I always think Monmouth disappoints, slightly. It has all the credentials of somewhere fascinating: it's an ancient market town with a Roman foundation, and as a border garrison between the English and Welsh, was endowed with a fine castle. It remained prosperous throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and is now a major tourist centre.
But little remains of the castle (notable as the birthplace of Henry V), and even the Georgian buildings seem a little shabby. There isn't even an old-fashioned tea-shop for a good Welsh tea. The ancient priory church was thoroughly restored by the Victorians and, though impressive, doesn't excite the interest either.
What has survived, however, is the Monnow bridge, the UK's finest 13th century town fortification of its kind. Thankfully now by-passed, it was intended to defend the town from incursions by the Welsh, and was provided with a portcullis and gate. In this, it was only partially successful, as the River Monnow is narrow and shallow, and is easily forded nearby. But like most gatehouses, its was equally important as a means to collect taxes and control the passage of visitors into the town. Although much altered (again by the Victorians), it remains an evocative symbol of an earlier period.
A traditional sit down and take away chippie, situated right next to the historic Monnow bridge in the heart of Monmouth. I chose the sit down option and as it was a sunny day ate in the small rear patio area. Service was, to say the least, eccentric, with the waitress treating each simple question (e.g. "is it OK to sit outside and order?") as a deep philosophical enquiry, with much forethought before replying. Things were also not helped when the family in an adjacent table told me they had waited 15 minutes for their order to be taken and were giving up, walking out as I sat down. Despite all this the order was promptly taken and the food was very good, with a very generous and good quality meal provided. It was well priced and clean. The menu also offered healthier options (e.g. jacket potatoes in place of chips).
Food is well-cooked and value is not bad. Decor basic but good if you enjoy formica. The staff's wary reactions when I asked if they had any plans to offer sustainably-sourced fish made me feel a bit like an unwanted stranger walking into a hostile saloon bar in the Wild West.
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