The early part of the winter of 2011/2012 has been generally mild but temperatures did drop to around -15 degrees for a few days here in Cambridgeshire. Spring was a little early this year with bulbs and spring flowers in full bloom by mid-march.
Around the middle of March we took a three day trip from Cambridgeshire to Chepstow and back to visit both my daughters. Stopping at Nuneaton, Worcester, Malvern, Ledbury and Monmouth then visiting the nearby Roman Fortress at Caerleon and returning via Reading and Henley-on-Thames.
Travelling along the A14 and M6, we made an overnight stay at Nuneaton to visit my youngest daughter and her partner. Staying just outside Nuneaton at Griff House, currently a Premier Inn and Beefeater Restaurant. Griff House was once the residence of the great female novelist 'George Eliot' (Mary Ann Evans), who lived there for over 20 years, from early childhood onwards. It is said that she based Dorlcote Mill, from the 'The Mill on the Floss', on this idyllic country property. The accommodation was excellent, although a little on the small side. The adjoining pub and restaurant was also very pleasant and homely, with outside gardens and a seating area.
We made our second stop at the cathedral City of Worcester, in order for my wife to peruse the city's large shopping centre for some shoes and a matching handbag. Parking was easy to find within the town centre, with plenty of spaces available. Parts of the town are really quite attractive, containing many half-timbered buildings and old coaching inns, particularly along Friar Street. The most interesting building we came across was the Guildhall, situated along the main high street, with ornate railings at the front and a highly decorative Georgian Facade, containing statues of Charles I and II and Queen Ann.
Although Susanne was unable to find any suitable shoes, a trip the city's magnificent Cathedral, sited high above the River Severn, was well worth the visit. The interior is stunningly beautiful and highly ornate.
The main chapel and nave contain a number of interesting tombs, capped with finely carved effigies of their interned occupants, the most impressive of which is the tomb of King John, carved in Purbeck marble. I found the cloisters particularly interesting, which surround a small traditional cloister garden.
Other sites in the town we visited included the Commandery Museum located alongside the canal, which had a small garden to the rear with many spring shrubs and plants in flower. Also located near the canal we found the Worcester Porcelain museum containing an extensive collection of the city's world famous ware. Although we did not have time to take a tour of the museum, there were many fine items of porcelain for sale in the foyer of the museum and we also saw many good examples for sale in the local antique shops around the town.
As we were travelling down towards Monmouthshire we decided to drive across country rather than run down the busy M5 motorway. Leaving Worcester on the A449 we stopped for a short break at Great Malvern, parking just under the lee of the Malvern Hills. We took a short walk around the lovely Priory Park, near to the Malvern Museum and Abbey. This is a very pleasant part of the town with many quaint old shops. The town is of course famous for its spring waters and during the Victorian era it became a popular place to visit. There are many grand hotels around the park, built to service travellers seeking to take advantage of the water's healing virtues. The waters are still taken today, although in bottled form, and today's travellers come to walk the Malvern Hills to drink-in the spectacular views they offer.
Leaving Malvern again on the A449, we came across the charming old town of Ledbury and decided to stop along the High Street for a cuppa in one of its many quaint little tea shops. Following much need refreshments, I snapped a few pictures of the old oak-framed Market House (circa 1653) and the many other interesting old buildings around the town. The town library (circa 1895), topped with its stone and faux timbered square clock tower, strikes a unique and unusual contrast with the town's other timber framed buildings and old shop fronts.
Continuing along the A449 and joining with the A40 we eventually reached Monmouth, with the intention of taking the picturesque, winding, Wye Valley road to Chepstow. However, having missed the turning at the lights we ended up in Monmouth, alongside the river. The fortified bridge across the River Monnow (the last one still standing in Britain) was such an impressive sight, we parked in the conveniently placed nearby car park to take a few pictures before finding our way back to the Wye Valley road.
The Wye Valley road never ceases to impress, with its tall trees that arch over the road, offering tantalising glimpses of the river alongside. After about 10 miles the ruins of Tintern Abbey loom into view on the left, in their peaceful river setting. Most of the Abbey can be seen from the roadside, so we stopped off to take a few pictures.
Old Wye Road Bridge Chepstow © Travel About Britain
We stayed for two nights in the small town of Chepstow, near to its Norman castle, overlooking the River Wye. The tidal rise and fall of the river is around 46 ft (14 m), one of the highest in England. The river is fascinating to observe, with surging muddy waters at high tide, dwindling down to a steep sided muddy creek at low tide, marooning the small boats moored in its wake.
Chepstow Castle, although partly in ruins, is still an impressive site on the banks of the river, best viewed from the old iron Wye road bridge that was built strong to withstand the constant running tides. The town walls are also worth seeing, including the old Port Wall and remaining gate at the top of the town. At the bottom of the town is the old Norman St Mary's Priory Church of built at the same time as the castle. The town also has many interesting old pubs and inns worth visiting.
The highlight of the trip for me was a visit to the part excavated ruins of the Roman Fortress at Caerleon. For anyone interested in Roman archaeology this is an absolute must see. The town is built over the remains of the Roman fortress of ISCA, and much of the fortress walls and foundations of the barracks are still visible. In the centre of the town is part of an excavated Roman Baths (under cover), once used by the Legionaries stationed at the fortress. Nearby there is an excellent museum containing many Roman artifacts discovered in the town. The most interesting exhibits for me were examples of surviving Roman armour and weapons, including a Roman soldier's helmet in a surprising good state of preservation. Just outside the walls to the south stands an excavated amphitheatre, once used as entertainment and training for the troops. If you are visiting Caerleon I would certainly recommend buying a copy of the Guide Book from the museum, as it explains the fortress in great detail and provides a map of the site. As the fortress covers some 50 acres and garrisoned over 6000 men, it is a large area to explore.
After an interesting weekend spent in and around Chepstow we headed back to Cambridgeshire across the old Severn Bridge and along the M4. Around lunchtime we nipped into Reading for a bite to eat. Parking near the station we walked along the Kennet River to visit the Riverside Museum at Blake's Lock, where there is a fist class restaurant located in an adjacent converted warehouse. On the way we passed through Forbury Gardens and took a quick look at the Abbey Ruins.
Rather than return to the M4, we followed the Thames north to Henley-on-Thames for a quick stroll along the riverside to see the boats and a look around the old town. Unfortunately we did not spot any rowing sculls on the river, except for a few pleasure craft and a guy stand-up paddling his surf-board down towards the bridge.
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