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

Burkina Faso

FlagGetting to Burkina Faso

I’ve arrived and according to the locals I couldn’t have chosen a better time of the year to be here. November is the dry season but still hot – by my standards anyway, 370C today!

I’ve had all the jabs imaginable on top of my Covid booster: Hep A & B, polio, MMR, rabies, typhoid, diphtheria, meningitis, cholera, yellow fever, hay fever and Saturday Night Fever.

Burkina Faso map

Obtaining a visa was tricky. No Burkinabe embassy in UK so I had to apply to their embassy in Brussels.

The money is something I’ve never come across before. It is the West African CFA Franc, a shared currency between eight West African countries and the value pegged to the Euro. In 2019, it was announced that the West African CFA franc would be reformed, which will include renaming it the Eco and reducing France’s role in the currency.

Ouagadougou AirportI couldn’t find a direct flight from home so it was a case of travelling Air France via Paris. I arrived in the capital Ouagadougou and made a great discovery, the airport, the Thomas Sankara Airport (more of him another time) is in the city and I could walk to my hotel – never had that before on my travels. With it being the dry season the air is thick with an orange dust.

I thought I’d treat myself to a bit of luxury at the beginning of the trip – after all its not real money is it. I chose the Bravia Hotel – solely because I love the way they fold the towels.

Bravia Hotel

Burkina Faso Travel

A well written travel blog can take you to your destination and you can almost imagine you are there. This blog by Joan and Lou Rose does just that. It dates back to 2005 when they toured Africa. With Joan suffering from heat exhaustion, Lou takes off alone on a 48 hour round trip to Gorom Gorom in the north-east, somewhere people are advised not to travel today because of the terrorism threat. Rather Lou than me!

Burkina Faso Food

Peanut StewMargaret kindly served up our first taste of Burkinabe food last night. We found this enthusiastic lady, Estelle, on YouTube and her peanut butter recipe.

A visit to a local African food shop on Clifton Street and Sainsbury’s was called for to assemble the ingredients. That’s a chilli in the pot by the way, not one of Margaret’s fingers.

It was very tasty indeed. Quite heavy – you wouldn’t want to go for a five mile run straight afterwards. Already looking forward to having it again sometime.

Another night we tried Riz Gras, the national dish of Burkina Faso apparently. And very tasty it was too! Thank you again Margaret.

I had a go at making Ragout d’Igname (Yam Stew) and Burkinabé Tô. It was supposed to turn out like the picture on the left and take about five minutes to prepare. It didn’t. Note the lack of Burkinabé Tô in my picture. Millet flour took about 2 hrs to track down in the shops. My mix was grey and runny – not possible to form into balls (we are convinced the proportions in the recipe were wrong). The Yam Stew was a lot better though not as picturesque as in the recipe – and about three hours longer in preparation.


Went out to dinner one nigh to get a taste of West African food. Visited Afrikana on City Road. I had the I had the ‘What Cheese Said’ – butterfly chicken breast loaded with melted cheese. Served with jollof rice, kachumbari and plantain. Margaret had the ‘Fried Chicken is Life’ – crispy deep-fried chicken breast tossed in a jerk sauce, served with rice and peas and plantain. The restaurant was busy and vibrant and cosmopolitan as only City Road can be – very nice.

Burkina Faso Literature

American Spy – a good read – very much enjoyed it. Not by a Burkinabe author the book certainly provided a good insight into the country and its history. Inspired by true events when Thomas Sankara, a popular Marxist revolutionary led Burkina Faso from 1983 to his deposition and murder in 1987. A fine first book by Lauren Wilkinson. A couple of copies in Cardiff Libraries.

The only English language book I could find by a Burkinabe author was The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo. It is about a fictional African country with a despotic leader who comes unstuck. I’ll let you guess which country was actually being written about and which leader. Zongo was an newspaper editor and was assassinated after this book was written.

Burkina Faso books

Burkina Faso Sport

So you join me today on my way not to Burkina Faso, but on a mad-dash trip to Algeria. For the sporting part of the challenge I am going to watch Burkina Faso play their last match in the World Cup Qualifiers against Algeria later today.

I was up way before dawn to make my egg and sardine sandwiches before setting off for London Gatrow. My Air Algerie flight leaves shortly from Terminal 3¾. I’ll just have enough time in the air to finish brushing up on the National Anthem, team news and some key phrases like “Offside Referee!”

