Sunday, April 23, 2017

20 Things To Do in the South of France

Every now and again I get contacted by someone either wanting my views on some topic, or to link to a blog post or website.

Most recently, Jen of Jen Reviews contacted me about linking to a post she's written on 100 best things to do in France. I had a look at it, and it has a pretty good variety of things to do, from the obvious to the less obvious. So, if you're planning a visit to France, you could do worse than peruse her suggestions.

It got me thinking about my own list of things to do. Of course, I didn't agree entirely with her list, but then my own would be concentrated around the South of France. While I'm not sure I can come up with 100 things to do, here in no particular order, are some of my favourites:

1. Motorbiking
Michelin came up with a brilliant idea many years ago of colouring routes that go through attractive scenery in green. Motorbiking along these roads is the best way of exploring them, and of getting deep into the French countryside. Cycling takes more effort, and driving is not so much fun unless, I suppose, you're driving a cabriolet.

2. Walking up the Pic St Loup

View from the top of the Pic St Loup
The Pic St Loup is the local Montpellier landmark and is a popular walk. Take a picnic and admire the wonderful views from the top.

3. Lac de Salagou
Lac de Salagou, ruins of Celles in the distance
I cycled around the Lac de Salagou once. However, you don't have to cycle around it to enjoy it. It's a beautiful place for playing in safe water, doing water sports, having a picnic, going on a walk. We've motorbiked around it too, it was much faster...

4. Meteorological Observatory, Mont Aigoual
On the top of Mont Aigoual is a functioning meteorological observatory in an imposing purpose-built castle that also houses a free exhibition and museum. There's also a nice shop and café if you don't want to face the bracing winds eating your sandwiches at the picnic tables outside.

Picnic table and view
5. Mont Aigoual
While I'm on the top of Mont Aigoual, I'll mention that it's a great place for walking, and even has a small ski resort - Prat Payrot - with 4 downhill green slopes, 4 blue and 3 red, plus 32km of cross-country skiing, including a black course.

6. The Cevennes
One of my favourite areas. Fabulous for motorbiking, walking, canoeing, visiting, eating, observing, skiing and all manner of other fun things to do.
Fabulous Cevennes scenery

7. Bambouseraie
I looked through my blog to find a post on visits to the bamboo gardens at the Bambouseraie near Anduze, but I must have been there mainly before I started St Bloggie de Riviere. I used to go when my parents visited, and I had young boys. It's a fantastic place, well worth the visit, and has a lovely shop too.
Bambouseraie shop


8. Little Steam Train
A natural follow-on to the Bambouseraie is the little steam train that runs from Anduze to St Jean du Gard with a stop at the Bambouseraie.

Steam Train at St Jean du Gard station
You can make a day of it, starting at Anduze to St Jean du Gard, having a picnic, getting back on the train, stopping at the Bambouseraie and catching the last train back.

View along the little steam train route

Over the the Pyrenees Orientales and the town of Thuir you'll find the Byrrh factory where they make herb and spice-based liquor which was originally sold as a health tonic and eventually became part of France's aperitif culture. You go on a tour of the old parts of the factory, learn about the manufacturing process and get a tasting at the end. Absolutely fascinating, if for no other reason than it has the biggest oak cask in the world holding over 1 million litres.
The original aperitif

Near Clermont-l'Hérault, this is a great one for kids because they can run around the weird and wonderful rock formations and let their imaginations run riot.

Weird rock formations at the Cirque de Mourèze
It's a great place for a walk for adults too.


11. The Noria Water Museum
At St Jean de Bruel in Aveyron, this is another very interesting museum set in an old water mill. It's been put to different uses at different times, but one of the main ones was cleaning woollen cloth. The mill has been restored so you can see how it was done. There's also a mini hydro-electric station, a large model of a river modified to produce hydro-electricity, lots of other interesting water-related information and a place for kids to play.

Noria water museum

The village is very pretty and there are some fantastic views to be seen after walking up through shady chataigner woods to the 'sentinelle'.
St Jean de Bruel 'sentinelle' and view of the village


12. Glass-blowing Museum
The Halle du Verre is in the quaint village of Claret. The region was an important glass-making centre, with manufacture monopolised by gentlemen glassblowers who came back from the Crusades with the skill and didn't want anyone else to share in their fortunes. The museum has an excellent permanent exhibition, regular temporary exhibitions, and an actual glass-blower working behind a protective glass panel. It opens on May 3 until 30 November.


