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Sun, Sea & Sand – Day Three

Sun, Sea & Sand – Day Three

Today is going to be an adventure. We are going to get the bus, travel to Pembroke and look at the castle. Pembroke is a small town with a very big castle.

We caught the bus in the morning and the journey turned out to be quite interesting. The journey is about 30 minutes and the bus goes partly along the main road but also diverts through a number of small villages served by even smaller roads. The bus filled these roads from side to side and it became even more interesting in the villages where there would be parked vehicles and very tight bends. We did, however, get to Pembroke and the bus stopped virtually outside the castle.

There is an entrance charge but it is certainly worth it and, having paid ours, we went in via the Gatehouse.

This gatehouse is big enough on its own to get lost in. I have not seen another castle with so many passages and spiral stairways. One can go along a passage in this gate house and spot a spiral stairway and if one ignores it there will come a point where there is a choice of passages and whichever passage one chooses there will be another spiral stairway. It was mind boggling.

Those stairs may look a bit wonky but that’s because they are a bit wonky. Notice how shiny and worn those lower steps look. We eventually found our way out into the daylight at a high level and began to realise just how big this castle was. That strange, rather incongruous, flat topped builing tucked into the wall on the left was a self-service cafe. It is partly sunken into the ground I suppose in an attempt to make it less obvious.

There is a very large map of Wales in the bailey showing where all the castles are and one can walk about on it or sit at one of the tables on the edge to consume one’s refreshments. The large round tower is the main Keep.

There are some good views of the town to be had from up here.

We did manage to finally leave the Gatehouse and walked along the wall to the tower shown below. There is a choice here of, if I remember correctly, going into the tower and eventually coming out the other side onto that further wall or going down the steps to a small landing then going up some more steps to end up in the same place as going through the tower. One can, of course go down to the ground or come up from the ground.

We were, by this time, flagging a little and so decided to go into their little cafe for lunch and, after lunch, having had some refreshments and a rest we were ready to go again (possibly a little more slowly).

In one of the halls on the side of the castle I found a small entrance door with a spiral stairway going down and this, remember, is starting at ground level. It is called Wogan Cavern ( I don’t know why ) and I counted about 55 steps down. Here is where I ended up.

It has been used for at least the past 12,000 years. The cave was a shelter for cave dwellers during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic Periods, possibly the Bronze Age, and during the Roman occupation of Britain, shown by left-behind Paleolithic stone tools, and a Roman coin hoard.

The steps back up seemed more like 155 but I did make it back. Then, being a glutton for punishment, I decided to climb the main keep.

I got about a third of the way up and decided it may possibly be too much so discretion became the better part of valour (I gave up).

That little tower peeking out from beyond the Keep is the Dungeon Tower. I say ‘little’ but it’s only a small amount shorter than the Keep but, as I’m not very bright, I decided to climb that.

No it wasn’t easy but I did actually make it and there were some pretty good views to be had.

By this time we had worn our legs down to the knees and the stumps were beginning to get a little sore so we called it a day – well almost. We had realised that our bus back to Tenby goes through a small village called Lamphey and in that village are the ruins of a Bishops Palace so, of course, we had to break our return journey there.

It was about a 15 minute walk from the bus stop and after a while we saw this wall which gave us a clue as to where we were.

We had found the palace and went in.

Dating from the 14th century it provided the medieval prelates with the privileged lives of country gentlemen, enjoying the luxuries of private accommodation, a grand great hall, first-floor chamber, fishponds, fruit orchards, vegetable gardens and 144-acre park. It must have been a hard life.

There is quite a lot to see here.

We were very tired by now and we had to walk back to the bus stop so we set off for the village. We had about 15 minutes to wait until the bus arrived so I took this picture of Lamphey Church whilst we waited.

Now that is a tower and a half! The churchyard, apparently, is possibly an Iron Age enclosure comprising of a circular outer ditch surrounding a rectangular mound and the building is early medieval in origin and in existence by the late 11th century.

