Travelling with a small bag and a backpack... let's get this party started.
It's March 2016 and that's early Spring in the UK so everyone said I'd be cold, wet and miserable. Cheery aren't they?
I'm in search of Turners... the paintings of JMW Turner and I'm looking for the ancient trails of pre-Roman Wales & the Castles of the Welsh Kings who kept the Normans at Bay... lots to see..
After 24 hours, on Qantas QF1 (17 to Dubai then another 5 to Heathrow)... I was thrilled to still have my senses and could find the trains to London.
It was a strange grey sky... with a silver disc in the sky, which I figured was the sun!
Made it to Paddington Station and it was time to look for a train WEST to WALES.
Heading west on the GWR (Great Western Railway) Cardiff train in economy class ticket cost 43GBP.
Being a Sunday the rail network was under repair, so we were diverted to some minor rail lines, following farmland and canals... I saw my first canal boats and tranquil fishermen sitting along the banks.
Loved the different trees... that's what I notice first, giant, old, old trees and not a gumtree in sight!
And narrow waterways with long skinny boats and people fishing away their Sunday.
Crossed over the River Severn and into Wales. Now my adventure can really begin.
It took 4 hours from London to Cardiff, due to the rail diversions but was well worth the time. Cardiff railway station is a monument to the Great Western Rail company and it's right in the centre of the city. It was easy walking to hotels or buses.
Just a short walk from the Railway station, past the Millennium Stadium, over the Bridge on the River Taff and a stroll along the river bank.
Found my BnB - Austins Guest House, with the cutest little single room.
Hmmmm jet lag - HUNGRY at 4am... So up early next day for a wander about Cardiff City.
Following the River Taff, and the Daffodils begin to appear everywhere... little did I know they'd follow me on my entire journey.
The city is a wonderful mix of old and new. Tucked between new brick and glass you find carved arched walkways.... very few straight lines in the old parts of town so navigating takes time. I'm heading for the waterfront... I'm on a mission.
Doctor WHO alert.... This is the RIFT... The Millennium Centre with the famous carved message in Welsh and English - These Stones Horizons Sing
The gleaming silver tower and the sunken courtyard... officially it's the Roald Dahl centre (he being Cardiff's famous son) but to me, it'll always be the place where the TARDIS comes to recharge by sitting on the Rift - a split in the fabric of time and space!
Doubt not - I know in my heart it's true.
Things you see when you walk about, with your eyes open.
Antique carousel? or a truly weird statue in a park... Dahl inspired maybe?? It wriggled its way around the park.
DOCTOR WHO Experience
And if I have to explain what this very old, blue box is.... or tell you that's a Weeping Angel!!!! Or discuss the origin of that baby crib.... Then you just wouldn't understand the TARDIS or how important it is NOT TO BLINK! and that there's no word for water or translation of Melody Pond... other than River Song!
Oh bugger, you're either with me or you're not. :-)
But it was my dream to visit this place - so it's now officially ticked off the list - and I have the T-shirt to prove it... Cost of entry and interactive tour was 16 Pounds.
Time for pub lunch and to catch up with my journal... oh and half a pint of bitter... hmmm yum.
These animal sculptures are a later addition to the wall because old photos show just smooth stone.
They are quite wonderful and appear to be making their escape over the wall.
Lot's of old churches, magnificent gardens... and DRAGONS everywhere... The Red Welsh Dragon being the symbol of Wales.
Finding pubs and friendly locals to sit and chat with... To while away the hours in warm pubs with nice beer and cider, after a day of exploring... sounds like a plan.
A magnificent building in its own right. Impressive columns at the front and immensely tall metal doors.
And inside - I feel I know this building already...
Ok, ok - it has been used in Doctor Who episodes - what a brilliant showcase of Cardiff and Wales.
I asked the locals, in the pub, what they thought of Doctor Who being so identified with their city.. they said the traffic is hell on days when production shuts down streets but for the excitement of international filming and all the kudos it brings to Wales; they love it!
Good job BBC Wales!
