Wonderful Wales – Part 1

17 Mar

London, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Vale of Glamorgan, Bridgend, Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigon

There is one thing that REALLY spoils this country and that is litter.  It is unbelievable how much litter there is lying along the sides of the roads, plastic bags stuck up trees, aluminum cans for miles!  Shocking!  And I used to think that Wainui was bad.

Litter along the side of the road!

We left Rob’s and took the bus and train back to our motorhome, parked on the side of the road about half a mile back from the Low Emission Zone sign.  Thankfully, we were pleased to see everything looking as it should, no parking tickets or citations on the windscreen.  You never know what you might find when you leave it for 4 or 5 days unattended.
Travelling through the English countryside, enjoying the beautiful scenery of green, rolling paddocks and a new village every few minutes, doesn’t get boring.  It’s lovely.  The medieval town of Burford is just one example of a gorgeous little place, home to 1000 residents.  The further from London we went the majority of buildings were made of stone, rather than the red bricks we are so used to there.  We were making our way steadily towards Wales, keeping off the motorways and toll roads to enhance the experience.  While motoring down the west side of the mighty River Severn, we noticed an odd-looking building on the other bank.  Dennis turned on the radio to listen to the news bulletin and lo and behold they announced that the Oldbury Nuclear Power Station had been completely shut down for the final time today!  And that was what we were looking at!

What's unusual about the village of Burford is the wide street!

Oldbury Nuclear Power Station

We listen to BBC Radio 4 usually but we noticed on this trip,  during the rush hour, the station switches to the local radio station traffic report, every ten minutes or so.  I expect it’s an important tool in traffic management but it sure is annoying!  And then, when we changed to the only CD we have with us (Simon & Garfunkel) the same thing happened!  They are too clever by half!
In NZ it is quite common to be able to find places where you can discard the contents of your onboard chemical toilet, but here in the UK the only place to deal with this is at the motorcamp venues, meaning you have to pay for the privilege.  So even though it was our first night away we needed to come into a campsite.  We chose Tredegar House Country Park, just a few miles over the border in Wales.

Newton Transporter Bridge

Before we got there, though, we came across a really strange bridge.  Two tall towers with a horizontal span between the two, 54 metres in the air!  The span was 54 metres, the towers are 74 metres high.  We noticed a visitor centre next to it and decided to come back the following day to find out all about it.  Anyway, as I was saying, the Caravan Club site was beautiful.  Tredegar House is huge and is one of the most significant 17th Century houses in the British Isles.  It’s set in a beautiful 90 acre park, with ornamental lakes, walled gardens and well established woodland areas.  The mansion owned by Charles II is open to the public  from, you guessed it, Easter onwards!  We did have a good wander around the extensive grounds even if we couldn’t get inside! The camping site is a fenced off area on one side of the park.   While we were in camp we made good use of the electricity!  We’ve been in England for four and a half months and I had not been able to find one packet of raw peanuts!  These are a favourite nibble of Dennis’, so he had been missing roasting some himself, rather than eating the overly salted ones you can get.  On our last day at Stevenage we had looked in a Chinese grocery/fruiterer and found a 5kg bag of the beauties!  He roasted half of them, I roasted a chicken and baked a batch of biscotti, using our electric oven.  And all the while the little electric heater is going, saving the gas heater, and we’re busy blogging and emailing all evening, plugged in.  I wash and dry our laundry as well.  While we sleep we’re recharging batteries, phones and computer.  So we really get our money’s worth!

Tredegar House

One of the formal, walled gardens in winter mode

Memorials for a faithful horse and dog

The largest monument is for Sir Briggs, Godfrey Morgan’s horse, who survived The Charge of the Light Brigade of 1854.  He died at age 28 years.

The smaller one “In loving memory of Peeps, fondest and most affectionate of Skye Terriers, who died Sept. 6 1898”.