After a mad dash out of the airport and into a taxi I have made it to the Stade Mustapha Tucker stadium at Blida, some 35km from Algiers. An expensive ride, but only in the imagination. There’s 14,000 supporters here, mainly Algerian naturally, all vaccinated with stringent health protocols will be in place. I was expecting fine weather but it is 160C and raining. Where’s my mac when I need it.

Algeria versus Burkina Faso

The team is nicknamed Les Etalons, which means “The Stallions”. It is in reference to the legendary horse of Princess Yennenga. The Burkinabe supporters have a percussion band with them making a heck of a din and mimicking the sounds of galloping horses.

I’m in the Burkinabe section and hoping for a miracle – a 13-0 win that will take us through to the next round of the World Cup qualifiers to be played next Spring. The African nations have just five places allocated to them in the Qatar World Cup due to be played at the end of next year. Here’s hoping for a Burkina Faso vs. Wales final.

The team news isn’t great. Bertrand Traoré, our star striker who plays for Aston Villa, is out injured.

The teams have just come onto the pitch. Now’s the time to sing the Burkina anthem with all my might – I’ve got the words written on the back of my hand. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Half time in a tense first half and it is one a piece. The Man City winger Riyad Mahrez put Algeria ahead after 21 minutes and Burkina Faso came back with a goal from Zakaria Sanogo who plays his football in Yerevan, Armenia.

I treated myself to a Mhajeb at halftime which is Algerian flatbread with tomato and onion stuffing. Yum yum.

An equally dramatic second half ensued with Sofiane Feghouli taking the lead again for Algeria after 69 minutes before Issoufou Dayo who plays for RS Berkane, Morocco, equalized again in the 84th minute. And so it wasn’t to be the 13-0 win I was hoping for but tense never the less. I’m off to share a strong mint tea with my new Burkinabe friends before heading home.

Postscript: Apparently they didn’t have to win by 13 clear goals, they just had to win.  Just goes to prove that my understanding of football can be somewhat lacking at times.

Burkina Faso Music

One of the pleasurable discoveries of this virtual challenge to date has been Burkinabe music. Something that would have been difficult to access a number of years ago is now easily discovered via Spotify playlists. Here’s my favourite Burkinabe playlist.  I also dipped into Volta Jazz and even some Smockey plus some traditional instrumental music too.

Burkina Faso Geocaching

Spoiler photoThe hobby of geocaching involves using a GPS or Smartphone to find a container someone has hidden. Some of the geocaches are puzzle meaning that a puzzle has to be solved first to get the coordinates of where the geocache is hidden. My idea for this ‘virtual’ tour of the world is to try and solve a puzzle cache in each country. I naturally won’t be able to log the geocache as a ‘find’ but it should still be fun. There are only 6 geocaches in Burkina Faso, 5 traditional and one puzzle cache so my choice was limited to one: Le Centre Noomdo.  It is an interesting cache and that has only been found once since it was hidden in 2017. I had soon solved and added to my ‘to find list’!  Just better to remember to take the photo with me when I go.

Burkina Faso Charity

I came across this charity when doing my virtual geocahe – see above. Le Soleil dans la Main (the Sun in the Hand) is a Luxembourg based charity providing education in Burkino Faso.

Le Soleil dans la Main

Burkina Faso Clock

Years ago I used to make clocks in the shape of different countries.  Shapes like Wales and Ireland were particularly popular.  I even sold them in local craft shops.  I thought for this challenge I would try and get back into making them. So after restocking some of the materials and bits necessary I sat down at the saw and manged to craft a Burkina Faso clock. It’s been fun getting back into doing some scroll saw work. I have a notion of trying to meet someone from Burkina Faso here in Cardiff, in a public place like outside the castle, shaking hands (or more like knocking elbows these days) and gifting them a clock.  So serious question, does anyone know anyone in Cardiff from Burkina Faso?

Burkina Faso clock

Burkina Faso Train journey

Our choice of where to go by train in Burkina Faso was rather limited – there is only one track. It runs 622km from Kaya, north east of the capital to the border with Côte d’Ivoire. The train used to run all the way to the Ivory Coast coast but because of the worry over Ebola the border has been closed. We picked the train up at the capital Ouagadougou. Again our choice was somewhat limited, there are just three trains a week, so you don’t want to turn up on the wrong day.

