Mid- and South Wales

Trip Start Oct 17, 2011
Trip End May 22, 2012

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Wales,
Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 11-April 1, 2012: I spent three weeks touring around the rest of Wales, then drove back up to North Wales to return the rental car, bopped over on the train to Manchester for a concert, then headed back south to see Tintern and Cardiff in South Wales. I've covered a lot of ground and seen many sights, and now I know where I want to spend more time next time I come to Wales.

March 11-18: A full week in Aberystwyth may have been more than enough. There’s a seaside promenade but an ugly pier, nothing like Llandudno’s. Aberystwyth Castle is mostly ruins on the headland, behind an enormous war memorial. I was in town for the Six Nations Rugby final. Wales won over France, leading to much celebration. If you see strange green and white headgear on Welsh fans, it might be a leek, another symbol of Wales! At a concert at the university’s Arts Centre auditorium, I heard the amazingly good, local harpist, Catrin Finch.

Aberystwyth is a lively place, being a university town, and it’s very multicultural. I usually find more veg’n options in cities with lots of students, so that’s one thing I liked about Aberystwyth.

I made a day trip inland one day to Devil’s Bridge for a pretty walk (and a hundred steps up) to a pretty waterfall. The Devil’s Bridge is the name for the first, lowest bridge spanning a tributary of the Rheidol River; two later bridges were built above it, rather than dismantling the old ones. Hence, the Three Bridges.

Drove on to Hafod Estate for a good walking trail through woodlands and affording views of the pastoral landscape. There are so many waymarked paths in this country – it’s a real walker’s paradise.

Mar. 18-25: Then I hit the road and, over the next week, stayed in three places: Roch, Hay-on-Wye and Maesbury Marsh.

On the way south from Aberystwyth I stopped in Aberaeron, on the recommendation of a B&B host. What a pretty little town! The houses are all painted in different colours, and again there’s a seaside walk. It would be nice to stay a few days here.

After a long detour (unknown reason) in Pembrokeshire, I made it to the village of Roch. I found my guest house down a long, winding country road: it is an estate manor house dating from 1170 and complete with walled garden, geese and really nice hosts.

The next day I drove into St. Davids (no apostrophe in the town name) and thoroughly enjoyed touring the old Cathedral and exploring the Bishop’s Palace, then walking down a road to the sea, where St. Non’s Church stood, allegedly the site of St. David’s birth. Since the 6th century there has been a church on the cathedral site. In 1124 the Pope declared that two pilgrimages to St. Davids were equivalent to one to Rome, and three pilgrimages to St. Davids were worth one to Jerusalem. St. Davids is the UK’s smallest city, with a population under 2,000.

My itinerary took me northeast now, through the centre of Wales to Hay-on-Wye, “Town of Books.”  There are about 30 bookshops in this small town of 2,000. Each June the town is flooded with 80,000 visitors for the world-renowned literary festival.

Still heading north, I entered England again, albeit briefly. I stayed in the small village of Maesbury Marsh, just east of Oswestry. While there, I went to see Pistyll Rhaeadr, the highest waterfall in Wales. At 240 feet (80 metres), it is the tallest single drop waterfall in the UK. I chose not to make the steep climb to the top but instead sat beneath a tree, read a book and appreciated the nature around me, out of sight of other visitors. A tranquil day and very welcome.

Back across North Wales to Llandudno, where I handed in the rental car, then took the train over to Manchester for the night, so I could attend the anniversary concert of the National Association of Welsh Male Choirs. It was held in a big stadium, with 900 singers! Quite thrilling to hear that many men’s voices raised in song, and I am always impressed by Welsh male choirs’ style: the men standing with arms at their sides and attentive to the director, since they hold no music; it’s all memorized. Good enunciation too.

Mar. 25-28: South again by train to Chepstow and a taxi ride up to Tintern, where I stayed in the attic of an old estate house with a long, intriguing history. The estate was part of a wedding gift from Henry VIII to his second wife, Ann Boleyn in 1532! The oldest parts of the house are 12th century. Centuries later, it was a meeting place of Sir Oliver Lodge and his friends Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Edward Elgar.

The village of Tintern is strung out along the road that follows an S-bend in the River Wye. I walked a lot in the next couple of days: to the splendid ruins of Tintern Abbey, up to the Devil’s Pulpit for a great view, along some of Offa’s Dyke Path and along the River Wye.

Offa’s Dyke is the earthwork barrier stretching “from sea to sea,” created by King Offa of Mercia around 785 AD to keep the Celts out of England. It still forms much of the England-Wales border. In places it is 65 feet wide, including its flanking ditch, and 8 feet high. Offa’s Dyke Path is one of Britain’s National Trails, covering 283 km (176 mi) between the north and south coasts of Wales.

The Devil’s Pulpit legend tells of the Devil using this rock formation “pulpit” to lure monks away from Christianity and their work at the Abbey below.

Tintern Abbey was founded for Cistercian monks in 1131, and the buildings date from a period covering the next 400 years. The site has inspired artists and poets and impressed visitors for hundreds of years. Trains brought Victorians by the thousands. It is the best preserved medieval abbey in  Wales.

Next to the big city of Cardiff.
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