesque old church is set in the trees about a mile north of the village in a tranquil spot which commands views of the surrounding countryside. The two local pubs are the Inn at Penallt, in the village and The Boat, in its pretty riverside location alongside the Wye. In nearby Trellech there’s a primary school, a handy village shop and another pub, The Lion Inn. For more information: www.penallt.org.uk
Photos: Sharon Chilcott