Caerleon: Old World Thinking

Entrance to Amphitheatre

You can take children to a world heritage site, but all they want to do is go to the modern playground. After leaving our campsite, we made one last stop in Bath – at the Victoria Park playground, where the kids ran wild for three quarters of an hour with the entire place to themselves as all the locals were in school. Sent on a challenge to do every slide in the park, they raced about and ran some craziness out of their legs. The next drive would be a long one on an English scale, all the way to Wales. An hour’s drive in Australia doesn’t take you very far, yet this one took us past Bristol, over the Severn River, and into Newport before we headed to Caerleon’s Roman Museum to see their Amphitheatre. We watched a group of school kids playing games in the centre of the Amphitheatre, one that is reputed to be the origins of the Knights of the Round Table myth from King Arthur. Excavated in the 1920s, the town also contains remains of the barracks and a bathing complex.

Roman Amphitheatre

The bathing complex is a welcoming little museum, with plenty of information. Much of it overlaps with the Roman Baths in Bath, but suits travelers who want to avoid the intensity of the bigger place. The site is well researched, and includes a wide variety of archeological discoveries, including the biggest etched gemstone haul on a British Roman site. These are displayed in the town’s main museum (separate to the bathing complex museum). The town’s main museum also includes some neat photos of the excavation of the Amphitheatre back in the 1920s, as well as other archeological digs from the 1960s and 1970s. Of particular note to the children, was the toilet in the main town museum has a wooden replica Roman seat.

Mix of stone and tile construction

Once again we spent buckets of money on books at the shop – the kids collected a large portion of the Horrible Histories series – but at least they are reading about the sites we are seeing. Spending on books is never a waste, although we might also require a new shelf to put them all on when we get home. Across the road an interesting looking building called The Priory called us in for lunch.

Somewhat flasher than we’d expected, we shared three entre/mains combinations. Three delicious salads; Spanish, melon, and a beetroot and goat’s cheese one. Three mains; lamb shank, beef brisket, and fried cod. All of them were gorgeous, the meat done to perfect in a slow oven style, just falling apart. No1 said that it wasn’t really our kind of place, “it’s for sullen high chested men and their fancy women.” Trust a 12 year old to pinpoint the older blokes with puffed out chests (to hide their beer bellies?) who dine with perfectly coiffured women. Perhaps, given that it’s a small farming town, they are just ordinary farming folk who have taken the effort to dress for lunch.

After we’d spent several hours in the town exploring all the different sites, we piled back in the truck to drive to Cardiff to see the Transporter bridge. In terms of engineering history, there are only eight of these bridges left in the world, and as Mr Engineer says “old world thinking to fix a new world problem.” The problem – tall sailing ships need to pass up the river, but vehicles need to cross the river. The solution – a bridge with a train track very high above the river. Along that train track, a carriage box is hung from long cables and driven across the gap. The whole thing gives the appearance of a massive pulley system and is terribly inefficient. The council employee who worked on board told us the bridge is too expensive to run, and the council close it over winter. We only made the season by two weeks, so were lucky to get a ride across. There is the option of climbing the stairs to walk across the top, but that looked pretty damn crazy.

Transporter Bridge

From here, we drove to our campground in the tiny village of Llantwit Major. It took three days before one of the kids (No3) asked if Llantwit Minor existed. The drive to the campground went via Barry, a town No2 thought he knew plenty about because earlier this year, he did an assignment on Australia’s first female prime minister Julia Gillard, and she was born in Barry, Wales. No2’s friend thinks the town name is hilarious because it’s a person’s name. It rained on and off all day, but only light drizzly rain.

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