Not all benches are equal

One of the impressive stone benches on Caerphilly Mountain
One of the impressive stone benches on Caerphilly Mountain

I’ve been thinking about benches again.

I hear your groans, but before you quickly move on to the next blog, let me assure you that I’m not about to launch into another tirade about poorly positioned benches, quite the opposite.

As I explained in my April blog, benches assume huge importance in a hiker’s daily life, especially in this soggy land we call home where you’re guaranteed a damp posterior if you throw caution to the wind and plonk yourself down on a grassy verge to enjoy the scenery, nibble elevenses, check the map, etc.

For this reason, Harri and I generally greet each and every bench along the route with great enthusiasm (even if we don’t actually sit down on it). Yet, as I’ve noted of late, all benches are not equal.

Some blend into the landscape beautifully, while others are (to borrow from Prince Charles’s well-publicized views) nothing more than ‘monstrous carbuncles‘ which detract from the beauty of their natural surroundings.

Here are just a few of the stunners and carbuncles we’ve come across recently (all located in South Wales).

 

Any room for a little one? (Dunraven Castle gardens)
Any room for a little one? (Dunraven Castle gardens)

The girls thought this bench at Dunraven Castle was the biggest they were ever likely to see but I’ve since learned that there’s a 240 ft park bench in OskarshamnSwedenLånga Soffan was constructed from wood in 1867 and was used by sailors’ wives, who sat side by side in the harbour, waiting for their husbands to return from sea.

Many of the benches we encounter are even older, some incorporated into the walls of castles and old stone buildings or taking pride of place in historic and ornamental gardens.

 

This one's going nowhere - an integral stone bench at Abergavenny Castle
This one’s going nowhere – an integral stone bench at Abergavenny Castle

 

Bill and Ben (the flowerpot men) supporting a 'weedy' heavy bench in the gardens of Usk Castle
Bill and Ben (the flowerpot men) supporting a ‘weedy’ heavy bench in the gardens of Usk Castle

 

Of course, not all seating in castle grounds are ancient, or made of stone, as this ogre of a bench in the gardens of St Briavel’s Castle, Gloucestershire (now a Youth Hostel) demonstrates.

 

The wooden seat at St Briavels
Who’s brave enough to get close to this ogre?

Others put functionality before aesthetics, like this simple design spotted on the Taff Trail in Cardiff (note its convenient placing next to a waste bin… handy for the chocolate wrappers).

 

Clean lines for this functional bench at Pontcanna Fields, Cardiff
Clean lines for this functional bench at Pontcanna Fields, Cardiff


Sometimes you can’t shake off the feeling that something’s not quite right with a bench.

Er, isn't there something missing on this picnic table? Like the table!
Er, isn’t there something missing on this picnic table? Like the table!

 

Don't lean back on this bench at Newport Wetlands
Don’t lean back on this bench at Newport Wetlands

 

Leaning forward is the only option on this bench alongside the River Usk at Abergavenny
And leaning forward might not be an option on this one in Abergavenny

Of course, there are some benches that merge so beautifully with their environment that it’s easy to miss them altogether.

 

It would be easy to miss this beautiful stone seat on Mynydd Machen
It would be easy to miss this beautiful stone seat on Mynydd Machen

Or perhaps they’re not seating at all but just part of the natural landscape.

 

I'm still undecided about this one!
Bench or log? I’m still undecided about this one!

It’s long been acceptable for bereaved families to dedicate a bench to a loved one, so in this age of blatent self-promotion what’s wrong with the villagers of Grosmont, Monmouthshire, singing their own praises in this highly visible way?

 

A glowing report on Grosmont... from a local bench
A glowing report on Grosmont… from a local bench

However, my favourite bench out of all those we’ve flopped onto or scurried past while out walking has to be the wonderful commemorative offering to Welsh cartoonist Grenfall Jones, who died in 2007. Located on the Gren Way (a route around Hengoed which features several of Gren’s best-known characters, including Ponty and Pop and the Gren sheep, Neville and Nigel), this stylish bench combines great design and functionality; it also looks as though it’s going to last. Bench designers everywhere take note.

 

First prize for the best design in South Wales goes to... the Gren bench
First prize for the best design in South Wales goes to… the Gren bench

But that’s enough about benches; recently I’ve been focusing my attention on a particular aversion of mine… stiles. Watch this space!

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