Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In Which We Climb a Hill fort, and Enjoy the Welsh Accent

Like most of the UK, this area is rich in history. There are more castles here than you could shake a Great Day Out brochure at, as well as any number of pre and post industrial revolution sites like old mills, mines, brickworks, and factories. If your tastes run to the more ancient, you don’t have to go far to find an old Roman encampment, a standing stone, or an iron age hill fort. As a child, I remember my dad taking me on walks up hills that looked like any other hill to me, until he would point out the ditches that ran around the top of the hill and show me where old fortifications would have stood. I find it fascinating to see evidence of these ancient tribes living out their lives: hunting, travelling, marauding, calling each other on their rune-phones. Nah, I’m only joking about that last bit. They didn’t have phones then. Just the runes.

Anyway – there are some great hill forts near here and so we set out for Brecon Beacons National Park to climb up Pen-Y-Crug.

Brecon is a great little town. The River Usk runs through it and there is a beautiful cathedral.


Not sure about the Witch, but I liked it.

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The visitor centre gave us a map which looked easy enough, but, as with most directions over here, is not. We got the first part right (‘Climb the stairs beside this building”) and then managed to turn left then right at the appropriate intersections, and then ran into a spot of trouble locating the bridge, even though we were practically standing on it. I asked a man walking by and he said it was just up ‘past his car’ without bothering to say where his car was. And so it went like that for awhile until we finally broke free of the town and found ourselves on a footpath heading up.


This hill was the site of an old brick and tile works in the 1800s. The red mud was dug up in the winter and left to dry out over the winter. In the spring it was fashioned into bricks and tiles, fired in kilns that were built right up on the hillside, and then taken by horse and cart into town.

But now it is just a breathtakingly beautiful spot with the added bonus of having one of the best examples of an iron-age hill fort around.


Here you can see one of the rows of trenching that surrounds the hill-top. There are about 4 rows of these ditches before you get to the top of the hill.


When we go to the top, the kids collapsed

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It was beautiful up there and we could see for miles


Those are the Beacons in the background. This is Tolkien country and much of the setting of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit is taken from this area. I can see the Black Mountains out of my bedroom window and it is said that they were his inspiration for Mordor. At any point in the countryside, you could be in the Shire, and on our drive home we passed through the town of Crickhowell, which sounds a lot like Crickhollow.

We had a picnic, watched and listened to the world’s cutest Skylark, then made our way back down the hill.

There was, of course, a herd of sheep on the hill with us. One of the lambs still had its tail:

Jacob (looking at the lamb with amazement): What’s that!?

Me: A lamb…what do you mean? It’s a lamb, honey.

Jacob: It has a tail!

Me: Sheep have tails but the farmers take them off when they are little as they tend to get in the way

Jacob (his entire world shifting slightly) Sheep have tails????


We walked back to town and left Brecon for Merthyr (Sounds a bit like Mordor) where we wanted to take the Brecon Mountain Railway Narrow Gauge Steam Train. It was a short little trip through what seemed to be mostly bracken (causing me to rename it the Bracken Mountain Railway) with a few wild Welsh Mountain Ponies thrown in for variety. The real highlight, though, was the brilliant Welsh accent of the conductor and engineer. I could have listened to them for hours. I had a conversation with the engineer who wanted to know where I was from, and then remarked that he had friends who had just moved back to Wales from Canada. I asked where they had lived and he said, with great delight, “Moosejaw!!! When they first told me they was living in Moosejaw, I thought they were winding me up!”


The conductor and engineer discussing tea.


The Hogwarts Express Lite pulling into the station

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The kids got the jump seats on the way back and we listened to the conductor sing his way through various conversations.

On the drive home, we were behind an ‘Ambiwlans’ for awhile. The Welsh language laws would put the Quebec Sign laws to shame.


Although some of the signs are perhaps not necessary…


The day ended with more monopoly, and some fishing, which was more like ‘snagging’ but who cares.

Last day in the cottage tomorrow.

Thanks for reading-



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