Then the bus arrived and we went back to end another day.

Sun, Sea and Sand – Day Two

Sun, Sea and Sand – Day Two

That is the view from our hotel room this morning and it’s a beautiful start to a beautiful day. This is the outside of our hotel,

this is the inside of our room

and this is part of the hotel’s gardens which go down to the beach.

We were on our way into the town once again but we weren’t going via the beach mainly because the tide is only now going out and I think our passage along the beach would be blocked by the sea until later. This next view is a short way along the road from the hotel. You can see that the tide is still relatively high and that lump of rock from yesterday is showing on the right.

On our way we went past yet another of Tenby’s interesting narrow lanes.

We were on our way to see the ancient medieval town walls. Not all of the wall remains but there are some remaining substantial sections of which this is one. Couldn’t really miss it could you?

These next two pictures show one of the old town gates – first from the outside and then from the inside.

This gate looks heavily fortified to me. I wonder who they were expecting. We soon found ourselves walking along yet another of those attractive narrow lanes.

We were heading for Castle Hill and, as it is a relatively large lump, we thought that it would be obvious but it was so well masked by the surrounding buildings that we had to resort to looking at the map. That put us on the right road.

Here you can see Amanda staggering up the hill. That doesn’t imply that I wasn’t staggering it’s just that I was staggering slightly faster than she was.

Well here we are at the top showing the only remaining tower of the medieval castle, the cannon trained at the French coast and a rather good view of the town.

Our next target was St. Catherine’s Island. It’s an island only at high tide but now the tide was out enough for us to walk across the beach to reach it. That tower on the left in the picture below is part of the old town walls.

One does have to pay a small entrance fee but we thought it would be worth it so we set off passing through this archway, a remnant of the old town wall, to reach the beach.

We paid our fee to a young lady on the beach at the foot of the stairway that gives access to the island and started up the steps.

Then along a short path.

At the end of that path we have to cross a small bridge over a chasm in the rock and Amanda couldn’t help bragging by stopping above the chasm to have her photograph taken.

We did get to the top and found this rather large Victorian fort built to counter a perceived threat of invasion by Napoleon.

We left the fort and St. Catherine’s Island and decided that that was the end of our day so we went back to the hotel.

Sun, Sea and Sand – Day One

Sun, Sea and Sand – Day One

We struck lucky with the weather on this trip although the first part of the first day was cloudy (no sun, sea or sand) but after that it was sun all day every day.

We left home at about 9.00 AM for a two and a half hour journey so decided to break it up by visiting a National Trust Property at about the one and a half hour mark.

We stopped at Dinefwr Park and, for those of you that don’t know, Dinefwr is pronounced “Din ever”. It consists of Newton House (a stately home), the ruins of a medieval castle (Dinefwr Castle) and lots of parkland which is home to a herd of deer.

As I mentioned above this morning was cloudy but I took the following picture anyway.

However we called in here again on our way home when the weather was better and I photographed it again. Which picture do you think is better?

Inside the house it didn’t matter what the weather was like outside so I carried on taking photographs.

Those rooms, as you might expect, look rather grand. The Dining Room in the top picture and the Sitting Room in the bottom picture. The interesting thing about this property is that nobody minds if you touch the furniture or walk on the carpets or even sit on the chairs.

I did go out to the back of the house where it overlooks the Deer Park and surprise, surprise I saw some deer. They were quite a long way away so even using my telephoto lens to its maximum this is the best that I could achieve. You should, at least, be able to see their antlers.

I took that photograph above from the small formal garden shown below which is at the back of the house. That is the only gardens they have here.

We also had a look at the castle both times we stopped here so as the weather was better on the way back these photographs are from then.

There is a reasonable amount to see in this castle ruin even extending to a few medieval spiral stairways which can be tricky to negotiate because the height of each tread can vary as can the width.

It is possible to see Newton House, together with some lovely views, from some of the high points of the castle so it is worth the scramble.

