November 22-27th, 2003
This trip was two fold – one to check out gardens for a possible tour and
the other to go to Showcase Wales, held in Cardiff on the 25th and 26th.
We arrived into London Heathrow and were picked up and taken to Windsor
where we met the other part of our group that had traveled from the Toronto
area. It was raining in Windsor, but that didn’t stop our enthusiasm. Our
little coach was crammed full of bodies and off we set towards Wales. We
drove through a wonderful little town called Datchet on the way to our stop
at Chepstow to pick up our local guide Huw Walton. We got out for a stretch
and Huw took us on a bit of a walk around the castle up to the high point
and then around through the village and through the pass gate you see in the
picture. This used to be the only way into the village so you can imagine
http://www.castlewales.com/chepstow.html this castle is the earliest
dated stone castle in Britain. You can read more about this at the site I
Our Driver was Mike Wilson and between the both of them, we were treated to
a super description of the countryside on our way to our hotel called the
Abbey Hotel. This is a wonderful little hotel and Robert and David do much
to make you feel welcome. My room looked out on to Tintern Abbey and it was
breathtaking at night lit up with the evening fog running by it.
http://www.theabbeyhoteltintern.com The food was excellent and if you
are in this area, it is well worth the time spent. They even have little
decanters filled with Madeira in each of the rooms.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast we set off for the Elan Valley
Lakelands. Beautiful valleys and dams in stone. On the way there we had to
stop to take advantage of the fog and hoar frost. You can see it in the
pictures of the sheep and cows. This wonderful little flock of sheep was
huddled under a tree and waited long enough for us to take their picture
before moving on. Just look at those valleys – are they not beautiful dusted
in frost? Huw told us that you can graze cows then sheep, but not sheep
first. They tend to eat right down to the soil level and that doesn’t leave
much for the cows…but they all look so healthy and contented don’t they.
We stopped for lunch at a wonderful little pub called Triangle Inn where
they had made us some potatoe and leek soup that was so tasty, plus some
sandwiches and drink, then we were off again heading towards the dams. I
also took a picture of their local church in Rhayader, where the pub was.
The next two pictures are of the Elan Valley and one of the five dams. The
water level was really low as you can see and made the dam all the more
impressive as they are all done is stone. The brown vegetation you see is
the bracken which turns this colour in the fall.
Next you will see a picture of a couple of small buildings with small
windows in them. This is part of the Red Kite Centre where we got to watch
these beautiful birds eating. Crows come first to signal that it is ok for
the red kites to come eat.
http://www.redkitecentre.co.uk/ It was really hard to get pictures of
the birds so visit the site to see them!
Continuing on our way to Hay on Wye through the back roads, we passed a lady
on a bike and Mike our driver stopped when she said to us – Have you seen
the sheep? Well, what a treat…we had wanted to see the dogs working with the
sheep but had not until this time. We stopped, got out and soon a dog was
running up to us barking, then he headed back from where he came. A couple
more minutes this flock of sheep comes down the road towards us and then by
us and following them was a fellow on a motorbike and five collies. It was a
wonderful moment in time that we all enjoyed.
Hay on Wye has been called the second-hand book capital of the world and I
can understand why…books everywhere, even against outside walls as you can
see. I was standing with Hay Castle to my back when I took that shot. Hay
Castle has also been around for a very long time. Sadly little of the castle
remains, but it is still a wonderful sight to see.
There are three pictures taken at another pub called the Moon & Sixpence in
Tintern. We had a nice drink before our very filling meal. There is a piece
of history on this pub as well…it is very old and is currently under new
management. They were intrigued with the name of the pub and this is what I
discovered… ‘As everyone knows the name of the pub comes from the title of a
novel by Somerset Maugham. Until the 1940's it was known as "The Mason's
Arms". It was then purchased by a young couple who had fallen in love with
the place and its location, alongside the river in the beautiful Wye Valley.
