July 25-28, 1997
England hasnt been half bad now that summer has arrived. I love that it stays light out until about 10:30pm, but I hear in December it gets dark about 4:00pm. YUK! The weather has been nice about 75% of the time, 80F and humid. Every so often the rain comes in to freshen everything up and water my plants. Kind of a good bargain.
Last weekend Alan and I decided to hit the road and take a 3-day holiday. Where should we go? Too many choices for me so we just hopped in the car and headed west. We live in Chiswick, which is 7 miles West of Piccadilly Circus (central London and Alans office), and on the outer edge of the City. Our location is great for leaving town without dealing with the dense city traffic.
So we go West on the M4 and just kept driving. This is a great motorway, high speed and multiple lanes that are actually wide enough to contain an average size car. After about an hour we decided that Wales was definitely our destination for that day and the M4 will take us there via the northern part of SW England. Confuse you? SW England is similar to a very wide peninsula and Wales is just North of it crossing the Severn River. There are a few bridges to choose from depending on your destination in Wales. We were heading towards Cardiff, so we needed to cross the Severn Bridge. What a beautiful sight this bridge was. It was a small version of the Golden Gate, with cement railings and green cables instead of all orange. This portion of the river is maybe 1 mile wide and just to the west it opens to the Atlantic. The water was clean and very peaceful.
About 20 minutes after crossing the bridge we were in Newport, Wales. We pulled off and walked around the center of town for an hour or two. This place was very quaint and slow paced. You could tell it was a harbor town by the fresh salt smell and all of the Fishmongers (fish stores) around. This little town actually had some hefty hills to climb as we were strolling looking for munchies. Like a miniature San Francisco. Time to move on
We are back on the M4 and heading towards Cardiff, about 20 miles away. As we approach Cardiff time to make crucial road decisions. Do we want Cardiff North, South, East, or West? We dont even know where we are going. We missed the West and South trying to figure out where we wanted to go and admiring a fairy tale castle, with cone shaped roof tops, peeping through the trees on the hillside. So that left North and East, no problem. As we exit, we get tangled in a huge round about and dont know which way to go from there. No biggie lets take that one, since we dont have somewhere specific to be. Well, that one took us way out of town and into farmland.
We didnt care it was beautiful and few people were on this one lane road. We drove past a few B&Bs that were farmhouses and a PYO (pick your own) fruit farm. We were a little lost, but no worries we had no specific destination. After roaming in farmland for a while we happened upon a main road and we were only about 17 miles beyond Cardiff. We decided our B&B options might be better closer to "somewhere".
Now we were approaching Cardiff from the Southwest and we managed to plop ourselves right in the center of town in front of the massive Cardiff Castle. According to my Lonely Planet guide B&B land was just around the corner. Ta Da it was. We found a great little B&B. It was a 3 story Victorian type with a cute entry garden and walk. Of course they had plenty of flowers to make me sneeze, but they looked beautiful.
Our room was on the top floor with a big bay window looking out onto Cathedral Rd. After we settled in a bit and took a nap it was time to walk the town. We had a lovely stroll through Sophies Park and then had a cozy dinner in town. The center of town is a whopping 4 blocks long and wide and full of roaming drunks on a Friday night. I should say it was entertaining to say the least. Time to go back and get a good nights sleep a big day of touring ahead of us.
Saturday morning arrives we were lazy and went down for breakfast at the last minute possible. A traditional English breakfast was served. Eggs, Bacon (ham to us), Sausage, Baked Beans, Stewed Tomato, Sautéed Mushrooms, and Toast. After picking through everything we both only ate the eggs, bacon and toast. We discussed our plan for the day and 1st on the agenda was Caerphilly Castle about 8 miles north of Cardiff.
We headed north through the hills and arrived in the small town of Caerphilly at about 10am. The town is in the middle of a very small valley and surrounded by rolling green velvet hills. Smack dab in the center of town is the oldest castle in Wales, Caerphilly Castle, built in 1268. It is a fairy tale, ruined, medieval castle complete with a moat. To get to the castle you have to cross 3 drawbridges and 2 gatehouses.