The gallery has some wonderful art; amongst the classics is the Monet and the Renoir of the Girl in Blue - which is gigantic - it stands over 2 metres tall.
But of course the Turners!
These were the ones which caused trouble in the artworld, at first they were considered fakes and not shown but later were authenticated as being Turners.
So I've seen them... Not disappointed at all... I stood spellbound... I really like Turner.
First stop... Penarth
It looked so far on the map - turned out I was only about 10 miles from Cardiff.
Oh well, I checked into the Cefn Mably Hotel, lovely hotel, great food, plenty of cheap beer.
I decided to take photos out of my bedroom windows on the trip... this one is nice - narrow back gardens of people's houses, very neat and tidy.
I picked up my car, a cute little Toyota - only 1000cc. I needed small, as I was going to some out of the way places on the narrowest roads I've ever seen and smaller is better!
Tip. Needed an International Driver's Licence to rent in the UK - something to do with the EU.
My plan is to drive around Wales in a clockwise direction. The entire country is only 400km long, but I'll be following the ins and outs of the coastline.
First stop Barry.
And I begin to take photos of what I thought were castles... and old villages and buildings... What a dope, I had no idea of what lay ahead.
This was Llantwit Major on the Bristol Chanel.
The villages were cute and the narrow roads were interesting and take some navigating with oncoming traffic - I appreciate my tiny car!
The rolling hills with wind turbines were everywhere in the south... There was a hazy mist most mornings and it gave the land mystical appeal.
My first ruins... I was so excited I had to post it on Facebook. It was at Bridgend and I had my first Bara Brith at a little community tea-house nearby. Yum.
My favourite Inn - The Angel Inn at Mawdlam, where I passed a great night. David was mine-host and made me feel welcome. I could have been persuaded to while away some time there... but I stayed on track and left the next morning.
The food was outstanding and the graffiti on the walls was so feminist and empowering.
The view from my window at the Angel Inn - across the bay you can see Swansea. Time to make tracks.
NO, I'm not a Christian or religious but the churches and churchyards will figure heavily on my journey.
Apart from Castles it's the churchyards which tell much of the story of Wales. So many of the churches don't even get a mention in the history guides.. .they're only 400 years old... not "old enough" to be historical... being an Aussie I find that funny as our oldest building can't be more that 250 years old... we think 19th C is OLD!
It all begins to look a little "Game of Thrones".. thick walls, turrets, arches and slit windows.
The one in the lower left is a Private residence now - In ages past somebody built a Castle Keep on a rocky outcrop and in modern times they've added glassed-in areas to make it comfortable.
And you come over a hill and another magnificent coastal view. I don't think I'll ever tire of this weaving in and out, following signs that pop up.
I didn't have a real travel plan but there were a couple of places that are on my 'must see' list. Places like Aberaeron and Aberdaron.
Luckily I can pull off the road and take my photos... wish that truck hadn't had the same idea.
Forget Stonehenge... with the roped off area and the thousands of tourists... I was alone in the wilderness, with only the sheep in the paddocks.
To walk around and touch these stones and wonder who did the same for the last five and a half thousand years - now that's "the past"!
Driving along a lonely, narrow country road a sign says - "Ancient Celtic monument", get out and wander a few hundred metres through farm land, and this awaits you.
So understated - I think this is my favourite memory of Wales.
The area is Pembrokeshire - and this site is about half way between Fishguard and Cardigan. The closest little town is Newport. Ok, so it's hard to find but make the effort.
I finally reached Aberaeron and began looking for a place to stay when I notice a tiny BnB sign on a Steak house... so I rang their bell
Above the steak house were some family rooms which they let out as a BnB... truly the strangest room I've ever been in... entered via the public toilet.... which I could lock off!... went into a tiny room with shower and made a sharp right into an equally tiny bedroom... with bed too big for the room.
See that roof above- that's the view from my window... things are getting scruffier... but I'm loving this diversity.
Just another roadside church with a fascinating cemetery... I wander for ages, looking at the headstones for dates and stories of different families.
I told you it was postcard material... over the hill and the Atlantic Ocean or Irish Sea awaits, with a tiny village hugging the shoreline.
