Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pen Y Fan and the Cotswolds

Great hothouse

Margaret and I set off for a break to the Cotswolds on Saturday September £rd for a five day trip to see some of the best gardens in the UK. We traveled over on the Fastnet Line ferry from Cork to Swansea which gives one the best chance of getting the most of a limited timeframe as it crosses overnight. A comfortable sleep saw us arrive in Swansea at 8am on the Sunday morning and after an awful breakfast in a motorway services dump we headed to the botanic garden of Wales about twenty miles away. This proved to be an inspired choice and we were absolutely delighted and surprised by its scale, grandeur and quality. We had intended it only as a stopgap to fill in the morning and had planned to visit another garden in the afternoon but such was the variety and interest to be enjoyed that we spent nearly five happy hours exploring. It is a marvelous facility and something  which Wales should be very proud of.

Giant glasshouse.

It was now too late to visit the other garden so we decided to go for a drive up and through the Brecon Beacons. The road was quite busy and very twisty and we had the misfortune of getting caught behind a horsebox which slowed our progress for a full tweny miles or more. Still despite the delay I decided to round off the day by going for a run up Pen y Fan. We headed on down the A470 and parked at the Storey Arms car park. I changed and headed up the well made track. It is a fairly gentle route and I managed to run the most of the way up. There is a nice little downhill section before the steep final push to the summit of Corn Du 873mtrs. From here it is only about 600mtrs to the summit of Pen y Fan, at 886mtrs the highest summit in south Wales. It is a nice mountain with some nice steep ground on its northern side but overall the impression I got of the range is that it is very tame and managed ground. There is a uniformity to the ground cover that almost looks like a lawn or grass carpet covering everything. Anyway after the ferry crossing and the walk around the garden it was great to have the freedom of the hills for a while and I arrived back at the car invigourated and refreshed. From here we headed to Gloucester and our hotel, all in all a grand day.

The next few days were mostly taken up with the usual touristy things but the one thing I was really impressed by was the network of public paths that criss cross the countryside and link up the villages. What a wonderful facility these are and I took great delight in going for a couple of runs on them. It was great to enjoy the openness of the countryside and be able to avoid the roads. If the same was available here I would seldon run on the roads The Cotswolds is a beautiful area and one village after another is like a picture postcard. It is a triumph of planning and good taste. I was also very impressed by Stratford upon Avon. The town center has a great range of old beautifully preserved buildings and is mostly pedestrianised therefore is easy to get around. To finish the trip off we went to visit Prince Charles at his country estate in Highgrove. He didn't greet us in person but we did have a great tour around his garden. A visit to the nearby Westonbirt Arbouretum polished off the trip and a painless journey on the M4 back to Swansea and our ferry.
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