Day 4. Newport and the Transporter Bridge

Amphitheatre Caerleon

The B & B was called The Great House. It was 16th century grade II listed, all stone and beams and very fine china was displayed on any spare horizontal surface. The garden fell towards the river by tiered lawns and gave a picturesque view along the water. On a wall there was a framed testimonial from, I think, the Royal College of Surgeons, describing the distinguished career of the genteel owner’s brother and the landlady told me her husband had been in the same profession.

When I woke I started looking for the next night’s lodging to find all the obvious places inexplicably full again so, after breakfast, asked if I could stay to use the WiFi but it was made clear that the cleaner was coming at 9.30am so the room would not be available from then. I was still packing when the very friendly cleaner arrived and I told her of the problems I was having and she said that Ed Sheeran was playing for three nights at Cardiff to full houses and that is why everywhere was taken.

My daughter, Juliet, had said that if I had trouble finding somewhere, to get in touch with her, which, confident in her skills as a Researcher I did with some relief, and headed off into Caerleon.

There were three permanent bases of the legions in Roman Britain. Caerleon was the home of the Second Augustan Legion which was established by Frontinus in about 74 AD and lasted until about the end of the third century.

The first of the Roman Ruins I came across was an impressive, well-preserved amphitheatre. While the seats had gone it was still being used for events, but as I heard a Guide telling an attentive group of children, “no lions now”. They stared in awe down into the amphitheatre while the Guide gave a detailed description of what had happened there. It had been excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1926 – 7 and is still the only completely excavated example in Britain. It was constructed in about AD 80, around the same time as the Cilesseum in Rome.

The very extensive remains of the fortress were further along; they were just the foundations and three large sewers along the sides which would have been surmounted by wooden seats. There was a cheerful depiction of them in use.

A very public convenience

Returned to Newport to pick up route 4 again. To travel south through the town you ride along wide public promenades by the river. When the town centre was regenerated, the new buildings had been set well back from the riverbank and there were lots of seats, art installations and it had the feel of a holiday resort.  There were children, mothers with push chairs and office workers enjoying the sun. It was the bridges that took my eye. The main bridge over the River Usk, though replaced many times over the centuries, is guarded by what is now the shell of the 14th century castle and, a little downstream, a striking foot bridge, then the delicate curves of the 2004 tied arch bridge with road and cycle way.

The New Bridge Newport

I crossed over the high road bridge with wide views up and down the river where you could just about make out the sites of the old docks. The most famous of all the bridges in Newport is the Transporter Bridge, one of the two still working in Great Britain; the other is at Middlesbrough which I had gone over as a school child. It was constructed in 1906 to overcome the problem of getting tall ships up the river to the docks in the town and it consists of high pylons each side of the river connected by girders from which hangs a gondola. With similarities to a ferry-boat, it consists of a wide section of roadway and cover for pedestrians. When I spotted it the previous evening I asked a bystander whether it still works; he thought carefully before replying: “sometimes it does, sometimes it don’t”. I saw what he meant.

There was a small visitors’ centre filled with fearsome-looking, but very friendly, German motor cyclists who had made a special journey to visit it and their powerful bikes were parked outside. Were they then off to Middlesbrough?  Like Tower Bridge in London, which had a similar purpose, you could buy a ticket to climb up an open, scary staircase to walk over the top.  At quiet times the Transporter Bridge picked up vehicles or pedestrians from whichever side they arrived first.

I then tried to pick up route 4 without immediate success but following the principle “if lost just go in the right direction” found myself cycling scarily down the A48 dual carriageway to the peeping astonishment of some drivers before picking up route 4 and heading along quiet lanes towards Caerphilly where Juliet now had found me accommodation. I was in the hills proper and had a chance to try out my wide range of gears (24) but, on this type of road, what often matters is how long you can push the bottom granny gear until you are forced to get off, i.e. how much burn your calf muscles can take.  When racing, my personal vow is never to get off. I nearly had to do so for the first time in Soria in Spain last year but was saved by the width of the road which enabled me to take long tacks. I could not do that now so, after various degrees of burn, I decided that my legs still had a lot of cycling to do that day and I reluctantly got off.

Eventually, I crested the last rise and saw Caerphilly way down below and the reward of a long freewheel for the climbing. There was a good welcome when I found the B & B,  lots of advice about what to do and where took go and went to a recommended bar/restaurant which had a spectacular view over the Castle. After looking at the view, I found their kitchen was temporarily closed so went back to a Wetherspoons I had passed on the way down.



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