I say ‘we’, I was travelling in my imagination with my friend Ian, train enthusiast, and great organiser – there was no chance of me getting lost here. It was a bit of a surprise for him – in fact he’s only just found out.

All aboard at Ouagadougou station

They got some new trains in 2019. When I say new, I mean second-hand from Switzerland, so they know they can keep good time. We were worried we hadn’t bought enough sandwiches so looked out of the window to find there was plenty of people wanting to sell us snacks for the journey.

We were going as far as Banfora, not too far from the Ivory Coast border. I hadn’t told Ian why – I’ll break it to him gently. Our train journey would take around 24 hours. It would have been faster by bus but where’s the fun in that. There was just enough time to have a quick wander around some places en-route. We stopped off at Bingo and in the 30 minutes we were walking around saw two fat ladies, Danny La Rue, two little ducks and a garden gate. The station building at Bobo Dioulasso was something else. Bobo is Burkina Faso’s second city and one famous for its music. They were playing Volta Jazz tracks at full blast.

BoBo train station

Back on board and onto our final destination at Banfora. The station here looked much more what I was used to. And so I broke the news to Ian that we were here to climb to the highest point in Burkina Faso.

(above ideas cam from and Journey blog from 2015 by Robbie Corey-Boulet and a 2019 blog from The Barefoot Backpacker🙂

Burkina Faso Highest Point

According to Wikipedia, Mount Tenakourou is Burkina Faso’s high point at 747 meters or 2,451 feet. One of the attractions is that the summit offers a view over three countries: Burkina Faso, Mali at a distance of 3 kilometres (2 mi) and Ivory Coast at 13 kilometres (8 mi). Important side note: the French apparently felt that Burkina Faso’s high point deserved to be a nice round number so they laid out a 3 meter high pile of rocks at the summit to boost the height to an even 750 meters. I checked with the highest authority on Welsh mountain surveys, who has red-carded them. That doesn’t count – the official summit is still listed as 747 meters.

Mount Tenakourou

We arrived in Banfora at 10h00, just in time to get a guide who ‘sold’ us a 4X4 and driver for R1300. There was no other transport except motorbikes, and considering my dislike for them, we paid the exorbitant price.

A dusty 90 km followed before we reached the village where we paid the chief dash and were given one of his wives to hike with us.

All along the way she gave us wild fruit she picked. The Cairn was the biggest I’ve seen. The guides wanted to take us to the waterfalls but we declined, and the dusty 90 km back followed, with a flat tire to make sure life didn’t get boring.

(Text borrowed and adapted from The Gray Mountaineer and Sunrise on Africa’s Peaks)

Burkina Faso Film

The Man Who Stopped the DesertBurkina is known for its annual African film festival called Fespaco and cinema going is very popular in the capital. I failed to find a feature length Burkinabe fictional film but watched some documentaries which gave a good insight into the country. The Man Who Stopped the Desert is about a local farmer that devised a way of growing crops and trees in an otherwise hostile environment by planting outside the traditional season, lower down and adding manure.

Burkina Faso Stamps

Thought I would try and get some stamps from each country – it may make a nice collection if I continue with the challenge. Aren’t the pictures on stamps wonderful.  My Dad used to like collecting stamps more for the pictures than their value.  He used to glue than into an album rather than use mounts of any kind thereby making them all but worthless but he got enjoyment out of them and that’s what counts in life.

Burkina Faso stamps

These last few sections actually came early on in my month in Burkina Faso when I was doing a lot of background reading.  They are a bit dry – after all I don’t want to mess around with important things like history and the economy:


A land-locked country. Arid in the north where it borders the Sahara.  Crops grown by irrigation. Limited natural resources.


A particularly low-income country with most people working in agriculture. Cotton is the main cash-earning crop.  Gold is also mined.


A former French colony, independent since 1960. French widely spoken though so are the local languages. Used to be called Upper Volta till Thomas Sankara came to power in 1983.  He is often referred to at Africa’s Che Guevara.  Sankara was assassinated in 1987.  He was replaced by Blaise Compaoré who stayed in power till 2014.  Compaoré has been living in exile in Ivory Coast and is currently on trial (in absentia) for involvement in the murder of Thomas Sankara.