So many rivers run to the West coast and as I'm so far from civilization and the Motorways I get to cross these really old stone bridges.
My journey is a series of run-along-the-coast and then dart inland, so I can cross the river - to get back to the coast.
ARGH... it's so beautiful, single lane roads... stone wall fences on the farms and very old ruins that just appear out of nowhere.
How many years did it take to pick up the stones in the fields and make the fences?
And they still build the walls in this manner... two walls of horizontal stones, topped with vertical stones - and repeat!
I mentioned how many river estuaries there were and sometimes it's a long drive to go inland to find a bridge - someone had this brilliant idea....
Build a private bridge and a wooden deck just above the water... and charge 70pence to cross!
Brilliant! and it's such a thrill to find this funny little toll bridge, near Dolgellau. The man was so lovely and pointed me on my way, to Barmouth. I'm actually in the Snowdonia National Park now.
I have no idea how it can be private property, perhaps it's an ancient charter or right to put a toll there. There are gates they can close, so it is theirs and not a public access road.
Want a grave with ocean views... isn't this the most wonderful church and cemetery... the land must be a little unstable as the headstones topple in all directions but I guess the residents don't care!
The cemetery is built right on the cliff and slopes quite steeply, it's a wonder it hasn't slid over the edge... Daffodils make their presence felt once again.
So now I'm used to the fact of coming around a corner into a village and seeing a mighty castle or fortress towering high above. You can imagine why they built on the heights, to keep an eye on the sea and a lookout for invaders.
Once again a simple roadsign showed "ancient site"... so I swerve off the road and took some really rough country tracks and then come across this Medieval hallhouse. Very Game of Thrones, central cooking fire and you expect furs and swords a plenty.
Talk about the hidden treasures, things you would not see if travelling to cities or via the motorways. I'm loving these country roads.
Welcome to the end of the world. This was my must see destination, something was drawing me here.
I wound my way out onto the peninsular and there was the most beautiful old village down by the water's edge. This "double church" built so close to the ocean was so beautiful.
I checked into my hotel (The Gwesty Ty Newydd) and the view from my window was this old church. I could hear the waves crashing onto the beach all night.
Everything about Aberdaron is romantic and historic... it was a place for pilgrims as people came to Bardsey Island.
Bardsey Island is called the Island of 20,000 saints. The origin of the place is lost but some say it's the "Isle of the Bards," a sacred place of the ancient Celtic Druids of pre-Roman Wales. Another ancient legends says that Merlin the Magician is buried there and some identify the island as Avalon where King Arthur died.
A walk along the beach and up onto the cliffs... it was cold and windy but I was so in my element. So few people have walked where I went that day.
And no ARAF doesn't mean it's dog friendly.... although the whole of Wales is dog friendly.... ARAF means SLOW DOWN!
They've never heard of men with stop signs here, for roadworks they stick up a traffic light and get on with it. Everyone is polite and waits patiently... such lovely gentle people.
I'm in the really remote Welsh speaking part of the country. The locals don't speak English to one another, although they will to you of course.
All signs are in Welsh first... then English.... Isn't that fun coming up to a big roundabout, and trying to find your way... with words so long they hardly fit on a sign.
Founded in 630 by Beuno and until 1796 it was his tomb. Beuno founded a 'Clas' (a cross between a monastery & a college - very common in Celtic church history) and it became a famous centre. The church as it stands now dates from around 1500 and different church groups have added to the old original building.
St. Beuno's Chest - that's a hollowed out solid piece of wood. There was a custom that calves & lambs with the mark of Beuno (a natural slit in their ears) were brought by farmers to the Church on Trinity Sunday, sold, and the money put in the chest.
The famous castle which encloses a whole town. The site of the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales by his mother Queen Elizabeth II.
The old walls are still in tact in many places... I drove for a long way and I was STILL inside the castle walls! Amazing.
Words just cannot describe finding this amazing mound, with a circular ring of stones.
Once again, just driving along, and small sign says 'Celtic monument' so I stop and wander for a long way through fields and sheep paddocks until this opens up in front of me.
