Day 12. Part 2 – Evening in Haverfordwest

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The Mariners Hotel was at the top of the town, near to what was becoming the inevitable castle, and was another rather old-fashioned hotel which still retained  the cheaper single rooms, and everything except the restaurant seemed to be dealt with by the very friendly lady receptionist.

I decided to walk around the town and gain some sense of the its atmosphere and prosperity. Looked into the hotel restaurant which seemed attractive, clearly refurbished, and with a high quality menu. Walking back down the High Street was disappointing. The mainly local shops did not appear to be thriving and the road was carrying through traffic. I stood at the bottom looking around when someone carrying a shopping bag came along so I asked her where Boots was as this, I have discovered, is the best way of finding the retail centre. She said that it had moved to the edge of town with other, larger stores. I mentioned that the town centre seemed run down, she agreed and said it was sad and there were more and more empty shops and charity shops. On inquiring as to somewhere to eat she said that there was a newer area by the river, although there were not proper restaurants. She then used the phrase I had now heard several times on my journey, particularly later in evenings: “there’s always Wetherspoons”.

I walked down to the bridge with, to the right, the Western Cleddau flowing into the town and, to the left, the old wharves area. Further along the river was illuminated by lights from Greggs and the type of outlets you see in a service area on the motorway.

I went back up towards the castle meeting several others going in the same direction. It is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the countryside . Checking the history, interestingly there was a Flemish connection. According to local records it was built by Tancred the Fleming; the original medieval town and castle would have been Flemish, not Norman, and remained in the Tancred family until 1210 so that is perhaps where the Flemish traditions at St Florence came from.

H castle

There was not a lot of the castle left but inside there was a fete with a band playing and various stalls and I was told it was part of the town’s festival weekend. There was an exciting atmosphere, everyone seemed intent on enjoying themselves, as indeed I found they were in Wetherspoons which, like Llanelli had the feel of a social club with groups settled in for a night’s cheerful conversation.

fete

Day 2. Into Wales – Chepstow and its Castle

Chepstow Castle

Do you get that moment, perhaps when going on a walk, get out of the car, stretch, look at the hills you are intending to climb and a feeling of great relaxation spreads over you? It was one of those moments now perched on my bike at the apex of the Severn Bridge, looking way below into the muddy waters of the Severn and ahead at the hills and valleys of South Wales. Gave a shove and started freewheeling towards The Coach and Horses Inn in Chepstow. Had booked it beforehand, it was in the old part of the town, the reviews showed it to be a friendly place to stay and had WiFi. Walking in saw that all the beer pumps had Welsh brewed beer from Brains, was given a cheery welcome from both the barman and customers and was soon sitting down to the meal and, after a long day crossing most of England, this was well-deserved.

However, WiFi hardly worked in my room and it was explained that this was a 16th century coaching inn, had solid stone walls but there was good WiFi in the bar. It had been a long day, the bar was busy, a quick beer, bed and a prompt start in the morning seemed a much better idea.

After a good breakfast, decided to sort out the next night’s accommodation – got a shock, all the normal accommodation was full. It had seemed feasible, when researching beforehand, to choose somewhere to stay as I went along as there was plenty of available accommodation along the South Wales coast and it was out of season. I was intending to decide where to stay the next night based on the most interesting places and distance covered. Now, my position in the corner of the bar started getting more difficult as someone belonging to the pub or Brewery had arrived and an increasingly interesting conversation about the running of the pub was taking place and, embarrassingly, far more commercial information was being discussed than I ought to know so I upped sticks and headed through the historic town centre for the Tourist Office.

Chepstow has just been celebrating 950 years of history, on the banks of the Wye, the boundary between Wales and England. Its river crossing is guarded by the Castle. The original castle was built by the newly-created Earl of Hereford as a base for his advances into the Welsh kingdom of Gwent. His Great Tower still forms the basis of the castle today. The development of the coal and iron industries in the Valleys meant that prosperity moved west and Chepstow’s historic centre not significantly redeveloped.

The person managing the Tourist office proved very helped, a few checks on their accommodation site showed, to her surprise as well, that everywhere was full, but she was determined to find somewhere so suggested I started looking around the Castle while she continued. It is spectacularly perched above the river Wye. When I returned some time later she had not found any available accommodation but had the home and mobile number of a landlady in Caerleon who had left a message on both to say she had accommodation available tonight. Clutching these lifelines, I went to the topmost parts of castle and, after several tries, got through on the mobile number. The vacancy was confirmed, and I was on my way to Caerleon.