Not too much imagination needed on this trip as we have been lucky enough to visit the beautiful country of Norway as part of my European Capital City Guinness challenge.  Admittedly we only saw a small part of the country, Oslo, Bergen and Flam, so it was good to go there on an ‘imagication’ and explore some aspects we missed.

A little bit of Norway in Cardiff

We visited to the Norwegian church in Cardiff Bay.  It is restored Lutheran church built in 1868 to accommodate the worshiping and social needs of the large number of Norwegian sailors calling into Cardiff docks at the time. It has had a varied history, even being moved at one stage within the bay area.  It has now been tastefully restored and opened as an arts centre and café. 


Very much enjoyed watching the Norwegian series ‘Occupied’.  Made back in 2015 but hauntingly poignant with what’s happening in Ukraine.  In ‘Occupied’ the Russians occupy Norway in order to help guarantee oil production with is under threat  because of Norway’s green members of parliament.  Well worth a watch.


A lighter read for me this month.  I read the first of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole books called ‘The Bat’. I found it a good read.  I expected for some reason for it to be set in Norway but it was set in Sydney, Australia.  But there were some cultural references to Norwegian life scattered through it.

I suppose I should also read some Roald Dahl was a Cardiff-born novelist, short-story writer, poet, screenwriter, and wartime fighter pilot of Norwegian descent. 


I thought I was going to struggle to find any Norwegian sport to follow with it being summer and them being famous for their winter sports but I was wrong.  The Norwegian women’s football team was in the Euros and in the same group as England but got soundly beaten 8-0 by the English.  There are some decent Norwegian cyclists in the Tour de France too which fared well in the very early stages but seem to tail off somewhat and I never spotted them again.  But then there was someone new to cheer on.  The golfer Viktor Hovland finished the third day of the Open in the lead with Rory McIlroy but both failed to clinch it on the fourth and final day with Viktor finishing joint 4th.

I also thought it would be a good opportunity to research and write about someone I’ve been meaning to for ages, the Cardiff-born boxer Jack Petersen. His paternal-grandfather was Albert Petersen, a ship’s carpenter, originally from Stavanger, Norway. The output of that research is published in the form of a blog post – Jack Petersen – Boxing Clever.


Lunch one day came from Norway via Wally’s Deli here in Cardiff.  Started with the Jarlsburg, a mild cheese originating from about 100km SW of Oslo. We followed it with some brown Norwegian Gjetost, regarded as one of the country’s most iconic foodstuffs – a sweet cheese with a consistency not unlike something from a DIY job. Both good.

I was hoping for more from the Norske Cafe at the Norwegian Church and Arts centre in Cardiff Bay but our choice was pretty limited when we visited.  I had Norwegian tomato sauce with our toastie followed by a Norwegian kit-kat.


I was pleased to find some Norwegian beer available locally at The Bottle Shop. I had can of Loudspeaker beer from the Lervig Brewery in Stavanger, Norway.  Marketed as a session beer.  Includes oats.  Pretty tasty.  From the same brewery I also had a can of Modern Antique.  A stronger 7% IPA brew.


My friend recommended that I should listen to some of the saxophone music of Trygve Seim and described him as having the best beard in jazz.  Norway does indeed have some good jazz music.  I played this album a few times: The Nordic Notes.

Trygve Seim

There are limits you know as to how much I will spend on this silly project.  I wasn’t prepared to fork out over £100 to go and see ‘A-ha’ play at Cardiff Castle but I did pop down town and eavesdrop on a few numbers from outside the castle walls.  I then came home and listened to them on Spotify.  I don’t know what I was doing in the 80s but it wasn’t listening to ‘A-ha’! 


Unfortunately, Norway was another shape which didn’t appear too conducive to making a clock of. Too many fjords. .  I may not have included each and every fjord but it does look like Norway I hope. Instead I used the scroll saw to make a Norway shape and then practiced some framing skills.

Highest Point

The highest point in Norway, and indeed in Northern Europe, is Galdhøpiggen at 2,469-metre (8,100 ft).  Two things surprised me when I started looking at it.  Firstly is it in southern Norway.  For some reason I expected the high peaks to be in the north.  The second thing is that it is strangely accessible.  Hundreds of people climb it on a fine summers day.  I’m not saying it’s an easy stroll and from one popular direction there is a glacier to cross.  Some reports say there’s hut at the top selling refreshments – bet those aren’t cheap.  I happen to know a couple of people who have climbed and here are links to their reports: Rob Woodall and Martin Richardson.     


