My love affair with Wales began several years back, when I hopped in a car from Bristol and was transported to the magical waterfalls and mountains of the Brecon Beacons for the very first time. Since then, each unique corner of Wales has blown me away, from the towering peaks of Snowdonia to the rugged coastline of the Gower Peninsula.
Just before lockdown, I was invited ‘Over the Bridge’ to Wales to explore the lesser known sights of Monmouthshire and Newport. From peaceful riverside hikes to impressive Roman ruins, there’s plenty to see and do in this pretty region of South Wales. Plus, it’s only 45 minutes by car or train from Bristol, making this an ideal day trip from the city.
Covid-19 guidance: Please note that Wales is only just reopening to tourists following lockdown, so do check the latest government guidance and individual attractions before visiting. Look out for the ‘We’re Good to Go‘ mark, for reassurance that businesses are following Covid-19 guidelines.
Take a hike along the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal
Discover the beautiful Monmouthshire & Brecon canal, by hiking all the way to the historic town of Caerleon. Once a month, the Fourteen Locks Canal Centre runs guided walks, where you can learn all about the history of the canals, which were dug out by hand in the 18th century and used to transport iron and coal to Newport. Walks depart at 9:30am on a Saturday – check the website to see when the next guided walk is taking place.
Our 6-mile hike took us through pretty scenery, under historic stone bridges, and past tranquil nature reserves, until the canal eventually joined with the winding River Usk. As you get closer to Caerleon, look out for the life-sized bronze statues at Portrait Bench along the way – a nod to the town’s infamous Roman past.
Explore the historic town of Caerleon
Caerleon is a small town with a BIG history. Located on the outskirts of Newport, Caerleon is built on the foundations of one of only three military fortresses in Roman Britain. ‘Isca Augusta’, as it was known 2000 years ago, was home to a grand amphitheatre and Roman baths, both of which are immaculately preserved and open for the public to explore. But before brushing up on your Roman history, be sure to explore the pretty town of Caerleon, itself, with its quaint streets, traditional pubs, and cute vintage shops.
Step back in time at the Roman Fortress and Baths
Most people know of the world-famous Roman Baths, in the English city of Bath, but Caerleon’s fortress baths are a true hidden gem in Britain. Explore the remains of the open-air swimming pool, peer into the only Roman legionary barracks still on view in Europe, and learn all about the culture and customs of ancient Roman bathing.
Then step back in time to see the historic amphitheatre, where Roman gladiators trained and fought more than 2000 years ago. Unfortunately, the military amphitheatre was closed for us due to flooding in Wales, but it’s another reason to return very soon!
(Caerleon’s Roman Fortress and Baths is currently closed to the public – check back here for the latest opening news)
Brush up on your history at the National Roman Legion Museum
Caerleon is also home to the National Roman Legion Museum (re-opening from 2nd September), where you can learn more about the central role that Caerleon played in Roman Britain, through a range of exhibitions and artefacts. Step back in time in the recreated Barrack rooms and relax in the pretty Roman gardens. Entry is free but tickets must be pre-booked online, due to new Covid-19 measures.
Dine in a 12th century monastery
End the day with some great grub and well-deserved R&R at The Priory – a 12th century monastery turned boutique hotel and restaurant in Caerleon. This beautiful building is packed full of character and the restaurant serves up delicious, locally-sourced food with daily changing menus. Rooms start from around £85 a night, if you want to extend your trip.
*This experience was gifted by ‘Over The Bridge’ – all opinions and views expressed are my own.