Our first Welsh tour tells the unique story of south and west Wales, lands with a long and complex history of invasion, accommodation, resistance and conquest, through all of which distinct local forms of power, culture, religion and dialect persisted. Today, we can take you to a land of overpowering natural beauty with a welcoming character, some of the finest historic sites in the British Isles and truly delicious traditional dishes.
The history of this region is one of an ebb and flow of outside control, the coastlands and rivers aiding invasion, the brawny hills providing a refuge and redoubt to keep incomers penned to the fringes. The pattern is repeated over and over again – Romans, Irish, Vikings, Normans, English all settle, push and fortify, build towns, leaving their imprint – while in the uplands local powers persist, fight, accommodate. It leaves a remarkable historical story, and epic tales of loss and triumph marked across the land by Roman forts, early medieval saints with chapels and cults scattered far and wide, enigmatic Dark Age tombstones of half-known rulers, and Arthurian tales laid on the bones of Roman walls. And then, most visible of all, the enmeshing net of castles, among them the most colossal in Britain, to hold down the land for the mighty Marcher lords, a challenge both to Welsh independence and English kings, and the wonderful churches and abbeys in tranquil locations through which they showed their devotion. So conquest came – but not an End, just a new Act: the dramatic story of the resurgent Welsh taking to larger stages with the emergence of the Tudors, giving us the opulent houses of the new nobility, the stark trial of Civil War, and fairytale palaces built with wealth hewn from the mountains themselves.
Day 1: Arrival at our hotel. Welcome drinks and dinner.
Day 2: We begin with the Roman impact in Gwent, the former territory of the Silurian tribe. At Caerwent, we visit their tribal capital under Rome. Roman houses, shops, a temple and government centre nestle amidst the houses of the modern village, surrounded by the substantial remains of the late Roman city wall. At nearby Caerleon we meet the other element of the Roman imprint – her military power. The long tour of duty of the Second Legion is revealed in a fine museum and the fortress’ barracks, amphitheatre and bath-house. We encounter new conquerors at Chepstow Castle, dramatically clinging to the bluff over the river, and have our introduction to some of the Marcher lords who wielded power from its great hall, down to the gunpowder era, when its ancient walls were breached by cannon during the turmoil of the Civil War.
Day 3: In the morning, we cross the border for a visit to the Marcher castle of Goodrich, set in a dramatic rock-cut trough, its russet walls set against shrouding verdant greenery in the beautiful Wye valley. After, we return to the Welsh side of the Wye and one of Britain’s most beautiful monasteries, Tintern Abbey. We then pass on to the magnificence of Raglan castle. In the shadow of its soaring fantasy moated tower, we see the later medieval and Tudor story, as castles became fine country homes.
Day 4: Into the Welsh capital, Cardiff, for a visit to her extraordinary castle and its multi-layered history! The visible remains begin with the latest of a series of Roman forts, extend through a Norman history complete with a daring kidnap-raid, to the late medieval hall – and then a remarkable second life and a lavishly opulent root-and-branch fairytale reshaping for the impossibly wealthy Marquess of Bute. Afterwards, we drive out of the city into the uplands to visit the colossal Caerphilly castle, a vast fortress with a concentric defence of lofty towers looming over great water barriers: the de Clares’ mightiest redoubt.
Day 5: We visit the remarkable museum site at St Fagan’s, studded with transported or recreated buildings from the full sweep of Welsh history, set in the lovely grounds of a fine late Tudor manor house. Afterwards we visit the enigmatic inscribed stones at Margam before travelling on to formidable Kidwelly Castle, scene of the tragedy of Princess Gwellian and a desperate outpost during the revolt of Owain Glyndwr.
Day 6: We begin at Carew Castle, the medieval home of Princess Nest, and marvel at the splendid transformation of the old fortifications into a fine Tudor residence. A short drive takes us on to a castle of an altogether different scale: Pembroke, the backbone of English power in Wales. A sprawling Marcher fortress filled with stories of Earl Strongbow and the de Clares, de Valences, Marshals and the first Tudors, birthplace of Henry VII and battleground of a Civil War siege. We then complete our extraordinary journey at St David’s. At Welsh Christianity’s most prestigious medieval pilgrimage centre, we visit the unique cathedral and the extensive and attractive remains of Bishop de Gower’s remarkable palace.
Day 7: Departures.
Arrival and Departure Information
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