We had some lunch here at Dinefwr then headed off to our final destination. We booked into our hotel and after sorting out our parking space (they have only 10) which we had reserved we went outside and this is the first photograph I took of Tenby from outside the hotel.

Here in Tenby at 4 o’clock we now have sea and sand but no sun yet but we set off to explore anyway. The hotel has gardens at the front that are terraced down the steeply sloping cliffs to the beach and that is where we went.

It is now 5 o’clock and look, the sun has appeared! So now, finally, we have sun, sea and sand. What a change in just an hour.

We were able to walk along the beach as the tide was out and went to have a look at that lump of rock sticking through the sand. You can see that the rock bedding is steeply inclined and, as we later discovered, that applies to most of the rock on this coast. That tiny bit of head together with a splash of red on the right-hand edge is Amanda.

We walked along the beach until we found some steps up into the town. This is a view back the way we came from town level. You can see that lump of rock that we stopped to make friends with and just to the left of it is a small cream building. Our hotel is directly above that.

It is now 5:30 PM and you may notice that the cloud is dispersing rapidly.

Now I have to ask – have you ever seen a fat seagull?

Well you have now. As you can no doubt work out it is a little cafe so we went in for some coffee and cake.

It was a nice little place and the cake was good. That’s Amanda over on the right against the wall. Having finished our refreshments we went back into the town. Want some colour? We can find you some colour!

This is just one of the many narrow lanes in Tenby. There is plenty more to see but we are calling it a day and are going back to the hotel until tomorrow.

Our trip finally comes to pass!

Our trip finally comes to pass!

Here is a “moan about weather forecasting apps” warning. I usually use two apps for weather information and, of course, they tend to contradict each other. This morning the Met Office weather app forecasts sunny intervals this morning and mostly cloudy this afternoon. The BBC weather app, however, forecasts sunny intervals all day. I think I’ll go with the BBC forecast as it’s better.

As it happened the BBC forecast was right and we had plenty of sun. We set off from home to Dore Abbey in the village of Abbeydore.

The above picture shows the parish church of Abbeydore but if you look at the picture you will see that the tower height looks about average for a parish church but if you compare it with the rest of the building you will see that the main body of the church is much higher than normal. That is because this church used to be part of Dore Abbey and is the only part of the abbey still in existance. The tower was built in 1633 but the rest of the building was built in the late 12th century.

There are some small exterior bits of the abbey remaining which are attached to the church such as the structure shown below but very little else.

Inside, because of its height, the church does look spectacular.

There are a few areas of colourful heraldic ceramic tiles like this.

There are also a few surviving wall paintings of which this is one.

We have seen all that we wanted to here so we moved on to the next location just five miles away – Grosmont Castle.

There is Amanda sneaking in without me after crossing the bridge whilst I was taking this photograph. Still she does give an idea of scale.

There isn’t a lot left in this ruin but what does exist is quite impressive. You may notice Amanda up on top of the wall near the centre of the picture. The way up is through that large dark doorway at the base of the tower.

This is the stairway one has to negotiate to get up onto the wall. It may induce a little vertigo in those of you who are that way inclined. Inside the tower isn’t so bad but once you emerge the sides are open with just that handrail to stop you falling off.

The views when you get up there are rather nice though.

It was, once again, time to move on and this time to Llanthony Priory; one of the very many abbey/priory ruins scattered about this region but pretty impressive don’t you think?.

One of the impressive things about this ruin is the landscape round about which is truly magnificent.

One of the unusual things is that there is a small hotel attached to the ruins. We weren’t staying there but we did have lunch there. When we found the Cellar Bar entrance we found ourselves at the top of some steps leading below ground and, in the bright sunlight, it looked almost too dark to see. When we got down there we found ourselves in what appeared to be a small, but bright, cellar with about 6 tables scattered about.

They had a reasonable selection of meals which turned out to be perfectly acceptable. I had Chilli Con Carne with rice and Amanda had just a bowl of chips and she said that there were plenty of chips.

