Monmouthshire 6 - Monmouth/Edwards of Monmouth and a lost street/a castle, the Nelson Museum and some tanks/the best meal this side of Venice

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July 13th 2019
Published: July 14th 2019
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Gabby the motorhome is parked up on Monmouth Caravan Park. From her windows we can see the much ruined castle and the church spire. The sun is shining down on us. The chairs are out and we are settled in on a hard standing plot . The welcome was warm and we were told that we could round the one way system and park up in the first spot. We got that wrong and went in the third but there was no remonstration that we were parked incorrectly . We were left on our own. It is quite a small site with a mixture of overnighters like us and semi permanent caravans. Some with gardens and chairs under make shift awnings. Most looked as if they were lived in for part of the summer. We had paid up front for the plot . Cheaper by a few pounds than the Caravan and Motorhome site at Brecon. There was reception office, a large amount of tourist literature , a closed clubhouse and reasonable toilets and showers. 50 pence per shower. Now that is a novelty - paying for the shower. Not wanting to kill the budget as we had other plans for our last night we missed the experience of the shower. It sadly was going to be a holiday paused as we had received a phone call from our estate agents. They had a couple coming to see one of their houses and they had persuaded them to look at ours. We expected nothing as when you are cajolled to see something it is fairly obvious that you are not really interested. We cannot afford though to say no to them. Buyers are few and far between and you never know they might surprise us.

Glenn and I set off up the town. The blurb told us that it was 10 minutes walk to the town, the river and to the medieval bridge we had come to see. Now you know the campsite blurbs and distances don't you? Where do they start the distance from? Where does it end? What speed do they think the average person walks at? For once it does take us just 10 minutes to find ourselves on the bridge that crosses the River Monnow. The town was the site of a small Roman fort of Blestium. The Normans built a castle in 1067 and the medieval stone gated bridge is the only one of its type remaining in Britain.

We have seen bridges such as this one in Cahors in France and at Frias in Spain. They were common across Europe but many have been destroyed by expansion of the towns and cities , diminished defensive requirements and the increasing demands of traffic. How this has survived is a miracle. There was a Norman timber bridge across the river and this was replaced in 1272. The bridge survived the English Civil War and the Chartist uprisings. It has apparently be used as a gaol, a munitions store , a lodge and a toll gate. All uses that could have quite easily stopped it in its tracks. Built of the local red sandstone it is pretty impressive. Now pedestrianised it is a wonderful sight to see and a pleasant way to ford the river. The noise from the pub at its side was perhaps not awfully medieval. It was reconstructed and repaired throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and became a mecca for artists. It was easy to see why. Luckily now no traffic crosses it and all cars by pass Monmouth on the ring road.

We walked up Monnow Street . A usual mix of empty shops, charity shops and independents. I was looking for Edwards of Monmouth - a furniture shop . Well I was looking for the premises it used to sell from as it had long gone out of business. I would have laid my life down and said it was on Monnow Street but nothing fitted the image I had in my head. I was going back to the Spring of 1982. Heavily pregnant with my second child and with a three year old in tow we went to the Ideal Home Exhibition in Birmingham. There we found the stand of a very upmarket furniture shop Edwards of Monmouth. They sold solid oak furniture and we fell in love with a settee and two heavy chairs. They were far too expensive but I had to ask "Do you ever have sales?" I was frowned upon and the answer came back "Indeed we do not " So away we went and forgot about them. About two years later we found ourselves driving through Monmouth on our way home from Cornwall. Going past the shop what did we see in the window? A huge sign SALE NOW ON. We parked up , went in and bought the settee and two chairs at a massive discount.

As we got to the top of the street it dawned on me . They were not on Monnow Street but St Marys Street . So that was why I couldn't locate their shop and now defunct business. At the top of the street was the Shire Hall in Agincourt Square which is a prominent building and sets the scence. It was built in 1724 and was the centre for the Assize Courts and Quarter Sessions. In 1839 it was the location of the trial of Chartist leader John Frost and others who had taken part in the Newport Riots and were accused of treason. The name of the Square was quite unusual as we have lost the ability to name our streets after battles , wars and great leaders. Trafalgar Street, Nelson Street and such like have all been air brushed from our history as if we are ashamed of our past . Not so in France, Belgium and Italy where the battles of the First and Second World Wars are commemorated in the street names. Streets are named after generals and after the Resistance. On the front of the Shire Hall was a statue of Henry V which we thougth a touch poor. It is considered apparently to be of poor quality, incongruous pathetic and decidedly bad. A hypochondriac inspecting his thermometre. Added in 1792 by a professional sculptor we wondered why it was so bad.

On the pavement in front of the Shire Hall was a statue dedicated to local man aviation pioneer Charles Ross. The 8 foot high bronze was designed by Sir William Goscombe John and Stir Aston Webb who designed the plinth beneath the statue. Charles Rolls was the third son of John Rolls 1st Baron Llangattock who lived at The Hendre to the north of Monmouth. The statue was commission in 1910 to celebrate the two way crossing Rolls made across the English Channel. He was killed a month after the monument was proposed in an accident at an airfield near to Bournmouth.

We made our way to the Castle and as far as castles go there was nothing much to endear us to it. It was once an important border castle and was the birthplace of Henry V. It was slighted after the English Civil War and very little remains. What was more interesting was the Great Castle House which became the headquarters of the Royal Monmouthshire Engineers and their museum . Sadly the museum alongside the Nelson Museum were closed. However outside were a number of exhibits , one gun and a couple of tanks . After a quick look over them it was time to move on for something to eat . We decided to break the budget and eat out. We had already found La Piccolo Italia on line and it had good review and was open . The place was empty apart from a couple by the door. We were ushered in to the deep recesses where it was dark. This made it hard to read the menu as the lighting was subdued and my transition lenses were as black as they could go. I wanted an Aperol Spritz but found none on the menu . Odd for an Italian so I chose a Prosecco and Glenn a white wine . I ordered Gorgonzola Risotto and a chicken and wrapped ham dish for Glenn. When they came they were fantastic . 10/10 we could not fault them and I told the waiter that my risotto was the best I had tasted this side of Venice. High praise indeed. The owner came from Bari and we fell into conversation . Did we want another drink ? Yes another wine for Glenn and I asked could he make me the Aperol Spritz. He did and it went down well with our dessert - traditional Panacotta washed down finally with two double espressos Italian style . It wasn't cheap by any means but boy did we enjoy it . It was so good that if we are ever in that part of the world we will pay it another visit.

And so the trip ended with a short drive home. A pause in travelling nothing more . We will be on the road again once we empty and clean out Gabby.


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