I chose to give a small donation to the Norwegian Church Arts Centre here in Cardiff. Yes, I was left disappointed by the lack of Norwegian food when we visited a few times but I support the principle of the importance of preserving this landmark here in Cardiff Bay and of bringing art of various forms to this location. And thinking further back it preserves the memories of Norwegian seafarers that contributed so much to the establishment of Cardiff as a port.


For less than the price of a cappuccino in a coffee shop I bought some 1984 Norwegian stamps. Whoever would have thought that the centenary of the Norwegian bee-keeping and poultry breeding societies would happen to fall in the same year. 1984 was also the centenary of the parliament.  Looking pretty in pink is playwright Ludvig Holberg. EUROPA stamps underlines cooperation in the postal areas and versions were issued in many countries including UK.  The last two commemorate children’s writer Thorbjørn Egner.  How come the flower pot doesn’t fall off the tram roof?


The first country to appear in this ‘adventure’ where I’ve actually previously been on a train. We visited in 2010 and travelled from Oslo to Bergen by train.  The six hour six hour journey is recognised as being one of the most scenic in the world.  The smooth electric train pulled us up to 4000 feet above sea level – higher than Ben Nevis.   The scenery does indeed get spectacular.  We look out on lakes, tumbling rivers and wild scenery.  There are collective gasps from the train passengers when at the highest point we pass glaciers.  We also took a series of trains from Bergen to Flåm including the famous Myrdal to Flåm train.  Famous because of its steepness and sheer feat of engineering.  The line was only completed in 1940.  Construction of the railway started in 1923 and was completed in 1940. It is said to be one of the greatest engineering feats in Norway. The 20-km long railway line is one of the steepest standard gauge lines in the world, with 80% of the journey running on a gradient of 5.5%.


There were plots of Puzzle Caches in Norway for me to have a go at solving from my armchair.  I chose one called Arktisk-Kultursenter all about the northern town of Hammerfest, home of the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society. It is said to be the most northerly town in the world.  It provided an interesting insight into the region.

Meeting someone from Norway

I’ve been in contact with a Norwegian living in Cardiff via a mutual friend.  With a bit of luck we’ll be able to meet up in person after the summer.

Farewell Norway

And so its time for us to bid farewell to the beautiful country of Norway. We leave with the sound of Norwegian jazz in our heads and memories of looking at some lovely images from our virtual tour. There are some here on the Hand Luggage Only website.

Return to Armchair Travel Challenge homepage.



So the random number generator we use to chose the next country to visit has eventually allowed us out of Africa. We went to Bulgaria.  I was last there some 18 years ago when it was the first country to be picked out of the hat at the start of my Guinness European Capital City challenge after visiting Dublin.  That seems a long time ago now.  I remember being very excited about embarking on the challenge combined with the excitement/nervousness of travelling alone to a destination I knew little about.  It also had the challenge of coping with the Cyrillic alphabet.

I’ve watched a few videos of modern-day Sofia.  The multitude of ‘places of worship’ are still there as are the relic of the communist era but it somehow seems tidier than it used to and maybe there are not so many missing man-hole covers as there were making it safer for the pedestrian on a night time walk. The tour of Bulgaria by Rick Steves was interesting. I also listened to an interesting interview with Bulgaria’s new Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov.

I must say that I don’t think I’ve got properly under the skin of Bulgaria in this ‘virtual’ visit meaning I’ve not attempted any whimsical imaginary trips so please forgive me. Maybe there were too many other distractions in the month we spent there or maybe I got a bit disillusioned about my failure to meet a Bulgarian.  I think I’d better reign back my ambitions a bit next month.   

Meeting someone from Bulgaria

It’s took a while but I did eventually manage to meet a Bulgarian. Sneja, from Plovdiv, Bulgaria runs the Pekarna stall at farmer’s markets. We met up with her at Insole Court and purchased various items made with hand-made filo pastry, a recipe taught to her by her grandmother and a Bulgarian loaf of sweet bread. It was a pleasure to gift her a clock I had made in the shape of Bulgaria.