Current Affairs

The trial of Blaise Compaoré was due to take place this month but has been postponed.  Terrorist incursions in the north of the country dominate a lot of the news. I picked up some snippets of news from BBC Africa Today.  Also looked at French newspapers online – now Google translates complete web pages painlessly things are a lot easier than they used to be.

Farewell Burkina Faso

Our time in Burkina Faso is drawing to a close. The draw will soon be made for the next place for us to visit.  It’s been a real blast learning about Burkina Faso; eating the food, listening to music, watching videos, reading blogs, taking a train, buying some stamps, reading literature, history and current affairs and a few other things. Still hoping to find someone from Burkina Faso in Cardiff to give the clock to.  Thank you for reading and I hope you will join me in the next country.

Progress to date:  Armchair Travel Challenge

Dinas Rhondda

Dinas Rhondda station signThis was a day out in January 2019, not so much to visit a town, but to walk up a hill.  Dinas Rhondda is as the name suggests, in the Rhondda valley, between the more sizable towns of Porth and Tonypandy, the later town being where Winston Churchill controversially sent the troops in during a miners’ strike riot in 1910.  Dinas Rhondda is one of the train stops on the way to Treherbert.

Dinas Rhondda station - Pacer on its way to Treherbert - January 2019
Dinas Rhondda station – Pacer on its way to Treherbert

It was a cold and frosty January day but the forecast was good and it did indeed stay dry all day, though the temperature never seemed to get above freezing.  It was one of those days when its best to keep moving.    After exiting the comfort, I use that word loosely, of my Pacer train, taking a few pics, I explored a bit of Dinas, picking up a geocache in the process.  One thing I wasn’t expecting to stumble across in the town were pigs.  I was stood just on the other side of the wall when I spotted them.  I had quite a freight. My dog looked a bit surprised too I must say. Their black colourings blended in very well with the colour of  field (that’s another loosely used word).

Dinas Rhondda pig - A bit like a moth, this pig blends into its background very well
A bit like a moth, this pig blends into its background very well.

Time to head for the hills.  I’m still getting used to the fact that in South Wales you can quickly escape the noise and clutter of the town and soon be on the hills and hardly notice the towns below in the valley.  I thought I had done that today.  After a half hours walk the path was flattening out and the views beginning to appear.  The last thing I expected to see up here was a town.  Trebanog seems to break the rules.  Its not nestling down in the valley like most Welsh towns but for some reason but perched high up on a hillside.  It’s as if someone in the planning department didn’t understand contour lines when looking at a map and decided to build a village just here.  I can imagine it gets a bit nippy up here in winter when the wind is blowing. Fortunately for me today all was calm.  I was even more surprised when I read Dorothy Squires spent her last few years living here. (I had a lift off her pianist once when hitchhiking in the 1980s).

Trebanog - Rhondda Valley - South Wales
Trebanog – seems a strange place to build a town

The geocache I had come to find is aptly called Edge of the World.  I’d like to say it was a simple straightforward find but I’d be lying.  It took a fair old time to work out from the description given where I should be.  The undergrowth in January should be short but the tufty reeds could hide a lot.  I read and reread the logs previous finders had left.  It seemed I was in the right place but just couldn’t lay my hands on it.  I didn’t want to give up.  It was a long way to walk back up here another time in the future.  Eventually I got it.  Phew!

Looking up the Rhondda Valley
Looking up the Rhondda Valley

I headed further along the path I had walked up and realised that if I was lucky I could descend off the hill a different way and end up in Porth and catch the train home from there.  The plan worked reasonably well except that the track, once it became metalled, also became very icy.  A pair of skis would have come in handy.  Luckily I stayed upright the whole way down though it was touch and go at times.  I’ve never seen a dog loose his footing so much.  My poor collie dog sliding all over the place.

Half way up Mynnyd Y Cymmer
Half way up Mynnyd Y Cymmer

The path down bought us almost into the middle of Porth.  There was just one geocache left to find and with the help of my decoy-dog it wasn’t too tricky.  Another nice warm Pacer train, still in Arrive Trains Wales livery, brought us back to Cardiff.

Date of visit: 30 January 2019

See progress to date: A-Z of Railway Stations