From the top of Mont Ventoux looking east
A great favourite with cyclists, bikers, walkers, the Tour de France, and others, Mont Ventoux is an exceptional site with its limestone scree top that looks like snow from a distance. 


14. Markets
Some good local ones on Saturday mornings are at les Arceaux in Montpellier, Clermont-l'Hérault, and Sommières. There is a vast amount of parking at Sommières which gets very full by 10.30am. I know this because I went through Sommières yesterday on my way to a mountain bike enduro site and saw how many cars arrived between 9.45am and 10.30am. I'm sure there are others, but I just don't know about them. I seem to remember that Olargues has a lovely organic market but it's just once a year, this year on 15 August 2017. Special 'estivale' organic markets are popular in the summer.


About this time of year you also get the 'Médievales' which are great for families. My boys used to love them. They combine a market, sword fights, brave knights in shining armour, damsels in distress, jousting, etc. You can visit them all over Languedoc Roussillon, information here

Trying on a heavy helmet

16. Castles (ruined)
My youngest used to love visiting ruined castles. He used to dress up in his Crusader kit and, preferably with his brother and a buddy, would be happy to walk to the castle of the day and spend a productive afternoon doing battle. Languedoc Roussillon and beyond has many ruined castles from the imposing, impressive Cathar castles in the PO, to less frequented and easier to get to ruins nearer to home. Before Wikipedia came to the rescue of those in search of information on the castles of Hérault (for example) I used to take a map, look for the ruined castle symbol which, on Michelin maps is a triangle made up of three black spots, pack a picnic and get in the car.

Our most local ruin is the château de Montferrand above St Mathieu de Tréviers together with the château de la Roquette.


17. Other Festivals
There are many festivals throughout France, and depending on your poison, you can probably find one that suits. Festivals that I have been to or go to regularly include the FISE (extreme sports festival) held in May (24-28, 2017) showcasing the best of BMX, Roller, Skateboarding, Wakeboarding and MTB scenes. Then there's the Tomato Festival in Clapiers in September (250 varieties on show, plus lovely market), the International Short Film Festival (court metrage) in Clermont-Ferrand in February, the Avignon arts festival in July, Montpellier Danse, also in July, and the Montpellier music and film festival des Nuits d'O in August set in the shady grounds - you bring a picnic or buy something en site, and sit at long picnic tables eating before the band of the evening starts. It's very cool.


This takes place in Orange June 16-17, 2017, and gathers together bikers who love the idea of adventurous travelling, want to go on an adventure trip, have been on a trip, are preparing for a trip and so on. We particularly enjoy the presentations made by bikers (men and women) who were sponsored for their trip and have to give a presentation of what happened. We've listened to a young woman who rode from Canada down to Ushuaia, a couple who rode from France to Iran, others who rode around India, and so on. It makes for a fantastic day out if you like motorbikes.


19. The Beach
I don't often go to the beach in summer, but it is fun to go with friends to one of the many 'paillotes' - pop-up restaurants on the beach with private sections of beach that are installed for the summer and have to be taken down again in the autumn. Go in the evening for an apero, for example. Balmy air, the lapping of the waves, a glass of chilled rosé, trendy décor, it's definitely a cool thing to do. 


20. What boys like to do
When I asked my youngest (16) what he likes to do, he came up with the following list: 
  • FISE
  • Aqualand (Cap d'Agde)
  • Beach (with friends only)
He has also had lots of fun on his birthdays doing paintball, and Accrobranche, and can't wait until he's 18 when he can join an air-soft club. As an outdoor type, he loves mountain biking and there are many fantastic sites where you can ride for pleasure and take part in competitions. We often go skiing to Mont Aigoual to Prat Peyrot, but this year went to Prapoutel in the Alps which was much bigger, much better and more fun, even in the bad weather. He has also greatly enjoyed canoeing/kayaking on the Hérault river, and jumping off the rocks into the river at the Pont d'Issensac.


There is of course, so much more to do (like vigneron picnics, or various circuits by foot, bike or car), but I hope you enjoyed my list, and I'm always keen to get recommendations.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Easter Day Motorbike Ride around l'Hérault and le Gard

Weather over the Easter weekend is often terrible in Montpellier. The local football club organises a tournament every year and more often than not, games are played in the rain, or are called off.

This year however, we had glorious sunshine, and every biker in the land wanted to be, or was, out riding through the glorious colours of spring. My DB and I jumped on the new BMW GS1200 for it's first outing of the year.

