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March weekend in South Wales - trip report

I asked a handful of questions here in advance of a long weekend trip to South-east Wales at the beginning of March, and just realized I never reported back.

This forum is so useful I want to make sure I pay it forward!

Day 0 - Thursday March 2
I was traveling with my friend J and this was our experimental "can we travel together" trip? Travel compatibility is hard to judge beforehand!
We flew WOW from Boston - Reykjavik - Bristol. This was my first time on WOW, and unless I'm flying with a friend who needs to keep costs really low, this will be my last time on WOW. There was nothing wrong with the experience, I just prefer to upgrade to the next class up (economy comfort/plus/whatever) and this is not available on WOW. And they really do extract every penny they can out of you. You have to pay for everything, including water on board. Not a big deal as long as you know in advance and are prepared for it, but I like a little more in the way of services built into my ticket price. We paid for a larger carry-on, and had to stand in line for almost 45 minutes to check the size of our carry-ons because 1) almost everyone had to rearrange stuff to get their bag to fit or had to rearrange things because they had to check their bag and the WOW staff didn't start working with the next person in line until the frantically-rearranging-person was done and 2) they didn't start the bag checking process until boarding started. I find IcelandAir to also engage in some inefficient processes that irritate me tho they not actually a problem and the inefficiencies were magnified on WOW. The plane, staff, etc were just fine though.

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Day 1 - Friday March 3
We arrived at Bristol airport at 9:30am and had a fun conversation with the passport control officer. He was curious why we flew to Bristol when our destination was Cardiff. The answer was that we had a friend who lives in Bristol who was picking us up at the airport and we’d be driving to Chepstow and Tintern Abbey on our way to Cardiff, but it took a few sleep-deprived minutes to arrive at that key piece of information which he was more than satisfied by. J and I then took a few minutes to freshen up before exiting the secure area, washed our faces, changed clothes, etc. By the time we were done the whole area had cleared out of people. When exiting via the Nothing to Declare lane an agent asked us to confirm we had nothing to declare, had we bought anything at duty free? No. “Not even pepper spray? A lot of Americans buy it on their way to the UK but it can’t be brought in.” I looked confused and asked “Why would anyone want pepper spray in the UK? It’s super safe here.” He laughed and said “Yes, safe as houses!” and wished us well on our travels. Our friend C was waiting for us outside the doors, we popped briefly into M+S Food to pick up yogurt and we were off!

We drove to Chepstow Castle for our first stop. Walked around for at least an hour, maybe more. A lovely place, well worth a visit. It wasn’t “modernized” or “restored” by the Victorians or later, so it is a great stop if you want to see a proper “ruined” castle.

Next up - Tintern Abbey, where I was surprised yet again by a famous landmark being right there when you round a bend. People live right across the road from it! What’s that like? We stopped in at the Anchor Inn for lunch - beef pie for me, with a side of champ, and a pint of Butty Bach. We wanted to sit outside but the weather was taking a turn, so we sat inside where it was cozy.

We spent a couple of hours at Tintern Abbey, a place I’ve wanted to visit since high school. We had wanted to do all or part of the walk to Devil’s Pulpit, but the weather was uncooperative, so we headed on towards Cardiff and our lodgings. On the way we came across Parva Vineyard (www.parvafarm.com) and stopped in. Yes, there are vineyards in Wales, apparently quite a few, growing mostly German grapes, which makes sense. We tasted two or three and bought a few bottles of Bacchus (dry white) and their sparkling rose. I bought a bottle of Humpty Fuddles IPA, made by a neighboring farm’s Kingstone Brewery. The Bacchus was outstanding, I highly recommend it to anyone who likes dry German wines. We haven’t opened the Humpty Fuddles yet.

Final destination n Day 1: Premier Inn Cardiff East, which is actually in Castleton. A perfectly OK budget hotel. The attached restaurant Beefeater’s was pretty meh. We ate there the 1st night because we were exhausted and wanted a meal before bed.

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Day 2 - Saturday March 4
Up bright & early, had breakfast in Beefeaters - black pudding, poached egg, beans, toast. Then off to St. Fagans. We spent the morning here, about 3 hours, and I could easily have spent more. I love open air & living history museums like St. Fagans. The round pig house, the coal miners cottages through the ages, etc etc etc. So amazing. And there were so many brand new lambs, all wearing blue rain coats! I had a fun and funny conversation with the docent in the Bryn Eryr iron age farmstead about cultural inheritance and firewood stacking.
We bought slices of bara brith from the bakery, slathered with a thick layer of butter, and ate them with coffee. Top notch. I also picked up a package of Jones brand cheese & onion crisps for later.

Next we headed to Cardiff Castle. Another fabulous castle unimproved by the Victorians. Climbed the original Norman motte and keep, the manor house. Spent a couple of hours then took the shuttle boat to the waterfront area, had a late lunch, rode the carousel (the fastest moving carousel I’ve ever been on!) then back to the hotel to freshen up. We went to Six Bells Inn for pints (we got lost a little in the way there - the GPS took us down a very sketchy lane that dead ended at a high speed railroad line - the 12-point-turn required to get us out of there with ditches on both sides was an adventure) then back at the hotel we drank wine from the Parva Vineyard, ate snacks and looked at all of our photos.

