Of Wales general, Romans and Castles.

Next destination was Sawnsea, smallish coastal town told to have some extremely beautiful view which I unfortunately I never got a chance to see. Cloudy, rainy, generally English weather put a halt to any plans of coastal exploration. Fortunately the Bed & Breakfast which I stayed at was, quite literally, right across from the beach and a beautiful view all its own so at the very least I can say I got a taste of that stunning view. Town itself was a bit of a surly place, although to be fair that may have just been the weather, and without that much worth seeing. They have a castle there, as just about any town in Wales does, but it’s little more than large ruins at this point. Strangely beautiful sight in itself really, to someone who’s not used to having ruins just sitting around in parks, but not worth going out of your way to see. Other than that… not much.

Swansea was more of a base than anything however, and it was from Swansea that bus were taken to some smaller towns which weren’t reachable via walking or train. First destination was a small town by the name of Caerleon, home to the remains of some remarkably intact roman ruins which is what my friend and I went there to see. What we got was much, much more. You see, we were lucky enough to have arrived just when the local ‘military extravaganza’ or something of the like was happening. It was great! Small local festival where, sitting on the remains of an ancient roman amphitheater I got to watch enthusiastic people reenact gladiator combat in full armour.

Picture if you will sitting on a small circular ridge, grassy hills where the seats of this ancient amphitheater once was. There are booths and tents set up along to one side and an old wall on the other, covered in moss and vines. People are milling around, smiling, laughing, some simply there for the sights and sounds and others dressed in roman era costumes, acting the part. In one tent a man dressed as an archer explains the various uses for different arrow head types, in another a man and his wife work together to put together some period foods. And it wasn`t simply the people who were part of the fair in costume either, here and there a man or woman bring their own costumes, children run around waving wooden swords in kilts and furs. It was all very ambient. And the feature of the event was the gladiator show, where very enthusiastic if not professional actors beat the hell outta each other for the crowds amusement with roman style weapons and dress. Naturally no one was really hurt aside from the occasional bruise and cut, it was choreographed and improved fighting with fake blood and many `sword under the armpit`last gasps. But who cares when it was so much fun to watch and enjoy.

Eventually all good things must come to an end and I left Caerleon extremely happy. Next target: Caerphilly. Home to one of the largest castles in UK. The town itself was pleasant, larger than Caerleon and very quaint, but let us be honest, I was there for the castle and what a castle it is. I’m going to do the ‘picture this’ scenario again, so bear with me.

You walk down a narrow street, the street heading downward on a bit of a slope. Near the end, it curves suddenly and as you follow the road. To your left there is a gap in the buildings and a small stone wall along the walkway, and there you see it, a small field and park, a pond, and the castle itself, a massive stone structure covered by vines and streaks of wear and tear grudge. The water is blue, the grass green, and the castle walls a dark grey. Soon you realize that pond is actually the massive castles moat, ducks swimming idly along atop the water and the occasional fisherman sitting on the shoreline. And the walls… the walls are massive. It’s all extremely scenic.

There are multiple walls circling the main inner courtyard, huge towers to either side of you as you walk across the drawbridge and through the gateway (After a small fee at the ticket office naturally, but it wasn’t very much at all and without a doubt worth it if you’re like me and dig this stuff.). It is, all in all, a very impressive experience. My understanding is that there were few, if any, real battles over the castle really for the simple reason that no one wanted to try and take it by force, but there are still some signs of conflict. One of the inner towers is jagged and torn, leaning precariously to the side and a giant rip down its side leaving its insides exposed. Nevertheless, real conflict aside, it’s extremely easy to picture armies fighting along the walls, massive siege engines at work and childish war fantasies aplenty. Luckily, I’m not the only one who felt this way obviously as there are a series of medieval siege weapons set up just inside the main wall for awesome reasons. Trebuchets, catapults and ballista, oh my! there’s isn’t really anything ‘in’ the castle to see as there’s no real central keep (No need, the original castle designers thought. No one will get this far. They were right!) and so you’re essentially wandering the deserted ruins which does feature the occasional sign and exhibit, but for the most part is empty, which just makes it all the more a haunting historical experience.

I very much enjoyed my time in Wales, after Caerphilly castle I would return to Swansea for another nights rest and be off northward the next morning, but I Wales is certainly a very pleasant experience which even after the other places I would see on this trip I still look on very fondly. Someday I’ve no doubt I’ll travel there again to explore more thoroughly than simply the south-eastern corner.

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