Our first motorbike ride of 2017 in Hérault and the Gard
Starting at the bottom, we rode west to Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert, stopping to admire the Pont du Diable.
Pont du Diable near Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert looking south
(Click on the photos to get a better look)
We were able to have a quick stop to look and take some piccies because we were on the bike. If you have a car, this is a lot more difficult because there is practically nowhere to stop and park any more. You have to go to the designated car park and walk back. This makes it much more of a faff, and rather obliges you to stay for long enough to make it worth while.

Looking north towards Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert
On the plus side, there's a free navette to Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert so you don't have to double the faff by finding the designated car park there too.

We carried on past Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert towards Ganges, via Saint-Jean-de-Buèges which is very pretty and has a bar with a handy, shady terrace where you can enjoy a refreshing beer. There speaks the voice of experience (after a lovely walk along a nearby river), because it was too early for booze, so we rode straight through and turned left at Ganges towards Le Vigan.

From there, passing a group of bikers on the way, we took a winding route up the mountain to l'Esperou on Mont Aigoual where we had lunch at the restaurant of the Hotel du Parc. We arrived just in time because hot on our heels was a group of 7 bikers (not the same), another group of visitors, and then the group we'd passed previously too. The patronne must have been delighted! Fortunately, we had got our order in first and were served before the hordes monopolised the waitress.

Although it was a lot chillier up at l'Esperou than in the valley, the hotel had a nice fenced off garden where my DB was able to snooze peacefully in a garden lounger while I continued reading my (actual) book 'Nice Work (if you can get it)' by Celia Imrie which I enjoyed very much. I travel prepared...

On  our way back down the other side of the mountain via Valleraugues, we came across a shelter for observing mouflon which look like wild goats with big curly horns. My DB's friend hunts them apparently. I'm sure the meat requires very slow cooking as the muscles must be hard as rock with all the scampering up sheer rock faces.
Mouflon observatory
We had a good peer about, but just saw impossibly precarious mouflon paths up scree-filled slopes. Disappointed, we carried on, having noted the still bare trees at altitude compared with the vibrant greens of further down.

After wiggling our way back down to Ganges, we turned off right to cross the river and head west towards Montdardier and the Cirque de Navacelle via part of the Gorges de la Vis.

Dinky bridge across the Gorges de la Vis

Quite the prettiest trout farm around
To reach the Cirque de Navacelle, we had to climb up onto the plateau on a tiny road with hairpin bends every fifty metres. The views became spectacular pretty quickly. Across the plains, the arid countryside was yet another contrast to the verdant valleys.

(fuzzy) Menhir de Trivallé, causse de Blandas
We stopped to photograph a lonely little menhir, and although it's too fuzzy to read the signpost, it does have a name - the menhir de Trivallé. A quick search of 'menhir Blandas' threw up lots of hits, and it seems there are many of them dotted across the causse (menhir des Combes, circle of megaliths Cromlech de Lacam de Rigalderie), so if you're searching for sites of dolmens, menhirs, etc., the Causse de Blandas is the place for you!

La Causse
The causse seems to go on forever, but suddenly it stops at a dramatic cliff face which overlooks the photogenic Cirque de Navacelle.
Cirque de Navacelle looking south, from the Belvedere visitors' site
You can park in the Belvedere de Blandas where there is a visitors' centre with exhibition, shop and cafeteria, and walk along the cemented path (so no one misses out) to the view points. It's an amazing view.
Cirque de Navacelle by wiggly road
Then you get back on/in your vehicle and tackle the torturous descent to the village. Go back up the other side and you get the less spectacular but by no means minable view looking north.

Fab road on a bike
We returned towards main Ganges road, crossing over the Hérault river on the the sky-blue suspension bridge at Agonès, and then turned off towards Ferrières les Verreries where they extracted iron in the Middle Ages, and glass was made by gentlemen (gentilshommes verriers) from the 16th century up to the Revolution. If you're interested in glass-making, there's a fantastic glass museum in Claret where you can learn the fascinating history of these gentlemen glass-makers.

Cevenol village tucked into the hillside

Seen along the way


We got back in time to shop at the Cave à Bières in Montferrier-sur-Lez on the Ste-Julie roundabout, and pick up a number of bottles of IPA from all over the place. The owner is very knowledgeable and serious about the beer, and keeps the bottles in little wooden lockers to protect them from the light.

