Today was another 200 miles, or there abouts, of up hill and down dale driving, some of it fortunately on motorways, most of it on two-lane roads, some of it on tiny ‘barely tractor width’ lanes and they’re the ones that offer the most entertaining moments – as in coming face to face with a 5 tonne truck when neither of you can pull to the side, suffice to say an awful lot of hedge mounting and car squeezing took place, though none at great speeds this time! This morning we were up early and on the road by 7am, not because we really felt like it, but because we had suspicions that the peak hour traffic into Bristol could be horrendous, we weren’t wrong. By 7.30am it was gridlocked, misty, dimly lit and yet we managed to squish ourselves between a few different lorries and extract ourselves onto the M4 to Chepstow, we guessed whilst we were having breakfast in the foreground of the castle that most of the other drivers were still sitting on the M5 staring at red tail-lights.
Chepstow castle was much more impressive than I was expecting, it’s remarkably intact and has a rather foreboding portcullis which we inspected at length before walking around the base of the castle, staring up at the walls which towered into the heavens. Most of the castle is a ruin, it hasn’t been an ‘active’ castle for many, many years, though someone really needs to tell the occupants that as there are numerous birds of several varieties constantly soaring around the towers and into their lodgings in the ramparts and crumbling walls. There is also life much lower on ground level too, we were fortunate to spot several itinerant species with their nomadic abodes, which are of course made of the hardiest of weather-proof fabrics, going about their morning routines. We feel much the richer for having observed these rituals and were inclined to share our own – cooking our breakfast sausages before putting them into sandwiches with Branston pickle or HP sauce. Not everyone appreciated our fine cooking and there were several longing looks as permanent residents of the town made their way to work.
After Chepstow we made our way through the hills and valley to Tintern and its abbey, though not open yet – it wasn’t even 9.30 yet – we did have a browse around the outside and took in as much as we could, had another more fruitful browse in a gift shop and enjoyed a cup of tea with some Jaffa Cakes before preparing to head for our next destination. Only a short distance away at Raglan is unsurprisingly Raglan Castle, and what a castle it is, or was, or still is despite the extensive damage it’s sustained due to Cromwell’s vindictive and destructive attacks. Now almost completely ruined Raglan still holds onto existence via a few towers, some of the courtyard, an annexed moated tower and several interlocking walls. It is an awe inspiring sight, and even without the detailed drawings of what it must have looked like in its prime, you can easily imagine how grand and imposing this place would have been.
The kitchen tower was of special interest to me, with its two massive cooking fires, each with built-in oven – and complimentary cannon port in a later period – and the Cook’s apartments above, cellar below. I could imagine what it must have been like to work in such a space, to be such an integral part of the castle community, the attached passage ways, pantry etc, were something to behold, you could almost feel the energy busting from the walls even after so many years, the echoing ghosts of those cooks, servers etc all bustling around preparing and serving meals to their lieges.
Our next stop wasn’t a stop at all, but rather a drive through the Golden Valley, following the Wye river on and on as it slowly flowed past us. We crossed it several times, darting in and out of both the English and Welsh border before we finally stopped at Hay-on-Wye. Right now I can hear several of my friends groan, yes, I went again, but guess what? I only bought one book! I know, I know, I’ll call the doctor when I get back. I won’t go into detail about Hay, but as this is my third or fourth visit I can safely say that it hasn’t lost any of its charm, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself wandering the streets and browsing in the multitude of bookshops, only the thought of airline baggage restrictions saved me from purchasing every book that caught my eye.
From Hay-on-Wye we travelled along some back roads to find a National Trust property that apparently was being preserved as a typical 17/18th century Welsh dairy farm, it’s promoted in their directory – in both print, and electronic versions – yet we suspect someone forgot to tell the farm, because as we approached it became blatantly obvious that the site was no longer open to the public. Stuck on a farm driveway we continued on into the grounds if only to be able to turn around, and it was sad to see the property so devoid of life, there were no signs of it running as an active NT property, so we suspect it’s been this way for quite some time.
Next we moved onto Kington and enjoyed a stroll up and down the main streets to stretch our legs some and enjoyed a good browse through some shop windows before setting off again towards Knighton and onto our digs for the night at Woofferton – don’t you just love the name?! Woof-ert-on, with such a great name you’d expect dogs, but instead upon arriving we were met and escorted by a local farmer’s wee hens – not dissimilar to ones we used to keep – who were all too willing to unburden us of some leftover crusts of bread, much to the delight of some other guests who were very quick to get their camera out and capture the moment for posterity. Now that we’re ensconced in our room we’re planning our movements for tomorrow, though we’re not going far we have once again created a day filled with stops and site visits. Thankfully it won’t be a super early morning again, after today we’re both ready to get some shut-eye and not surface until a respectable hour of the morning.