Two CADW sites to visit near Chepstow

After fifty years tolls have been removed from the Severn bridges which link England and Wales. As we can cross the river Severn for free we decided  to revisit a couple of our favourite places in Monmouth, Tintern Abbey and Caerleon Roman camp this Easter.  Both  are managed by CADW, the organisation which looks after historical sites in Wales. If you enjoy visiting historical sites it is a good idea to take out an annual membership which allows free entry to all the CADW sites.  For senior citizens like us it is £28.50 a year. Once in Wales both sites can be accessed easily from the M4 and are well signposted.

Carleon Roman Fort

Our first outing was to Caerleon.

A plan of the carleon barracks
Part of the remains of the barracks

Carleon which is just outside Newport was known as Isca by the Romans and is on the banks of the river Usk. Founded in A.D.  75 as the headquarters of the second Augustan legion. it was one of only three permanent legionary sites in Britain and unlike the other two in Chester and York it has not been built on. This means that archaeologists including  the BBC time team have been able to make significant finds.

At one time almost 5,000 Roman soldiers were quartered here. The Roman museum is shut for repairs until the Autumn but Caerleon is still worth visiting. As well as the most complete remains of barracks any where in Europe  we were able to see the amphitheatre where soldiers would have trained and gladiators fought. This is the best preserved Amphitheatre in Britain.

The Amphitheatre at Carleon
Part of the amphitheatre at Caerleon

For me the most impressive part of the site are the Roman baths. They were more like a modern sports centre with an indoor exercise hall and even changing rooms with underfloor heating. They also had hot and cold swimming pools. The remains are covered and have been enhanced with digital technology and impressive lighting.  Children can take part in interactive quizzes.

A holograph of a swimmer in the baths
Digital technology is used to give the impression of a swimmer in the Baths.

To find out more click here Cadw Carleon Roman Remains

The amphitheatre and barracks are free to visit but there is a small charge for the Baths. CADW put on special events throughout the year when we visited staff were blowing up duck balloons for an Easter hook a duck game in the Baths.

The Wye

The river flowing through woodland
The river Wye. England is on the left and Wales on the right.

Our second outing was a trip up the Wye valley to Tintern. The Wye river marks the border between Monmouth and Gloucestershire or to put it another way between England and Wales. The deep wooded valley is a favourite destination for tourists and the river itself is popular for canoes and Kayaks. There is also a long distance footpath for walkers.

The footpath through the woods
Part of the long distance footpath along the Wye.

TIntern Abbey

Our destination was Tintern: the site of a ruined Cistercian abbey. The Cistercians were a monastic order from France. The monks combined prayer with labour on the fields  and the order became very rich thanks to the wool trade. The abbey was built in the gothic style between 1361 and 1550. Like many monasteries in Britain it was dissolved by Henry VIIII  but the fact that so much of the stonework survives is a tribute to the skill of those early builders.

Stone columns inside Tintern Abbey
The interior of the abbey. The figures give some idea of the scale of the building.

The site is now cared for by CADW who organise a programme of activities. When we visited a handler was giving a falconry display.

A falconer with a long white beard holding a kestrel.
A falconer with a kestrel.

Tintern itself is a small village with several gift shops and restaurants.

To find out more. click here Tintern Abbey

There is a small charge for entry. We parked at the nearby Anchor inn and were able to claim the cost of parking against the cost of an ice cream.

The New Room Bristol and John Wesley

Did you know Charles and John Wesley built the very first Methodist chapel here in Bristol?

A lot of people visit Broadmead, the shopping district in the middle of Bristol without realising that the chapel exists.   But you can discover it  opposite the Galleries shopping centre by Marks and Spencers .

The chapel is painted white and decorated with simple candlesticks.
The simple plain Newroom chapel.

The chapel is now a grade 1 listed building.  It  is very simply furnished and was built with no  windows on the ground floor to protect it from mobs.    The upstairs where Charles and John  Wesley often stayed has been turned into an interesting museum with the help of a lottery grant.  According to trip advisor is the 6th favourite visitor attraction in Bristol. Some of the rooms are furnished in the style of the period and others contain displays about the life of the Wesleys and the early history of Methodism.  Activities for children including a wardrobe of 17th century dressing up clothes.  Children are even invited to take selfies  in the rooms.

I recommend the quiet tearoom if you want a peaceful place to chat or relax in the centre of Bristol. They sell home made cakes and light lunches. When I visited recently with our German group we enjoyed a slice of Earl Grey tea loaf with our excellent coffee.