After lunch it was, once again, time to move on. Finally we are now headed home via the Gospel Pass, which is the highest road pass in Wales, and I’ll give you a bit of advice. If you just want to see the Gospel Pass then go up from the Hay-on-Wye side not the Llanthony side. The road from Hay-on-Wye is narrow with passing places but not as narrow or as tricky as the road from Llantony. The Llantony road runs between banks, hedges and walls and doesn’t open out until you cross the cattle grid. The picture below was taken not long after we crossed the cattle grid and is looking back towards Llanthony.

The views from up here are really spectacular.

We came down into Hay-on-Wye and, after a quick stop for coffee, we went home.

That trip was a circular route of around 90 miles which we thought, afterward, was a bit too long for a day trip but we arrived home unscathed but tired.

1 Trip, 2 Bays, 3 Waterfalls

1 Trip, 2 Bays, 3 Waterfalls

We had to go to Swansea recently and decided to add a couple of extra days for amusing ourselves. We had rented a flat for this stay overlooking Swansea Bay and this was the view from our balcony. It’s a pity it was cloudy.

The weather on the third (last) day was better.

The morning of the second day was when our trip began to get interesting. We drove to Rhossili Bay at the end of the Gower Peninsula. The weather was cloudy but dry which was not good for photography but there was little we could do about it.

Having parked the car we walked to the cliff top and we couldn’t really miss seeing Rhossili Bay could we?

We started walking roughly west along the cliff top (that’s left out of the picture above) but not too near the edge you understand. These cliffs are fairly high and the rocks are steeply bedded. It is very unlikely that one of those figures in the picture below is likely to be me.

As we walked along, on our left away from the sea, there were some meadows which were covered in Dog Daisies but, looking a little closer, one could see that there were a variety of wild flowers growing in among the daisies. Lovely!

A little further along we had our first sighting of Worms Head which is accessible only at low tide and for a limited time so if you get it wrong you’ll be spending the night there.

There were a lot of wild flowers around, which attracted butterflies, and I managed to sneak up on this Painted Lady without frightening it away.

When we reached the coastguard lookout station overlooking Worms Head there was a path which wound down to beach level so, of course, we had to follow it. We did end up on the shore and had a different view of Worms Head. I suppose I should call it the shore rather than the beach as it is all rock here – not a sign of sand.

We huffed and puffed our way back up the path and thence back to our car. We arrived back at our flat in the late afternoon and, being so near the beach, we decided to go and have a look at the sea.

As you can see we had to fight our way through the holidaymakers packed onto the beach but we did manage to make our way down the beach towards the sea. On the way we passed a number of bands of shells which included Oyster shells and I thought that they looked rather attractive so I picked some up. We finally arrived at the waters edge and I found myself carrying about 12 Oyster shells. Those shells are now at home and all I need is to think of something to do with them. The following photograph is a sample.

Just to prove that we finally reached the sea.

That tower is the Meridian Tower and we had dinner there in the evening in the Grape and Olive restaurant on the top, 29th, floor. This is supposed to be the highest building in wales.

The following morning dawned fine and sunny – well it would wouldn’t it because today is the day we go home. However we may be going home but we are planning a few visits on the way and our first stop was Neath a short 15 minute drive from Swansea.

Here we are by the Tennant Canal in Neath. But, wait, what is that peeking over the trees at us? It’s Neath Abbey of course; yet another ruined abbey, one of many that litter this country, under the stewardship of CADW.

Founded in 1130 this is not a small place and along with Llanthony Priory and Tintern Abbey, the ruins of Neath Abbey are the most important and impressive monastic remains in south-east Wales.

There was some restoration in progress when we were there and a large part of the abbey was covered in scaffolding so I didn’t photograph any of that.

Just as we were about to leave Amanda spotted a swarm of bees on one of the walls.

Having had a good look around we set off for our next destination which, again, was only a short drive away.

This is Aberdulais Falls owned by the National Trust and, although the falls are very picturesque, it is more that just a waterfall.

