After nearly 3 weeks of living in London, I had the chance to venture outside the country to another part of the UK: Wales! The trip was brief, departing at 7am Saturday morning and returning around 7pm Sunday night. Times was limited, but Wales is quite close to England so it only took a three hour bus ride (perfect napping time) to get there.
We began our journey with a visit to a 2,000 year old Roman civilization in a town called Caerleon. Ruins of their housing and an amphitheatre are all that remain, but considering its age, I think it’s held up well. My favorite section was the amphitheatre, because what once were rows of seating for onlookers currently hold plumes of beautiful Welsh grass. Since it’s so rainy in Wales, even more so than England, the grass is healthy and a brilliant green. Here is a picture of another General Course student, Amy, and I standing in the center of what was once a place of entertainment for the Roman town.
Our next stop for the day was a visit to Caerphilly Castle. This castle is essentially what one pictures when one envisions the homes of medieval kings. Surrounding the castle was a moat and there was even a double door at the entrance to trap enemies. Once trapped, the castle’s inhabitants would drop items onto them until they perished; primarily some form of hot oil that would catch between pieces of armor, causing much pain to the intruders. Despite the dramatic entrance, the castle was real fun to explore, though it seemed the rooms never ended!
Lastly, we drove to St. Fagan’s Museum of Welsh life. The place was unique as it was an outdoor museum! This means that it held various houses and other structures from across Welsh history outdoors. My favorite was St. Fagan’s castle, which not only had a stunning garden, but also allowed visitors to explore its interior.
The rooms were set up in a traditional fashion, helping us to envision their inhabitants’ regular lives. They even had detailed schedules for each member of the household. Did you know that servants ironed the newspapers before breakfast everyday? Wouldn’t want to try that with an iPad!
For our second and last day in Wales, we rose bright and early to take a trip to the Big Pit Mining Museum. Coal mining was a massive industry in Wales and a huge source of income for its inhabitants. We actually descended 300 feet underground to explore one of these mines while a guide (who was a former miner himself) showed us around. We had to leave behind watches, phones, and cameras though because anything with a small battery could cause a spark and lead to an explosion – scary! It was a unique perspective to venture into the mines themselves. In their prime, children as young as 6 would work within them! These children had the important job of making sure doors were shut between visitors to ensure that methane gas did not build up and cause an explosion. Their working day would last 12 hours and the children would spend it in complete darkness. We turned all our lights out to imagine what their time was like, and it is the purest darkness possible. Eyes don’t adjust regardless of how long you’ve been there. Despite the often horrific conditions, miners had a true sense of community and this was evident while visiting the museum.
Last was my ultimate favorite stop at a monastery called ‘Tintern Abbey.’ Though originally built in 1131, renovations occurred sometime in the early 13th century. It is a stunningly crafted building, and the Welsh grass complimented every bit of it. Apparently the monastery, and the nearby Wye Valley, served as inspiration to poet William Wordsworth and painter J.M.W. Turner. After visiting, it’s no wonder they were influenced by the beauty of the area!