We had just the one meal at home this month, a Bulgarian moussaka – which is a bit like the Greek version but made with potatoes instead of the aubergines.   And very tasty it was too.


We found Bulgarian Deer Point wine available and got hold of a couple of different bottles and very palatable it was too.


Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov.  That was sure an interesting read.  A labyrinth of stories.  Provoked a lot of self-reflection in me.  Not difficult to read but in many ways dense and not to be rushed.  I lost the thread at times and read it more as a series of short stories. Well-written and well-translated.

On the lighter side I also read ‘A Brit of Bulgaria’ by Richard Clasby.  Written in diary format, a good intro to life of an ex-pat in Bulgaria, but one who works as an odd job builder, does lots of charity work and grapples bureaucracy with plenty of wildlife thrown in. Strangely enough it was this book that gave me perhaps my greatest insight into modern-day Bulgaria.


Zift (2008) –  A man is freed on parole after spending time in prison on wrongful conviction of murder.  Jailed shortly before the Bulgarian communist coup of 1944, he now finds himself in a new and alien world – the totalitarian Sofia of the 1960s and onwards to the modern day. Filmed in black and white, full of somewhat bizarre characters and events but enjoyable.  (2011) – a film about that follows the parallel stories of a number of characters who are trying to change their lives via the Internet or are simply having fun online.  Not a great film but not awful. Improves as it goes on and the stories develop.  Too much unnecessary titillation in my opinion (I must be getting old!).  Didn’t get too much insight into modern Bulgaria except that the apartments looked very smart and modern. 


I tried a number of Bulgarian playlists on Spotify but I kept coming back to a CD I purchased in Sofia when I was in there in 2004. Looking back at my notes from that trip it was a band of five male singers, three of whom were blind, with an accordion performing in the street.  Lots of good harmonies. I wonder if they are still performing?

A friend also recommended that I try listening to Ivo Papasov and his Bulgarian Wedding Band.  Turned out to be a good recommendation. 


I managed to obtain a nice bit of off-cut hardwood from a local carpentry business from which to make a clock in the shape of Bulgaria.  Another interestingly shaped country, perfect for a clock!


Casting my mouse around to see if there was a Bulgarian charity I would like to support I came across the work of Friends of Bulgaria which focuses on the wellbeing of children growing up without parents or family in institutional care.  What particularly caught my eye was an upcoming triathlon they are competing in and raising funds for Ukrainian refugees in Varna.


Bulgaria is the first country on our virtual tour we’ve visited that has an extensive railway network.  I contacted my friend Ian who is aiming to travel by rail in every European country.  He’s almost made it. And yes, he has been to Bulgaria and was kind enough to share with me his blog of his 11-day trip there.  I was tired just reading it!  Ian is a great planer and record keeper as well as someone who finds interesting things to do and see even in destinations described as dull and boring in guide books. I can tell you that on his trip there in 2011 he travelled 1154 miles by train at an average speed of just 30mph. He’s also good at finding restaurants, another reason I like travelling with him! 

New Siemens loco about to be delivered to Bulgaria in 2022


Used Bulgarian stamps are very inexpensive and you end up with quite and eclectic mix. Art and theatre seem to be one theme they concentrate on as well as sporting achievements.


When I went to Sofia in 2004 geocaching was still in its infancy.  There were a few geocaches in Bulgaria but not in Sofia itself.  I had an idea of creating a virtual geocache whilst I was there and did all the homework but when I returned home, put it all together and submitted it for review, it was rejected on the basis that I was not a resident of Bulgaria and could not maintain it, even though it was a virtual cache and did not have a physical geocache at the end of it.  Bulgaria remains one of the few European countries where I have not found a cache.

As part of this challenge I want to solve a mystery cache in each country I visit virtually.  Things have changed a lot and there are now loads of caches there including many mystery caches.  I tried to solve one based on the tile game 2048 and must have attempted it more than ten times but failed every time.  Instead I solved one called For Bravery and based on the date of the Serbian-Bulgarian War.  Not only was it interesting but it reacquainted me with using Excel spreadsheets.

Highest Point

The highest peak in Bulgaria is Musala which stands at 2,925 metres (9,596 ft).  A peak that is reasonably accessible in summer months, in particular on days the gondola is running which takes you part way up.  It is snow-covered for many months over autumn-winter-spring making ascents much less common. Rob Woodall gives a good account of his ascent, when he was unfortunate enough to turn up on a July day when the gondola was not running.