Day 3 - Sunday March 5
Breakfast at the hotel again. I branched out and got a sausage with my black pudding, egg & toast instead of the beans. Wild times! I tried Marmite on my buttered toast. It’s ok. It’s kind of a more pungent version of Vegemite. Packed our bags into the car and said goodbye to the hotel. First stop Tredegar House, owned by the Morgan family, originators of the Morgan horse! Explored the house and stables and a bit of the grounds but the weather was acting up again. We headed to the Dragonfly pub for lunch - I highly recommend this pub. Great food, a little pricey but outstanding food. The baked camembert, duo of pate, fish & chips, all outstanding. We waited out a rain storm over pints, then hit the road for Caerphilly Castle, the Roman Legion Museum and the Roman Amphitheatre in Chester. We then drove back to Bristol to our hotel in Portishead. Our lunch had been fairly late and substantial so we went to a nearby bar for snacks and drinks and then called it a night.

Day 4 - Monday March 6 - Breakfast at the hotel (more black pudding!) and then J and I flew home.

Posted by
1838 posts

Many thanks for your feedback. The information on WOW airlines was ‘interesting’. It seems to me that people are not forewarned about cabin baggage size and the fact that food & drink must be paid for. Cardiff Airport are trying to get direct trans Atlantic flights as they have a very good runway. If they were to succeed, this would be really handy for travel to south Wales & the south-west of England. The Welsh Government are trying to get the UK government to allow them to abolish air travel duty which if successful , is likely to see airlines queuing up to get their flights into Cardiff. (From north America, they would also save a bit of fuel and time in going the bit extra to London). Qatar Airlines have just announced that they will fly to Doha from Cardiff:> https://www.cardiff-airport.com/news/2017/04/24/qatar-airways-chooses-cardiff-airport/

The reason that your navigation system took you down a blocked road when you were heading for the Six Bells is because the bridge over the railway had been removed. This is because the railway is being electrified and a new higher level bridge has to be put in place.

The Roman amphitheatre is not in Chester but in Caerleon - which is just north of Newport.

Always good to have feedback as it helps others yet to visit certain areas. The walk from Tintern to the Devil’s Pulpit is really hard going. If you are standing by the car park at Tintern Abbey, look across the river and to the top of the ridge towards the SSE - that is where you will end up.

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351 posts

James - thanks for the correction on the location of the Roman Ampitheatre in Caerleon (not Chester!)

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James, I've been thinking more about your comment about people not being "not forewarned about cabin baggage size" and while my travel companion & I were well informed, and packed accordingly, it both did and did not surprise me that others were caught off guard. Americans are really used to the rules being treated as just "guidelines" that can be skirted, and I wonder how much of this is just folks believing that the airline won't bother to be strict about it.

The concept of bare-bones air travel is pretty new on this side of the Atlantic, so I think people make a lot of assumptions about what they will encounter. Incorrect assumptions in the case of WOW travel.

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They are very strict about cabin baggage sizes in Europe. When you get to the airport(s), they have frames into which your baggage must fit. If it does not fit - then it must go in the hold and you will pay extra for this. Part of the reason is that the overhead lockers can only take a certain size. The other reason is the turnaround time: if people just have their carry on baggage, then they find it quicker to off load & re-load the planes and they don’t have to pay the airport for baggage handling. By charging for food & drink, it means that ticket costs can be kept down and this leads to more people being able to travel.

If you tell your friends about your trip and what the costs were, some might be tempted to make their first trans Atlantic flight. Well travelled people might be induced to take more trips. What WOW have done is induce more people to travel to Iceland - even they just stop over for 1 night when crossing the Atlantic. They have also been clever in using airports like Bristol where the landing fees are considerably lower than say Heathrow.

Once in Europe, many people prefer to travel by train as they don’t have all the baggage restrictions. The new trains that will operate on the Great Western & East Coast Mainlines will have overhead lockers that can take the size of cabin baggage that is allowed by most of the low cost airlines.

Here are the sizes for cabin baggage for most of the European airlines. (Easyjet & Ryan Air are probably the biggest operators). It is possible that they might move into the trans-Atlantic market.

https://www.skyscanner.net/news/cabin-luggage-guide-hand-baggage-sizes-and-weight-restrictions

Posted by
1 posts

This is great info - I have one night/one day to see Cardiff and surrounding environs, so... St. Fagan's looks like a winner. Thanks!

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351 posts

I forgot to include info on what was significant about buying a pack of Cheese and Onion crisps at St Fagan's - I also bought 2 packs out of the hotel vending machine - Walkers brand and Miss Vickie's (a brand we have in the states but not this flavor) and I had a taste test.

All were good but the winner for me was the down-market Walkers!

Posted by
1022 posts

So glad you reported back! Wales is on my list of must-see places in the future (after a 1/2 day drive through with a stop at Tintern Abbey) and I love reading about it!

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4822 posts

Motorgirl,
Thanks for the report.

We are planning to visit Southern Wales for five days in October and will see many of the same places you mentioned.

My paternal ancestors came from SW Wales, departing there in 1716. We are going to that village as well. Can't wait.