IN previous years there have been flying pigs and floating sheep - so it was reassuring to see that the papier mâché figures in the roof space of Abergavenny’s Market Hall this year were, fittingly, majestic owls.

Swooping, nestling in threes, sat on perches, they were keeping a close eye on the laden stalls below.

It was another fabulous year at Abergavenny Food Festival, which has been a firm feature in the town on the third weekend in September for the last 18 years.

Celebrities making an appearance this year included Masterchef stalwart Monica Galetti, award-winning chef Anand George and Great British Bake Off favourites Richard Burr, James Morton and Martha Collison.

Between the Market Hall, the Brewery Yard, the Priory, Chadwick Place, the Castle grounds and the main streets, there were a total of 262 stalls - offering tasters and sales of everything from home-made scotch eggs, wild boar and soft shell crabs to chocolate pie, plum and cherry liqueurs; rhubarb-flavoured vodka and luscious chocolates. There were Breton onions; Moroccan pastries; pickled eggs flavoured with beetroot, horseradish or garlic; and every type of cheese you could think of, and some.

Along with the markets brimming with goodies, there are a number of venues across town to see the chefs and get some top tips. This year’s included Andy Holcroft cooking with bugs; Zuja Zak with her potato and plum dumplings; Richard Ehrlich showing how to produce the perfect Margarita; Korean cuisine with Gareth West; James Morton with home brew; and Arun Kapi, talking spices.

The entertainment in the castle grounds is a must - although I must confess that it was the lure of the cocktail stall that was the attraction for our group rather than the music!

The biggest challenge of the day for me was dragging the males in our party away from the beer and cider stalls so we could have a proper tour.

For me the joy is the hustle and bustle, the scrums at the stalls to try a morsel of cheese and some artisan biscuits, passing the chocolate stalls at least three times for those luscious chunks or buttons, and getting a warm glow from the samples of alcohol flavoured with rhubarb, coconut, pistachio, cherry - you get the idea...

The festival was started in 1999 by two local farmers who wanted to promote British produce in the wake of the BSE crisis. The first festival had 3,000 visitors, but these days 30,000 head to Abergavenny for a taste of the best of British food and drink, including offerings from many Ceredigion, Powys and Gwynedd producers.

The festival is run by a small, local, not-for-profit company, which relies on the experience and expertise of volunteers.

They employ over 120 local young people to steward, wash up, chop and slice food, recycle and clean. Also supported are 50 craft workers who create the awesome market hall decorations, and 20 catering students who get work experience. Then 320 children learn to cook with the free sessions at the Food Academy.

So, if you are a foodie and you haven’t yet experienced Abergavenny Food Festival, you are missing a treat.