They sank every penny they had into it, but in those austere postwar years
things were hard. One night they were standing outside in awe of the scenery
and the moon rising over the abbey. The lady put her hand, somewhat
ruefully, in her pocket and turning to her husband with a wistful smile
said, "Well, all we've got left now is the moon and sixpence". The next day
they changed the pub's name.’ This was taken from
http://www.tintern.org.uk/gdspr01.htm Do visit this site so you can
discover more for yourself about the area.
The peahen here is ‘Charlie’ and she comes each morning and pecks at the
window of the hotel so they will know she wants to be fed…. Next are
pictures of Tintern Abbey. We had to visit early in the morning because this
was our last day in this area before heading to Cardiff. In between these
pictures there is one of the hotel taken from the Abbey across the road. It
was raining that morning and Tom told me there were spots on the pictures as
a result. I tried to keep the lens cleared off, but it was a bit hard to do
that, plus hold an umbrella. There is much to read on the internet on the
Abbey but here is one site to get you started
http://www.castlewales.com/tintern.html It was truly a magical place..no
roof and grass floors…all you had was your imagination.
On the way to the Big Pit I took some pictures of the scenery, the rolling
hills, the canal with the boats on it…and our great little coach!
On to the Blaenafon Big Pit now, the National Mining Museum of Wales where
we had a chance to descend into a former working coal mine. I have to tell
you that I was a bit apprehensive about this – I tend to suffer from panic
attacks when in small spaces, but I made it. I cannot begin to tell you how
we all felt about the conditions the miners had to work in. Our guide was a
retired miner himself – 24 years working in a mine. We donned our hats with
lights and got into the elevator for the trip down. Did you see me in the
hat? I don’t look too excited do I… but I did learn to appreciate a bit of
what their world must have been like.
has recently been awarded World Heritage Status. It was a life on to itself,
with the whole community involved in some way as many times, husbands, sons,
uncles were all employed at the same time.
Of course we were running late so had to make our visit to the Celtic Manor
a bit shorter than we would have liked. They had prepared a very nice lunch
for us and we sure enjoyed it…then a quick look around this 5 star hotel and
golfing resort. It is a fantastic place with both the old in the original
manor house that has been restored (the stairway picture is from the old
manor) to the new where you can see the soaring ceilings and the artwork
throughout…the Ryder Cup will be held here in 2010.
Next Huw took us on a really neat trip but could not tell us where we were
going..it would have been too hard to explain, you had to see it to believe
it. We were all stunned when we saw the Transporter Bridge…who would have
thought! Of course we had to take a ride on it…and of course I took
pictures. People are free and vehicles cost a whole 50 pence!
Then up close and personal with another variety of sheep – did you know that
there are over 130 varieties of sheep in Wales? This one was with a group
just beside some roman ruins, pictures of the ruins plus signs you can read,
a old gate leading to the very old church, us standing near a wall that is
1,800 years old, an old door on the church that caught my eye because of it’
s simplicity and ferns growing on the old wall.
Then we are at Cardiff and our first evening out..this was at the Coal
Exchange. We had wonderful food, drinks, entertainment and a great band. The
Showcase officially opened up at 10:30 the next morning with the Prince of
Wales Band. It was a very good show offering a one stop shop for all tourist
information. Note the colorful suit one of the buyers is wearing…and of
course the handsome gentleman in his kilt.
The showcase was in City Hall, a very beautiful building with many statues
lining its hallways. A portrait of HRH Prince Charles graces the foyer. City
Hall is the building with the Christmas tree on it.
I took some time in the afternoon to visit Cardiff Castle and was most
impressed. I took the tour after walking up to the top of the Keep. It’s a
long way up but the view was so good that I just had to show you what it was
We were all assigned different restaurants to eat at this evening and I got
a French restaurant – wonderful meal, fantastic company and a great ending
to our very short but very full trip. Our group all met back at the hotel,
the Cardiff Marriott, for a last time before bed and home the next day.
A very special thank you to Air Canada Wales Tourist Board Showcase Wales
VisitBritain and Joan Woodward Backroads Touring and Huw Walton and Mike
Wilson I hope I haven’t missed anyone, it was truly an exceptional trip!