The River Gwaun ran parallel to my route, trickling beneath Pontfaen’s entrance bridge and cutting the fields like a tectonic plate. Another relic of the Ice Age, the river is home to grey wagtails and dippers, and, according to author David Barnes in The Companion Guide to Wales, one of the last haunts of the otter. I didn’t spot an otter, but a local gentleman offered warm salutations and, after a brief chat, suggested I head to the Dyffryn Arms – known locally as Bessie’s Pub – to see the place where many spend their New Year’s “for fireworks and drinks!”.
Bessie’s, which has been in the same family since 1840, is currently run by Bessie Davies, a nonagenarian who’s been serving beer since her 20s. The tiny bar, which is, in fact, the front room of her home, features brown and black chequerboard tiles, a couple of church pews, wooden tables, a warming coal fire and international banknotes from visitors stuck to the walls. It’s not only the pub’s design that’s a relic of the past. With no formal bar, Bessie and her family serve beer through a hatch in the wall, pouring straight from a barrel into a jug. Other than a few snacks, there’s no food here – except on Hen Galan.
“Families come to the pub [in the evening] to have a few drinks, some food and to [have a] singsong,” said Nerys Davies, Bessie’s granddaughter. The festivities are never formally organised and, while the rest of Wales continues to work, the people of the Gwaun take an unofficial day off. They end it at Bessie’s, where “everybody does his party piece… There will [always] be somebody there with a guitar and a keyboard,” McAllister told me.