This narrow gorge at the mouth of the Dulais River outside Neath has been at the heart of the Welsh industrial story, thanks to its bountiful supplies of coal, timber and, of course, water.

It all started with copper-smelting which gave way to ironworking, the milling of textiles and grain and, most significant of all, the manufacture of 19th century tinplate. It is a truly picturesque scene now and it is difficult to imagine the heat, dust, noise and dirt that must have dominated the scene back then.

There is a very large waterwheel which can often be seen running but they had had to stop it before we got there, naturally, because a blackbird had decided to set up its nest in the wheel.

The waterwheel can be seen in context with the remains of some of the old furnaces and the smoke stack.

This is the highest (up river) of the falls and was quite spectacular even though it hasn’t been particularly wet lately and just below it are the next waterfalls.

There is a tea room and toilets here which is rather handy so we made use of both and left for our next destination which, you may have guessed, was just a short drive away. This was the village of Melincourt and we parked in the sign-posted car park (free) and followed the sign-posted path for about 15 minutes. This is what we came to see.

The path up follows the stream valley and makes a pleasant walk to the falls but, having seen the falls, it was time to walk back to the car and proceed to our final destination. This time it was more than a short drive so lets get on with it.

After driving along a narrow lane, one cars width, for what seemed like forever we finally spotted the National Trust car park. Although this is owned by the National Trust entry is not controlled and one can come and go as one pleases. We parked and started off down the path which turned out to be nowhere as near straight-forward as the previous destination.

The path was steep and one eventually arrives a a point where it seems to level off and gives one hope that this must be near the bottom – but no. We had to climb a bit and then descend again and the route included these steps and a bridge.

That’s Amanda down there on the bridge – wait for me!

We did get there in the end.

This is Henrhyd Waterfall and that tiny figure on the ledge behind the water is Amanda.

This was our last call of the day so it was time to go home but first we have to go back UP that path. It wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be and we arrived at the car without having to crawl the last few yards.

We were still south of Brecon so we still had an hour and fifteen minutes to drive home. We got there. Until next time.

Butterflies and Flowers

Butterflies and Flowers

Butterflies? Flowers? February? It’s not as silly as it sounds. It all started this morning with a bright sun in a cloudless sky – it was going to be a beautiful day so we just had to go somewhere. That somewhere turned out to be Croft Castle.

We wanted to try and find some snowdrops which were supposed to be found in Pokehouse Wood. Don’t ask me where that name comes from because I don’t know and I’m not about to start guessing but the wood is on the western edge of the Croft Castle Estate. If one parks at Croft Castle then it’s going to be a five and a half mile return walk to Pokehouse Wood which we didn’t really want to do so we, naturally, cheated. On the way to Croft Castle we pass through the small village of Amestrey which, surprisingly, is on the western edge of the Croft Castle Estate so we didn’t pass through, we stopped and parked.

We used a public footpath to reach the edge of Croft Castle Estate where we found a sign, by some steep steeps, which told us that we had arrived at Pokehouse Wood. Up the steps we went and eventually arrived at a wide path where we turned right. Walking along the path, which we noticed was going downhill very slowly, we kept a lookout for Snowdrops. Not a sign. Not a tiny speck of white to be seen anywhere. But then we found these. Not a lot admittedly but it is a start.

As the path was going downhill we eventually arrived at river level, you can see the river below us in the image above, onto another path where we turned right.

Then things started to get interesting.

So, finally, we did find a few. We also noticed that the Snowdrop flowers were beginning to die back so we were lucky that we hadn’t left it another week as we may then have been disappointed.

We also spotted this solitary Primrose.

The path we were on seemed to be heading back towards our starting point so we decided to risk it and continued on this path. It wasn’t long before we arrived at the bottom of the steps we had climed previously so we needn’t have climbed them in the first place. Bummer!

On our way back along the public footpath we stopped to have a look at this tree.

