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We've had a moderately easy day, made mostly of driving. We got up and had breakfast at the Rhymney House Hotel, where a woman we hadn't seen last night cooked eggs and toast for us, and some very well-done crispy bacon for me. She had an Irish accent - very distinct from the Welsh of most of the people we'd met over the past couple of days.
After eating, we packed, paid for our room and dinner the night before, and drove off, heading north into the Brecon Beacons National Park. We pulled over for photos of the majestic hills and valleys a couple of times. At one point we stopped by Cantref Reservoir. It had warning signs saying "thin ice" and "no swimming". It was cold enough that I was shivering in a jacket - I don't know who in their right mind would ever consider swimming there!
At the north end of the national park, we stopped in at the town of Brecon. We paid £1 for two hours parking next to the tourist information office and got a street map directing us the few blocks to the historic Norman-era cathedral. This was interesting, though not as large or impressive as others we've seen so far. The key word here was sheer age, as the architecture and interior floors and walls showed. The ceiling was timber rather than the vaulted stone of more recent buildings.
As we entered, an old man wearing a "helper" badge came over and started chatting to us. On learning that we were from Australia, he said his daughter lived in Auckland and so he and his wife (who appeared a bit later) had been to Australia a few times on the way to New Zealand. It seems everyone we talk to here has relatives in Australia or New Zealand!
We did a circuit of the cathedral and then had a look in the nearby gift shop and heritage display of the things associated with the old building. The displays were not extensive or very professional, but still interesting, including a wooden chair with embroidered cushions on the seat and backrest, reputed to be the very chair King Charles II sat on when he visited Brecon. There was also a full sized display of church bells and pulleys and ropes, with a nearby pull-cord labelled with a sign stating that the original bells were lost to history, and to hear what they sounded like now, pull the cord. I pulled the cord and we heard... nothing! Very sneaky of them.
We walked back to the car via the High Street of Brecon, walking past many shops. M. stopped in at one and bought a crystal bracelet. We found a covered market which looked promising from the outside, but was nothing compared to the one in Cardiff. It was just a few meagre trestle tables with junky goods for sale, flanked by a butcher, a fishmonger, and a greengrocer. We got a couple of apples from the grocer and then found a chain bakery on the street where we bought filled baguettes for lunch later - cheese and salad for M., chicken tikka with cucumber and yoghurt for me. I also grabbed a bag of six "Welsh cakes" to try them. M. also picked up a coffee from a cafe and we hit the road again.
We stopped just before crossing back from Wales into England at a small village to get photos of another graveyard by the side of the road. The route north headed towards Hereford, but we turned off towards Leominster before we got there. We were starting to think about stopping to eat our lunches when we got to the town of Monkland. A sign by the side of the road advertised a cheese dairy ahead! We pulled into the Monkland Cheese Dairy, happy to have finally found a cheese-making place on our travels. Unfortunately, a sign indicated they made cheese only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so we couldn't see them at work, but the cafe was open and offering cheeses to taste and buy.
They had four different cheeses they produced on the premises - two of different maturities and one with herbs and another with garlic. They also sold dozens of other cheeses, as well as locally made apple juice. Despite already having our lunches organised, we bought a bread roll filled with Wensleydale cheese with cranberries in it and a bottle of apple juice to share. We sat at an outside table since the grey cloud had broken up and the day had warmed a little. (See the table they are displaying their cheese on? That's the table we sat at to eat our lunch!)
As we sat to eat, a large grey and white tabby cat wandered over, first sitting on the ground then jumping up to the seat beside M., then finally on to the table itself. But it didn't pester us for anything and simply laid down and closed its eyes in a doze. But then a large dog also came over and started pulling puppy-dog eyes at us as we ate our cheese roll. A woman in the nearby house scolded the dog from afar and called it into the house, apologising to us. The cat however remained unmoved until we'd finished our roll. I gave it a scritch on the head and then it slowly got up and wandered over to inspect the crumbs on the plate. It started licking up the leftover dregs of the cheese - which was excellent by the way, so no wonder the cat liked it!
Heading off again, I noticed that some sort of warning system on the car that had indicated a tyre problem earlier was now insistent about it. So we pulled over into a garage to check the tyre pressures and found that the left rear tyre was indeed significantly under-inflated. I filled it with air to match the other tyres and reset the car's pressure monitoring system using the manual to figure out how. If it happens again, we might need to have the tyre checked or replaced.
We stopped further along to finally eat our lunches from Brecon. The baguettes were good. I had a Welsh cake for a sweet - they are biscuity and crumbly - sort of like shortbread only with a bit of leavening in them - and with raisins in them. Quite nice.
The next stop was not until we reached our goal for the day - Shrewsbury. Unfortunately we got turned around once again by the inadequate direction labelling of intersections and ended up taking a ring road almost right around the city before heading into the centre on completely the wrong road to the one we'd intended. Rather than end up right where we wanted to be, amidst what the Lonely Planet implied was a dense cluster of B&Bs on the edge of the city centre, we found ourselves navigating the narrow streets of the centre itself and hoping we wouldn't get lost amidst the restricted turns and one-way streets. Fortunately, the streets were on our side and simply following the traffic took us right through the middle of the city and on to the Abbey Foregate, which was where we'd wanted to be all along.
We parked right across from the famous Shrewsbury Abbey and walked form there to locate a room for the night. M. wanted to find the B&B called 164, which the Lonely Planet described as good. It turned out that it was very close to where we'd parked, but we walked right past it without noticing. It was only when we reached the end of the street without finding it and turned around and carefully followed the building numbers down the street that we found the right address. The reason we'd missed it is that it had no signs or indications that it was a B&B at all. Either they don't like to advertise or it has ceased being a B&B since the Lonely Planet was written. Not wanting to knock on someone's now private residence, we tried a B&B with an actual sign right across the road. And here we are for the night.
We actually decided to stay here two nights to give us all day tomorrow to explore Shrewsbury and allow us to leave first thing in the morning on Thursday. We parked the car in the cramped courtyard out the back and brought our bags in, then went for a walk across to the city centre to have a bit of a look around before getting some dinner.
We crossed the English Bridge into town over the Severn River. This is a new stone bridge, built in 1767, on the site of an older bridge - a mere three years before Cook found Australia. From there we entered the tangled and narrow maze of medieval and Tudor era cobbled streets that make the centre of Shrewsbury. We explored most of the shopping district, going as far north as within sight of the castle before retracing our steps via a few new streets and ending up at the Sheraz Tandoori and Balti Restaurant, just a few minutes before 18:00.
Inquiring if they were open yet elicited a positive response, so we dropped our weary bodies into seats and perused the menus. We ordered vegetable samosas for a starter, then some different balti curries for our mains - one flavoured with lemon and containing chicken for me, and a chick pea and vegetable one for M. We also got rice and Peshwari naan. The balti is a type of curry invented by ex-pat Pakistanis or Indians in Birmingham - not too far from Shrewsbury - so this counts as a genuine local meal! The curries were excellent and we were nicely full after them.
We walked back to our accommodation, stopping in at a Netto's supermarket just across the road to buy a two-litre bottle of water for the car - to drink while we are on the road, that is.
The Abbey had floodlighting, so we sat in the room for a bit until 22:00 when it finally got dark enough for the floodlights to be effective. Then we went for a short walk around the Abbey with camera and tripod, getting the first night photos of the trip.
We were back in our room by 22:20 and, being very tired, dropped straight off to sleep.
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