Again I failed to find a game Bulgaria were competing in where I could cheer them along.  After a bit of research I came across the high-jumper Stefka Kostadinova.  Her world record of 2.09 metres has stood since 1987. That’s a long time! She was the 1996 Olympic champion, a twice World champion, and a five-times World Indoor champion. 

Farewell Bulgaria

A lot seems to have changed since I was last in Bulgaria in 2004.  Perhaps the biggest change is that Bulgaria is now in the European Union and the UK isn’t.  One day it would be nice to go back there in person.

If you enjoyed reading this you may like to read about other countries we have visited as part of our Armchair travel Challenge.

Llantwit Major

A shorter journey today for us found us at ‘L for Llantwit Major’.  A varied day of history, a blustery beech walk and Greggs vegan sausage rolls. What more could a man want?

There are a couple of different way of getting to Llantwit Major by train from Cardiff.  You can either go via Bridgend on a modern GWR train, change and then south to Llantwit Major, or you can choose to go TfW via Dinas Powys, Barry, Rhoose.  Going via Barry allows you to travel over the viaduct at Porthkerry, something I normally just look at from the ground up. It’s a wonder it is still standing given the problems they had constructing it in the late 1900s, with lots of subsidence experienced and underpinning necessary.  Sorry, I didn’t man to make you nervous next time you are crossing it.

Llantwit Major railway station

After arriving at Llantwit we headed for the historic part of the town taking in the town hall and views of some attractive and tempting pubs. We arrived at St Illtud’s church which seems a microcosm of history covering the last 1500 years. We struck lucky here in that the church happened to be open, it being a Sunday.

This was the site of the Monastery of Illtud and the college known as Bangor Illtyd, said to be  one of the most esteemed centres of Christian culture in the Celtic world with 2000 students – no wonder there’s a lot of pubs in the town.  Some claim this is the oldest educational establishment the country was on this site and St David and other saints were taught here in the 5th century.  I wonder how he did in his SATs.

The church now houses a collection of Celtic stones which date back to the 9th century. The church itself dates back to the 11th century with later additions in the 13th and 15th century. I was particularly impressed by the medieval  wall paintings in the old chapel.

St Illtud's church

After adsorbing all that history it was time to head to the sea. Its about a kilometre SW of the town and we mainly kept to the paths that ran parallel to the road.  Not too many people around today on this blustery Sunday. The tall crumbly cliffs east and west of the pebbly beach always look impressive.

Llantwit Major beach

On arriving back in the town we had a bit of lunch and then ambled onto the station for our train home.  We waited, and waited, and waited ……….   a bit of a medical emergency at Bridgend apparently.  Eventually it arrived and all was well – with the casualty too I hope.

Date of trip: 10 Mar 2019

See progress to date: A-Z of Railway Stations


I’d been wanting to ride the Heart of Wales line for a number of years and visiting Knighton provided the ideal opportunity.  We had our South Wales Rover Tickets so planned to do a circular route, or should that be a triangular route, Cardiff to Llanelli, up to Knighton for some exploring, then onto Craven Arms and back down to Cardiff.

heart of wales

In winter months, over 60s living in Wales go on the Heart of Wales Line for free. As a result of this generous concession our single carriage from Llanelli to Knighton was rather full and noisy.  The driver luckily spotted the fallen tree on the line as we approached it and he and the conductor jumped out to move it away – all part of the service.  It was a bit like scenes from Casey Jones, the American railroad series I used to watch when I was a boy. If you did too then I bet the theme tune is playing in your head right now!

Casey Jones
Steamin’ and rollin’
Casey Jones
You never have to guess
When you hear the tootin’ of the whistle
It’s Casey at the throttle of the Cannonball Express

Knighton is right on the Wales-England border.  Knighton first prospered as a centre of the wool trade in the 15th century.   The town itself is in Wales but the train station is actually in England.  The station opened in 1861 and is an impressive station in comparison to some I’ve seen recently.    After a bit of exploring of Knighton we headed for a cafe lunch.

Knighton station
Knighton station

The town is dominated by the town clock, seemingly modelled on a space rocket. I wonder what it’s like inside?  Can you still get all the way to the top and look out of the small windows I wondered.

