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WALES     INFO and DIARY 1   2016   

Map + Plan
Photos           Diary 1 2 3

I been home in Denmark for more than two months, after three months in southern Africa. Despite it is only a few days from May, I am freezing! I did NOT come home to experience 4C and snow! It is time to go for another drive to somewhere warmer. I've never been in England, and apparently, it is not only a bit warmer, it also offers a lot of interesting sights, among them many botanical gardens. I thought I could combine an exploration, search for work and ad a bit to my professional knowledge. Oblivious, I have to visit Wales as well! The plan is to connect a lot of dots, following the southern coast west-on to Snowdonia, then head inland and back to England.

Some facts about the country. (Jump to diary)
Welsh national identity emerged among the Celtic Britons after the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century, and Wales is regarded as one of the modern Celtic nations. Wales was annexed by England and incorporated within the English legal system under the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542.

The population is around 3.100.000. Wales covers 20.768 km², has over 2,700 km of coastline and is largely mountainous.

MONEY: The currency is Pound Sterling (BWP). 1 DKK=0,10 GBP. 1€=0,775 GBP. 

CLIMATE: With four times as much rain as Denmark, I guess packing a raincoat make sense. Temperatures could be higher.

ANIMALS and PLANTS:
Coming from Denmark, Wales does not offer that many "new" animals. Well, some are new to me, but only because they are so rare in Denmark  - and Wales.
Botanizing will offer some more. Beside from many orchids, the highlands are special, and I hope to find many interesting species.

DIARY
(Hoover over the photos, to enlarge them and see the text)

31/5 From England, I enter Wales in the south-eastern corner. Just over the bridge, crossing Wye, which is the border, I find the huge Chepstowe Castle. It was build on since 1000 or before, to guard the huge Wye River. Despite it is a ruin, it is impressive, and look just like a castle ought to. I have a great time exploring it, sucking in the impressions and atmosphere.
The original main door from 1190 is placed in a bit of shelter. Quite special: not only the oldest gate in Europe, also the first using this technique. The old sandstone window frames are intact in some windows, some of the staircases can be used, but some walls have been demolished in ancient time to prevent the use of this mighty fort.
Here in Wales, signs are in English and in what look like a gathering of letters, mainly Ls and Ws. I try the nearby large tourist office to see, if they have a campsite list. I get several kilos of folders and books - neither can be used at all. A short walk through the town does not reveal any interesting at all, except the old, white bridge over Wry.

The landscape around here is quite similar to the English, I just left. Green hills with hedges and sheep, rivers, scattered villages and narrow roads, lined with walls or hedges. It is huge, smooth hills, and none bedrock is exposed. After a short drive, Raglan Castle turns up. This huge castle is also a ruin, and even more impressive. It have been build on later then Chepstowe, and are more detailed and partly better preserved. The mould are even filled with water and lilies, the many halls and passages can be walked, and the view from the top is fantastic. Even the dungeons can be visited.
As the sun still cooperate, I spend quite some time here, and are pretty sure, I got all angels covered. A great castle and really enjoyable.

From here, a steep assent leads from 70 metres up to 550. Almost at the top, the Keepers Pound is found. The entire area is swarming with cheep, which drinks here. The view to the lowlands are fantastic, but too big for my camera. Boulders and bedrock are peaking through the heather, and the wind is strong.
A bit downhill, and Blaenavon, which should be a nice little town, lies. I might be spoiled, and have a hard time finding the special cosy about it. Despite it is only four, most shops are closed. I manages to find a open Inn, and get internet, tea and a chocolate "sandwich".
It is getting too late to see the Roman amphitheatre in Caerphilly, but I hope to find a camp-side on the way. I chose some of the bigger roads, eagerly looking for a sign, but I only find bigger towns. I reach Caerphilly and find the closed amphitheatre before I find camping.
Slightly desperate, I ask several dog-walkers, and they all have some questionable and blurry ideas. It send me out on a hours drive - with just a few more wake ideas along the road. Then I try to hit the southern coast, and drive through the large Cardiff - along with a lot others.
At half pass seven, it finally pay off, but there are no attendants here. But there is no gate either, and I sneak in. After dinner, I work on the photos and impressions of the day. Despite I write way too little for the photos I want to present in the diary, it turns past midnight before I finish.

