Southern Wales is only 3 hours from the centre of London, 2.5 hours from Heathrow and is well served with high-speed railways. The capital city of Cardiff is at the heart of the region and is surrounded by beautiful countryside and coastline. The area has over 30 castles to explore, mines where you can go deep underground and internationally renowned museums to visit.
While the rain brought much of Scotland to a standstill, our Operations Director Jacqui basked in the unseasonably warm weather in Wales as she took part in a trip organized by UKInbound and Visit Wales. Read on to find out what she got up to.
The Discover Wales event didn’t start until the Sunday but I decided to fly down early to familiarise myself with the city of Cardiff. It was a short flight from Edinburgh and in less than an hour I was touching down at Cardiff Airport followed by a 25min taxi-ride to the city centre.
I was staying at the Parkgate Hotel which is part of the Celtic Collection which includes Celtic Manor and Coldra Court Hotel. The Parkgate Hotel has been redeveloped from two historic civic buildings dating from the turn of the 20th Century – the former Head Post Office for Cardiff and the city’s old County Court on Westgate Street.
From the hotel it was a short walk to the many shops, bars and restaurants. Cardiff Castle is also only a few minutes walk from the hotel. I decided to take a walk up to Bute Park and catch the Aquabus to Cardiff Bay which is a great spot to socialise. Attractions include boat trips into the Severn Estuary, the Welsh Parliament, Techniquest Science Museum, watersports and lots of food and drink options. I then took one of the tour boats back to the city centre which provided a running commentary of the area.
After a hearty buffet breakfast, I walked the short distance to Cardiff Central train station and took the train to Newport to meet the rest of my group. We visited the town of Caerleon where we saw the Roman Fortress of Isca, the Roman Baths, Ampitheatre and Museum.
We then continued on to see the Newport Transporter Bridge which is being refurbished will be re-opening in Summer 2024 with a brand new visitor centre. The bridge really is quite a feat of engineering and is one of only 6 remaining in the world out of 20 originally built. Another interesting attraction in Newport is the Newport Medieval Ship which was discovered in 2002 during the construction of the Riverside Theatre and subsequently delayed the construction by several years!
Next we had a lunch stop and quick visit to Tredegar House and Park. Now run by the National Trust, for more than 500 years the house was home to one of the greatest Welsh families, the Morgans, later Lords Tredegar. The Morgan family owned more than 40,000 acres in Monmouthshire, Breconshire, and Glamorgan at the end of the 18th century.
We then visited Llancaiach Fawr Manor, where the servants take you back to 1645, and you discover the daily life of the Pritchard family. When Civil War broke out between King and Parliament in 1642 Colonel Edward Prichard was appointed Commissioner of Array to the King, raising men and money for the Royalist cause in Glamorganshire. By the middle of 1645 support was waning and King Charles I came on a rallying tour through South Wales and visited Llancaiach Fawr for lunch on 5th August. Unimpressed by the King’s entreaties, shortly afterwards the Prichard’s and many other Glamorgan gentry changed sides to support Parliament and Colonel Prichard subsequently defended Cardiff Castle against the Royalists.
Our final visit of the day was to Nantgarw China Works and Museum. Nantgarw China Works is the only surviving early 19th century porcelain works in the United Kingdom. In the years 1813-1814 and again in the period 1817-1820 the finest porcelain in the world was produced here in Wales by William Billingsley, one of the most remarkable porcelain painters and manufacturers of his time.
Our overnight stop was the Best Western Heronston Hotel in Bridgend. We met with local suppliers during the drinks reception including the Wales Perfumary, Peterston Tea, and Spirit of Wales. We were then treated to a Welsh themed dinner which included some delicious lamb.
Today saw us enjoy a scenic drive along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast through Ogmore-by-Sea and Southerndown and the pretty market town of Cowbridge which has lots of independent shops before arriving at Hensol Castle Distillery which is based in a 17th century castle with stunning views. They offer a range of gin tasting and gin making experiences in this unique environment.
We next travelled to the Rhondda Heritage Park where we viewed some of the newly refurbished bedrooms at the Heritage Park Hotel before taking part in the Coal Mining Experience. Our guide for this experience was Tony, a miner turned tour guide who entertained us all with his stories from his time working down the pits along with history of mining in the area over the years.
Our lunch stop and next visit was at St Fagans National Museum of History. Since 1948 over forty original buildings from different historical periods have been re-erected in the 100-acre parkland, among them houses, a farm, a school, a chapel and a splendid Workmen’s Institute. You could easily spend half a day here exploring, we had a much shorter time which we spent exploring the buildings before hopping back aboard the coach to travel to Cardiff.
We were given a private tour of Cardiff Castle which is a Norman marcher stronghold, founded by William the Conqueror himself, and built on the site of a Roman fort dating from the 1st-century AD, parts of which were reconstructed in the 20th-century. However, the Castle is most famous for its incredible Victorian apartments, designed by William Burges for the wealthy 3rd Marquess of Bute. Both men were fascinated by medieval history and little expense was spared in realising their neo-Gothic vision of the past.
After a quick freshen up at the Parkgate Hotel the coaches arrived to take us to the Royal Mint Experience. We were welcomed with a delicious gin cocktail made with gin from the Hensol Castle Distillery. We then enjoyed a tour of the Royal Mint learning and watching how coins are made for countries across the world. We also got to strike our own commemorative coin which visitors have the option to add to their tours if they wish. We were then treated to a delicious 3 course dinner and an opportunity to network with Welsh suppliers such as hotels and attractions. We finished up our evening with a whisky tasting with Penderyn Distillery.
Our final morning and our opportunity to make connections with the South Wales suppliers at the Workshop. The event started off with speeches from Joss Croft the CEO of UKInbound, Dawn Bowden the Deputy Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism. We then enjoyed presentations from Visit Britain which drilled down into tourism statistics and gave us some useful information on markets to watch. After the presentations it was on to the networking where I enjoyed 16 face-to-face appointments with the various suppliers including hotels and tourist attractions.