Knighton town
Knighton, Powys

I’ve been looking at the photos of our trip (a few years after we made it) and just got very confused.  There were pictures from the inside of a church and along a riverbank that I have no recollection of.  It’s taken a while for me to figure it out – I wasn’t there.  It was in fact the afternoon of the Wales versus Scotland rugby match, so whilst I retired to the Horse and Jockey to watch the game and Ian went off for an energetic walk. I should have remembered it as Wales beat Scotland in Edinburgh and went on to win the Grand Slam.

Sheep at Knighton station
The days when sheep were the main passengers using Knighton station.

By perfect timing the train for Craven Arms left shortly after the final whistle where we picked up a Cardiff train.  A long day on the rails and another great railway adventure that’s for sure.

Date of trip: 9 March 2019

See progress to date: A-Z of Railway Stations


My friend Ian joined me for a bit of train travel and we had a cunning plan. We would buy a South Wales Pass which allowed us four days travel on the train.  One day 1 we went to Johnston in Pembrokeshire.  As the train heads west from the busy Cardiff and Swansea stations things get a little quieter.  Some trains go direct from Cardiff to Johnston but for us we had the added excitement of having to change trains at Clarbeston Road which is a request stop.  It gave Ian an opportunity to take some photos, one of which is one of the best photos of a railway I think I’ve ever seen – well done that man.

Clarbeston Road station
Clarbeston Road station

Would our connecting train pick us up I wondered?   I needn’t have worried.  It all worked very smoothly and we were soon on our way to Johnston.

Cheery Transport for Wales staff

I’d never heard of Johnston before I started searching for stations beginning with the letter J.  Having arrived there I could understand why. There’s nothing wrong with the village at all, just not somewhere you may come on a day out, unless like us, you had a cunning plan.

Johnston railway station

After being on a train for close to three hours I felt the need to do some geocaching.  I found the cache near the station no problem and then the one near St Peter’s church.  There’s been a church here since the late thirteenth century but there’s been a few rebuilds since then.  After exploring the churchyard for a while we set off south down the Brunel Trail.  The walk followed the former GWR line, designed by Brunel.  I geocached for the first part at the same time was dodging the occasional cyclist.  After that it was time to concentrate more on the walking.  We passed some pretty ex-railway properties now converted into cottages and the Westfield Pill Nature Reserve.

Johnston and the Brunel Trail
Johnston and the Brunel Trail

On the outskirts of Neyland we left the trail and took another mode of transport, a bus over the Cleddau Bridge and into Pembroke Dock.  There was enough time remaining for us to explore a bit of the town, go down to the dock and see the ferry leaving in the distance and then walk up to the station to catch our train home.  Pembroke Dock station is one of those that looks like time has forgot.  In fact it you didn’t know the timetable you may have wondered if it was still in use.  Luckily it was and we were soon on our way back to Cardiff, via the Pembrokeshire coastal towns of Saundersfoot and Tenby.

Pembroke Dock and railway station
Pembroke Dock and railway station

Thanks to Ian for most of the photos.

Date of trip: 7 March 2019

See progress to date: A-Z of Railway Stations


I realised I’d had it easy up till now, experiencing no real problems finding a station beginning with letters A to H.  Finding a station beginning with I was a little more challenging.  I did however have a stroke of luck.  We had a wedding to attend in London and that meant I could widen my search area.  Hence I stumbled upon I for Iver.  It is west of London, on the GWR mainline, some 14 miles from Paddington.  I did some homework on Iver and failed to come up with anything that would entice my wife to accompany me on the journey so instead she spent the morning at the V&A museum and I headed out to Iver.

Iver Railway Station

If I told you how I had tried to sell the idea of Iver to my wife you may begin to understand why I failed.  Firstly I’d had to admit that the train station isn’t in Iver at all and she faced a walk to get to the town.  Then I described Pinewood Studios (but we weren’t allowed in there) and Heatherden Hall, a mansion where the agreement to form the Irish Free State happened to be signed (don’t think we are allowed in there either), and Richings Park which is where RAF Bomber Command used to be briefly in WWII before it was destroyed – can’t go there wither as it has been developed into housing.  And that’s why I went on my own.

