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Sunday, May 29, 2005


Caerphilly Castle

'Five years have past; five summers, with the length of ive long winters!
And again I hear these waters, rolling from their mountain springs
With a soft inland murmur -- once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Though of more deep seclusion; and connect
the Landscape with the quiet of the sky...
Nor will though then forget
Tat after many wanderings, may years of absence,
these steep winds and lofty cliffs
And the green pastoral landscape, were to me
more dear both by themselves and for thy sake...'
Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey: William Wordsworth

The magestic ruins of Tintern stand as a symbol of past ecclesiastical glory on the River Wye. Originally founded in 1131 on land donated to cictrcian monks by Waler de Clare, Lord ofChepstow, the abbey survived until the dissolution of the monasteries by Hewrny VIII in 1536.

We arrived at Chepstow around noon on Friday and checked into our B&B, then headed off immediately to do the Wye Valley walk to Tintern. 6 miles (or so they say...we began to believe as we slogged along, that English miles are twice as far as Canadian!) The trail is easy at first, through the woods, so it was cool in spite of a hot day. I've done the hike twice before, once in 1989 when I hiked both ways, returning on the Offa's Dyke trail. And again in 1996 with my friend Anne. I honestly don't remember so much uphill grind the first two times, but there were. So the trail got tricky in places and then, we finally reached the picnic area where I remember Anne and I stopping for a lunch break, and realized the next part of the trail was up 365 steps. If I'd checked the map I'd have found the lower trail, over the fields and stiles, but I didn't and we opted to take the highway (like Anne and I did). The road is narrow with a very narrow verge which we had to keep hopping up on as there was a fair amount of traffic. And it's a winding road, not straight on, so every turn we came to we expected to see the Abbey and I swear to god they had moved it! When we eventually reached there it was 5.30 and the Abbey was closed!! However as it is a big structucture, magnificent grey stone set in a green valley, we managed to get some good photos which made the trek worthwhile. Then we caught a bus back to Chepstow. (How on earth did I do both ways the first time?? Well...I was much younger and obviously fitter then!)
We had started out at 2.30 and hiked til 5.30. So it was a long, gruelling trek.

Once back in Chepstow, which is a lovely little Welsh town, we found an excellent put The Horse and Carriage, and had a delicious meal and a few pints of Guiness before turning in. Early the next morning we went to see the Chepstow Castle, a massive medieval fortress on the Wye River, sitting on a rock above the swirling waters. It stands guard over a strtegic crossing point into Wales. Started not long after the Battle Hastings (1066 AD) by William Fitz Osbern a companin of William the Conqueroror, it was a landmark in more ways than one and one of Britains' first stone-built strongholds.

With luck, we manage to get a bus right to Newport, and from there direct to Caerphilly, my father's home. As soon as I cross into Wales, I feel I am at home too. I see people who could be kinfolk, hear the lilting Welsh accent that reminds me of my Dad. I've visited Caerphilly many times and always feel that I have come back to my roots. I still have cousins there and that's who we have come to visit.

I took Ingrid on a tour of Caerphilly Castle soon after we arrived at Sheila's. This is the castle my Dad played in as a child, and I grew up hearing stories about it. So it's like 'my' castle.

The fortress sprawls over a huge area (30 acres in all) making it easily the biggest in Wales and along with Windsor and Dover, the largest in Brtaiain. It was built in the late 13the centruy by the Anglo-Norman lord Gilber de Clare, to consolidate his grip on the lands he had captured. The foretress impressed onlookers and an awestruck 14th century Welsh poet descirbed it as a g#;giant Caerfifili'. De Clare's castle, a high point in medieval military architecture is a surpreme example of the concentric 'walls iwithin walls' sysetem of defence and includes water defences -- a moat and two small lakes, cretibing a castle that seems to be on an island.

Of course a visit to Caerphilly has to include a walk up Windsor Street to see my dad's family home. And as we had driven into the town, through Bedwas, I showed Ingrid the slag heaps fromthe mine where Dad had worked from the time he was 14 to his mid twenties when he had lost his mining card due to his union activity in support of his fellow miners. Of course, thanks to Maggie Thatcher, there is only 1 working mine left in Wales at this time.

We had a lovely visit with my cousins. And a great treat today when Chris drove down from Worcester to spend a few hours with us. Then Ingrid was treated to a tour of cousin Andrea's house: which happens to be one of the mansions formerlly belonging to the mine bosses (a step up for our mining family!). Andrea and Paul are restoring the old house and it's a masterpiece!

She drove us into Cardiff at noon and we intended to sight-see for awhile. We did see the museum which was free. As soon as I walked into the art gallery, there was a painting by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) of the body of Phocion being carried out of Athens. This was an incredible moment for me as I'd just been writing about Phocion (Athen's military governor) in my novel. He was falsely accused of treason and executed s a traitor and this painting depicts them carrying his body out of the city as he wasn't allowed to be buried on Athenian soil. Was this some kind of good omen for me, I wondered?

Also in the gallery was a painting of DylanThomasby Augustus John (painted 1937-38 at the Fitzroy Tavern in London.
'I got him to sit for me twice,' said John ' The second portrait being the more successful provided with a bottle of beer, he sat very patiently.'

We intended to go to the Cardiff castle but the streets were chock full of revellers heading for the stadium for a football match. It was quite an overwhelming scene: thousands of yobs waving blue and white banners, swilling beer, chanting, singing, and carrying on and they weren't even at the stadium yet! We beat a hasty retreat to the side streets and found a quiet place to hide out til the streets were clear. And what a mess they'd left behind: beer cans and plastic cups and rubbish ankle deep. Disgusting! That's the footballers for you. We were not too impressed.

Got the bus back (passengers had to be walked from the Coach station by security to another stop to board because all the roads were blocked off. Cops everywhere!) Arrived back in London at 8 and met MJ briefly at a pub by the station. Then we made our way back to the Y and checked in for the night.

Just up the road from the Y is the famous Fitzroy Tavern where Dylan Thomas sat for the portrait. We went there for a pint and happened to sit right below a wall full of self-portraits and other memorabalia of the artist, Augustus John. The whole pub is full of pictures of the famous Bohemians who used to hang out there. Downstairs is a small pub area called 'The Writer's and Artists' Bar'. We really wished we'd found this place sooner as it was an interesting place, with quite a rich ambience as you can imagine!

So now we are safely back in the Indian Y and after our curried egg breakfast in the morning we'll be heading out to Heathrow for our noon flight to Athens.
It's been a wonderful adventure so far and we're looking forward to the next part, and especially lying on a beach by the blue Aegean and soaking up the warm Greek sun!