Harpenden Evening Web Page

                                event Report           

South Wales Tour 9-12th October 2021

At last, the cancelled holiday from last year actually took place and was a great success. Two house owners gave their drives for parking members cars for the weekend, and the great excitement for the 33 participants was to see the large Dean’s coach come around the corner in Harpenden and Redbourn, early on Saturday morning.

Off down the motorway and the first stop was the Bear Inn in Hungerford for coffee and delicious cakes. Refreshed and ready to explore, we motored on to Bristol and the S.S. Great Britain was our fascinating project for the afternoon.

SS Great Briton   The Galley

SS Great Britain Stern and galley

It was a glorious sunny day, and we went up and down decks, saw, and heard, the people and animals which were transported around the world. It was hard to believe that an iron ship had had so many lives! And crossed so much sea in its lifetime, finally ending up as a rusting hulk in the Falkland Islands.

Captain's cabin

The trusty Captain taking a well-earned rest in one of the more luxurious cabins

The ship was one of many triumphs for Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), including the Clifton Suspension bridge, which we passed underneath on our way to Cardiff and Swansea, later in the afternoon.

Our hotel was the Marriott in Swansea, right beside the sea and opposite the Victorian prison. The hotel was excellent and the staff very helpful and friendly. Up bright and breezy for the next morning as we had a busy day. First stop was the Royal Mint in Llantrisant near Cardiff. We had two excellent guides who explained the minting process and took us to see the coins being made—we saw Kenya shillings pouring out of the machine into giant hoppers and then being packaged for transporting.

Newly minted Coins   

                                  Money, money, money…                                  .

Fortunately, in these times of diminishing use of notes and coins, they make coins for over 80 countries as well as the UK (drawing the lines at euros, however).  It’s hard to grasp how many millions worth of coins pass through the Mint every day. Needless to say, security is paramount.

Rather unusual uses of coins ….

Gromit in coins    Beatles mimi decorated in coins

Gromit in coins of the realm and a Covid visor   The original Beatles’ mini with a new body finish

We went from the Mint to the Mermaid Quay in Cardiff, which is part of the refurbished Cardiff Bay project, and a wonderful example of how a run-down docks area has been turned into a real amenity for the people of Cardiff. Beautiful apartments overlook this freshwater bay, which is fed by the River Taff and provides a protected area for watersports. A large barrage prevents sea water from coming in. An interesting feature of both Swansea and Cardiff developments is the underwater pipe feeding oxygen into the rivers and the bay water to promote healthy water for wildlife. 

We had Brian as a local guide to explain the city centre features in Cardiff, including some very substantial Victorian buildings dating back to the time of coal shipments, and the obvious wealth of the city.

Cardiff bay

Ancient and modern building around Cardiff Bay

Then we went on a boat trip around the bay and again blessed with beautiful sunny weather.

Boarding the boat in Cardiff Bay

Boarding our boat for the Cardiff Bay trip

We even squeezed in a quick visit to Penarth, and walked along the Victorian pier which is 650 feet long and splendidly restored. Not only that, the ice-creams were splendid!


Penarth Pier

Members enjoying ice-creams on Penarth pier

On Monday we drove to the National Botanical Gardens of Wales, which had recently reopened after the pandemic closure. The gardens were varied and beautiful and occupied a large site of what had been Middleton Hall. There was a huge biodome with vegetation from the 5 continents, and a lovely tropical house with bananas growing!

The Biodome

The biodome

A replica Apothecary Hall explained various herbal cures, while the recently restored large area of ancient parkland offered fabulous views over the adjoining countryside.


Parkland at the Botanical Garden

Restored parkland at the Botanic Gardens

Quick check back to the Hotel and then we walked along the new marina, which was converted from the old Swansea docks, until we reached the boat called the Copper Jack.

The Swansea boat

We were so fortunate to have David as our guide on the boat. He was a mine of information about Swansea’s past and a most amusing raconteur, as we sailed through the outside marina and up the River Tawe. Hard to believe that the tree covered banks once were home to copper smelters and coal depots. Now there are new student blocks being constructed for the population of 40,000 students. We even had tea and Welsh cakes on our way back, and it was good to see that this is a community enterprise, staffed by volunteers.

Lisa had arranged a reception for our last night at the top of the 28-floor Meridian tower next to our hotel.

Sunset over Swansea Bay

Looking out towards the Mumbles

We sipped prosecco and wine while admiring amazing sunset views over the Gower peninsula and the Severn Estuary. A splendid end to our stay in Swansea.

Packed up and ready to go we set off on Tuesday for our journey back, but this was not the end of the story. We had an interesting stop at Steam in Swindon, a museum dedicated to the life of steam engine manufacture in Swindon, and in particular the development of the Great Western Railway – another triumph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.


The great man ….

It is very well laid out and illustrates details of the social life of the workforce at that time, and how women were recruited to do many of the jobs done by men during the time of WW2. I should mention that there was a huge outlet store nearby so we managed to fill in three hours very easily!


We had an uneventful ride back and would you believe we saw the first rain in 4 days when we got back to Harpenden!

A daily treat

 Lisa of Avalon tours did a wonderful job as did Dean the driver.
 Here was an extra daily service – most welcome!

  Mayo Walters, October 2021