John Wesley

John Wesley was the son of an Anglican clergyman.  He was born in 1703 near Lincoln. As a  five year old boy he was lucky to escape a house fire by being rescued from an upstairs window. He went to Oxford gained an M.A. and was ordained as an Anglican. After working as a curate  he travelled to Savannah in Georgia where he worked for a couple of years before returning to England. In America he experienced slavery at first hand and became a lifelong opponent of the system. Later he rescued two escaped slave boys and brought them to Bristol where he sent them to a school he had founded and helped finance some of the early antislavery literature.

On his return to England another clergyman George Whitefield invited him to come to Bristol. Bristol at that was growing rich on  the profits from the slave trade.  However there was a large divide between rich and poor. Wesley was working  in Broadmead the heart of the sprawling overcrowded old city while the rich people were moving west to suburbs like Clifton and Hotwells.

Wesley was  concerned about  the poverty he saw around him and worked to establish schools and dispensaries for medicines. He distributed food and clothing to the poor.  He also preached in the local prison. His views were unpopular with many of the established clergy who often refused him permission to use their churches. He was able to raise enough funds to build the New Room as a place for ordinary people to worship.

Preaching to the coalminers.

Kingswood to the east of Bristol near where I grew up was in the 18th century  a poor coal mining district.  None of the local vicars would let him preach in their churches so he preached out in the open attracting a large crowd. When I was a girl I could see a green beacon from my bedroom window which marked the spot of one of his early sermons.  Although I am not a Methodist he became one of my local heroes.

He was later joined by his younger brother Charles also an ordained minister and together they rode thousands of miles on horseback preaching in small villages. They preached in cottages, chapels and even fields.

John Wesley was described as “below medium height, well proportioned, strong with a bright eye , a clear complexion and a saintly intellectual face.

A statue of John Wesley on horseback.
This statue of John Wesley with his bible in hand is in the courtyard outside the Newroom.

The Wesley family were gifted musicians. Both brothers wrote hundreds of hymns.

John Wesley seated at a piano. Stained glass window.
John and Charles Wesley were very musical.

John Wesley was also a skilled organiser and administrator and was able to lay the foundations of Methodism. He died aged 87 in 1791.

Visiting the New Room

The chapel and café are free to visit but there is a small charge to see the museum. Entry to the museum includes a free audio guide.  It is open from Monday to Friday from 10.30 to 4.00 p.m. with last entry to the museum at 3.30 p.m. The museum has a lift and there are toilets including a disabled toilet and baby changing facilities on the first floor. The nearest carpark is in the Galleries shopping centre and it is a short walk from the main bus station. The newroom has a very informative website. Click here to visit. If you are unable to visit in person the website even has a 360 degree tour. A service is held in the chapel every Friday afternoon.

This stained glass window shows John Wesley preaching outdoors #newroom
John Wesley preaching in the open. New Stained Glass window.

Walking tour of Georgian Bath

I belong to a walk in the past, history walking group and last Sunday we explored Georgian  Bath.  Bath which is a UNESCO world heritage site still markets itself as a Georgian city.  In the 18th century  the aristocracy flocked here to take the waters, to gamble or to find a suitable spouse.   Jane Austen who lived in the city for a few years vividly described life in regency Bath  in books such as “Northanger Abbey” .

We met in North Parade terrace a fashionable street which overlooks Parade gardens. In the 18th century the idle rich paraded here in all their finery. Now it is a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by. You can hire a deckchair and buy an ice cream.

nsp.com, nsp.com, Visit Bath, Visit Bath
A summer’s day in Parade gardens which overlooks the river Avon. Photo provided by Visit Bath.

We were admiring the houses and one of the owners asked if we would like to look inside. He seemed quite happy to let all twenty five of us plus two dogs climb upstairs to admire the view.

The Architecture

Much of Bath was designed by two architects, a father and son, John Wood the elder and John Wood the younger. They were free masons and they used a lot of freemasonry symbols. It is said that the Royal crescent and the Circus, (a ring of houses) represent the sun and the moon. They were certainly keen to bring the countryside into the city and luckily the green spaces have been preserved. Bath has very strict planning laws and all buildings still have to be made from the honey coloured Bath stone quarried from the nearby hills. The Georgian developers destroyed most of the medieval city in their rush to build Palladian houses where the rich and important could lodge for the season. Number 1 Royal crescent has been furnished and decorated in 18th century style and is now a museum.

Aerial photo showing the layout of the Georgian city.
Aerial view of the circus and crescent supposed to represent the sun and the moon.

