Sunday, 15 December 2013

A weekend in Wales {Cardiff and Horse riding in the Black Mountains}

Soon after we returned from an amazing long weekend in Bruges a few of us decided to take another group trip. This time the destination was within the United Kingdom - Wales! We used the same travel company as before and departed from London early on a Saturday morning.  The drive from London to the Black Mountains in Wales is not a very long one , which meant that we were able to stop off at different locations along the way.  

Who knew Nepal was in Wales!

Our first stop was an adorable little Welsh village called Hay-on-Wye. It is also commonly referred to as the "town of books" {right up my alley!}. Not surprisingly the streets are lined with bookshops, but my favourite of all the shops was the "Honesty Book Shop". This can be found in some of the Hay Castle outbuilding ruins and is an open air  "shop" where there is no till and no money exchanged. All books cost £0.50 or £1 and there are donation boxes at various points for people to drop in their coins. All proceeds go to the upkeep and maintenance of Hay Castle. I really loved the whole idea of this. 

Honesty Bookshop donation box

After some delicious tea and cakes we made our way up the Black Mountains to the horse riding stables we would be riding with that afternoon.  The Black Mountains aren't really mountains, more like gentle rolling hills. Our guide told us that they were named after the Heather which is found growing on the hills giving them a black appearance at times. Whether or not this is true, I'm not sure, but I liked the explanation in any case.

Black Mountains (image via)
The horse riding was a highlight of the trip, but not for the reasons I expected. I have done a fair bit of riding over the years, and was probably one of the more confident riders on the trip and not at all nervous. While we were sitting on our mounts in the yard while everyone else was tacking up, my horse was so gentle and calm, not a care in the world. Hamish however, had a more temperamental horse {also a LOT bigger than my one} which was whinnying and thrashing its head from side to side - needless to say I don't think he was feeling to happy about that! I shouldn't have enjoyed his discomfort quite so much because as soon as we got under way, his horse was a dream and mine, well mine literally went mental. I spent the better part of two hours fighting for my life {slight exaggeration, but not really}. If we were walking along an edge with a steep drop, my horse would start bucking and trying to kick me off the edge. If there was a tasty bit of grass anywhere along the route, my horse would drop its head so fast I would practically go flying off. It definitely kept me on my toes. The most entertaining part happened right at the end when we were nearing the stables. A local farmer nearby was washing his tractor with a power hose and the noise spooked my horse so badly he reared up and starting going backwards into all the other horses and also back onto a road. Calming him down was no easy feat and I was rather happy when we returned to the stables and said goodbye to our horses. Despite the crazy horse, I still really enjoyed the ride and the scenery was beautiful.

Cardiff Castle

Cheese Festival Cow
We spent the night in Cardiff and experienced a night out on the town. Cardiff is a big university town, so the nightlife is lots of fun and we did a small self-guided pub crawl before calling it a night.  We had a few hours to explore Cardiff on Sunday before heading back to London and managed to fit in most of the major sites, including Cardiff Castle and the Millennium stadium. The Castle was beautiful, lovely green grounds and they were busy setting up for a cheese festival which I wished we could have enjoyed. The Millennium stadium tour was pretty interesting, they use the stadium for all sorts of things, from Rugby matches to Big Truck driving contests. 

Our final stop of the trip was Chepstow Castle. This was probably one of the first old castles I have visited since being in the UK and I loved it. You could definitely imagine how it would have felt to live in such a place all those years ago. Chesptow Castle is situated on the cliffs over looking the River Wye and is the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. The pictures below describe it better than any words of mine could. 


River Wye 

Group Shot in the Castle :) 

Another successful weekend, and this one, right on our doorstep. I am really looking forward to going back to Wales one day in the future and seeing some more of its beautiful scenery. 

Fun Facts about Wales: 
  • Cardiff is one of the flattest cities in Britain and has more hours of sunlight than Milan.
  • Mount Everest was named after a Welshman, Sir George Everest from Gwernvale, Breconshire.
  • Wales is thought to have more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the World. 
  • Less than 25% of the entire population in Wales can actually speak Welsh.
  • The letters K, Q and V do not appear in the Welsh alphabet at all. (Longest Welsh word, or part of it, below!)