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A Tale Of Farms, Castles And Books In Wales

April 05, 1987|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

PENGENFFORD, Wales — How could a farm called Upper Trewalkin in a hamlet known as Pengenfford be anything other than enchanting?

So tiny is Pengenfford that the topographer skipped over the name altogether, choosing instead the name of the nearby village of Talgarth to pinpoint this gentle expanse of South Wales.

That said, meet the hostess of Upper Trewalkin Farm, Mrs. Meudwen Stephens, a member of an association of farmers' wives who let rooms and prepare meals for paying guests.

While I can't vouch for the culinary skills of the others, if Mrs. Stephens is any example, a star by Michelin is in order for the entire circle. Everybody. The entire lot.

Arriving at her door late one night, it was evident that this was to be an enjoyable encounter. Meudwen Stephens beams incessantly. What's more, her farmhouse--it dates from the 1600s--glows with the warmth of a wood fire on a bitter night.

There were other guests. Peter Maller, a retired British civil servant and his sidekick, ex-journalist Harold Strong of Kent, had been exploring the back roads of South Wales for nearly a week and, by their conversations, both were totally enchanted with Upper Trewalkin Farm and particularly Meudwen Stephens.

These two vagabonds had the look about them of guests who'd just polished off a Christmas banquet entirely by themselves. Nearly everything Meudwen Stephens serves is raised either on her farm or one nearby. Sheep. Cattle. Garden-fresh vegetables. Nothing is frozen. Nothing is prepared from a can. The butter and eggs she collects from a neighbor and the pies she bakes drip with wild elderberries, blueberries and rowanberries that Mrs. Stephens collects along hedgerows leading to Upper Trewalkin Farm and from bushes in the far reaches of the Black Mountains that are visible from her front door.

Her garden contains rhubarb, cauliflower, leeks, cabbage, onions, spinach, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, beans and peas. Trout and salmon are delivered fresh from rivers and streams, and what's more she prepares marmalade made with pears, apples, ginger, apricots, carrots and pineapple.

One Michelin star? Two? Why not three? Breakfast alone is worthy of such an award--bacon, sausage and eggs, cereals, porridge, grilled tomatoes, fried bread and mushrooms.

Guests have found their way to Upper Trewalkin Farm from the United States (including a ballet dancer from Los Angeles), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia and a dozen countries on the Continent. They share the footpaths with three dogs (Spot, Rick and Toby) and three cats (Sam, Charlie and Silver).

With her husband, David, Mrs. Stephens raises ewes, does the marketing and serves as hostess in this charming farmhouse with its two-foot-thick walls, deep sofas, family heirlooms and polished oak furniture.

By Welsh standards, the farmhouse of Upper Trewalkin isn't huge. Only a couple of bedrooms, a couple of lounges and a bath, which guests share (although plans are in the works for an extra loo and another shower).

When the Stephenses arrived at Upper Trewalkin in 1979 they discovered serenity. In this small village no one locks a door and crime is a stranger. In addition, Upper Trewalkin lies dead center of Brecon Beacons National Park with its 519 square miles of rolling hills and lush glens, sandstone moors and wooded gorges, with the Black Mountains rising like a brooding cloud on the horizon.

Guests explore Cardiff, the Southeastern Vales and Tintern Abbey, castles, Monmouth, Abergavenny and Llanfihangel Crucorney.

During the season, which begins at Easter and ends late in October, Upper Trewalkin Farm is booked full nearly every night. This is when Meudwen Stephens rings up another member of the farm association to find would-be guests other accommodations.

There is Mary Eckley's Trewalter Farm, which takes in 230 acres of clover and thyme that's shared by cattle, sheep and a spaniel named Trixie.

Inside the 16th-Century farmhouse a 300-year-old grandfather clock ticks away the hours while Eckley's daughter, Claire, entertains guests on the organ. A sideboard (circa 1689) holds a planter and there is a hutch that overflows with Mary Eckley's knickknacks. Guests fish for trout in Llangorse Lake and the River Wye, and during summertime Britons arrive from the cities to pick fresh vegetables, fruit and berries.

Trewalter supports five bedrooms, a couple of baths, a lounge that's been converted from a dairy, and a passel of books. It's cozy; what more can one say?

Others find shelter at 200-acre Trehenry Farm where cereals are cultivated and sheep and cattle are tended by Goronwy and Teresa Jones. Three bedrooms await guests along with a tiled bath and a lounge featuring a wood-burning stove, sofas and antiques.

Oak, ash, sycamore and beech spread their shade across the meadows and verdant hills of this untrammeled land with its friendly pubs and Old World villages.

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