Our walk took in Queen’s square with its famous obelisk. This reflects the interest in Egypt in the period.

The Obelisk was put up in the 18th century.
The Obelisk in Queen’s square (my photo)

High society in Georgian Bath

Richard Nash who became known as Beau Nash was the self appointed Master of ceremonies for many years. he kept a list of the 500 most important visitors and controlled invitations to balls and soirees. He  also helped to control the gambling and became very rich on the proceeds before loosing his fortune at the tables.

We also looked in the Pump room where visitors used to take the water . You can now get an expensive afternoon tea there and imagine yourself in a recency novel.

The Assembly Rooms, one of Bath’s finest Georgian buildings, was purpose built in 1771 for a particular 18th century form of entertainment: the assembly; ‘a stated and general meeting of the polite persons of both sexes for the sake of conversation, gallantry, news and play’. Guests would gather in the rooms in the evening for balls, concerts and other social functions, or simply to play cards and socialise. (National trust). it now houses a fashion museum which is well worth a visit. We went inside to admire the magnificent glass chandeliers.

Bath pump room
The Pump room with the abbey in the background (my photo)

Bath’s fortunes declined in the 19th century. Queen Victoria was not as keen on idle pursuits and preferred to holiday on the Isle of Wight or in Scotland and later seaside resorts such as Brighton became more popular.

This post follows on from a previous Bath walk 

It has been added to a link party for blogging grandmothers.

If you want to find out more information about visiting Bath here is a link to the Bath tourist office.

The Mayor’s guides offer daily free walking tours of Bath.  They start at 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. from Abbey Square.

Some of the photos for this post were used with permission from visit Bath.

Visiting Bletchley Park

A local college offers free study weekends for the “young at heart” over fifties.  I am not sure we qualify as young at heart but I liked the sound of one of the activities on offer a functional Mathematics study day and a visit to Bletchley park home of the wartime code breakers.

I very much enjoyed the film “the imitation game” particularly Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Alan Turing and was keen to see the place where it was set. It is over fifty years since I studied mathematics at school so I thought a refresher course would be good and might even  get the grey cells working.

The Discover weekend

We arrived at the college on Saturday and I was surprised to see how many over fifties were prepared to give it a go.  In England the retirement age for women has gone up to 65 and for both men and women it will soon be 66.  Many participants were women in their fifties who were keen to add a qualification to their C.V. There were also a good smattering of people like us who have already retired. I think my husband at 78 was one of the oldest.

One of the morning activities was planning a party for 50 people and bringing it in on budget which was quite good fun and certainly tested our basic maths skills. We had to estimate the amount of flooring and length of fairy lights needed for a marquee. As well as plan the type and quantity of food we would need.

The college provided us with a tasty lunch of cottage pie and fruit crumble .  Then in the afternoon we took a short test. They will send it away to be marked and if we pass we will get our certificates in a few weeks. The day finished with tea or coffee and lemon drizzle cake.

Bletchley Park

The large red brick mansion at Bletchley Park.
The rather grand mansion at Bletchley Park now houses a restaurant where you can enjoy lunch or afternoon tea.

On Sunday we got up early and my husband drove us to the college where a coach was waiting to take us to Bletchley Park. The journey took about two and a half hours and on the way we watched “The imitation game”  so that we could understand some of the background to the work done at Bletchley Park.

Bletchley Park is a beautiful mansion  near Milton Keynes which was bought by M16 the top secret government department   responsible for spying.  We learnt that a network of code breakers had been built up during the Spanish Civil war and when the Second world war was declared they received a message “aunt Flo is ill”. This was instruction to go to Bletchley Park.

Eventually almost seven thousand people worked at Bletchley Park. They were a strange mixture of university educated mathematicians, linguists, typists and amateur radio hams. I was surprised to learn that more women were employed there than men.

A plaque on the wall at Blechley Park
A plaque inside the manor with a fitting Shakespearean quote.

The big prize was cracking the German Enigma code.  The German code was thought to be unbreakable and it changed very day. Alan Turing and his team were able to build a machine to crack this and from about 1942 we were able to read the German messages. They were helped in this by the earlier work of Polish mathematicians.  Staff at Bletchley Park  had to keep this secret and were not able to act on many of the messages they deciphered.  It is thought that their work saved many thousands of lives. A particular success was ensuring that U boats did not attack the D day landing ships.

Churchill, the Prime minister was a big supporter of Bletchley Park and made sure they had sufficient funds to carry out their work. He also made sure they had leisure facilities including a tennis court.

