Tuesday, January 17, 2017

U.K. Visit: Wales Part I

Chepstow Castle

Most of my travels in the U.K. so far have been in Wales, since it's so close to where I'm staying in Bristol, and Anna's mom is originally from there, so she's been our tour guide. I'll have to break it down into a few posts on all the places we've visited so far. 

My first trip out to Wales was to a small town not far past the border with England called Chepstow. It's a cute little village along the winding river Wye, with a nice castle built on the cliffs overlooking it. I wandered through the castle with Anna, which was pretty exciting for me since it was my first castle in the U.K.

View of Chepstow village from the castle

According to Wikipedia, Chepstow Castle was built in 1067 under the Norman Lord William FitzOsbern, who built a number of castles in the southwestern part of the modern U.K. Wikipedia says that it is "the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain". It was mainly built by the Normans to aid them in their conquest of the Welsh kingdom of Gwent.

Entrance to Chepstow Castle

The side overlooking the River Wye on the cliffs

Inside the original great hall, which at one point had three stories

Looking down at the river from the wall

Inside one of the castle towers

There's not a lot else to see in Chepstow, but it has a nice high street to walk around, some pubs, a few picnic areas along the river, and a small but interesting museum dedicated to the history of the town. 

From Chepstow we drove out to see the ruins of Tintern Abbey, which was originally built in 1131. It was the 2nd Cistercian abbey built in Britain and the first in Wales. Apparently the Cistercians were an order of monks and nuns that believed in self-sufficiency and were originally devoted to things like agricultural work and brewing ales (later, a branch called the "Trappists" is where you get things like "trappist" style beers.) 

Tintern Abbey

We didn't have time to go inside the Abbey, but you could see it pretty well from over the fence. It was a really beautiful structure, and I really enjoyed walking around the countryside nearby. We drove down to the old train station, which is no longer in use, and walked along the river from there back into the little Tintern Village. It was a beautiful, although rather muddy, walk at sunset.

Going for a little walk in the countryside near Tintern Abbey

You're not officially in Wales till you've seen some sheep

Really beautiful countryside around the abbey

Our next trip was to the St. Fagans National History Museum near Cardiff. The term "museum" is a bit misleading here, since it is more of a park. All throughout the grounds are old houses and buildings transported there from various parts of Wales, representing how people lived throughout history. There are a number of very old cottages and farmhouses that have been restored and filled with furniture so that you can walk through and feel like you've stepped back into that time.

A farmhouse in the St. Fagan's National History Museum

Another farmhouse, apparently painted red to keep evil spirits away

What the inside of a thatched roof looks like

Anna playing farmer

There are also other types of buildings like a schoolhouse, functioning blacksmiths and mill, a cockfighting pit and a bakery. There's also a cool street of terraced style homes that you can walk through, with each one representing a slightly different period so that you can see how typical Welsh life has changed over the last 150 years or so.

An old Welsh schoolhouse

A working blacksmiths 

The cockfighting pit

Inside one of the terraced houses

When we visited it was near the end of October, so there was a large Wicker man built in the middle of a field to be lit on fire the next day. There was a craft market as well, and some shops selling food and baked goods.

The wicker man, all set to be burned the next day

Showing visitors how the wicker man is made

Near the entrance to the park, you can also visit an old manor house that was locally referred to as a "castle". It was closed when we were there, but it was really nice walking through the surrounding gardens. 

The "castle", an old house within the museum grounds

I really enjoyed visiting the museum. It felt as though they were bringing history to life for the visitors and really gave you a clear picture of what Wales might have looked like in the past. If you're planning a trip to Wales, I'd highly recommend visiting it.

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