The was construction work ongoing at Iver station when I arrived.  May be it was all part of the handover of the station from GWR to Crossrail.  It certainly had me confused when I was looking for the Sidetracked – Iver geocache.  I found the Grand Union canal and went for a stroll along it but to be hones canals don’t look their best in February, all rather grey. From there I headed the half mile north towards the town centre. I stopped off to explore St Peter’s church and read a bit about its history which goes all the way back to Saxon times.  The history included the interesting fact that in the Eighteenth Century  the churchwarden made payments for killing a wide range of ‘vermin’ —polecats, stoats, hedgehogs (porpentines), and sparrows.

St Peter's church, Iver, Bucks

From the church I headed north up Swan Lane to find a couple more geocaches and admire the houses.  Returning to the church I then went west into the centre of Iver.  If I’m being honest with you I don’t find a lot there to explore or write about.  The old pub looks nice, there is a village sign and the local restaurant try and make a play on words with their names. I wandered back to the churchyard and ate my lunch musing on what other properties in the town may have been called.  Would the GP have been Iver Temperature and the dentist Iver Toothache?

Iver Village

I scampered back down to the station, caught the train back to Paddington where I met my wife before we caught the train back to Cardiff.

Date of visit: 25 February 2019

See progress to date: A-Z of Railway Stations


I chose another cathedral destination for my next destination – Hereford, and once again it was approximately an hour by train from Cardiff.  Hereford station is one of those that looked much more impressive from the outside than the from the platform. What a great red brick frontage it has. The station was originally called Barrs Court Railway Station and opened in 1853.

Hereford Railway Station 2019

I headed for the cathedral as I was keen to see Mappa Mundi which is the largest medieval map still known to exist. There used to be a larger one in Hanover, Germany but it was destroyed in an Allied WWII bombing which seems rather an unjust way to gain the record.  It was indeed fascinating to see and a February morning the ideal time to visit judging by the fact I had the place to myself. The map is 130 centimetres in diameter, large enough to see the detail.  A modern depiction of the map nearby helped make things even clearer.

Mappa Mundi

Chained library, Hereford CathedralThe Mappa Mundi wasn’t the only fascinating thing to see in the cathedral.  It also has a chained library.  The blurb says ‘The chaining of books was the most widespread and effective security system in European libraries from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, and Hereford Cathedral’s 17th-century Chained Library is the largest to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact’.  Just the sight of the chained books was enough for me – I didn’t have any compulsion to see inside the books, it was just the realisation of the fact of how valuable books were in the past that it was deemed necessary to chain them up. How we take books for granted these days.

Of course there was some geocaching to be done in the middle of the day that took me through parks, through the centre of town and some places a normal day visitor would never have got to see.

Cider press as the Museum of Cider, HerefordWhat I did stumble upon though and a place that I hadn’t planned to visit was the Museum of Cider.  I wouldn’t claim to be the world’s number one cider fan, but if the beer has run out and the weather is hot then I have been known to enjoy a glass or two.  What I was more interested in was the mechanics of cider making.  I had walked through a few cider orchards last summer and had a couple of friends who were developing a cider orchard in West Wales and was interested in learning about the various stages involved in turning the humble apple into something that makes you fall over.

I found there was plenty in Hereford to entertain me for the day.  Well worth a visit.

Views of Hereford

Date of visit: 22 February 2019

See progress to date: A-Z of Railway Stations


Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain,
He stepped in a puddle,
Right up to his middle,
And never went there again.

For some reason that little ditty was recited endlessly in our house when I was young.  It must have been an indication of how much it rained in Cardiff.  No rain today though, a pleasant sunny winter’s day. I travelled for an hour by CrossCountry train from Cardiff to Gloucester, along the bank of the Severn Estuary. This used to be the main London to South Wales line until the Severn Tunnel was opened in 1886.

Gloucester raillway station

I planned to spend the day exploring the town, docks and cathedral areas.  The first thing that caught my eye was an equestrienne statue.  It was the Roman Emperor Nerva and the plaque said ‘after whom Gloucester was named’.  Obviously one or both of them has had a name change since.  If of course he’s been called Emperor Gloucester it would have made more sense and the nursery rhyme could have gone ‘Emperor Gloucester went to Gloucester ……’, and would have been much more fun.