As well as cracking the enigma code teams worked on deciphering Morse code messages and deciphering codes in other languages including Japanese.

I found the exhibitions extremely interesting. The displays included a lot of  fascinating quotations from the ordinary people who had worked there.

As we walked around the grounds we heard sound effects such as a spitfire flying overhead or an old lorry backfiring which added realism.  We were able to enter some of the huts where the decoding took place and see a replica bombe machine which was built to crack the Enigma code. There was also a very interesting exhibition on the part played by homing pigeons as messengers.

Part of the bombe machine used to crack the enigma code.
Replica bombe machine (stock image)

The practicalities

The Bletchley Park site  has a restaurant and two cafes. To add authenticity our drinks were served in wartime tin mugs. There is a playpark but I think younger children would be bored.  It is open everyday except for a few days at Christmas.   You need to allow three or four hours to see everything and real enthusiasts might need longer. Every where is accessible for wheelchair users or pushchairs but some of the paths are gravel. In the summer you can picnic by the lake. Entrance costs from £18.00 and  tickets are valid for a year. You can book a free guided tour with a volunteer guide or pick up a free audio guide. There is also a well stocked souvenir shop.

A wartime office recreated inside Bletchley Park
This office inside the mansion has been lovingly recreated.

Discover courses

If you live in or near South Gloucestershire and are over fifty. You may want to see what other Discover courses are available. You can do one English and one Mathematics course  which are held at the Wise campus in Stoke Gifford. Other coach trips this year include The Tate Gallery, London  and Stratford on Avon (English) and Exeter, food and Wine fayre (Maths). I thoroughly recommend it for a weekend with a difference.

This post has been added to link parties for blogging grandmothers and I would be interested to learn if other colleges offer similar opportunities.

An old Chad Valley teddy bear wearing checked shorts.
Alan Turing’s teddy bear on display

Discovering Marlborough doors

The sign says Deans Chaunterie

A while ago I came across a blog link party featuring posts about doors from all over the world. At first I thought it was a rather nerdish subject but then I became intrigued and decided to see if I could write a suitable post. The trouble was the more I looked the more difficult it became to find suitable doors. Even if the rest of the building had award winning architecture the doors seemed to be standard issue.

Last weekend however my husband and I went on a mystery coach tour. At first I was slightly disappointed to find we were heading east towards London but then we crossed into Wiltshire. The landscape of Wiltshire is very ancient. Our morning coffee stop was in Avebury home to a mysterious stone circle and  we also  drove past Silbury hill  a long barrow thought to date back to 3,700 B.C.

Marlborough

We then had a short sightseeing break in the small town of Marlborough and as I walked round I realised I would have the material for a doors post. Marlborough was mentioned in the Doomsday book of 1089. It is a small town of alleyways half timbered houses  and coaching inns with a church on either end of the high street. It  found fame as the site of a civil war battle of 1642 and then returned to being a  stop on the main road between London and Bristol. A place to change your horses and eat a meal.  Nowadays travellers often stop here on the way to Stonehenge which is only twenty miles away.

Many of the houses obviously date back to Tudor times or earlier but have been adapted to suit the needs of the modern inhabitants. I did not feel I was walking through an English heritage theme park. The houses looked lived in rather than picture postcard perfect.

The doors

A wall decoration with glasses and beard.
My husband spotted this man with his glasses and beard.

These cottages still retain a lot of their original charm but   real people who watch television live here.
I thought this narrow yellow house  looked like an illustration from a story book and if  you are wondering what sort of person might live here…  We spotted this plaque on the corner house.

A blue plaque commemorating William GoldingWilliam Golding wrote “Lord of the flies” a book about anarchic school children. He grew up in Marlborough where his father was a local school master.

20190216_111254-1-1
I thought the name Wren cottage suited this house.

I found the sign Dean’s chauntrie (above) further down this terrace. I had to consult a medieval online dictionary but I discovered a chauntrie was a home for chaunter clerks, priests who were hired to chant prayers for rich people who were too lazy or busy to do so themselves.

An old wooden door with a box Flat 113
This door was hidden beside a High Street shop.

This door was at the side  of one of the High Street shops. The thickness of the wood and the style of the iron work betray its age.

I only spent about half an hour in Marlborough but I very much enjoyed looking at the architecture.

We had a surprise when we found our hotel for the night was the police federation headquarters in Leatherhead but that is another anecdote.

This post has been added to a Thursday doors link party.