The sun on the stones told ancient people when to plant crops and various other yearly functions. The tall rock at the front is positioned absolutely North-South (this one is a replica now as they had to take the original away for safe keeping - it was so unique & precious.)
There is a front & back entrance to the mound... What can you say about sitting where ancients walked and wonder what they did and how they built this.
So take a close look at the big stones at the entrance, forming the doorway. Now if you go back and look at the photo of Pentre Ifan. You can see that it's the same basic stone structure - a couple of big upright stone with a huge lintel stone on top. That's how they know Pentre Ifan once was a burial mound like this one.
So you say...not much to see, just a mound.... well yes... a couple of deep trenches and a mound of earth... except that the artifacts found here show it was a big deal... it was a structured community with defences and housing.
My view from the window of my BnB.
What an amazing place and hardly anybody knows about it's treasures. Everyone seems to be rushing in to catch the Ferry but it's an amazing place with great history and a lighthouse!
There is a rich pre-Roman history; then it became a Roman Fort; then a Castle for the local Lord to keep an eye on those pesky Irish.
You can see that each successive 'owner' built over the top of the one before but parts of the Roman wall and guard house still remain.
South Head - the lone lighthouse looks out to Ireland
A walk along the cliffs and down to this beautiful lighthouse. My phone switched to Ireland ! It thought I'd crossed over !
Moving on and one scene more beautiful than the next.
Penmon or Glannach, situated in the North East part of Anglesey was a Priory of Black Canons of the Order of St Augustin, dedicated to St Mary, founded by Gwynedd King of the Britains about A.D. 650.
It is awe inspiring with stone fences surrounding an enormous settlement which survives from the 6th Century.
The old Celtic crosses which had stood outside are now protected, inside the building
Moving along the north coast of Wales, I can see England across the water at times.
Passing through truly ancient cities, built as fortresses to keep back invaders... and each new group, building on the past.
I crossed into England and went to Chester - I wanted to see the old walled city and the Cathedral... my foray into the English territories.
And the view from my hotel room window in Chester. I wonder at the eclectic nature of the buildings, old, built upon old.
I found this place by mistake... and I would never be able to repeat the journey. What I found was an ancient bridge that I was able to walk and drive over.
I could see where Follett got his inspiration in his "Pillars of the Earth" books - about how to build a bridge into a market town - it was the lifeblood of the village.
WOW! That's all I could say.
I'm back in Wales and heading south
I spotted something strange on a hill and had to investigate - This castle is known as the Key to Wales.
I stand and look East into England, this place was perfect to defend the Welsh border.
The original buildings were built by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, around 1070, it was destroyed in 1215 but subsequently rebuilt as this stone castle.
In 1267 Montgomery was the meeting place for treaty negotiations, where King Henry III granted Llywelyn ap Gruffudd the title of Prince of Wales. That didn't last long as they double crossed him and that's why he's known as Llywelyn The Last (the last King of Wales - before it's conquest by Edward I of England).
After 1295 and the final Welsh War, the castle became more of a military backwater and prison than a front-line fortress. Montgomery was granted a Royal Charter by the king in 1227, making it the oldest borough in Wales.
On a back road in a tiny valley that most people would drive right past is this beautiful church dating from the medieval period, dedicated to Anno, a virtually unknown saint.
Much of the current structure has been restored but the superbly carved late medieval rood screen is one of the finest in Wales and is just breathtaking.
The tiny stream running beside this quaint church is the river Ithon - I absolutely felt at peace in this tiny pocket of tranquility.
In the 13th Century walled town formerly called Radnorshire is this 21 metre tall monument (for a mid 1800's politician). I'm thinking I might consider something similar for myself when the time comes hahaha.
When the Normans came to Old Radnor and found a church already here, dedicated to a Welsh saint St. Ystyffan, they thought it meant St. Stephen and the name stuck.
It was 6th C St. Meilig (son of Romano-British chieftain Caw Prydain) educated by monks in Anglesey, who came to Llowes and founded a monastery.
It's believed he's buried beneath the old stone building, which has been built time and time again on the same spot.