Roman Emperor Nerva statue, Gloucester

Candle sculpture, Gloucester - Wolfgang ButtressGloucester Docks is now a gentrified old Victorian Dock where some of the old buildings have been saved and converted into accommodation, museums and shops.  It was the most inland port in the country apparently. It is home of the Inland Waterways Museum. There’s a Victorian Pillar Box outside the museum which I got all excited about until later reading it is a replica.  How disappointing.

The giant 21m tall Candle sculpture did impress me however, as did the name of the sculptor, Wolfgang Buttress.  I stood and admired it whilst at the same time trying to figure out how it had been made.  Laser cut out of steel apparently.  That’s one heck of a laser cutter I thought.

From the docks I made my way to the cathedral, and wow, what a structure it is.  I spent a couple of hours exploring it and the surrounding medieval religious buildings.  Cathedrals evoke a whole range of thoughts and feelings in me.  I naturally admire the architecture and the phenomenal effort it must have taken to design and build, the years of man-hours those stone masons must have spent carving.  But then I think about who paid for it, the common people living in their poor living conditions staring at the religious edifice being created in their midst. I always wonder how they felt about it all.

Jenner statue, Gloucester AbbeyThere’s quite a historical link between Gloucester and Cardiff – I see it every time I go into the centre of Cardiff.  It’s Cardiff Castle, built by Robert Fitzhamon, Baron of Gloucester.  I was reminded of that link when I went into the cathedral and saw the tomb of Robert of Normandy, William the Conqueror’s eldest son. He had a rocky relationship with his father and brothers and never became king. In fact he was captured by his younger brother, Henry I, and sent to prison in Cardiff Castle, where he died. I wonder why they bought his body back to Gloucester to be buried in the Cathedral if they didn’t think much of him.

The other thing that caught my eye in the cathedral was the giant marble statue of Edward Jenner. He was a doctor in nearby Berkeley and through his observations of milkmaids appearing to be immune to smallpox he developed the first vaccination, subsequently saving the lives of many people.  There’s another Cardiff connection here – there is a carving of Jenner of the Cardiff University building on Newport Road.

There was just enough time left to have another wander around the centre of town including the Baker jewellery shop on Southgate Street. Under the actual clock there are five bells in a display that are used to signal the quarter hours and hours of the clock. Each figure has a bell to strike with the centre bell being hit by a hammer attached to a cord pulled by Old Father Time in the centre of the tableau. The other bell chiming characters are represent the nations of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales respectively.

Baker clock, Gloucester

And so home to Cardiff on another CrossCountry train.  With the dark evenings it wasn’t possible to admire the scenery so I was left to contemplate which station I was going to visit on my next day out – one beginning with H.

Date of visit: 16 February 2019

See progress to date: A-Z of Railway Stations


Ferryside station signAnother trip on a train with a difference.  This was to be the first ‘request stop’ on the challenge of visiting stations starting with all the letters of the alphabet.  I’m always somehow been fascinated by the trains on this route.  They start off in the large city of Manchester, come south along the Wales/England border region visiting small stations, enter South Wales through the much larger population centres of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea and then soon get to stations so small they are ‘request stops’, like Ferryside.

I was up early and walked the dog then walked down to Cardiff Central and all aboard the train.   I was picking up my friend at Swansea who also fancied a day’s walk.   The plan was not just to visit Ferryside, nice though it is, but to go from there down to Kidwelly and catch a train home from there.

First thing to remember, ask the conductor to stop the train at Ferryside.  Paul Merton visited Ferryside when making his TV programme about request stops.  I can see why.  It’s a lovely little place, right on the side of the estuary of the River Towy.  So close in fact that you would worry about storm surges and alike but today was tranquil.  What a quaint station Ferryside is with its signal box and old fashioned signal.

Ferryside station

We walked down the coast to St Ishmael, some of it walking on the beach, some of it along the lanes.  The occasional train went past on the nearby line.

Looking over to Llansteffan
Looking over to Llansteffan

We pottered around the church in St Ishmael that has been a place of worship for over 1000 years.

St Ishmael church

Another kilometre past St Ishmael and it was time to start heading inland, initially up the valley and then a steep walk through woods and ending up at Pengay Farm.

