Cardiff is the Capital of Wales with a population of around 335,000 people. We drove here yesterday via a deliberately circuitous route from Bristol up the very pretty Wye River valley and then across the southern edge of the Breton Beacons National Park. Today, we visited three historical sites in and round Cardiff.
Both of our days got off to a slow start as a result of us getting lost and needing to rework our route to our first destination of the day.
Yesterday, we left Bristol and took a short drive across the big bridge at the mouth of the Severn River into Wales at Chepstowe. We spent a short time looking for the ruins of the castle before setting off to Tintern to see its famous Abbey,
We set off for the village of Tintern but it turned out that the road was closed and every one of the smaller connecting roads were blocked off in sympathy, to avoid everyone using them as a rat-run. Every road that we tried was blocked. After an hour, we returned fro Chepstowe and found a sign that we missed telling us of a detour to Tintern on another road. We wasted a lot of time, but we saw some nice scenery
In the end, we found Tintern via some narrow laneways and country roads. We could see the magnificent ruins of the Abbey as we approached the village. They looked to be about the same size as a large cathedral.
Tintern Abbey was founded in 1131 by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow. It is situated on the Welsh bank of the River Wye, which at this location forms the border between Monmouthshire in Wales and Gloucestershire in England. It was the first Cistercian foundation in Wales, and only the second in Britain. The abbey fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. This is when King Henry 8th outlawed Catholicism after his creation of the Church of England. The Abbey’s remains have been celebrated in poetry and painting from the 18th century onwards. It is an outstandingly impressive place and I am amazed that this grand building could have been built over 800 years ago in such a small and remote location. It was originally surrounded by ancillary buildings including cloisters, living quarters, kitchens and a hospice.
From Tintern, we continued up the very beautiful Wye River Valley until we reached the town of Ross on Wye where we stopped for lunch at the King Charles II Hotel. Ross-on-Wye promotes itself as “the birthplace of British tourism”. In 1745, the rector, Dr John Egerton, started taking friends on boat trips down the valley from his rectory at Ross. The Wye Valley’s attractions were its river scenery, its precipitous landscapes, and its castles and abbeys. In 1782, William Gilping wrote a book “Observations on the River Wye” and it became the first illustrated tour guide to be published in Britain. Once it was published, demand grew so much that by 1808 there were eight boats making regular excursions down the Wye, most of them hired from inns in Ross and Monmouth. By 1850 more than 20 visitors had published their own accounts of the Wye Tour, and the area was well established as a tourist location.
During the afternoon, we drove on to Hay on Wye and then around the southern edge of the Breton Beacons National Park before turning south to Cardiff. Britain is a very frustrating place for photographers. The smaller rural roads are lined with tall hedgerows that completely block any view. Where a view across the landscape can be seen, there is invariably nowhere to stop. When there is a place to stop, there is no view of any photographic merit as well the probability that there will be at least two cars close behind that make sudden stopping dangerous.
We stopped in couple of villages to see some historical things. One of them was Monmouth with its old bridge across the Wye River.
During the day, we drove through some patches of forest – I guess they are really called woods where the trees formed a tunnel over the road These little areas were quite beautiful with the bright green colours of spring. Otherwise the countryside was undulating land with varied crops and long views across the landscape.
We reached Cardiff late in the afternoon – some part as a result of our loss of time in the morning and also because I had planned our entire route on the Internet using Google Maps. I had possibly been a little adventurous with time and distance.
Today, we had another false start as we headed to see Dryffyn Gardens near Cardiff. I entered the wrong place into the Sat Nav on my phone. It took us to a small U-shaoed street in the middle of a housing area in a completely different location. We sorted that out quickly and half an hour later we were at the proper place – a National Trust Property on the other side of Cardiff.
These gardens have 55 acres of Edwardian gardens behind a partially restored Victorian mansion that is situated at the heart of the property. The gardens were brought under the management of the National Trust in 2012 and are part of an ongoing revival project to restore them to their original design. They are considered to be the best Edwardian gardens in Wales. The garden features a stunning collection of intimate ‘garden rooms’, including a paved court, and radial rose garden. The striking great lawn with a picturesque canal sits in all its glory from the rear of Dyffryn House to the end of the garden area..
National Trust properties in Britain invariably have a nice cafe and gift shop. This place was no exception so we had lunch there before driving to our next spot.
Caerphilly Castle is one of the great medieval castles of western Europe. It looks as tough it was built as a movie set. Several factors contribute to its claim of greatness. Firstly, it is huge in size. Its area covers 1.2 hectares, making it the largest in Britain after Windsor, It also makes use of water in a large way for defence and it is the first truly concentric castle in Britain. At the time of its building in the late 13th century, it was a revolutionary masterpiece of military planning.
Lastly, we drove a little to the north of Cardiff to see the Big Pit Mining Museum. This is one of last remaining coal mines in Britain. Wales basically supplied all of Britain’s coal before the pits were shut down in the 1980’s. You may remember the union leader, Arthur Scargill who led a miners strike for over a year before Margaret Thatcher broke the unions power.
The southern valleys of Wales are still lined with mining villages. These are strung out along the valleys with rows of identically boring humble terrace houses on narrow streets. After the collapse of the mines, some of the miners retrained to develop other skills. Some moved to places like Australia and some simply remained unemployed.
As we were driving today, we couldn’t help but think of our friend Sue who will be coming to England soon with her daughter. They have a jam-packed itinerary and will be driving themselves around . On one hand, driving here is straightforward – you drive on the left and the road rules are vey similar to those in Australia. What makes it hard are the roundabouts at nearly every intersection. These are not your simple roundabout as we know them – they are complex and difficult.
Some are huge. It is not uncommon for a roundabout to have six or even eight exits. Some also have exits and entrances to highways that go above, or below, the roundabout. Some of the large ones are over one hundred metres in diameter and even have forests growing in the middle. It is really important that you get in the right lane before you enter the roundabout. If you are in the left lane, there is always the danger of being forced to exit before you get to the exit that you really want. If you are too far out in the right lane, there is a risk you cannot get back to the left lane when you want to make an exit as there will be a car or a truck on the insi/de of you. All you can do then is to do another loop and hope for the best next time. I’m very glad that I have a Sat Nav on my mobile phone that shows me a diagram of the roundabout and which exit I should take. I have frequently lost count of how many exits I need to pass before it is time to leave the roundabout. Taking the wrong exit always results in a convoluted set of turns to get back on track again. The best trick is to know the number of the road that you need to take, rather than the name of a town or city.