The Celtic Cross, a monumental cross-slab housed inside the church (was originally outside) used to be known as the Moll Walbee stone. Folklore says a giant threw it there from across the river (geological tests show the stone is the type found 'over the river').
So while the stone has origins lost in the mists of time, the carving on the slab is relatively modern - 12th Century!
Note how they can trace the Vicars of Llowes back to 1475 on that board, and this large stone reads like the Last Will of John Hugh - makes interesting reading and a reminder that he will always pay his debts, because... it's written in stone in the Church.
It is just a gate but it was built in the 12th century and inside the grounds are ruins of the Bishops 6th Century residence. Bishops certainly lived well and it must have been a fine structure.
I just loved this willow tree. So old, I wonder what it's seen. The well was half inside the Bishop's wall and half outside so the townspeople could also partake of clean water.
St David's is a large medieval church, founded in 1187 by the Bishop of St David's, on the site of the Synod of Brefi in 550 AD.
Inside the church is a collection of 6th-9th century Celtic stones.
The link with the past is emphasised by a collection of Celtic crosses, some dating as back to the 6th century.
The 6 stones range from the 6th to the 9th century, and there is a 14th century font bowl in the chancel.
It seems that the history of this cathedral is tied closely to the Battle of Agincourt 600 years ago. In the South Transept is a stained glass window showing Sir Roger Vaughan of Bredwardine- a knight in full armour - he was the local nobleman who fought for Henry V and took local archers with him. Their names are also commemorated on a plaque.
There is even the stone on which the archers sharpened their arrows... so strange to find the story of Agincourt coming alive in this cathedral
I kept moving on and found this amazing round tower - Tretower Castle. The farmer wouldn't allow access but how wonderful to have this in your sheep pen !
The view from my hotel room in Abergavenny was an Aldi. so I felt quite at home. And yes, I had that Abergavenny song going in my head.
I drove for so long on dirt roads and in really rough terrain, without mobile coverage or GPS and finally found - the Hermits well.
It's named for St Issui of Patricio at Patrishow and the old church further up the hill was built for the pilgrims.
For me the second most powerful site/memory of old Wales was this old well. It's too old to know when it was first used but there is record of Pilgrims coming in the early 6th Century and if you can find it, come and leave "something" in the tree and stones.
It felt like a Pagan place where people came, were moved, and left something of themselves so I left something too.
Open for all to enter; renowned for the pictures on the whitewashed walls, the old font stone, timber rood screen and timber chest for the keeping of treasures.
Then there was the graveyard with the Celtic monuments and stone memorial slabs leaning up against the building.... and of course the daffodils.
What a nice thing to write on a gravestone.
Imagine how old the tree trunk is... what must it have seen in the valley below?
The Skirrid Inn - the oldest Inn in Wales
Llanthony; the priory begun by 2 hermits late 1000's... amazingly huge and the architecture is astounding.
Those who have read Folletts books will understand the significance of your Cathedral falling away... it shows the fine detail of his research in writing his epic tales.
Absolutely gorgeous grounds and not another soul in sight.
A strange blend of ancient ruins, private ownership and modern chain-saw art! Oh and Meadow Burials.
Yep, that's right. If you've ever wanted to be buried in a whicker basket in a meadow, overlooking the misty Usk valley... and be allowed to decay naturally into the land, then Usk is the place for you. They will even transport you there by horse and buggy!
The family who own this wonderful property also run this thoughtful alternative to some burial customs and I found this fascinating.. take nothing with you that won't recycle back into the earth. Neat huh?
As for the castle, it's wonderful... again it's a mish mash of cultures, building over the top of each other and there are amazing chain saw sculptures around the place, created by Adam Humphreys, the son of the owner.
Usk Castle is a place that invokes medieval folklore and these statues fit in quite well.
That giant statue down in the valley is the Guardian. It is the largest mining memorial in Wales and commemorates the Six Bells mining disaster in 1960 which killed 45 men and boys in an underground explosion.
Back to Cardiff to drop off my car - trying to recall the Beers I've tried: Gower Brewery - Swansea, South Wales. The Hopfather from the Wye Valley.