1/6 The warmest night so fare, and that is not a complaint. A light shower have hit the campsite, and the morning is grey. I ask the owner of the site; how do you find Welsh campsites? She can't tell.
The Roman amphitheatre in Caerphilly is on the other side of Cardiff, and that make it significantly less interesting this morning. It seems like the British authorities want people to be gathered in the bigger cities. Their way to enforce this, it simply to avoid making the roads, leading in from the countryside, big enough. With a few exceptions, there have apparently not been developed any new roads the last couple of centuries.
A bit back is the Dyffryn Gardens, which should be a spectacular botanical garden. It have been neglected for some years, but the National Trust have done a magnificent job, and it still working on the last areas. It was created in the early 19ths, by son number two. His father got extremely wealthy on selling coal to the world, and his son used the empty ships to bring plants from the rest of the world.
Here are many different gardens; The heather banks, fernery, rockery, panel garden, archery lawns, a playing lawn with crocket, a huge arboretum, a vine walk, heart garden, lavender court & fully, the "wild" area with Rhododendrons and alike, Pompeian garden, rose garden, theatre garden, physic garden, Mediterranean garden, herbaceous border, walled garden and of cause a kitchen garden. Further more, a brand new reinstated greenhouse with a vine house, a large cacti house and a rainforest with many orchids.
I think I get to see it all, and have a long talk with a gardener. They have time to both renovating areas, maintaining the remaining and changing the large beds in front of the house monthly, making them colourful all the time.
The house, on the other hand, have some restoration to come. Some rooms are opened, but few are finish rebuild. And the 1920 are not that interesting anyway. I have spend more than three hours here, and have to finish with a pot of tea and a local made Tiffin cake. 

North of here, I find the Caerphilly Castle. It is from around 1250, and huge! It was partly restored in under the depression in the 1920, and some of the rooms are partly brought back to their original state. Besides from having actually being attacked, it have been tried destroyed several times, and one tower is leaning drastically.
Despite the lack of sun, it is a warm day, and I enjoy walking around these massive buildings. While some areas are nearly completed, others are rugged ruins. The mould around it is a popular place for different gees and swans. Here are only a few people, mainly locals with small children.
I find some dinner for later, on the way back to the car, and can't really decide: Go back to the former camp, or head on and hope for the best?
I end up heading for Henrhyd Falls (Sgwd Henrhyd). The tour is through plenty of steep forests and green fields. Many of the steep, tree-covered hills have quite some houses scattered over them. Only the top of the roof is visible, and it reminds me a bit of Bavaria.
The last bit of the stretch is on real narrow trails, with grass in-between the wheel-tracks. Several creeks and rivers are passed on ancient stone bridges, the few houses equal ancient, and I enjoy the drive. The last fall I saw was the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and I don't expect to be overwhelmed.
The walk leads down through a narrow and real deep slate gorge, and it is filled with mosses and ferns, and look awesome. It is a special feeling, looking down into the crown of an old oak tree. Then I see a small creek, and it does have a few falls, although they are below one meter. Could that be all?
The trail pass a larger creek, and continues up the other side of a larger gorge by a staircase. Then the 30 meter falls reveals itself. It is fare from massive, but it sure look nice. A fantail of water leads down pass a open cave, and one can easily walk behind the fall. 
The light have gone, but being there is a great experience. I do my best to capture it, and suck-in the calmness of the area.

It is getting late, and I have not seen a single camp-sign all day. This area; Brecon Beacons are famous for its walking trails, and here ought to be plenty of camps. I ask a dog-walker, and he actually not only know a sight, he can explain how I get there.
Well, first I end up at another place, but when I ask for a hot shower, he have to pass. His hotwatertank is mend for 50 campers, and he don't feel like firing up under it, for just one.
I find another camp, just a few kilometres down the road. Here are no office, but I just find me a spot, and start working.
While trying to read up on tomorrows events, I realises my new guidebook is strictly England - not Wales. Planning is over fast....
Time to make slideshow with the first general Wales photos The South-East corner.

2/6 It is a fantastic sunny day, and I hurry out to Brecon Beacons. It is actually a family of fifteen national parks, but here are also roads, farms and villages. Above 500 meters, it seems to be mainly heather and grass. Sheep, rock-walls and endless views dominate the area - along with a chill and rather persistent wind.
I zigzag up through the area, stopping wherever I see something interesting. The major views are fantastic, but way too big for any camera - or computer screen.
I do some long walks a few times, when the landscape is more abort or wild. Besides from the sheep, I only see black sloughs and hear larks. In one area of waste grassland, a strange hedge of huge beech trees seem so odd, although they are thriving fine.
A old quarry offers a great 380 degree view to more green hills with stone-walls and sheep, along with some forests. I try to sneak into some sheep, but that is real hard. It is easier when I drive. The roads are cut into small bits by cattle grits, and the sheep rules here.

I do a breath stop in Llandovery, which turns out to be be Llandeilo. The parking lot at the foot of an old castle is empty, and I can't see the greedy meter machine. The search for food end with only candy, but I get a few good pictures of the coloured houses and the castle. Way later in the day, I find out it was actually the town and castle I had on my list. I have several things around here, and their precise location is in the wind. Even the National Trusts map are real imprecise. The addresses on most is just postal codes, some covering 5-10 square kilometres, and my GPS does not recognise the last 3-4 digits. 

