Saturday, 1 August 2015

AVONMOUTH



If you find yourself barrelling down the M5 on the way, perhaps, to a holiday in the West Country, you will be carried high above the mouth of the River Avon by a long motorway bridge, giving extensive views of Avonmouth on the east bank and The Royal Portbury Dock on the west bank, the latter characterised by rows of brand new vehicles as far as the eye can see in the Dock's huge car storage compounds.  The scene laid out below the motorway bridge is overwhelmingly industrial, however there are people living in the area, and they sometimes suffer from their surroundings.  Last summer the local inhabitants were driven mad by a fly infestation caused by inappropriate handling of large amounts of waste material being held at a nearby facility.  Some were driven to adorning their houses with fly-catching adhesive strips in a desperate attempt to kill off the winged invaders.  Surprisingly, in amongst all this industrial landscape there is a nature reserve, the Avonmouth Pools Reserve at the Sewage Works, which provides an unlikely haven for birds and ducks including pochard, tufted duck, teal and shoveler.

Map of the area. 

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Avonmouth Docks. Photo by Sharon Loxton, via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

SEVERN BEACH



This small village on the English shore of the Bristol Channel at the mouth of the River Severn nestles near the foot of the Second Severn Crossing, opened in 1996 (in addition to the original Severn Bridge which was opened 30 years earlier).  A path leads under the bridge, and this forms part of the Severn Way, over 220 miles in length.  The village used to be the end point of the trail, but it was recently extended into Bristol.  Casting an eye around this quiet spot today, it is hard to believe that in the 1920s the village was developed as a seaside resort with a swimming pool called The Blue Lagoon, a boating lake and even a strip club.  All that is now gone and what is left is little more than a commuter village for people working in Bristol.  However, this forgotten corner of the Bristol Channel made the news recently when a huge swordfish washed up on the riverbank.  The fish, 6 feet long and a very rare sight in Britain, is thought to have made its way there from the Mediterranean.  This part of the mouth of the Severn is popular with birdwatchers, and a list of sightings over the years can be found on the Severnside Birds website.

Map of the area.

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The Second Severn Crossing from Severn Beach. Photo by Linda Bailey, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

NEWPORT



Newport is one of those places I tend to go through rather than to, more often than not in my rush to get to Cardiff.  However, that is not to say that there is nothing to see in this university city, which has a cathedral and the remains of a castle among its  points of interest.  Probably the most interesting sight of all is the Transporter Bridge, one of only two in the country - the other one being in Middlesbrough.  The bridge was built as an alternative to the original ferry, which suffered from the extreme rise and fall of the tides.  It opened in 1906 and it is still open to the public, ferrying passengers and vehicles across the River Usk by  means of a suspended gondola, offering splendid views along the way. 

Newport Cathedral, or to give it its full name Newport Cathedral of St. Woolos, King & Confessor, lies in an elevated position on Stow Hill, overlooking the city.  St. Woolos (or Gwynllyw) reputedly founded the cathedral around 500 AD, the year of his death.  The cathedral's subsequent history was a turbulent one with successive plunderings, by Irish pirates and by Danes in the 9th century, then by Earl Harold's men in 1060.  One of its most attractive features are the Norman pillars running along the nave.  The castle was built in the 14th century, and only the east side remains, occupying a position on the river bank next to the Town Bridge.  The Riverfront, a striking angular white building on the River Usk, houses a theatre and arts centre.  The city's Museum and Art Gallery tells the story of the city from prehistoric times.

Further afield to the north-east is Caerleon, a must for enthusiasts of Roman remains.  The legionary fortress Isca Augusta once held sway here, and the site includes an amphitheatre where gladiatorial contests used to take place.  Near Isca Augusta are the National RomanLegion Museum and the Roman Baths Museum.  There is also an Iron Age Hill Fort.  For nature enthusiasts, the Newport WetlandsRSPB reserve at Nash, on the east bank of the river mouth, is free to enter and includes a visitor centre and cafe.    

Map of the area. 

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Newport Transporter Bridge and gondola. Photo by Hywel Williams, via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, 6 July 2015

CARDIFF



Where in the country can you see all the following in one evening: Superman, a bevy of nurses and rival groups of cowboys and indians? Answer: Cardiff.  In the Welsh capital the great British tradition of hens and stags is alive and well, and the result is a considerably enlivened Saturday evening.  The first time my husband and I went to Cardiff for the weekend we spent a pleasant hour having an alfresco drink outside one of the city's bars while watching the increasingly surreal passing scene.  My own personal favourite was the female 'army' of soldiers marching along the street, led by a whistle-blowing 'sergeant-major'. 

Cardiff is a city of two distinct parts.  For the shoppers who want to mix some retail therapy with a wide variety of restaurants and some lively bar hopping the city centre is the part to head for.  The St Davids shopping centre dominates this part of the city, while for the more historically inclined there is Cardiff Castle, surrounded by the green and pleasant spaces of Bute Park. Alongside the modern chain-dominated St David's centre there are several atmospheric arcades with interesting individual shops.  This is also the part of town for the sports fans, since the Millennium Stadium, scene of many a thrilling rugby match, is very close to the shops and also to the main railway station.  The Castle has a fascinating history, with excavations revealing occupation going back to the Romans.  The present-day castle is surrounded by walls including the Animal Wall, designed by architect William Burges, which, as its name suggests, includes carvings of animals. There are two cathedrals within the greater city area, Cardiff Metropolitan Cathedral of St Davids and the much older Llandaff Cathedral, reachable via a pleasant walk along the River Taff.