The bell on Pengay Farm - wonder if it is an old ship's bell
The bell on Pengay Farm – I wonder if it is an old ship’s bell

One reason for choosing this route was to visit some trig points – yes, strange hobbies some of us have, but they always seem to have a good view, well not always.

Time for a bit of trig point bagging
Time for a bit of trig point bagging

By the time we reached the village of Llansaint I was looking forward maybe to a beer but a local told us we were out of luck and the pub not open on a Monday.  He told us a lot more actually, about local shipwrecks and all sorts of things and where to go to get a good view south over Gwendraeth estuary and look over towards the Gower peninsular.  He wasn’t wrong.

The afternoon walk took us not straight down into Kidwelly.  The easiest way would have been far too straightforward so instead we went NE for a couple of miles over to another trig point and then south after that into Kidwelly.

We had a look at Kidwelly Castle.  It’s a wonder that anything remains of the place after so many people tried to attack it over the years – must have been well built. We read a bit about Gwenllian and he death at the Battle of Kidwelly.  It all went on around here.

Kidwelly Castle - some of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed here.
Kidwelly Castle – some of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed here.

Talking things happening, another place I was keen to see was Rumsey House, the former home of Mable Greenwood.  You probably won’t have heard of her unless you have been to one of my talks.  Poor Mable was poisoned with arsenic. Her husband, the local solicitor, amazingly was found not-guilty of killing her despite the evidence against him appearing strong, including the fact that he married his lover just a few months after his wife’s death.

Poisoned - Ted Richards

Kidwelly station is a fair step away from the town and as every teashop in town appeared to be shut, I guess because it was a Monday or after 3.30 or both, we wandered down and had a look at the estuary and the remains of the first canal built in Wales.

Kidwelly, also being a request stop, meant we got in more practice of stopping a train with the mere bend of the elbow.  Made us feel quite powerful.

Date of visit: 11 February 2019

See progress to date: A-Z of Railway Stations

Ebbw Vale

Ebbw Vale Town stationIt takes an hour from Cardiff Central to get to Ebbw Vale Town by train. The line heads towards Newport and then swings off north just before Newport and heads up the valley through Rogerstone and Risca.

Up until 2015 the line used to stop at what is now Ebbw Vale Parkway but the new station of Ebbw Vale Town was constructed at a cost of £11.5 million. You don’t get a lot for your money judging by looking at the station buildings but I guess it is all to do with laying the like and signalling etc.

My train at Ebbw Vale Town station
My train at Ebbw Vale Town station still in Arriva livery.

The Ebbw Vale Works Museum is based in the General Offices, the former HQ for the Steelworks, and what a grand building it is. The museum, staffed by former employees it seemed, full of enthusiasm to tell me all about the former steel works. Entrance is free but donations always welcome. It is well worth a visit.  The building, with its fine clock tower, also houses various other offices and a small café.

Ebbw Vale Works Museum
Ebbw Vale Works Museum

Anyone with ancestors in Gwent will find the modern Gwent Archives building a very useful resource, and easy to get too as it is next to the station.

There is a small funicular present that takes you up from the level of the station and college up to the level of the town. When I was there it was pretty busy with students from the college using it.  Unfortunately is does seem to get vandalized on a regular basis and is frequently out of operation.  It cost £2.3m in 2015 and has broken down 250 times since then. For some reason the press wants to call it a cable car.

Ebbw Vale Funicular

Once I was up in the town of Ebbw Vale I had a wander up and down the main street.  There were a few modern sculptures that interested me as did the  old Ebbw Vale Literary and Scientific Institute, now preserved and used for arts and entertainment purposes it seems. It was built 1853-55 by the Ebbw Vale Iron Company.

A town still somewhat struggling to recover following the closure of the steel works there 40 years ago.  The ‘Circuit of Wales‘ race track on top of a mountain never came into being which I can’t help think was a good thing, or may be I’m just saying that because it is not a sport that attracts me.  Cyber security company Thales have recently announced jobs going being created in Ebbw Vale which sounds good.  Lots of European money have invested but the population still has a significant pro-Brexit majority.

Ebbw Vale dragon
In 2014 a derelict piece of land was transformed into an attractive public open space featuring a four metre high dragon. I must admit I liked the dragon. There is a geocache nearby too in case you are wondering.

Date of visit: 6 February 2019

See progress to date: A-Z of Railway Stations