Heart of England and South Wales
Rick Steves' Europe: Episode # 104
After King Arthur country at Glastonbury, we go back in time to prehistoric Stonehenge. We sample hard apple cider in Wells, meet an eccentric lord in the Cotswolds, and visit an evocative ruined abbey in South Wales.
- Read the script from the show.
Stanway House (Lord Neidpath's Home)
Stanway is notable for its manor house, Stanway House. Lord Neidpath, whose family tree charts relatives back to 1202, opens his melancholy home and grounds to visitors a few days a week in the summer. Walking through his house offers a unique glimpse into the lifestyles of England's eccentric and fading nobility (tel. 01386/584-469).
Anyone can enjoy the Cotswolds from the saddle. Jill Carenza's Cotswolds Riding Centre, set just outside Stanton village, is in the most scenic corner of the region. The facility takes rank beginners on an scenic "hack" through the village and into the high country. The B&B is convenient if you want to ride all day (well-signposted in Stanton, tel. 01386/584-250).
Land's End Cider Farm
Mr. Wilkins' Land's End Cider Farm is a great back-door travel experience (west of Wells in Mudgley, take B3139 from Wells to Wedmore, then B3151 south for 2 miles, farm is a quarter mile off B3151 — tough to find, get close and ask locals, tel. 01934/712-385).
The impressive but gutted old castle, spread over 30 acres, is the second largest in Europe after Windsor. English Earl Gilbert de Clare erected this squat behemoth to try to establish a stronghold in Wales. With two concentric walls, it was considered to be a brilliant arrangement of defensive walls and moats (9 miles north of Cardiff, 20 min by car from St. Fagans or take train from Cardiff to Caerphilly and walk 5 min, tel. 02920/883-143).
This best look at traditional Welsh folk life has three sections: open-air folk museum, main museum, and castle/garden. Outside, in a 100-acre park, you'll find more than 40 carefully reconstructed old houses from all corners of this little country. Each house is fully furnished and comes equipped with a local expert (bus from Cardiff train station to the museum in the village of St. Fagans, drivers leave M4 at Junction 33 and follow signs, tel. 02920/573-500).
Inspiring monks to prayer, William Wordsworth to poetry, J. M. W. Turner to a famous painting, and rushed tourists to a thoughtful moment, this verse-worthy ruined-castle-of-an-abbey merits a five-mile detour off the motorway. Founded in 1131 on a site chosen by Norman monks for its tranquility, it functioned as an austere Cistercian abbey until its dissolution in 1536 (train or train/bus combination from Cardiff to Chepstow; from there bus or taxi to abbey; tel. 01291/689-251).