Report on the Historical Association Tour of Cardiff and its environs

By Elizabeth Yarker, tour leader, published 31st August 2018

Twenty-three  people met in the comfortable Clayton Hotel in central Cardiff in June to attempt to assimilate two thousand years of Welsh history in a week. We were blessed with a heatwave, a bustling city environment, and a lot to see.

We started on the eastern edge of South Wales Coalfield, at the superb Blaenavon Ironworks in the World Heritage Site, then crossed its mining-scarred landscape on our way to Abergavenny, where the small community at St. Mary’s Priory was singing Sext as we arrived. After seeing the chapel there, with its monuments to Marcher families, we moved on to the Usk Museum of Rural Life, then to Pontypool Museum, and finally to Caerleon, where everyone headed for the Amphitheatre and a few manged a quick dash around the National Roman Legion Museum  and the Roman Baths.

The next day, we toured the Welsh National Assembly in Cardiff before heading to Dyffryn Gardens and House, now under much-needed restoration. Then on to St. Illtud’s Church at Llantwit Major (where impressively carved stones survive) and Ewenny Priory, built just  after 1100.

On day three, we stood amazed at mighty Caerphilly Castle, set in its huge lakes, then went up to Aber Valley to the dignified Welsh Mining Memorial Garden on the site of the Senghenydd explosion in 1913, Britain’s worst mining disaster, which killed 440 men. The Aber Valley Heritage Museum greeted us with open arms, and in the afternoon we explored St. Fagan’s.

On Friday we rushed around Newport – there was far too much to see. The Museum is comprehensive, and we crossed the Usk and back on the Transporter Bridge, before visiting Newport Ship (c. 1450, currently undergoing conservation), St. Woolos Cathedral and the Fourteen Locks Canal Centre, before heading to Tredegar House for late seventeenth-century splendour, Victorian wealth and philanthropy, and twentieth -century   decadence.

On Saturday we went to the Lewis Merthyr Colliery for the Rhondda Mining Experience, donning hard hats and ‘going down the mine’. The Royal Mint was a great contrast, as was our last stop for the day, Cardiff Castle, where a festival was on and our guided tour took us around the third Marquess of Bute’s amazing apartments.

Sunday sae us visit the Nation Museum of Wales then the coach took us to Merthyr Tydfil for Cyfarhfa Castle, built by the Crawshays in 1824, but now a museum run by the Borough Council. We had planned to visit Castell Coch on the way back, but it was shut for repairs, so we took a boat tour of Cardiff Bay instead – a more leisurely end to a frenetic week.