Cnapan

 


I was booked to do a book signing in  Aberystwyth and we didn’t fancy going up there and then back again in one day.  So we looked for somewhere to stay. The first couple of places we tried were  full and so we ended up in a lovely place we haven’t visited for a while.
Cnapan is an excellent restaurant with  rooms in Newport Pembrokeshire. It might be a little further from Aberystwyth  than we wanted, but it is certainly worth the detour. It is a beautifully  elegant place, a listed Georgian townhouse on East Street and I love going  there. It is so relaxed and comfortable. You are made to feel at home from the  moment you walk through the door. The bedrooms are full of character and we sat  in ours for a while before our meal on Friday (15 May 2009), watching the wind  drive the rain in from the sea.  From the  window we could see the church looking down on us and Mynydd Carningli behind,  drifting in and out of the low cloud.
I can recommend Cnapan without reservation  and I can definitely recommend the fish stew whilst Liz would recommend the  chicken cooked with puy lentils and chorizo. Then the weather, which had been  wet and miserable all day, unexpectedly lifted. It was suddenly a lovely spring  evening and we walked down to Parrog and watched the sunset. It was beautiful.
Click here to visit the Cnapan website.
Friday night was probably the best part of  the weekend. My book signing was a disaster. No books sold and no interest  shown by the good people of Aberystwyth either. It was a long way to go to be  ignored. I could have saved money and stayed in the classroom with my boys in  Year 10. It would definitely have been warmer in my classroom, despite the unpredictability  of the school heating system. There was a bitter wind coming in off the sea on  Saturday. Grey Aberystwyth indeed.

Grey Aberystwyth

My boys would probably have preferred the  original meaning of “cnapan”, their interest in high quality cooking being generally  a touch limited.
It was the name of an ancient and vicious  game which was popular in medieval and Tudor times. It is an ancestor of rugby  apparently.  It didn’t spread much  outside Pembrokeshire and you can understand why. Modern re-creations of the  game have not prospered largely because no one will provide insurance cover.  When it was revived for a match between Wales and England, the Welsh won  easily, as a consequence of not explaining the rules. Not that here are many to  be frank.
It must have been quite an event, with the  game stretching for miles. It was played with a hard wooden ball, rather like a  cricket ball. It was perhaps a little larger than a tennis ball. This was the  “cnapan.” The object was to take the ball back home to your own parish church.  Simple really.
Opposing teams were huge, with hundreds of  players. In fact a team was usually the entire male population of a village.
There was an annual grudge match between  Newport and nearby Nevern. The game would start on the beach – Traeth Mawr –and  the game would rage its way along roads, across fields and through hedges.  Players were on foot, although the gentry took part on horseback, armed with  staves and cudgels. Their objective was probably to remain fully clothed in  order to preserve a little of the dignity appropriate to their position.  The others played in only trousers or breeches  since any other clothes would be ripped off. It was a good idea to keep your  hair and beard short, apparently. You might ask yourself how in such  circumstances you could distinguish members of the other side but I don’t  suppose it mattered that much. Injuries were common as you might expect, and  deaths not unusual.
There were tactics – of a kind. There were  positions like backs and forwards, and tacklers. There was passing and marking.  But mostly it was fighting.
The game usually ended either when darkness  intervened or when the players went home because victory for one side seemed  inevitable. My Year 10 boys would have loved it, although there are no plans to  introduce it to the school curriculum, currently.
In the still and peaceful sunset on Friday  it was hard to think that this village had once been the home of such mayhem. To  be honest, as an outsider who doesn’t carry the rugby gene, cnapan doesn’t seem  a great deal different from its modern-day counterpart.  But then what do I know? Certainly I have no  doubt as to which particular Cnapan I prefer.
We  shall be going back

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