Back at the very beginning of March (before we found ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic and all the restrictions that resulted in), I celebrated St David’s Day with a couple of days exploring South East Wales. Now that there is no toll on the Severn Bridge, South Wales seems to feel a lot closer to Gloucestershire than it did before. The two day trips were organised by the Over the Bridge to Wales campaign – with Newport being just about an hour and 15 minutes from where I live it is within easy day trip or weekend-away distance, and there is so much to see and do in that area.
The first day trip involved a canal walk to an area absolutely steeped in Roman history. We met up at the Fourteen Locks Canal Centre just outside Newport. The flight of 14 (I guess you bet you didn’t guess that) locks, Cefn Flight of Locks, is recognised as a significant engineering feature of the Industrial Revolution, rising 160 feet in just half a mile.
It provides an excellent base for walks along the Monmouthshire-Brecon canal towpath with it’s car park, café and toilets. And that’s exactly why we were there.
We joined one of the monthly free guided walks, run by the small team of Rangers from Newport City Council, from Fourteen Locks Canal Centre to Caerleon. It was a little wet underfoot (we were fortunate as we were in the middle of a period of flooding, which included the Rivers Usk and Wye in the area), but the sky was reasonably kind as we walked, and we even found some blue sky in between the hail showers.
Our route (which I have plotted here on OS Maps in case you want to follow it yourself) took us down the hill passed the locks, two of which have been rebuilt, and along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal to Newport before heading along the River Usk to Caerleon. I learnt that the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal is the modern name for two 18th century canals, the Monmouthshire Canal and the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal, which were built to carry coal and iron from the pits in the Valleys (read about my trip to the Welsh Valleys here) to Newport.
It was a simple, flat, and surprisingly mud-free route, thanks to a board walk which takes walkers over the marshland along the side of the Usk. It was a little over 5.5 miles and a genuinely lovely way to spend a Saturday morning – walking really is one of the best ways to explore a new area, and having knowledgeable guides with us to chat through the history, wildlife, and offer other insights into the local are (including pointing out places we should return to visit another time), was a real bonus. Those free walks are (naturally) not taking place at the moment, but when they start back up again you’ll find them listed on the Fourteen Locks Canal Centre website.
Once in Caerleon we first stopped for some lunch at the Priory Hotel, which I would highly recommend if you’re planning to visit the area and I will certainly return to myself when I get the opportunity (and I also spoke about in weekly blog episode eight), we spent the afternoon learning more about this town’s Roman history. Having lived in Lincoln for a number of years, I have had the pleasure of learning about the Romans from my surroundings, and it was very interesting and a pleasure to learn some more here.
Then known as Isca, one of just three permanent legionary fortresses in Britain, Roman Caerleon was quite the bustling town. When the Roman legionary weren’t fighting the ancient Britons, they were allowed to enjoy the modern facilities here, including keeping fit at the fortress baths and watching the gladiators at the local amphitheatre. The remains of the Roman buildings are surprisingly intact, albeit with all the gaps filled in with housing and other buildings charting Roman times through to the present day, but there is still a surprising amount to see.
You can see the remains of the large open-air swimming pool (now inside a building…), that would have once held more than 80,000 gallons of water, and parts of the bath house (owned and managed by CADW). You can also see the amphitheatre (although this was closed due to flooding when we visited), which would have held 6,000 spectators when it was open, and the remains of the barracks where the soldiers lived. The National Roman Legion Museum houses an impressive collection of Roman artifacts, including a coffin that was discovered when builders were working on the University, and some beautifully preserved precious stones that were excavated from the water pipes that fed the bathhouse – the Roman’s hadn’t learnt to take their rings off when they went for a swim and a sauna.
With the walk in the morning and the Roman ruins to visit in the afternoon, we had an excellent day out in this part of South Wales. You could easily walk from Fourteen Locks to Caerleon, explore the Roman history, and then walk back to fetch your car if you were feeling energetic. But even without the walk, Caerleon is a great place to head for a day out over the bridge.
For full disclosure, this is not a sponsored post or review, but I did get the day out for free (including lunch and entry to the Roman Baths – the walk and all other attractions including the museum are free to all), and so I have marked this post as “gifted”.