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Published: January 27th 2012
We've been finding that much of the UK would be better explored by car. In the interest of saving money, though, and not wanting to drive on the wrong side of the road, this isn't possible for us. So we've been trying to find ways to get out of the cities and see a bit of the countryside on our short weekend breaks (which is a hard thing to do). So we bought a day pass for the train, and rode the rails along a scenic circle route that they call the "Heart of Wales" line. First, the train headed out from Cardiff west towards the 2nd biggest city in Wales called Swansea. Unfortunately we had to leave early (7am) so it was still dark for quite awhile longer and we couldn't see whether or not we were travelling by the water. Also unfortunately for us, there was construction on the track, so we had to switch onto a bus, which took us back to the train which went to Swansea. At Swansea, we had to switch again onto the actual Heart of Wales line, which went north from that point, through the heart of wales and the rolling hills/mountains. Along
this route, we passed many villages, some picturesque and others not so much. We didn't get out till we reached the other end, a town called Shrewsbury (pronounced Shrews-bree). That part of the journey took 6 hours.
The countryside was beautiful, but not as rugged as we expected. We figure that you probably have to go further up north for that.
We arrived in Shrewsbury at 1pm and didn't know what to expect. The attendant at the train station suggested we get out there if we wanted to experience some Welsh culture. (Addendum: A few days later we realized that Shrewsbury is actually in England - not Wales! So, although the train went through the Welsh countryside, the two towns we walked around in are both in England... We were misled!!!)
Despite being English and not Welsh, we are glad we went to Shrewsbury. It is situated at an oxbow in the river, so it is almost completely surrounded by water. It is obvious from the old medieval buildings that the 2nd world war didn't affect this area much. The town was bustling with shoppers. Shrewsbury is not as touristy as some other towns, which if anything
makes it nicer to visit. Apart from looking at the beautiful architecture of the old medieval buildings, there wasn't a whole lot to do other than explore. It has some cute narrow streets, like Fish Lane, where some buildings look like they're falling over.
While we were there, we stopped at the Shrewsbury Abbey, which, like the Glastonbury Abbey, fell victim to King Henry VIII's anti-Catholic rampage a few hundred years ago. (For the story of the Glastonbury Abbey and King Henry VIII's involvement in its destruction, see Tackling the Myths and Legends of Western England
.) Luckily for the Shrewsbury Abbey, however, about 1/3 of the original Abbey was left standing and has since been restored.
We also walked out to the residential part of the city - crossing an iron bridge built in the 19th century. Funnily enough, the bridge is actually a toll bridge - 20p (32 cents) per crossing for cars! While the bridge was old, this in itself is not what makes it blog-worthy. We mention the bridge because of what we saw when we looked off of it. When we were about half way across we stopped and looked at the river. On the left, some folks were getting ready
to go out for a row. On our right, a young guy was practising his special talent. He was riding a unicycle, backwards, while juggling! Maybe we will see him one day at Picadilly Circus or on Granville Island!
After a few hours in Shrewsbury we thought we had seen all we would in a quick visit, so we hopped back on the train for the return to Cardiff. On the way back, we didn't take the milk route, but instead took the regular commuter train, which was much faster. We decided to hop off at Hereford, which is about halfway back. Hereford is a pretty nice town, but since it was getting dark by the time we got there, most of the shops were closed and the streets were pretty empty. It looked like they had had a big market in the town centre earlier that day, which would have been neat to see! Oh well, back on the train we got.
Tomorrow we will explore Cardiff some more.
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