Ah, reading week. That glorious time in the semester during which one receives days free from lectures, study abroad students frolic around Europe…etc, etc. If they aren’t heaped with work, that is! While most students, I think, do try and take this week to do some traveling around Europe, I felt as though I really did need the week to catch up on work, especially with Welsh, as I had been very out of it when I was ill and went to lectures in a medicine-induced fog.
I know that sounds very boring of me, to spend my reading week studying, but I did manage to get in a few “mini adventures,” we’ll call them.
On Tuesday I decided to go on a tour of the Wye Valley, once again with the WhereWhenWales tour company (they are fantastic!). I’d been very lucky weather-wise when it comes to tours, but last week I finally got a taste of the real Welsh November weather–it was grey, rainy, misty, foggy, and quite cold and raw out. Now, one might think this would make for a highly unpleasant touring condition, especially when said tour involves walking around outside, but the thing about Wales is that it manages to enchant even in the most awful of weather. Honestly.
Our first stop, in the rain for this one, was to the archaeological site at Caerleon, also known as Usk, where the Roman Second Legion of August was once stationed. We started out visiting the remains of the amphitheater–and boy was I glad I was wearing my Wellies*, as the ground was quite squishy and muddy in places. Anyway–unfortunately there is only so much of the amphitheater left, as much of it was built from wood, so you are forced to use your imagination a bit when trying to envision what it would’ve been like there in the 1st century AD. From afar, it doesn’t look like much, but when you stand in the middle of the arena, it’s not difficult to imagine the stadium seating rising up around you.
I’m sorry these pictures don’t really offer any real perspective–an aerial photographs would’ve been much more appropriate!
Next we headed to the Roman Baths, which have been covered over (thankfully, given the weather that day). The museum has added light and sound affects so that when you stand there looking down into the damaged and now-empty pools, you can quite easily imagine them once being full and in use. It was too dark to get a photo of the frigidarium (cold plunge pools) and other small pools, but here is a (pretty dark) photo of the natatio, the main swimming pool. I’ve also included a picture of a small-scale model of what the bath complex would’ve looked like. One really fun, random thing you can see when visiting the baths are boot prints and canine footprints in the concrete from when they were building the complex–pretty neat!
Following the baths, we headed into the Roman Legionary museum. It is pretty small, but has quite an interesting display of artifacts, ranging from funerary monuments to the hoard of gems, dice, hair pins, and other items found in the bath drains. The gems are especially interesting because it’s one of the largest caches to be found ANYWHERE in the Roman world, and because some of the engravings are astonishingly minute, & would have been made without magnification tools as we have today.
The next stop on the tour was…another castle! This time it was Chepstow Castle, situated right on the English/Welsh border. By this point the rain had become a fine mist, but it was very, very chilly (especially at the top of the river cliffs where the castle was) which made me seriously consider whether anyone in their right mind would actually have wanted to live in a castle prior to the modern conveniences of electricity, heating, and warm water taps (the answer? NO).
Even though I was quite freezing, I thoroughly enjoyed the visit. I don’t seem to get tired of visiting castles at all; for the most part, they just push my imagination into hyperdrive and my thoughts are filled with stories who might have lived here and everything those stones have witnessed.
After that, I was very, very ready for a hot lunch! We headed to our next location for lunch–Tintern Abbey. The Abbey itself is in quite an isolated area; there wasn’t much around, BUT there was a very warm and inviting pub on the ground floor of Tintern’s Anchor Hotel, where I had the most marvelous pumpkin soup and some pretty amazing quiche. I had a lovely time warming up and chatting with an older woman who was on the tour as well, visiting from Idaho. She was a very sweet woman and at the end of our meal she gave me a pin in the shape of a potato to remind me to visit her home state someday! It’s just one of those random little things I’ll remember about being abroad; I can be quite shy, and at home it’s probably unlikely that I would sit down and just start talking with a random person from my tour, but these are the things Study Abroad will do for you.
Here’s a picture of the amazing food!
And now, on to the Abbey itself, of which Wordsworth himself besottedly wrote in some of his poems.
Tintern Abbey is really just staggering. Though it has been reduced to a ruin and shadow of its former self, the ruins are absolutely stunning, made even more so by the misty-fog, which gave it a mystical, mysterious sort of feel. I don’t know if you’re allowed to do this, but it would be and incredible place to have a picnic in the summertime.
It’s a difficult place to capture in words and especially in pictures, because you just can’t capture the perspective and the feeling you get standing inside the ruin and being dwarfed by the columns and faced with the ramming of the window tracery. Never the less, here are a few more photos–
Like I said, impossible to really capture with my humble little camera. But I’d definitely put Tintern Abbey on my “must visit” list for anyone headed for Wales.
The final location of the tour was Monmouth in the Welsh Marches, where yes, Geoffrey of Monmouth was from! Unfortunately my pictures from this location came out very dark and blurry, so please forgive me for not sharing.
Well, I think this post has gotten quite long enough! I’ll write another one this weekend to talk about the rest of Reading Week and what’s been going on in the week since it ended!
*An interesting note about Wellies in the UK: Back home in the US, everyone wears rain boots when it’s raining (obviously), but here, at least among University students, it is apparently considered very uncool to do so (unless it is a full-on, practically-a-monsoon, deluge). My fellow American flatmate and I always wear them when it rains to keep our pants (or trousers, as I must say here) and shoes from getting soaked/damaged, but our British & Welsh flatmates are constantly making fun of us for it!