The following day turned out to be so foggy we had trouble seeing anything for most of the morning.  We went back to the Transporter Bridge but decided because of the fog not to go across it as we would not have seen a thing!   We did find out more information about this exciting bridge. The design was chosen because the river banks are very low at the crossing point, where an ordinary bridge would need a very long approach ramp to attain sufficient height to allow ships to pass under, and a ferry could not be used during low tide at the site.  The transporter platform or gondola travels the around 200m between the towers at three metres per second, powered from the engine room.  This Transporter Bridge was built in 1906, it is the largest of the eight which remain worldwide, and the oldest of its type in Britain.  Motorcycles, cycles and pedestrians  can travel over for FREE,  and cars are £1!  They would have accepted our motorhome no worries, as they will take buses and trucks as well.  Dennis was disappointed but scaredy cat me was quietly relieved as I doubt I would have gone!  The tides around here at Newport, actually along the entire Bristol Channel, have the second largest range in the world with a maximum of 12.71 metres!  It’s extraordinary for us New Zealanders to watch it!  Also, another interesting fact is that  in 1607  thousands of people were drowned in the Bristol Channel tsunami.

Misty, foggy day

I cheated and have used someone else's photo! This is the gondola on the Transporter Bridge

All along this industrial coast the houses were so colourful!

We’ve only been in Wales a day or so and we’ve seen so many place signs with names that remind us of NZ:  Nelson, Picton, Christchurch, Carterton.  Other than familiar names such as these, there are so many I cannot pronounce at all!  The Welsh language seems to have something against vowels!  When you first cross the border into Wales all the signs have the English version first and the Welsh translation below but not too far down the track it swaps over and it is so confusing! You automatically read from top to bottom, so it can take some time before you have figured out the message. And the size of the signs are so large when they have to accommodate two languages.

Next stop was a tiny little village called Caerleon.  This used to be a Roman Fortress town from 70-300AD.  We visited the National Roman Legion Museum, the Fortress Baths, the Amphitheatre and Fortress Wall.  What a fascinating place!  I felt the Baths were so much better than the famous ones in Bath, England.  And what is more it was all for free!  We have certainly noticed that many tourist sites, museums, art galleries, etc are either free or very cheap in comparison with similar sites in England.

The Amphitheatre stone foundations. It would have held up to 6000 people. That's me just leaving.....

Roman bath - the multi media sound and light show was impressive

Rings and gems found in the drain at the Baths. The intricate carving is enlarged

Replica Roman sandals complete with hobnails! There was evidence of them on the stones

We visited Blaenavon World Heritage Site  which included The Big Pit.  This was a working coal mine from 1860 to 1980.  Nowadays it holds an operational  Coal Mining Museum and if you have the stomach for it you can travel down the pit for 90 metres, a two-hour round trip.  We weren’t so keen on that but we went to what I thought was a static exhibition of the history of coal mining in a shed-like building.  It turned out, after the first room with a giant screen showing the beginning of the process of coal mining, you walked basically in the dark into the mountain side!  A winding path took you deeper and deeper into a mine, with various stops along the way depicting the various stages in mining history.  Before you knew it you had followed a twisting path following a small light, and all other lighting behind you was extinguished so you just had to keep going, there was no way you could retrace your steps even though your heartbeat was elevated and your breathing laboured!  Eek!  20 minutes later we emerged way up the hill! Once I calmed down, it really was very interesting but it proved to me that underground is not a suitable place for humans!

Inland by the coal mines were the workers' cottages. Looks depressing. Notice the smoggy haze

The Big Pit

Where the coal seam was narrow they modified a chain saw for the job

It was refreshing to see real mountains in Wales, rather than the rolling hills of England.  It is surprising to see such a new palette of scenery.  Oh, and to smell silage was lovely!  Much more like NZ.
That night we slept beside the seashore in Penarth, just south of Cardiff, lulled to sleep by the waves.  Cardiff is the Capital of Wales and it so reminded me of Wellington.  This city had suffered greatly during WWII but they had made a great job of building a modern city around a beautiful harbour.  Their parliament, the National Assembly, is an impressive building, as is the Millennium Centre which is the equivalent of our Micheal Fowler Centre.  They have built a 10kms long cycle/ walking way that follows the waterfront around Cardiff Bay.