Various IPAs - perfect after a day on the road
Cheers!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reflecting on The Art of Travel

Alain de Botton is one of my favourite authors. I love his writings on philosophy and his belief that the point of philosophy is to help people live their lives.

I was given 'The Art of Travel' for Christmas which was perfect reading while convalescing after a bout of 'état grippal' (flu-like state) which has had me gripped for two weeks.

I have a very ambivalent attitude to travelling on the whole. I'm not one of those with itchy feet. If I can't travel, I'm not that bothered, but if I can, I tend to enjoy it. Of course, it depends how I'm travelling, and with whom, and why. My DB asked me recently to list my favourite ways to travel. I thought about it and came up with:

  1. motorbike
  2. car
  3. train
  4. plane

Since air travel became a cattle market, with dodgy air conditioning systems that share a plane-full of bugs amongst the passengers, I've avoided it, preferring the train for long-distance travel from A to B (France-UK). You can take more baggage on a train too, important for those essential supplies like boxes of wine for Christmas and summer holiday consumption with one's mother.

On a bike, the journey is as enjoyable as the destination if you choose the right roads, and with a car, it's similar but with more space and less contact with the weather.

Much of what Alain de Botton wrote resonated with me. He has a capacity to identify situations, problems, issues, and put words to them. Since reading about his holiday to Barbados which he expected to be fantastic, but found that he had 'inadvertently brought myself to the island' with accompanying psychological baggage, I read a similar sentiment in a novel later in the week: 'Not Quite Nice' by Celia Imrie, and of course, have often been distressed at how many unresolved issues encroach on the enjoyment of a holiday. The reality of travel is different to how we fantasise about it. We anticipate it to be somewhere we can be happy and carefree, but the reality is different.

How many of us have argued with a partner on holiday? My DB and I have had a number of humdingers. The aftermath of an argument leaves you unable to appreciate the many splendours of the place you've come to visit. I remember stomping along a superb cliff path on the Costa Brava, with the Mediterranean Sea glinting blue, and a lighthouse perched attractively on a rocky promontory. I barely noticed the views while there. So, "in order to draw the anticipated happiness from aesthetic objects or material goods, we first have to satisfy other emotional or psychological needs, like the need for understanding, for love, expression and respect".

Looking back on that walk, the memory of my bad temper has faded, but I remember the beauty of the walk. de Botton identifies this too: "We are best able to inhabit a place (in memory, anticipation) when we are not faced with the additional challenge of having to be there". One of the advantages of art galleries full of pictures of other places is that you can see the "essence of a country" without having to deal with the problems. Travelling dilutes the experience.

I always take photos of the places I visit, but I also try to absorb the atmosphere and actually see a place, by not taking photos. Ruskin, the artist, believed that people should learn to draw because drawing could teach them to see. "By recreating what we see, we move from a position of observing beauty, to one of understanding its constituent parts, and hence more secure memories of it." He was scathing of photographers who used it to pay "less attention to the world than they had previously from a faith that photographs automatically assured them possession of it".

Ruskin taught people to draw, not caring if they were any good at it. What was important was learning how to see. He also believed in describing a place in words, to "word paint", because it involves asking questions, being precise in analysing what we see and feel.

de Botton also writes about "spots of time" which are certain scenes we've witnessed that stay with us throughout our life "and when they enter consciousness, can offer a contrast to, and a relief from, present difficulties". One of my spots of time goes back a couple of decades. My ex-h and I joined some friends to walk up the gorges de la Carança and stay at the refuge du Ras de la Carança. We followed the narrow gorge from the car park and at some point came to a clearing with a waterfall. The light was shining in such a way that it looked like a fairy grotto. Hanging branches, long grasses and damp moss were all bathed in visible rays of ethereal sunshine and mist. We were the only people there, so it was like coming across a silent, beautiful other world.

Travel enables us to escape from the everyday, passing through transient places such as stations, airports and hotel rooms. I always feel a thrill of possibilities when I'm in a station or airport, and I love staying in nice hotel rooms.  Baudelaire loved being away from home and especially visiting transient places of travel, and he invented a new kind of romantic nostalgia, "the poésie des départs, the poésie des salles d'attente". Hopper sympathised with Baudelaire's attitude to travel, and painted the places of travel because there he found poetry, the poésie des motels, etc.

There is much to enjoy in 'The Art of Travel'. I have but touched on a tiny fraction, but I strongly recommend it for all armchair and actual lovers of travel.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Happy New Year (bof)

Back to work after a Christmas break is a tough one. You go from the festive spirit, lots of food, wine, making merry with friends and family to the serious business of earning a crust.