Now that is a tree that you couldn’t easily miss. That tiny person at the bottom is Amanda trying to identify it. She eventually decided that it was a Wellingtonia. Wellingtonias are native to California in America and that is where they grow to their maximum height. They do also grow in other parts of America but not to such a height. However they do also like it here in Britain; growing not to such a height as they grow in California but higher than they grow in other parts of America.

We drove round to the car park in Croft Castle then walked to the restaurant where we had some much appreciated sustenance.

Our next plan was to walk around the upper reaches of Fishpoool Valley so we set off and came across another interesting tree.

This is known as the Candelabra Oak which Amanda estimates can’t be far short of 1000 years old. So you should be able to work out that it is an Oak and I don’t want any dimwits asking “Barry, why is it called the Candelabra Oak” as it should be fairly obvious. We started down the wooded path into Fishpool Valley.

Some way further down we saw, across on the other side, the Grotto which we had heard about but hadn’t seen so we went across to have a look.

It has to be said that we were not awe struck. Apparently some of it is now missing but what and where I don’t know. The second photograph above shows the Grotto on the left with Amanda sitting a little way in front. Walking on we came across our third flower of the day – a wild daffodil.

From the look of the area there should be a lot more of those in bloom in a few more weeks. We’ll have to come back and see. Back to our walk. The path went on – and on – and on.

It may be long but we were enjoying it. At this time of year with no leaves on the trees and a low sun the atmosphere was ethereal.

Our final picture, before we climbed out of Fishpool Valley and went back to our car, is of one of the ponds. The surface of the water was completely still and acted like a mirror showing some amazing reflections.

We also saw some butterflies – a Brimstone, a Comma and a Small Tortoiseshell so it must be Spring. That was the end of our day but we hope to be back for more daffodils – weather permitting.

On the road to ruin.

On the road to ruin.

Travelling around the country, as we do, we expect to see both the usual and the unusual – but not together on the same site. This place is only an hours drive from home.

The earliest building on this site was a Jacobean brick built house. After the civil war it was sold and the new owner erected two towers on the north side of the house and his grandson added the wings which enclose the entrance courtyard. Later a new private chapel was added to the west of this courtyard.

Around 1805 the owners employed John Nash, a well known English architect, to carry out a major reconstruction of the house which included the addition of huge ionic porticoes to the north and south fronts.

In 1837 serious debt forced the sale of the estate to the 11th Baron Ward, later 1st Earl of Dudley, who had inherited a great fortune from the coal and iron industries in the Black Country.

In the 1850s, Baron Ward engaged the architect Samuel Daukes, who had already altered his London house to remodel the house in Italianate style using ashlar stone cladding over the existing red brickwork and this is the result – Witley Court near the village of Great Witley in Worcestershire..

What a very grand house it is with the very impressive fountain behind it.

However you may not have noticed something odd about the house in the first photograph. There is no glass in any of the windows and the sky is visible through some of the windows as seen in the picture below.

In 1920 Witley Court was sold to Sir Herbert Smith who maintained only a skeleton staff to manage the house whilst he and his family were away, and many areas were left unused. A major accidental fire broke out in September 1937 whilst Sir Herbert was at another of his houses and although it did not destroy the whole house the estate was sold as separate lots with the house being bought by scrap dealers who stripped what they could from the house leaving it an empty shell. So we have what appears to be the usual stately home but is, unusually, just a shell. A rather sad ending for such a grand house.

The ruin is currently managed by English Heritage.

The picture below is the main reception hall with the main staircase through the arch in the far wall.

The picture below is in the main stairwell and the angled plaster follows the line of the original staircase.

There are numerous decorative carvings around the building of which this doorway is an example.

This picture shows the main entrance to what was the Conservatory and the picture below it is the Conservatory interior.

The church is still attached to the main house but is not maintained by English Heritage as it is now the parish church.

But what a parish church. It was built in the mid 18th century and, at that time, the interior was rather plain. Just 10 years later stained glass windows and the oil on canvas paintings on a new curved ceiling were added together with  moulds for the wall and ceiling decorations and the organ.

What an astonishing result! If you are ever in this area don’t miss seeing the church interior.