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A few days in the Welsh Borders

Work has been absolutely manic recently – I’m in the middle of a series of equipment trials, and it’s all very high pressured at the moment. I looked at my diary and realised that if I was going to have a break this summer, it would have to be this week, or not at all. So I booked the week off, then looked around for somewhere relaxing to go for a few days for a change of scene.

There’s lots of interesting historical sites on the Welsh borders, which Christopher and I used to visit in day-trips from Malvern. I’ve not been back there since he died, and knew I’d find them enjoyable to revisit. But I was so tired after the previous week’s full-on equipment trial that I really didn’t want to drive for a couple of hours each day. So I decided to rent a little cottage just outside Chepstow for a few nights, and do short day-trips from there, minimising the amount of driving I’d have to do each day.

Tintern Abbey

I first went to Tintern Abbey when I was a child, and found it fascinating even then. It’s got real atmosphere, and is a very impressive set of ruins. There’s also a rather good tea-shop next door, much improved since I was last there, which serves a delicious cream tea.

Caerwent Roman town walls

Caerwent is only a few miles away from Tintern, but is scarcely known and very little visited – though I was pleased to note that there is a small car-park and a new toilet block since I last visited with Christopher over ten years ago. It’s the remains of a Roman town, Venta Silurum, located in a field just off the A48, with a small village (two pubs,  a church, some houses and not much else as far as I could see) all built on top of it with the looted stone from the Roman town. The original walls date from the early 4th Century, and are still remarkably intact as you can see in the picture above. In places they are still over 5m tall, despite so much of their stone being robbed to build the village. Less well preserved (foundations only still visible in the fields) are the Roman forum-basilica, a temple, and a row of shops with houses behind. Very evocative, and not at all what you would expect to find in a muddy Welsh field!

Chepstow Castle

My final day-trip was to Chepstow Castle, an imposing edifice built on the banks of the River Wye, right on the Welsh border.  Parts of it date back to immediately after the Norman Conquest, and it was fascinating to see that there was a layer of Roman tiles incorporated into the Norman keep – clearly “quarried” from nearby Caerwent! You can just about make them out in the picture below – the reddish horizontal layer just below the top of the curtain wall to the right.

Chepstow Castle Keep