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The Heights of Hospitality

There’s attentive service, and then there’s attentive service

Author Hannah Stuart-Leach Illustration Marc Rosenthal

dispatches4WALES – “Have you ever seen such a thing?” says Mary Whistance, thrusting a red bell pepper toward a startled hiker who has just staggered in the door. “Big Ben made me buy it.”

Whistance, a spry 78-year-old, is the proprietor of Goytre View, a rustic guest house in south Wales. Big Ben, she reveals, is a trainee farrier (a person who shoes horses) and long-term resident at the inn, which has reportedly hosted Penélope Cruz and her “dishy man friend.” Whistance manages to convey all this in about six seconds.

Goytre View sits on the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park, home to some of the U.K.’s most challenging hiking trails. Jo Priest, a 38-year-old tutor, is checking in after a long, hard day (her first serious hike). Now, she is having her endurance tested in other ways.

“Fair play to you, walking all that way in this weather,” Whistance says, wielding a batch of homemade Welsh cakes. Mid-chew, Priest is whisked on a tour of the house, which is more like a museum devoted to roosters and related miscellanea (cushions, cups, coasters). “That’s a prizewinner, that is,” she says, standing before a photograph of a pensive-looking bird.

From here, Whistance leads Priest to a dark conservatory to put on the deep fryer by flashlight, in preparation for tonight’s fish supper. During the meal, she bustles about, poised to reload Priest’s plate at every opportunity. “I’ll not have a guest of mine go hungry, thank you.”

The next morning, over an equally frenetic breakfast, Priest gazes wearily out a window, beyond which a hike-prohibiting storm has kicked up. “Never mind,” Whistance chirps, piling more sausages onto a plate. “You’ll stay here till it clears!”

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