One of the towers of the castle has a lean of 10%, which is more than the leaning tower of Pisa. The walls were about 6 feet thick and the rooms were very damp, dark and cool. The best part of it all is that only about 6 other people were there when we were because it was raining and cool out. As we were leaving the castle grounds we could hear some Dixieland style music. After walking over the little hill we noticed a little band playing under the shopping center gazebo. After strolling around town and looking at the local craft show we hopped back in the car and on to new places.
We decided to take the B roads and try the scenic route. "M" roads are motorways (freeways), "A" roads are usually pretty good, at least 4 lanes and they do have stoplights. "B" roads are anything other than the above. Alan and I named some of the roads we were on "Z" and "ZZ" roads, about 5-8feet wide and walls of bushes on either side with an occasional turn out to let people pass. The turn out was about an extra 2 feet wide and 5 feet long. They were unbelievable. Pull in the side mirrors and close your eyes.
As we left Caerphilly on a "B" road we headed north towards Central Wales. We drove up into the hills of fog and misty rain. It reminded me of the highland jungles in Costa Rica. Though it was rainy it was still hot and humid. This part of the drive was fab, thick woodlands and a river winding along side the road. We made it to the next town of Chepstow and again very quaint and hilly. This was our favorite. A must see, but its difficult to explain it is a place to experience.
After leaving Chepstow we continued north and Voila in the middle of the woods were the ruins of an enormous Abbey. The Tintern Abbey is a 14th century Cistercian abbey on the edge of the River Wye. We were both amazed at how much of the building was still in tact and how massive it was. The top arches of the church had to be at least 50 60 feet high, and the work was so precise and clean. I hate to admit it, but it is the cemeteries that fascinate me, especially seeing the headstones with the dates from hundreds of years ago. We meandered through the museum and then back on the road.
After about an hour of driving we were getting hungry and the car needed petrol. We were still in the farmland valleys and up we noticed a poor quality handmade sign "fruit stand ahead". We pulled in to the private farm and sure enough there was a fruit stand. The lady running the stand was a sight. A short chubby woman missing a few teeth and looked very unkempt, but she knew her fruit.
Everything looked incredible. The best looking fruit we have seen in the past few months. There were gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, red and black currants, incredible nectarines, and some veggies. Alan and I had never eaten a gooseberry, so she let us try one out. SOUR!!! Well now we have tried one and they can keep them. We chowed on plenty of nectarines though. Oh yum, they were so sweet and flavorful. We asked her advice on where to go and look for B&Bs out in the boonies. Her recommendation was to go into the Black Mountains and she pointed out the general direction.
After a few turns here and there and a few towns with unpronounceable names we were in the Black Mountains. Apparently heading for a town by the name of Llanthony. At the time we were unaware because we were both looking for mountains and what we were in were only hills. Apparently here they were spectacular mountains. We do agree on the spectacular part, but that is it. This is the portion when we began to name the roads "Z" and "ZZ"
The road we were on was one lane for both directions; no biggie until an oncoming car came. The sides of the road were walled with perfectly trimmed thick bush. Some portions of the bush were over 8 feet high and other portions had overgrown trees behind them that canopied the road. That was pretty cool even gave us goose bumps, but so did trying to pass an oncoming car with no room to spare. After driving 6 miles in about 1 hour we arrived at the town of Llanthony (ruins of a church and a pub). They converted the abbey into a B&B, so we tried to get a room. No luck, it figures. It was really cool out in the middle of no where with rolling green hills, woods, and beautiful flowers everywhere. Next time we will make reservations, that is if we can find it again.
We continued on the "ZZ" road and somehow made it out of the Black Mountains and back onto an "A" road. It was getting late and time to look for a B&B. We headed south back towards Monmouth. We found a great place to stay in the hills with a pretty big and clean room. We check in and then headed into town to get some dinner. It was 7:30pm on a Saturday night and just about everything was closed. The center of town was blocked off for a town block party. We grabbed some fish n chips and went to check out the party. HA! There was an awful band playing rock music with an audience that looked like the cast from Cocoon. Didnt take long for us to get bored and back to the B&B for a snooze.
The next day we headed back home on the A40, which took us through the Cotswolds and Gloucestershire. The Cotswolds are yet another set of "mountains" that we breezed through thinking they were hills. Plenty of cool little English towns along the way, one with thatched roof houses. The weekend was coming to an end and time to go home, but not without checking out Oxford first. Loved It! Thanks for taking you time to read this bit of my journal, full of errors and run ons.