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Published: October 28th 2007
The sky was bright blue. The sun was out. Our spirits were high
. But then the pilot started the descent and the BMI Baby plane shuddered before breaking free of the thick, dark clouds. So much for 'the hottest British summer yet'.
Touchdown! We were back in Wales.
Being the ultimate 'cheapies', we just simply couldn't resist being lured back by the promise of cheaper flights to exotic locations. Vibert rode upfront with Tyrone and Shanna climbed into the backseat with Ebony and re-started the same endless chatter from a month ago.
Building upon our experience in Crete, we decided to get us a rental. 1-Car-1 in Tremorfa had a car for us and (what do you know?) it was the same color, make and model as IEK-2400 (see Crete: Nomads in a strange land)
except this one had 2 doors. With lunch and a map from a supermarket, we made our way to the M4 East. Someone had told us that the community of Bath was particularly scenic but what he didn't tell us that it was in England. So back out of Wales we drove and across the huge, impressive bridge spanning the Wye river and
straight into English territory. We followed the signs in the direction of Bristol before taking the Bath exit. The village was alive with tourists and activity and it certainly was one of the cleanest and prettiest villages we had seen. Its buildings all had edifyingly fine architecture, its shopping area was well appointed and the Victoria Gardens grand. The highlight though was the ancient Roman baths and hot springs housed in a grand building in a grander square. But at 50 pounds a pop, it embarassed our pockets😞. We lingered in Bath for quite a while and then hurried back over the bridge. The toll station in Wales graciously relieved us of 5 quid before letting us thru.
Chepstow was next. For a small town with an aged population, it certainly did have a lot of ambiance - a castle in the center, a river running thru it and a riverview park with families lazing in the sun. An interesting surprise was the bridge with linked Chepstow to Gloucestershire in England. If we had known, we'd have detoured to Gloucestershire on the English side and saved our 5 pound.
The next day we decided to visit one of
Wales' most outstanding attractions. Immortalized in William Wadsworth 1798 poem 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey', Tintern Abbey
was set in the midst of the sensational Wye Valley. 'Romantic' is not a word commonly used to describe abbeys but it was totally appropriate for Tintern. Oh, it was a beautiful day; the perfect day to visit. The bright blue sky; lush, thick, green vegetation; the play of light and shade within the towering walls and the superb detail of the construction all played on the senses.
Founded in 1131 by Walter de Clare (lord of Chepstow Castle), this Cistercian abbey was the first built in Wales (the second built in Britain). Roger Bigod III (also a lord of Chepstow) completely rebuilt it during the 13th century. By the 15th century, Tintern had become the largest and wealthiest monastic foundation in Wales. The Cistercians left Tintern in 1536, after King Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries. It was largely forgotten from then until the 18th century, when it was rediscovered by J.M.W. Turner (painter of "Tintern Abbey") and William Wadsworth. Tintern Abbey was purchased by the Crown in 1901, and is now in the care of
Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments Executive Agency. It remains the most complete of the ruined abbeys in Wales.
The sheer size and captivating beauty of the abbey 'wowed' us. And the surroundings perfectly complimented the structure. For hours we strolled within its confines, walking thru history and loving it. And, when finally we left, the drive out thru perfect, unspoilt nature soothed the pain of separation. A parking lot appeared on the left after about 8 minutes. We pulled up and tackled the '365 steps' trail on the right and when we peaked, we were rewarded with an unbelievable panorama across the Wye Valley, over sheer cliffs, prosperous farms, the New Severn Bridge and on into England. It was totally worth the huffing and puffing. Beneath the canopy of trees, we hiked the Wye Valley Trail and then hopped over a fence to each lunch in the sunshine on someone's property. 😊
Ebony occupied most of the following day. We took her driving to no set destination but ended up having a wonderful time hiking, chasing squirrels and rabbits, feeding geese and identifying plants and flowers at the Cosmeton Lakes Park in Sully.
It was our second-to-last day
in Wales. We had to make it grand. Dawn packed a basket of goodies and everyone piled in the car. We sped straight down the M4 West for just under 30 miles and took exit 45. Circumnavigating the giant round-a-bout we located our exit. The sign read: 'Dan-yr-Ogof Showcaves'
. Set in the pleasant Breccon Beacons National Park with the Black Mountains as its backdrop, Dan-yr-Ogof thrilled from the beginning. The entrance was between the legs of a menacing T-Rex. The park not only housed 'The Dan-yr-Ogof Showcaves', it was also home to one of the world's largest collection of dinosaurs. Hundreds of dinosaurs of different types, shapes and colors were placed in their 'natural' setting either foraging, flying or disemboweling some lesser creature in the aweful struggle for 'survival of the fittest'
. Whatever they were - radical, over-the-top figments of scientific imagination or real creatures from eons past (if you subscribe to that theory) - their presence created an eerie, exciting 'feel' to the place.
Like most major finds, the caves, three in total, were accidentally discovered by brothers Morgan in 1912. The largest and most impressive was the Cathedral Cave. It burrowed deep underground thru a series of
narrow, dimly lit passageways before exploding into a huge cavern. Two waterfalls plummeted from above, the sound amplified by the enclosed space. 'Surreal' would describe it well. The flower-covered altar and a few chairs positioned in a corner indicated that wedding ceremonies were held in this enchanting place.
The other two caves - Bone cave and Dan-yr-Ogof cave - also had interesting features like huge columns of stalactites and stalagmites, angel-wing formations from dripping water and narrations by Tommy and Jeff Morgan.
Outside again, we lunched, visited the farm, children's 'speedway' and play area and the Iron Age village before exiting the park. We banked left and started across the Breccon Beacons. Dotted with public footpaths and hiking trails, this nature reserve was a beauty. From sprawling lakes, pine forests, green mountains and awesome panoramas, this was a nature lover's paradise. It was 12 degrees Celcius/53 degrees Fahrenheit - way too cold to hike so we continued driving. We chose the narrowest sidestreets (of course) and soon found overselves high atop the Black Mountains overlooking numerous hills and valleys. And then the rain spoilt the view. The temperature plummeted and fog descended reducing visibility to almost zero. We
inched off the mountain top, passed two cars in a smash-up and followed the M4 to Cardiff.
Satisfied that we had done well in Wales this time 'round, we turned our attention to the next segment. Tyrone and Dawn were off to work and Ebony had school so no one was there at Cardiff Central when we boarded the London-bound coach. 'Goodbyes' the night before didn't hurt so much. Maybe we'd found the solution! No airport goodbyes.
😊 Tyrone, Dawn and Ebony
😊 John for Bath and Tintern recommendations Extract from "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey"
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.
William Wadsworth, 1978
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