24 May 2012
Over the next 64 days we will be devoting our blog to uncovering the Torch Relay Route. We’ll be in front, behind, neck and neck and at times running along either side of the torch as it makes it ways across the country, celebrating the sights, sounds and smells that the UK has to offer. We will blog every 3-4 days during the Torch Relay, highlighting places of interest in the area through which the Torch is about to pass and flagging up interesting stories and local sites for you to discover.
This week we are in the West Midlands and Wales. Day 6 begins in the South West in Gloucester, a city strategically positioned near the River Severn and with a past dating back to Roman times. Following the Torch after it has travelled to this historic city, the flame will wind its way through the other cities, towns and countryside of the West Midlands. Hereford, a West Midlands cathedral city dating back to the Saxons, is known locally as the historic capital of the Wye Valley. As well as being home to the magnificent Cathedral, it is a handy base for exploring the English-Welsh border region, where you can find other historic religious gems, such as Bacton Church and Dore Abbey. Bacton Church, dedicated to Saint Faith (a Virgin Martyr), dates to the thirteenth century. Interesting characteristics of the church include the tomb of Blanche Parry, which features the earliest known depiction of Queen Elizabeth I as an icon (Gloriana) and a framed silk alter cloth fashioned from an Elizabethan court dress.
Leaving the country churches behind, if you venture back on the Torch relay route you will come across the Georgian town of Bewdley. Located on the river Severn, the town can literally be translated as ‘beautiful place’. Popular attractions within this part of the West Midlands include the West Midlands Safari Park and the Severn Valley Railway, which the Torch will stop at on its journey through the region. Another interesting site in the area is Harvington Hall, a moated medieval and Elizabethan manor-house. Built in the 1580s by Humphrey Parkington, the Hall suffered a turbulent past which included pillaging by Roundhead troops in 1644. Of particular interest are the Hall’s original Elizabethan wall-paintings and series of priest-holes. As the Torch heads through Bewdley, and passes through Kidderminster and Fernhill Heath, it will complete its journey in the ancient city of Worcester.
Day 7 of the Torch Relay route begins in Worcester. This is a city noted for its rich heritage and extensive countryside. Croome Park highlights the best of both of these features. Croome was Lancelot, ‘Capability,’ Brown’s first complete landscape design and his first and seminal architectural project. The parkland has a man-made lake, statues and temples. Other buildings around the park, including Pirton Castle, a Panorama Tower and the remains of Dunstall Castle, are featured at a distance from the park and cleverly draw the eye towards Croome’s imposing eighteenth century house.
After passing through Worcester, the Torch Relay route leads out of the West Midlands towards Wales. Of the small towns that occupy the lush Welsh countryside, the landscape of Blaenavon best reflects the country’s Industrial and mining past. During the nineteenth century Blaenavon, now a World Heritage site, became the most important producer of iron, coal and steel in the world. Visitors can learn more about the town’s coal-mining past at the Big Pit National Coal Museum. The museum, based around the former Big Pit Colliery, includes a 300ft (90m) descent into the old colliery, and tours explaining the life and work of coal miners. Leaving Blaenavon, the torch will finish the day at the Welsh capital of Cardiff.
As the torch leaves Cardiff on Day 8, the iconic castle and Millennium Stadium will be visible as the flame wends its way towards Barry and the South Coast of Wales. The dramatic scenery along this part of the Welsh Coastline is best experienced on the Cardiff Bay Trail. This six mile circular walk runs around the Bay and across to the seaside town of Penarth via Pont y Werin (a 140 metre bridge). Some of Cardiff’s best historic landmarks, such as a beautiful Norwegian Church, can be viewed on this trail. In the afternoon the Olympic Torch will briefly pause at Merthyr Tydfil, a town that lies adjacent to the Brecon Beacons. One way to view this National Park is by vintage steam train. The Brecon Mountain Railway, which travels from Methyr to Pontsticill and back, passes through breathtaking landscape that includes the Taf Fechan Reservoir and Pontsticill dam.
As the Torch heads into the historic town of Bridgend in the afternoon, take a moment to pay a visit to St John’s Hospice, Bridgend’s oldest secular building. Dating from the 15th century and standing within the Newcastle Hill conservation area (which also includes the medieval Newcastle Castle ruin), the building was thought to have been a stopping place for pilgrims and it is now a well-preserved example of post-medieval domestic dwellings in Wales. Just as it welcomed pilgrims centuries ago, St John’s will be opening its doors to those visiting Bridgend as the Olympic Torch travels through the town, offering visitors a rare glimpse inside a building not normally accessible to the public.
For the rest of the day the Torch will continue its route along the Welsh coast before the evening celebration in Swansea.
Day 9 begins in the coastal city of Swansea, once known as ‘Copperopolis’ in the nineteenth century because of its significant copper industry. In the village of Mumbles, a short distance from Swansea, sits the impressive Oystermouth Castle. This Norman structure, rebuilt in the twelfth century following a local revolt, has recently undergone extensive renovation and visitors can access its Alina’s Chapel via a 30-foot high glass viewing platform that provides stunning views over Swansea bay. Another historic highlight near Swansea is the Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall. Set in a steep gorge, Aberdualis once pioneered a water-powered tinplate working trade. With the largest electricity-generating waterwheel in Europe, the waters of the River Dulais are still used today which makes Aberdulais an environmentally friendly and self-sufficient site. As the Olympic Torch heads deeper into Wales, it will pass the small village of Aberaeron. Aberaeron is home to the historic wonder of Pentre Ifan (meaning Ivan’s Village), a splendid megalithic burial chamber dating back to 3500 BC. Finally, the Torch will head to Aberystwyth for the Olympic evening celebration before continuing its journey around the UK.
We hope you enjoy uncovering the hidden gems and stories of the West Midlands and Wales – we’ll be back on Monday with more top tips for places to visit along the Torch Relay route in Wales.
Post by Katy, Discovering Places team.
(Thank you to Ruth Richardson and Terry Richardson for the Bacton Church and Dore Abbey information and images. And thank you to Andy Marvell from the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust for the information and images of St John’s, Bridgend)
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