After all the heavy rain of Sunday and Monday (plus the mini cyclone in Rhiwderin on Monday afternoon which no-one except me seemed to notice but which sent my antique Bridgend Creamery milk urn hurtling up the garden to land just outside the back door) we seized the moment yesterday and abandoned work for a much-needed walk in the autumn sunshine.
Of course, no day’s walking is purely for pleasure anymore as new ideas for ebooks present themselves. Tuesday’s walk was for our forthcoming ‘Walks From Castles’ series, the castle in question being the one located on the western bank of the River Usk here in Newport.
Sadly, ours is not a castle in which to enjoy family days out or stage battle re-enactments; what remains of the original Normal structure building is now sandwiched between a tidal river, busy dual carriageway and the main intercity railway line. Years ago, it was possible to get much closer to the castle but vandalism and ‘anti-social’ behaviour have allegedly resulted in the current situation where all access is prohibited.
But this isn’t a blog about Newport castle or any other of Newport’s ‘iconic’ places… Tredegar House, the Wave, the Transporter Bridge, the 1978 Chartist Mural by Oliver Budd (which, despite a petition and local protests, was recently smashed to smithereens by the council, shockingly a Labour council). So sadly, our mural (actually a mosaic) is no more. Newport-born actor Michael Sheen was so outraged by the whole episode, he took out a full page advert in the South Wales Argus and penned an open letter in which he wrote how the council’s decision to bulldoze this tribute to this country’s hard-fought democracy to make way for a shopping centre had “shamed” the city.
There was widespread coverage in national media of the shameful episode, undoubtedly fuelled by Sheen’s letter. Not since it tried desperately to hide the discovery of a medieval ship during excavations for the new Riverfront Theatre in 2002 has Newport council been so feted by the media and, yet again, for all the wrong reasons.
Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with Newport, or Newport, Mon as it was always called in my childhood, the ‘Mon’ standing for Monmouthshire (not to be confused with the post-1996 Monmouthshire which covers a much smaller geographic area and does not include Newport).
I was born here yet never intended to live here all my life. During my A levels, I fantasized about living in France and a year or so later, with the lyrics of Abba’s ‘I wonder’ ringing in my ears, I left my hometown twice. My first ‘escape’ was an ill-fated spell as an au pair to a family with spoilt kids in Vienna; that lasted a week. My second venture into the big world was more successful; I joined my sister for a summer season on the beautiful Isles of Scilly.
But hometowns have a habit of drawing you back and after three years in Cornwall, I packed my bags and returned to Newport, where I’ve pretty much remained ever since.
My main lament about Newport is that the city itself is so grey and depressing, with far too much 1960s and early 1970s soul-less architecture in the city centre, not to mention a fast-flowing tidal river. This week, however, I was determined to put my Pollyanna hat on and look beyond the concrete and muddy riverbanks to uncover the natural beauty and man-made quirkiness of my home town.
We walked from the house but joined the route proper at the junction of Western Avenue and Bassaleg Road and headed over Gaer hillfort where the autumnal colours were looking quite glorious in the sunshine. From the highest point there are some amazing views back towards Bassaleg and beyond and, if you turn the other way, across the Bristol Channel. It’s hard to believe a sprawling housing estate lies just over the ridge.
Talking of which… I love houses and architecture and I’ve long been impressed with the curved lines of the terraces on the Gaer estate. In fact, it’s a really nice estate for all sorts of other reasons, like the wide streets and the amazing views across the industrial flats of Newport and beyond. My GP and dental surgeries are on the Gaer so I visit regularly. Yes, I have a real soft spot for the Gaer.
The section of route we were least looking forward to was the stretch of Wales Coast Path (though in Newport, that’s a bit of a misnomer because the said ‘coast’ comprises mainly the mudflats of the tidal River Usk. Still, Harri had done his research and we wandered through the lanes of Maesglas for as long as possible before finally joining the official coast path close to various large retail outlets.
With my Pollyanna hat on I couldn’t help noticing how beautiful the trees alongside the pedestrian walkway were looking.
One of the things I love most about walking around towns and cities is that you really notice the details, small things that don’t even register when you’re driving or travelling by bus. Using your legs forces you to slow down and you get the opportunity to look at your surroundings, really look.
We carried on towards the Transporter Bridge where I paused to take lots of photographs, for once managing to capture this amazing feat of engineering against a blue sky. As children, we’d head down Stephenson Street and spend hours going back and fro on the cradle completely free of charge. These days, the bridge seems closed more often than not (it was closed on Tuesday) and no longer forms part of Newport’s transport system.
If you’ve got time, the Waterloo Hotel (opposite) is definitely worth checking out and, before you turn your nose up at the idea of liquorice icecream, you really should try some because it’s rather delicious (and this from someone who picks the liquorice bits out of liquorice allsorts). Even if you don’t want to stop for food, it’s worth popping in for a quick half just to admire the beautifully restored bar.
With miles left to walk, we hurried onwards, heading towards Newport town centre and the castle. This definitely isn’t my favourite part of Newport, but the castle being key to our walk, there was really no option.
One of the things I do enjoy about urban walking is the graffiti; some people hate it and think the arbitrators should be hung, strung and quartered. Me? I love it! Not the ‘Shaz luvs Mik’ type, of course, but there are some really talented graffiti artists out there. Watch out Banksy!
This masterpiece was spotted on one of the concrete pillars underneath the SDR bridge, where there’s now a nice walkway alongside the river and a path running directly underneath. Further along the river, near Crindau Pill, we spotted another display of colour, which brightened up what would otherwise have been an eyesore.
Finally, we left Newport town centre (eleven years on, I still can’t think of Newport as a city!) and joined the towpath alongside the Monmouthshire Canal, before heading up through Allt-yr-ryn Nature Reserve.
Oddly, once we were in scenic surroundings again, the photographic opportunities just seemed to dry up. I’m afraid to say that wholly green landscapes produce wholly green and very boring images. My duck pics just didn’t work well either. Which only goes to show that ugly cities have more to offer than first meets the eye… to the budding photographer at least.
Postscript… sitting in our local, the Tredegar Arms, last night I heard the news that a NATO summit is to be held here in Newport next year. No prizes for guessing the venue, of course but it might mean that our little city is finally put on the international map for something other than council cover-ups!
ebooks made for walking at camau.co.uk