An Eccentric Pub in an Odd Valley

Gwaun Valley Drffyn Arms

When Britain switched over to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, abandoning the more inexact Julian calendar, not everyone in the country was quick to follow. The new calendar made a slight mess of things, requiring that the world be set back in time—on the calendar—by about fortnight. Eventually, folks leapt into the calendar with fewer Leap Years. Some of the British, however, are still holding out. Meet the Welshmen of the Gwaun Valley.


There’s an old tale about the residents of the Gwaun, who celebrate Christmas on January 6th and New Year’s on the 13th (that is according to our Gregorian calendar): It is told that when the mailman would come through the Gwaun in late December, one of the farmers in town would intercept him, booze up the man with all the Christmas cards, and then, through Gwaun Valley skullduggery, disappear the cards, which would conveniently turn up to their rightful recipients two weeks later.


Surrounded by oak forest, roads descend past hawthorn and fern hedgerows, down into the valley where a small village known as Pontfaen (Welsh for Stone Bridge) is home to one of the more eccentric pubs in the country. The Dyffryn Arms, an old farmhouse pub that has been opened in the Gwaun Valley since 1845, is better known as Bessie’s, named for the woman who has owned the establishment for nearly one third of its existence. It’s a pub, like the Gwaun Valley itself, that has refused to change with the times.


Down in the Gwaun Valley, Inside the Dyffryn Arms


When I entered the Dyffryn Arms, Bessie, who has always been a fixture in the pub, sat across the hall in a recliner watching the Commonwealth Games.


The small pub room, even without Bessie, was a spectacle. An old pew stood, which served as one of the few seats at Bessie’s, stood between the entrance and the bar, which looked exactly like a ticket window at a dilapidated bus terminal. I ordered a warm Bass from the woman occupying the hole. Lining the top of the wall were pasted dollar bills from around the world. I took a seat by the window beside three desiccated plants.


The pub felt lackluster with the proprietor’s absence. But when four locals pulled up, packing out the small room, Bessie, balancing braced wrists on a walker, wheeled herself over. She looked much older than her timeless portrait, which shared the pub’s wall with Edward VIII, who abdicated the thrown, and a young portrait of the Queen of England. She was indeterminably between eighty and a hundred twenty. I had heard of Bessie’s proclivity for wit, but there was none that I could comprehend as she carried on a conversation with two locals in Welsh.


Gwaun Valley Drffyn Arms



Finally another patron walked in, bringing a small, empty wine bottle to the counter.


“Have you started selling wine?” a well-dressed Englishman asked Bessie, shocked that the landlady had decided to expand her menu, which had been for decades only beer, whiskey, and cider.


“It’s a pub,” Bessie quipped. Or maybe she was sincere and leading the Gwaun Valley into the future by adopting change. Either way, it shifted the dialogue to a language I could understand.


“I remember we came in here twenty-five years ago and my wife asked for a Snowball,” the Englishman said. “You know what you told her: we don’t do those fancy drinks here.”


The crowd laughed; Bessie scratched at her quite full quaff of gray. The Englishman’s nostalgia started a round of Bessie stories.


“A bloke come in here,” a heavy-gutted local began, “and he noticed his beer was a bit cloudy. He told this to Bessie. So Bessie asked him, do you drink with your fucking eyes?”


Explosive laughter; Bessie shrugged. In an earlier day, she seemed as if she would have taken stage as raconteur, but today she just smiled.


Another local entered the bar with two enormous cabbages. His prized produce interrupted the laughter. “Anyone want to buy one?”


“Somebody should,” Bessie told the crowd, as if her pub were also farmer’s market. “These are the sweetest things. Good for ya.” She promoted the cabbage like it were the answer to a long life.


I got up and ordered another Bass, as the cabbages were sold off. The bartender through the ticket window poured my beer; I read the headline of a newspaper article hanging beside the window like a timetable to nowhere. Beer Can Strengthen Bones, Study Suggests.



Gwaun Valley Drffyn Arms

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Europe, Somewhere

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