Wales - A Place of Hidden Treasures

Tintern Abbey

When my cousin told me there was a lot to see in Wales, I had no idea she meant 681 castles (more than any other country), 85 Abbeys, roman ruins, countless gardens, many museums and centers, gorgeous beaches, green fields, mountains and more. On arrival, my challenge was to see as much as possible in the short time that I had available. A visit to the Tourist Office made it very clear that though Wales looks very small on the map, lots of time is required to go from place to place.

My husband and I considered and rejected a car rental on the basis of driving on the opposite side of the road, round-a-bouts, roads so narrow they look like large driveways, and no one to ask questions of if one needed help on the road as there is no one there. Instead, at the suggestion of the Tourist Office, we opted for 'See Wales'- with Paul Harris and were delighted.

Caerleon Baths

'See Wales' is about two years old. It offers guided day tours daily from Cardiff that are available all year round and are designed for all ages and abilities. A maximum of 16 people are taken aboard a luxury mini coach to explore the land of Celtic history and spectacular scenery. In the weekend we spent touring, Tour 2, 'Romans, Rivers and Ruins' (offered Wednesday and Saturday) and Tour 3, 'Golden Gower' (offered Thursday and Sunday) we were impressed with the results of what had to be very careful planning. Each trip offered contrasts in historical periods and landscapes. Travel was never rushed, with plenty of time to explore each of the sights and wander around the area. These tours offered something unique - various kinds of Welsh music played when the driving demands prevented the driver/guide from talking.

Raglan Castle

Clearly, a day tour works for many tourists with limited time and unlimited curiosity. On our first day, our bus was very international with people from Australia, Argentina, Bosnia, India and the US. Many of the same people joined us the second day.

Beach at Caswell Bay

As we traveled, I was continually surprised by dramatic and contrasting sights, fascinating historical facts and the dual language signs everywhere (Welsh and English).

Awaiting the bridal party picture taking at the Abbey

What did we see in two days? On the first day we headed North and East. First stop was Caerleon (Fort of the Legion) dating to AD43 located on the Usk River. We explored a stadium, barracks, a bath and recreation area, the best preserved outside the town of Bath, and the accompanying museum seeing war garb and instruments. The lovely, peaceful Wye Valley was our lunch stop, in view of Tintern Abbey rising into the sky. The Cistercian Monks who began Tintern Abbey in 1131 lead a difficult life with no speaking. Gardening kept it self- sufficient. Our final stop for the day was Raglan Castle dating to 1435, more a statement of wealth and social aspiration, than an intimidating military presence.

The Wye Valley

Day two, we headed South and West to the Golden Gower Peninsula, the first area officially declared an area of outstanding beauty in Wales. We began in Mumbles, a seaside town near Swansea. Next, the Dylan Thomas Centre proved to be fascinating with clips of Dylan Thomas, his friend, Richard Burton and other popular writers and performers during his day. There was a cafe with old and new books. We then explored three of the 24 clean, sandy beaches with a walk along the cliff between Langland and Caswell Bays. The bus met us to go on to breath -taking Rhosili beach where we had lunch in a hotel pub. We stopped at Weobley Castle, a fortified manor house with atmosphere, situated at the edge of a bleak expanse of saltings and marshland. And our final stop was an amazing sight a Neolithic burial ground where remains of 30 individuals had been found.

Neolithic Burial Grounds at Gower Peninsula

What did we learn in two days? Three thousand years ago Britain was populated by 33 Celtic kingdoms, which were united by common religion, language and culture. Romans invaded and remained for 175 years followed by the Normans in 1066, The original population was pushed to the fringes of the country. With the Normans came Catholicism, fortresses, castles and churches. The Industrial Revolution began in Wales when coal powered the world and more coal was shipped from Cardiff than anywhere in the world. Catherine Zeta-Jones is beloved by her country-folk and her grandfather was Captain of a ship called, 'Zeta'.

Paul Harris at Raglan Castle

Paul Harris's love of his country and culture was infectious. Through him, we also developed a deep appreciation for Wales. We departed enriched and surprised by what we had seen and learned.

Rhosili Beach

Since we were unable to do, 'Heart of the Valleys' (Tuesday and Friday), our friends kindly took us to Caerphilly Castle, a part of this tour. It is powerful, dramatic and the largest in Wales. The underground tour of a coal -mine and Brecon Beacons National Park await a return visit.

Caerphilly Castle

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