The Dr. Who Experience will have a permanent home in Cardiff. (Building is covered in thick plastic) The programmes were filmed in Cardiff

Millennium Building. Made of Welsh slate

Memorial for Seamen who died in the Wars, inside it resembled the ribs of a ship

Staircase on the outside of the building makes quite a feature

Travelling south, we went through one industrial town after the other and began to notice  a thick layer of smog!  This lasted until be got all the way down to the western most point of Wales, St David’s Head.  It was quite shocking to see this brown haze for so many miles, it wasn’t until the following day when we went north again on the other coast that we moved beyond it!
A few odd facts shared by England and Wales;  Superstores (which are supermarkets) and service stations only have one entrance and exit, even if they happened to be situated on a corner!;  two most popular businesses are Car Valets (4-6 young men who wash cars by hand) and Nail Bars (most small towns have at least two of these, replacing and primping false finger and/or toe nails!); Destination signs often don’t give you the mileage just the name  (if you take one of Dennis’ detours you may drive for ages before you find the original idea!).

Smog! Even miles away from the steel mill, etc.

St. David’s is Britain’s smallest city in terms of both size and population, built around St David’s Cathedral, which was a popular place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.  The then Pope had declared two pilgrimages to St. David’s was the equivalent of one to Rome!  The Church was begun in 1181 but not finished until mid 13th century.  It is still a place of worship today but like most of old Catholic Churches it is now Anglican, since the time of Henry VIII.  This is the first time I have EVER been in a building which has a sloping floor that slopes backwards, away from the pulpit.  Very odd!  Right next door are the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace.  It was here that I learned that the National Flower of Wales is the daffodil!  (The National Vegetable is the Leek)

St. David's Cathedral and Bishop's Palace ruins

The few days before we started our journey through Wales, their Rugby team had a historic win over the English, part of the Six Nations series!  There were Welsh flags flying everywhere!  On farm buildings, in shop windows, ordinary houses, just everywhere.  They were all so proud!  In England you hardly ever see anything about rugby it’s all football, football so it made a nice change here.

Cold but happy

St. David's Head - the western most point of Wales jutting into the Irish Sea

One of  Dennis’ detours took us to see the Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber.  Another really interesting thing – they say it dates back to 3500BC!  The top-stone weighs 16 tons!


When we got to Aberystwyth (half way up that western coast), Dennis went for a walk looking for a church for us the next day and I stayed behind and tried online.  I didn’t come up with anything but he found a Church with a bookshop attached.  Looking at the titles displayed he thought the Church sounded like us so we went along in the morning.   It turned out to be excellent and the minister knew all about the Reformed Baptist Churches of NZ.  In fact, the previous year he had been the guest speaker at their conference!  It’s a small world.  I could have listened to his lovely, Welsh accent for hours!  I was disappointed somewhat with the singing, thinking Welsh people would sing with gusto but this lot didn’t.  They did use familiar psalms and hymns so we could really join too, which makes a good change.     

Alfred Place Baptist Church (Independent)

Obviously, they don’t have ANZAC day around here but they still do have poppies!  Their commemoration day is Armistic Day, 11 November, each year and the Royal Bristish Legion is the equivalent of our RSA.  The poppies are made of plastic, so the wreaths presented back in November 2011, are still lying around the memorial sites!  I have often found one or two wreaths on behalf of the NZ Forces, in amongst the others, and the Aberystwyth War Memorial was no exception.

They have real hills here! See how close the villages are together?

While Dennis was walking back to the van he came across the amazing sight of 1000’s of starlings flying home to roost under the pier, just as the sun was setting!  He stood and watched them, along with a crowd of people, for ages.


1000's of starlings doing their mid-air ballet


One Response to “Wonderful Wales – Part 1”

  1. Jopy Roberts March 17, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

    Hi Family,
    We just love reading ABOUT YOUR “TRAVELS”…we are waiting eagerly of the birth of your new Grandbaby, as I am sure you are …Nola was saying Anna looked so well when she saw her last Sunday at Christians birthday. Keep well and safe Joy xx

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