On two consecutive weekends, I decided to go to Wales, which is not far away from Nailsworth, essentially to get to the sea, which I have not seen much of (unless you count the cold and windy brief glimpse of the mouth of the Severn at Weston super-mare. (a very strange name for something British..nothing is super in Britain..its more of an American term. ) I expected it to be super..you know super big, super organised, but found it to be a dull depressing stretch of beach
and (yes) super big budget shops. The super in the names actually means “above sea” An area of great wealth discrepancies and many poor. Unfortunately I missed the Banksy exhibit called Dismaland called a bemusement park (a play on Disneyland)which brought in 20 million in 2 months! More than double what was expected even though it charged a measly 3 pounds entrance (compared to 10-15 pounds in many historical sites. Britain has become an expensive tourist destination, where people prefer cheaper sunnier holidays in Europe.
Anyway, this post is not about Weston Super-mare, but a quest to find the seaside. So I was told that the nearest place to go would be Cardiff in Wales. However, Cardiff was separated from Nailsworth by the Severn river which is in full flood, having only 3 crossing areas. The first is at Gloucester, where the river is still narrow, the second is a long bridge built a while ago closer to the mouth of the Severn, and the third is the very long new bridge even closer to the mouth. The quickest way would be to go on the new bridge, but theres the problem. There are toll roads on both bridges, charging the equivalent of R120 if you go from England to wales, but surprisingly no charge if you go from Wales to England! Strange ways of doing business! Anyway, I decided then, since I was not in a hurry, to go via Gloucester into Wales, and then return via the big bridges so that I don’t pay..clever thinking.
So on the first weekend, I forged towards Gloucester, saw a boot sale on the way, and being a cheapskate addict I just had to stop. Besides the huge amount of junk for sale..luckily I could not buy too much as I wouldn’t be able to take it home, there was an entire barber shop on wheels and coffee served out of the hatch back of a car with the full works.
I went over along the other side of the Severn. Found that the trees are infested with mistletoe, which I had been trying unsuccessfully to pick as they normally grow too high up. So I got a bunch..fascinating stuff.
In South Africa we have very little mistletoe and I know of only one place it is to be found and the African variety, although a recognized African remedy has almost no leaves, contrasted with the European varieties that have large leaves that form the only foliage still left on winter trees.
I found a craft centre that had good old Antropos lettering called Taurus crafts with a HUGE bull sculpture made of wood and unnoticed by most a moebius strip sculpture, which only I would have noticed the significance of, which I photographed from various angles.
Here I also found a leather crafter who made exquisite leather masks of the Green man and other pagan images. I didn’t find much else that was anthroposophical, but there was some beautiful pottery
I found a few other weird roadside sculptures;
I headed for Chepstow, the first city in Wales and lo and behold I found my first real castle! Yes, it was old grey and dominating..kind of quite frightening. It was where the Wye river (so much lauded by Wordsworth) met the Severn before widening into dangerous mudflats into the sea.
The minute you enter Wales, the signs are written in two languages..English and welsh, which is the weirdest language I have encountered, having lots of y’s
Chepstow, or Cas-gwent, in Welsh..don’t ask me how to pronounce it, is a Norman castle perched high above the banks of the river Wye in southeast Wales. Construction began at Chepstow in 1067, less than a year after William the Conqueror was crowned King of England. Built by his loyal Norman lord William FitzOsbern. FitzOsbern’s fortresses were the vehicles from which the new king consolidated control of his newly conquered lands. Chepstow Castle became the key launching point for expeditions into Wales, expeditions that eventually subdued the rebellious population. These are some of the most important (or hated) men of Norman-Welsh history. From the British point of view, the main identifiers of the Norman invaders were the language they spoke (a variant of French) and their tendency to build intimidating castles everywhere. (Prior to the Norman occupation, both the Anglo-Saxons and the Celtic Britons before them had lived in smallish communities built on hill tops. )
The Welsh, luckily, tend to keep their ruins like ruins rather than doing them up for tourists. They also don’t charge so much to get in. I like this about Wales.
By the time I had wandered around Chepstow castle, It was getting too late to get to the sea, so I found the old bridge road going over the Severn. It was a huge bridge and quite terrifying, being prohibited from stopping, I tried to photograph rather dangerously.
On the other side was a welcome to England sign, which was quite strange as I hadn’t realized I left. There was a view point on the other side, but it was characterized by the ugliest building I have yet seen in England, naturally an insurance headquarters.
THE SECOND TRIP
On the second trip, I went with Agathe, our new French volunteer, as I still wanted to see the sea, as did she. We spent too long again at the boot sale. Agathe was worse than I when it came to bargains.
We went a different route to try to find Tintern Abbey, which is also a lovely ruin. We took a tea break on the top of a hill in the highest point of the Forest of Wye area, and found this odd sculpture. We couldnt quite work out what the guy was doing but had our own ideas.
We spent time in a childrens playground riding the foofy slide,
and found this strange circle of sculptures of some legendary beings.
amongst others looking at a stone centre was Sabrina of Hafren and king Arthur. They were created by sculptors Neil Gow and John Hobbs between 2002 and 2003.
Sabrina is goddess of the river Severn that separates South Wales from England. She was the daughter of a married English king and a woman called Elfridis. The king’s wife allegedly had Sabrina and her mother thrown into the river, where Sabrina became a goddess of healing.
In Wales the second Severn bridge is sometimes called Pont Hafren after the goddess and the river.
We did not spend too long at the Abbey, which was a wonderfully ruined cistercian monastry also quite dark and forbidding despite the beautiful paintings by Turner and poetry by Wordsworth.
We were still trying to get to the sea. It was already getting late at Chepstow, and we decided to head back, but this time over the new bridge. Well, it was HUGE, and Agathe tried to photograph, but the over safety conscious Brits had put up huge unsightly barriers on both sides! The bridge itself was amazing.