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Heading to Oxford
Heading to Oxford
Lands End

UK Drive Part III & IV

Thursday, July 22, 2004
Ben continues his driving tour in the UK starting with a bog dive in Wales, some cricket in Oxford and ending up at the very foggy Lands End.

Back on the road for the final leg of his UK drive, Ben headed to Wales.

Those who visit Wales are usually surprised that it is not a place of disused docks, rusting railway lines and spoil tips. On the contrary. Cardiff, its capital, is Europe's youngest capital, a multicultural place offering lots to enjoy, both inland and by the sea. The country's famous valleys, which once produced most of the world's best coal, are tourist attractions threaded with wonderful walking and cycling trails.

With more than 400 castles, Wales is the most fortified country in Europe. The Abergavenny, Pembroke, Harlech, Cardigan, Caerphilly and Caernarfon castles are great places to see, and many are open to the public.

Just like the May Bank Holiday cheese rolling at Cooper's Hill, the Welsh can lay claim to an eccentric pastime to rival the English.

Each August Bank Holiday Monday in the Waen Rhydd peat bog, on the southern outskirts of Llanwrtyd Wells, mid Wales, an international sporting event is held. Bog snorkelling...

Competitors complete two lengths of a 55 metre trench cut through the peat bog in the quickest possible time. Wetsuits are optional but advisable, as are flippers, snorkels and goggles. Participants cannot use a conventional swimming stroke to make their way through the freezing and muddy water.

Not all watery spots are used so frivolously. There is plenty of trout and salmon fishing done in perfectly beautiful surrounds.

Ben did it in style at The Lake Country House in Llangammarch Wells. Its accommodation is elegant and calming, and the superbly furnished Welsh country house with large open fireplaces sits on 20ha of parkland and rhododendron-lined pathways.

Its lake, apart from offering excellent fishing, is a haven for wildlife. Herons, dippers and kingfishers skim across the river, there are badgers in the woods and loads of duck and waterfowl bob about. The rare red kite can also be seen in the area — in fact 94 species of birds have been recorded in the grounds.

Also on offer is tennis, croquet, clay pigeon shooting, a nine-hole golf course and a billiard room. Refreshments are served by a butler as you pursue your chosen activity. Delicious warm scones with cream and preserves and Welsh cakes are a special treat.

A drive to Blaenavon takes you to Big Pit, now part of the National Museum and Galleries of Wales, but a working coalmine until 1980. Situated high on the moors of north Gwent, it attracts visitors rather than exporting coal.

An hour-long underground tour, led by ex-miners, takes you down in the pit cage to walk through underground roadways, air doors, stables and engine houses built by generations of mineworkers. Above ground you can visit the colliery buildings, the winding engine-house, blacksmiths' workshop and the pithead baths.

It can give shudders to imagine young boys crawling through narrow openings, men chipping and digging and horses standing by to transport the heavy coal — all in totally dark conditions.

That could be one of the reasons the Welsh love to sing so much. No one knows why but they all seem to have such wonderful voices and each Wednesday, across the country in churches and halls, groups of men and women just sing to feel good.

The counties between Oxford and the Welsh borders have some of England's most lush countryside, postcard-perfect villages and resolute market towns.

The university town of Oxford is a busy place of academics, students and tourists who enjoy visiting the beautiful colleges and riverside views. One of the most important towns in England, Oxford graduates are some of the most important people in the country. For some, it is synonymous with academic excellence — for others it is an elitist club whose members dominate too many aspects of British life. Poet Matthew Arnold aptly described Oxford as "that sweet city with her dreaming spires".

Ben joined the TT (ties and t-shirts) Club for a game of limited-overs cricket. They take their cricket seriously here … almost as seriously as their partaking of liquid refreshments.

Without any sign of bringing home the Ashes, Ben headed to Cornwall, the area that clings to the south-western corner of England. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Cornwall dominated the world's tin and copper markets, but the mines have closed, leaving scars on the landscape. There is some china clay mining, but tourism provides most of the economy. The landscape is dotted with ancient megaliths including stone villages over 2000 years old.

Seaside resorts such as Bude, Newquay, Falmouth, Penzance and St Ives are packed to the gunnels in summer but worth visiting.

Cornish was spoken until the 19th century. A Celtic language similar to Welsh, recent efforts have been made to revive it. Most Cornish surnames start with Tre (homestead), Pol (lake or inlet) and Pen (headland), hence the little rhyme "By Tre Pol and Pen, you shall know the Cornish men".

Last stop, Land's End. The coast either side is some of the country's most spectacular but many think the site itself is far too tacky, Despite that, it's always busy and it's fun hearing about how many wild and wacky ways people have travelled the distance from Top to Toe.


Wales and the south of England


The Lake Country House rooms start at around $205 a double a night.
Qantas flies daily to London. Return economy airfares start at $1860 from Perth, $1922 from Melbourne, $1938 from Sydney, $1964 from Brisbane, $1967 from Darwin and $1974 from Adelaide, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.

More information

The Lake Country House
Llangammarch Wells

Mid Wales LD4 4BS
Ph: 44 0 1591 620 202
Fax: 44 0 1591 620 457

Big Pit National Mining Museum
Torfaen NP4 9XP
Ph: 44 0 1495 790 311
Fax: 44 0 1495 792 618

Qantas: 13 13 13

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