The other distinct part of the city is Cardiff Bay, where the focal point is Mermaid Quay, a complex of restaurants, bars and shops.  The Wales Millennium Centre is also to be found in the bay, along with the Senedd, or National Assembly Building.  There is also a rather sweet little Norwegian church which has been transformed into an Arts Centre and cafe.  The nicest way to travel between the two areas is to get the shuttle boat service which plies between Mermaid Quay and Bute Park, via the River Taff with its reed beds and associated wildlife.  Other boat trips available from Mermaid Quay include trips out to Flat Holm Island with its wildlife and historic buildings.  As I mentioned in my previous post on Penarth, the Cardiff Bay Barrage is open to walkers who want to cross the mouth of the bay between Cardiff Bay and Penarth, a pleasant alternative to the considerable detour that the bus journey entails.     

As one would expect from such a city, Cardiff has a wealth of events throughout the year, especially in summer.  From the Food and Drink Festival in Summer to the Winter Wonderland and Christmas Market in the run up to Christmas there is something for everyone in the vibrant Welsh capital.  Follow this link for a list of events. 

Map of the area. 

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Cardiff Bay

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

PENARTH



You need to be fit to live in Penarth, since it's all up and down.  The town centre is at the top of the hill, and there is a steep descent from there to the promenade in one direction and the Cardiff Bay Barrage in the other.  The nicest route down to the seafront is via Alexandra Park, a steeply sloping Edwardian park with an aviary and a bandstand.  The promenade is quiet and unspoilt, with a pier and 1930s pavilion offering views across the Bristol Channel.  Another pleasant green space open to the public can be found in the grounds of The Kymin, one of the oldest buildings in Penarth, built between 1790 and 1810.  The area formerly occupied by docks in the 19th century is now a marina, and the entrance to the barrage is nearby, from where you can walk across to Cardiff Bay, enjoying views out to sea on one side and across the bay to the Wales Millennium Centre and other attractions on the other side.  

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The pier.

Penarth got into the news recently when an extraordinary discovery was made by two brothers on Lavernock Beach to the south of Penarth: a 200 million years old fossil of a cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex.  The find is believed to be the earliest specimen of a Jurassic era dinosaur to be found in the world.  The creature is described as a meat-eating, fierce hunter that walked on two legs with a fuzzy body.

Map of the area. 

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The seafront.


Saturday, 27 June 2015

BARRY ISLAND



Heading east from Llantwit Major we come to Summerhouse Point with cliff top walks reached by a lane from the village of Boverton.  There is a Seawatch Centre here with displays of weather-forecasting equipment and radar.  Further along, Limpert Bay marks the end of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast Walk which started at Porthcawl.  Further along still, the village of Rhoose nudges the southern end of Cardiff Airport.  After the quiet of the clifftops and the series of small towns and villages, the much larger settlement of Barry represents quite a contrast with its docks forming an alternative to the congested and expensive Cardiff Docks.

Barry Island, which is not actually an island, being accessible from the mainland via the A4055, has long been a family tourist destination.  There used to be a Butlins Holiday Camp here, but this closed in 1996.  However, the 'island' continued to be a magnet for tourists, and it also came to the attention of the Dr Who team during the filming of the series 'Delta and the Bannermen', in which it played the part of the Shangri-La Holiday Camp.  It also featured in 'The Empty Child' and 'The Doctor Dances'.  In the past Barry Island has had something of an image problem, being considered down at heel by many, however there are signs of attempts at an uplift.  A recent online review described the beach as beautiful and clean and pointed out that the dining options are no longer all fish and chips and burgers.  The main attraction on the island is the Pleasure Park, a traditional array of fairground rides and amusement arcades which recently changed ownership and boasts "brand new rides never seen in Barry before".  

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Derek Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 11 June 2015

LLANTWIT MAJOR



Looking around Llantwit Major today, it seems hard to imagine that 1,500 years ago this sleepy little village a few miles to the west of Cardiff was an important academic centre, almost the Oxbridge of its day.  Cor Tewdws, Britain's oldest centre of learning, was founded in 395, but was burnt down during a series of raids in the post-Roman period.  Then St Illtud, after whom the Norman church in the village is named, came from Brittany in 508 and re-established the centre.  St Illtud's church stands on the site of Cor Tewdws, the current building dating from the 11th century.  It has a surprisingly imposing exterior for a village church, with some striking carved stones and effigies, earning it the title of the 'Westminster Abbey of Wales'.  Another relic of the area's past is the Roman Villa at Caermead to the north-west of the village.  A short distance from the village centre is the sand and pebble beach, backed by steep cliffs which are prone to erosion.  The beach is popular with surfers, and there is yet more history to be found here in the form of the remains of an Iron Age hill fort called Castle Ditches..  

Map of the area. 

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The beach. Photo by Archangel12, via Wikimedia Commons.