Before our recent road trip, I had been to Wales a handful of times, all of them to cities. Since I visited Newport and Cardiff years ago when I was living ‘just across the river’ near Bristol, I’d only been to concerts and the Olympic football bronze match (South Korea vs Japan 2-0) in Swansea and Cardiff. As much fun as they’d been, what I really wanted to experience now was the magnificent-looking landscape: the high green hills and deep valleys. Equipped with both sunglasses and umbrellas to be on the safe side, hubby and I hit the road at 5 am to beat the traffic and enjoy the serene, misty morning. The skyline of Gloucester across the Severn Valley looked particularly beautiful in the early morning haze as we drove towards the border. Once again we took a picnic with us with the intention of finding beautiful spots for breakfast and lunch as well as any random coffee stops. A thermos flask full of strong coffee makes it a proper road trip in my books!
The purpose of the drive was not to spend hours in each place although it would be great to revisit some of them and get to know them better. Instead, we wanted to see what we’d find at the end of narrow, winding side roads, get a good view of the impressive countryside, and stop at some of the landmarks we’d come across. We went from Chepstow Castle to Tintern Abbey – or what is left of it after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. (After major structural repairs and partial reconstructions the ruins look impressive even in their current state.) The old Tintern railway station is now a tearoom with a shop in an old carriage. Sitting outside sipping our coffee, we watched a young rabbit munch daisies before we strolled over to the Circle of Legends wood carvings and continued our random drive.
We drove to Monmouth and Monnow Bridge, Britain’s only remaining medieval fortified river bridge where the gate tower stands actually on the bridge. We also stopped at Hay-on-Wye, famous for its numerous second-hand and antiquarian bookshops, and Brecon, whose canal basin was home not only to narrowboats but also to a duck family with six ducklings. Sometimes we didn’t get any further than a pay-and-display car park: the local parking meters had no card or SMS option and as they only took exact change, we simply ran out of coins after a couple of stops! (Abergavenny, we’ll be back!) Luckily we found supermarket car parks that provided free parking for long enough for us to have a stroll or a bite to eat by the river.
And did it rain in Wales? Yes! Luckily we only had a couple of brief (but powerful) showers. The sunglasses were needed more than the brollies.