Saturday, September 30, 2006

Running out of time...

Last week’s blog talked a lot about visiting ruins...well...this week’s blog is no different but the emphasis is on Roman ruins this time.

After finishing up in Caernarfon, I headed to the town of Llangollen, to the East of Wales & near the English border. It’s a nice, little town, nestled in the Welsh hills & great place to ‘chill’. There are a number of things to do there including a visit to the ruins of the Valle Crucis Cistercian Abbey (I thought it was much nicer than Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley). It’s a pity that the local council allowed a caravan park to spring up right next door...kind of distracts you from the Abbey.

Llangollen is famous for a series of canals that run through the area; the most famous part is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. It was build in the last 18th Century, is over 300m long & carries water (& canal boats) 38m (it looks more like 50m) over the river Dee. There is a tow path that you can walk along beside the canal (it does require you be OK with heights). If you think the view from towpath is scary….spare a thought for those people on the canal boats……look over the side & all you will see is a 38m drop to the valley floor below. Still….the aqueduct looks very impressive.

Another thing to do is Llangollen is to take a 20min steam train ride to the town of Carrag through some amazing Welsh countryside. Unfortunately…the day I decided to go, the steam strain wasn’t running (d’oh !!)...they had a powered railcar instead. The views really were amazing though.

With my time in Wales finished (& time running out in general)…….it was time to head north. I stopped in to Chester for the day to: walk to Roman Walls that surround the city; to wander through the Roman Amphitheatre ( can’t actually do have to stare at them from behind a fence) & checked out the Grosvenor Museum. I would’ve liked more time in Chester & I would’ve liked to have visited on a day when it wasn’t the Chester Race Day (D’Oh !!).

The highlight of this week has been exploring Hadrian’s Wall. I only had 2.5 days to explore the length of the wall so I concentrated on seeing some of the more famous sites. That included:

The Roman forts of Birdoswald, Vindolana, Housesteads & Chesters. The ruins are quite extensive & some are out of the way but the museums that were attached provided a fascinating insight into life on the frontier.

The Roman Army Museum (a bit ordinary I thought...the Tornado bomber aircraft flying 100ft around the area was far more interesting).

The mile castle at Cawfields & the Brunton Turret

The temple to the god Mithras at Carraburgh

The Roman town at Corbridge.

The wall itself is quite impressive. To think of the effort expended all those years ago to build a 4m tall, 2m wide, 189 mile long wall (with castles/towers every mile), fortresses every other 5 miles (or so) + a ditch to the north of the wall & a ditch to the south (to highlight the extent of the military zone) is truly mind-boggling.

The days up on the wall would inevitably start off cold, misty, windy & looking as though it would piss down any minute. It was at times like this when you get a sense of what it must have been like for a soldier posted here...protecting the frontier from the ‘barbarians’ from the north (that’s what the Romans thought of anyone to the north). When the sun came out, it really highlighted the beauty of the place.

The wall is very popular with walkers: I met so many people walking the entire length of the wall (carrying all their possessions in packs or with support crew taking their packs to the next destination) or people like myself, with limited time who would go to certain places & just walk a short length (about 1 mile or two) of the wall.

It was at Housesteads that I had a brush with fame. While wandering amongst the ruins, I ran into Julian Richards, the presenter of the BBC’s ‘Meet the Ancestors’ program. He was quite a nice chap & was very happy to talk about a book he’s writing about the wall. He was there with his cameraman taking photos of the wall for the book.

I’ve met some really great people along the way…a special mention to John & Cindy from Canada...a couple of drunken nights with locals Jane & Philip at ‘Black Bull Inn’ in Haltwhistle made for interesting times.

Most memorable hotel: ‘The Twice Brewed Inn’ at Twice Brewed...what a great name !! It’s right on the wall & is a bit of mecca for walkers of the wall. It’s a place to base yourself for touring the wall & somewhere to stop in for a pint (or three) before continuing on your walk.

One last brush with fame...I saw Pat Cash (Australian Tennis star) on the tube yesterday with a pretty, young, Asian lass who didn’t look like his wife. Is he still married ??? Was he ever married ??

Culinary Experiences.

The blog wouldn’t be complete without mentioning what’s happening in the food world.

This week’s ‘experience of the week’ goes to the Bridge End Hotel in Llangollen, Wales. I’d popped in there to try out the Pork in Pepper Sauce. I’m quite partial to a nice cut of pork so it sounded good.

I placed my order & imagined a plate with 4-5 small scaloppini of pork (pounded thin), floured, seasoned & pan-fried...arranged in an overlapping stack; a nice pepper sauce (with whole peppercorns), poured over the top & served with vegetables/salad & some potatoes.

Can you see where this heading folks ????

The salad & potato were as expected but imagine my surprise when the plate with the pork turned up. What was sitting before me was a bowl of diced pork, drowned (not drowning)...we’re talking the lifesavers were too late & the body is floating face down in the water & the rip is dragging it out to a creamy ‘soup’ with ground pepper (no whole peppercorns here). Obviously my imagination went a little wild with too much expectation.

One thing that I’ve forgotten to mention the simple fact of being able to purchase bananas (at a reasonable price). I can get three in a bunch here for less than 30p. For those non-Australians reading this blog, a little bit of background: earlier this year, a cyclone hit the north Queensland coast around a place called Longreach...this area happens to be the banana growing area of Australia. The crop was devastated & prices (in Canberra anyway) shot up to about $18.99/kg

Oh !!! Before I forget...I have found the best coffee shop in London ( !!) It’s the closest I’ve found to the sort of places anywhere in Italy. It’s called Caffe Vergnano at 62 Charing Cross Rd. Their Torino Mocha is to die for !!! They use an Elektra Coffee machine that looks like a small thermonuclear device & has as many levers/buttons as the Tardis on an episode of Dr. Who. These Elektra machines are apparently the Lamborghinis of Italian coffee machines & it’s the only one in the UK.

Well...that’s it from me for this posting. The next post will be from the continent where the emphasis will be more about the food experiences (at least I’ll be eating decent food from this point on).

Take care & until then...



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