Never the less I drive straight to Dinefwr, which is a huge area with a small 12th century castle and a 1850 or so. The large area is forest, meadows, dear park and a bit of garden. I try to get close to one of the larger grey squirrels, which actually seem easier than the sheep.
The ancient, ivy-overgrown castle is not that interesting, but the 380 degree view to several valleys are astonishing. On one field, around 200 diary cows and feeding. Some noisy kids turn up, and I find the tiny Walk to the castle Teahouse.
Then the new castle, which is a bit too modern. Though, it is impressive how the National Trust restore these places, The rugs are custom made for each room and so is everything else, if not original. There is a fine view over the tiny Victorian garden and a meadow with a herd of deer. I do the rooms, but I have seen quite a few by now, and more interesting things are coming up.

Just a few kilometres away is the large National Botanical Garden of Wales. The area is a pleasant mix of wild and well groomed areas. The first part is around a lake, and is a rather new Forests of the World, with trees from similar climates around the world: Chile, New Zealand, central and south-west China, the Atlantic- and Pacific seaboards of the USA and Tasmania. That will be interesting in 50 years or so...
The Rhododendrons are almost finish, but it must have been a great sight. I find some wild orchids on a huge area. The top soil have been removed to make it poor, and wild plants from the above mentioned area are sown here. I guess the orchids just find their own way here.
Way back in the area, the sheep have huge hills with scattered large trees, and way in the back, a old tower can be seen - and visited.
The next area is a slate garden. Small pieces of slate is laid out in ten centimetres dept, and flowering bushes and bulbs are thriving. And I guess weeding is a easy job here. Many areas seem real new here, and I got this feeling; the garden is expanding each year.
The walled gardens are an real old installation, and have the usual ingredients.  So do the kitchen garden. Behind is a tropical glasshouse with all sort of tropical plants. Despite they have a mist system, the orchids are not thriving, but the rest seems all right, and it is a pleasant climate. The glass house is build up against the old brick-wall, and that look great. Outside the house is banana plants, which seem to cope well.
The Japanese garden have past its peak, and is partly closed down. I see some of the beds with flowering plants, and end up in a pharmacy from the 1900 or so. An eager hobbyist tells me a lot about the ancient drugs from herbs to the '50thes. Next door, I can mix my own tea from a range of fresh herbs.
Then there are the stone gardens and a greenhouse with endangered plants - which is closed. Nothing real exciting here, and all are keeps way too dry, and more dead than alive. Next to it is four raised beds with different Welsh habitats. Well made and real thriving. Next to it is a new rood-zone facility, but I can't figure how they think it will work.
Up on a hill, what look like a real low glasshouse turns out to be huge. In a matter of fact, it is the world's largest single spanglasshouse. The plants are mainly from the dryer areas of the world, sorted by origin. Here are California, Western Australia, Canary Islands, Mediterranean Basin, Chile and South Africa. It is new, and I guess they will work a bit on it in the coming years. So fare, it is great, but it can be improved. Fun thought to see that many annuals in a greenhouse, and the colours are great.
I could spend longer time here, but I think this tour is getting a bit long, and I am actually wanted at home - for work. Further more, this absolutely perfect summer day should be used fully!

While I drive on to the next garden (yes, it is either castles OR gardens), I accidentally pass a castle ruin on a small mount. It look nice, but it is not enough to keep my away from Aberglasney Gardens. A small and rather empty mason, mainly with present day's art and a Victorian garden in front. The strange fortress-like walls seems a bit too dominating, and hides the lake from the house.
Several other gardens are found on the premises, and I do a rather fast walk through. The sunken garden is with ponds, another with herbs, one with vegetables, one with fruit trees, a walled one and one with flowering plants. And of cause the romantic one with a fern gorge. I have a talk with the chef gardener. They are only three, but have a lot of volunteers, and it look well maintained.

I am a bit stressed, and don't spend as much time here, as this garden deserved. I have to find a camp, and I would like it to have a laundry. I need internet to see, if I can get away with touring a bit longer and I need food for diner. Back in
Llandelio, I have better luck finding food this time, and I try the local Inn for internet - and a pot of tea and a sample of local cakes.
At six, I find a camp, although without laundry. It is still a fantastic summer day, and after dinner, I just have to go for a walk. The river is four metres away, and small tracks leads into the forest and out on the fields.
But; I have diary and pictures to work on. Special slideshows with all four sights of the day.

From the southern Wales, I am now heading out to the western part in diary 2

                    

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