I caught the train from Cardiff Station and purchased a ticket for 20 Pound to Bath Spa.
If I was searching for the Roman influence in this part of the world, everyone said I had to see the Baths.
What a disappointment of a town. Expensive tourist trap! I left my bag with a small Internet Cafe and wandered to see the sights.
The cathedral was impressive and I did walk up the hill to see the Circus - semi circular building.
Long queues to get into the Roman Baths - cost of entry was 18 pound - a special deal for 3 attractions... the Baths, the Fashion Museum and the Victoria Art Gallery. (ripped off as the Art Gallery was closed! But who could be bothered queueing again for 45 minutes to complain - I just vote with my feet and leave town!)
There's not much of ancient Rome here. These are the only Roman figures on display... All the rest are fakes built in 18oo's.
In a way it's just another old site which has been built over and over again. The statues around the so called Roman Baths are all fairly modern.
It's for the tourists now and people think they're visiting history but they're seeing the England of Jane Austin's time and how they imagined the Romans to have lived.
Down below there are a few lasting reminders of the ancient world but most tourists don't go down to see... they sit around the pool and pretend.
I decided that Bath wasn't for me... so back to the railway station and I got a train for London cost - 32 Pounds Bath to London.
I found a great small hotel in Bayswater, just off Hyde park. An easy walk from Paddington. The room was the smallest I've ever seen in all my travels around the world. 1.5m wide & 3m long.
This was my local pub, The Leinster Arms, owned by a Kiwi.
The Congregation of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, of Montmartre, Order Of Saint Benedict - are generally known as THE TYBURN NUNS because the site of the MOTHER HOUSE is the TYBURN CONVENT, London.
The Foundress Mother Marie-Adele Garnier died and is enshrined here and it's also the centre of pilgrimage in honour of the TYBURN MARTYRS who shed their blood for Christ here between the years 1535 and 1681.
What does all that mean? Well tucked neatly into the walls of a street beside Hyde Park is this small chapel.
When Henry VIII was forcibly breaking up the Catholic religious institutions and implementing a Church of England - some resisted and died for their faith - this is a small monument to the Martyrs - those who defied the King Henry and kept their Roman Catholic Faith.
Their coats of arms and family names are displayed and venerated by the order of nuns who maintain this chapel.
Magnificent statues, Marble Arch & street art that goes largely unnoticed by passersby
Everyone knows this iconic building - The British Museum in London - where to start? I went back to the ancient peoples and traced the story from there.
In the photo of reliefs below left, is the famous commemorative plaque from England. A Palmyrian (Syrian) man takes his slave as a wife and mourns her when she dies, showing the diversity of what was the Roman Empire.
The famous relief carvings and tablet from the stairs at the Palace of Darius - the inscription written by King Artaxerxes III in around 350BC
The great Assyrian king Ashurbanipal amassed all knowledge on these clay tablets around 688BCE. Medical, Mathematical & Literary works including the Epic of Gilgamesh from Mesopotamia.
It wasn't all about art, here is the remains of a waterwheel used in roman times - it could drain a mine almost 100feet (30m) deep.
So that's the story - you decide !
More Treasures in the Museum
What school child hasn't learned of the famous Rosetta Stone. A story repeated in Egyptian hieroglyphs and Greek allowed scholars to crack the code of ancient writings.
The art is just too stupendous to describe so I went on a journey from the medieval, through the renaissance until I found my Turners.
Lorenzo Monaco 1407 coronation of Virgin with adoring saints : Francesco Pesellino 1445 Story of David & Goliath
Jan van Eyck 1434 Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini & his wife : Leonardo da Vinci 1491 the Virgin of the rocks
John constable 1833 Cenotaph to the memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds : Claude Monet 1899 Water Lily pond
Theo van Rysselberghe 1892 Coastal Scene.(in the pointilliststyle of Georges Seurat) : Pierre-Auguste Renoir 1876 At the Theatre (La Premiere Sortie).
Jean-Louis-Andre-Theodore Gericault A shipwreck