Friday, June 13, 2014

Off to Brecon for the Day!

Well,   the sun is up and another day has set in.  I cannot believe this leg of the trip where I am on my own is almost over.  OnlyIMG_3735 two more days in Merthyr Tydfil and I will be heading to London to meet up with the rest of my Europe travel group.  Since time is running short I have decided to hop on a bus and explore the neighboring town of  Brecon on my own.  In making plans,  Pip's oldest son Nials volunteers to accompany me and so mid morning he swings by Bernard's dads house where I join him on the journey to the downtown bus station.
IMG_3729Ok... Let's learn a little about my destination - Brecon - This modern day market town was first established as a military base in the early 1100.  A castle was constructed on the top of the hill which was strategically positioned near the intersection of the River Handdu  and River Usk.  Not far away was the only location on the River Usk where one could cross prior to the building of any bridges for a long ways.  Soon a fortified community sprung up near by and the town has always had strong military ties.  A wall was built surrounding it to protect it from invaders.  Those walls were virtually destroyed in the English civil war and the small parts that still exist today are monuments to the towns history.  Present day Brecon boasts a population just over 8,000 inhabitants and is an ideal destination for holiday as it sits just on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Thanks wikipedia for the information but it is time to move on and enjoy the ride to Brecon and explore.
The sky is blue and filled with sunshine as the bus travels through the Welsh countryside IMG_3736towards Brecon.  On the edge of town we cross over a bridge spanning the Usk River and immediately I spot a must see destination standing tall on the top of a hill.  Yes the castle with all its glory is overlooking the town from above.  From this distance it is hard to tell what it exactly is,  but I know we will end up there at some point today.  A short distance later we exit  the bus stepping  into the business district and begin our exploration.  The narrow streets are filled with flowers from hanging baskets along the store fronts to what seems to be mounds of flowers strategically placed on the sidewalks.  It is quite nice and I can tell this is a town ready for tourists.   Our first stop is a local pastry shop where we enjoy IMG_3726some local fare. After my mouth waters for a bit,  I decide to try several of the treats since I am on vacation: a  cream filled doughnut, a custard slice, a mini cream Victorian sponge,  and a coffee choux all washed down with a cup of coffee.  Good thing Nials is along so I don't have to eat it all myself.  After our little breakfast we wandering around the streets and squares of Brecon.  Step after step I am impressed with how clean everything is with it brick and mortar facades.  I can easily tell this town is old and has a rich history to tell if one listens closely.  We use the church steeples which protrude high above the town's rooftops and can easily be see as a guide to explore.   They make good landmarks to walk towards and we visit several  of them on our journey.   St. Mary's church in the heart of the city with its beautiful stain glass windows we can only admire from the exterior as the doors are locked this day.  It is easy to see how its bell tower dominated the IMG_3727town skyline for centuries with its castle like top and gold plated clock.    Just outside the back of the church is a small concrete square with some of those flowering mounds and benches in front of a large statue of the Duke of Wellington. Across the street is the historic Wellington Hotel.  We take a peak inside and are transformed back many decades.  A simply elegant travel back in time if one is interested in staying in a setting like that I would suggest checking in.  We head back outside and down the narrow streets in the direction of the next church steeple.  Exploring the churches as we go,  some of them only from the outside and some of them we get to take a peak inside.   In between the churches are many little discoveries, like the town market with home made crafts, fresh meats,  and many more items The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh which looks to be a military museum of ome sort.   In front of the museum is a small yard with some military artifacts we can enjoy, but we decide not to go in the actual museum as we are enjoying being outside and the price to enter is a little more then we want to spend.
IMG_3760At this point we have been walking a lot and the morning has disappeared quickly.  We are now in need of some lunch and I am hungry for traditional fish and chips Welsh style.  We begin our search for a nice local restaurant as we cross over a nondescript rock bridge into another part of town.   When we get to the opposite side of the river,  I notice a plaque on a house wall stating that the bridge was constructed in 1563.  It was one of the first bridges constructed over the river and with some structural assistance over the years it still stands today.  We continue our walk down the busy street lined with row buildings showcasing  shops to explore just beyond the sidewalks along the right had side.  On the other side, beyond the sidewalk, is a large open grassy knoll behind a decorative fence.  We  pass by several little eateries on our IMG_3756way but they all seem to be closed or don't have fish and chips.   On the opposite side of the street we come to a gate with a driveway that leads through the open grass area to  several lovely building nestled not far down the driveway.  One of them has a tall steeple which is why we decided to head this way.   It is the campus of Christ College, a boarding school for kids.  A gorgeous campus just at the edge of town.  We decide not to check into the possibility of exploring the campus as we are in search of lunch and now we find ourselves on the edge of town and the only way back is the direction we just came.
IMG_3763The little detour sure has pushed back our lunchtime and when we are finished revisiting our steps,  we come to a small restaurant in a part of town obviously frequented by tourists.  Not exactly what we were looking for but by this time we are hungry and fish and chips are on the menu.  We devour lunch which is delightful and ask for directions to the fort returning to our quest.  At the top of a hill in the directionIMG_3740 we are traveling we see steeple which we decide to use  as a guide.   We wander towards the steeple situated on top of a hill, our hope is that we will be able to find our bearings  by looking out from there and that we can see the castle and know which direction to go.  Brecon Cathedral, a massive structure looming on top of a steep hill surrounded by well manicured gardens.  The views are wonderful and we are encouraged  to explore by one of the nuns as we wander through the gardens.  At least we think she was a nun. This time we are fortunate as the building is unlocked and we are able to take a look around.   Into the sanctuary we step quietly with it empty pews and acoustical chamber.   At the front of the church are five spectacular stain glass IMG_3739windows rising above the elaborate alter.   When writing this post,  I searched for information regarding the amazing alter but was not able to find any story.
After spending some time enjoying the building and gardens of Brecon Cathedral,  we look out over the city and are disappointed as we are unable to see the castle anywhere.  We were sure we would be able to see it from up there but no luck.  Like before, the only way down the hill was the way we came so we trace our steps back down the steep hillside.  At this point I am determined to find the castle although I am starting to feel a little under the weather.  We ask for some assistance from some of the locals traveling with us through the streets and after a little over an hour we finally arrive at the entrance of the Castle Hotel.   A three star hotel built next to the remains of the original Brecon Castle,  we look around for access to the castle but it IMG_3759
looks like just the outside walls remain.   We head through the lobby and dining area into the lavish gardens on the other side.  Walking around the side of the hotel we can get close but do not find anyplace to gain entrance.  I have seen my first bits of a true castle and look forward to more on this European adventure.  By this time it is mid afternoon and I am beginning to drag a little.  I think with the jet lag and all the miles of walking,  I have wore myself out and may have even caught a bug of some sort.  We decide to head back towards the bus stop only stopping for a quick look around the Brecon Canal.  I wish we would have found the canal earlier as it offers a cruise which would have been fun to take.   But as the evening is approaching we start our  journey back to Merythr Tydfil.   As I step onto the bus,  I am exhausted and cannot help but hope that I am not coming down with anything..  

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