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This was one rare exception where I just booked the stay but did not plan anything, hoping others will do it. Nevertheless we arrived very late at Chepstow because lots of planned engineering work was going on M4. Weather was terrible on Friday , it was drizzling all the day. We checked-in at 5.30 and there was nothing else to do for that day. It is not everyday you can stay in a castle that too without breaking the bank. YHA did a fabulous job to maintain and renovate the castle .
St Briavel’s was an important royal castle on the frontier with Wales and the administrative and judicial centre of the Forest of Dean. Built in the early 12th century, it was the residence of the warden of the Forest of Dean – a royal hunting ground where the game was protected and the king alone allowed to hunt.
The gatehouse became a prison where those accused of committing offences within the forest area were held while awaiting trial.A number of prisoners’ inscriptions remain which testify to the unwholesomeness of the gaol but the legend that criminals were hanged from the battlements seems unlikely.
The YHA has a self catering kitchen and we had dal-rice for dinner. As there was nothing planned I decided to just pack my rucksack and follow a trail to river Wye but latter I realized actually it was not a correct trail . I did not have topo sheet , so relying on Google map I basically followed Offa’s Dyke path.
Offa’s Dyke is a great frontier earthwork built by Offa, King of Mercia from 757 to 796 A.D. It gives its name to a long distance footpath, one of Britain’s National Trails, which runs from Sedbury, near Chepstow, to Prestatyn through the varied and little-frequented landscapes of the Welsh Marches. This path is 177 miles long and 1200 years old.
It was still very cloudy with intermittent rain. The path had became very muddy and slushy. I walked up all the way to Devil’s pulpit. This is basically a rock formation of narrow pillar of limestone near the edge of the Wye gorge. The view form here to Tintern abbey is magnificent. The legend is that the Devil himself built the pulpit to cajole the monks from the Abbey to join him.
I continued the Offa’s dyke path to Tintern . Tintern is situated where the river Wye makes a loop. Tintern was only the second Cistercian foundation in Britain, and the first in Wales. The present-day remains are a mixture of building works covering a 400-year period between 1131 and 1536.
On September 3, 1536 Abbot Wyche surrendered Tintern Abbey to King Henry VIII’s officials and ended a way of life which had lasted 400 years.
Monk’s here used to live a very simplistic lifestyle. They were not allowed to eat meat except when they were very weak and frail . Architecture wise this monastery is divided into two parts, one where monks lived and worked and the other part where lay brothers stayed and worked. Lay brothers were illiterate peasants who were never ordained and used to to do most of the manual labor to make the Monastery running. There was an interesting guided tour to the ruins.
Tintern village itself on the bank of Wye river is also very nice and touristic and can be used as a base to explore the local area. From the Abbey I walked along the main road to Brockweir where I crossed the river and then continued along the Mill Hill road, Hilgay road and finally Lowe road back to St. Briavels castle. Evening was uneventful , I had to fill my stomach and for missed lunch and dinner together.
My second day started with a delicious English breakfast from YHA. I walked towards Clearwell caves. This walk was along a major road B4228 and was pretty boring . The cave system is natural and is extensively mined for iron ore. It is still in operation and it was fascinating to explore the huge mazes of underground tunnels . There were discarded machinery all over . There is also a museum onsite to learn about mining history . Those days mines used Billy boys to carry iron from the drilling trench to the loading wagon. Billy boys were 7-10 years old kid who had to carry 7-10 kg up and down using chained ladder . They had work 10 hrs a day in those harsh condition.
Most of the miners lived a short life due to harsh working condition and also the dust they used to inhale. I spent about 2 hours exploring the mine and then it was time to return. I used a longer and different route this time through Dean forest. I reached my hostel in the evening tiered but happy. I ordered my evening meal in the hostel, it was two course meal of rice and chilly beef and we had chocolate brownie and ice cream for desert. Overall it was nice trip though could have been better planned .
I left Monday morning to catch my bus to London from Chepstow. I arrived home by 12.30.