This morning I woke up and still felt festive, if a bit tired after a full week of merry-making and the return to France. By the end of the day I felt it was all over. The deccies are still up, and will stay up until Twelfth Night so as not to incur the wrath of the Christmas Spirits and scupper the year, but my heart's no longer in it.

I can no longer put off tidying my lovely pressies away. I'll have to empty my suitcase and generally tidy up the rolls of wrapping paper and boxes of Christmas cards. Après-ski is fun; après-Christmas is not.

Christmas is like a bubble of unreality. You suspend real life while you see friends and family, eat too much at every meal, quaff too much alcohol, indulge in cakes and snacks in a concentrated few days. I think it's the coming back down to earth that makes the hardest bump.

I was in the UK last week. On one evening, I met up with a couple of guys from school who I hadn't seen since they left at 16. We had a fantastic time reminiscing, catching up on who had done what, who had died (not so fun), who was where, etc. A real plunge back into the past, it was. A mega dose of nostalgia.

Back in the present, it's the New Year and I don't even want to think about what's coming up. Instead of plunging into gloom and doom, today I cheered myself up by noting the huge progress in human civilisation since 1820 as seen in the graphs of The World as 100 People.

From here - Our World in Data
Let's just hope the good things carry on getting better and the bad things continue going down.

Happy New Year.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Megalomania of Hotel Booking Sites

I will not be using Booking.com or Hotels.com or any of these hotel booking websites any more. They have fallen victim to rapacious megalomania and enough is enough.

Over the long weekend of the first of November, my DB and I decided to go on a motorbiking road trip around Auvergne. The weather was set to be fabulous, a change from the last time we were there when low clouds obscured views of everything, and especially the volcanoes we had hoped to see.

We went onto Trip Advisor to look at hotels in Clermont-Ferrand where we wanted to have a base. It was a busy weekend and lots of hotels were full. However, we found two that had rooms available, and looked at the prices. We decided to book one and take pot luck with the other. 

After looking at the plethora of prices through Trip Advisor's partners, we went onto the Hotel Oceania's own website and found a good deal that included breakfast. 

For the first night, Friday, we went to the Best Western Hotel Gergovie near the Parc des Exposition. There we had a chat with the receptionist. We had seen on Booking.com the price of €63 for the room. When we asked the price of the room, we were quoted €75. I said that I had seen the lower price on the internet and asked if we could have the same rate. The receptionist told us that, no, that was impossible because Booking had access to their reservations software, and they were not allowed to offer the same price! Not only do they monitor reservations, but they also observe who is looking at a hotel on their website and then goes onto the hotel's website (definite shades of Big Brother). 

If that wasn't shocking enough, she went on to say that booking websites take 20% of the amount paid. Twenty percent! That leaves a measly 3% margin for the hotel. How can they survive with such a small cushion of security? 

She said that while she couldn't offer us a lower price, she could throw in breakfast. I was pleased to hear the way the negotiations were going because I love hotel breakfast buffets. My DB agreed and we checked in.

It was very nice and they did a very tasty truffade in the restaurant at dinner.

When we arrived at the Oceania the next morning, we were given two tokens for a free drink each as we had booked through their website. A nice touch and much appreciated.

The good thing about all this is that competition makes businesses work harder. Breakfast is included in a price, and/or the client is offered a free drink. 

I wondered if it was just Booking/Hotels that behaved so greedily, and found that it was not. A quick search on Google (more megalomania) brought up a blog by someone who had investigated Expedia.com. His experience was that the website took 25% of the fee! You can read about it, and see the photo he took of the reservation received by the hotel (and not for the client's eyes) here. In the comments section, a hotelier writes about his experience with Expedia and the pros and expensive cons of having a contract with them.

While it is useful to see what people have thought of a hotel, and it's definitely convenient to be able to book a room in the same place, we will not be making reservations that way any more and encourage these sites to take even more control of booking systems with their mucky fingers. I can just imagine them ultimately wanting to make it obligatory to go through their central system, and then, of course, put the prices up, and the hotels would not be able to do anything about it.

Keep hotels free from plunder! Use their own websites to make your bookings. Before it's too late...


Saturday, October 01, 2016

News and booze

Thought I might do a round-up of the month. Not the toxic, glyphosate type which kills every living thing in sight, but an environment-friendly John Craven-type Newsround.

Sport
I've given up zumba. Not a biggie, but when I went to the first session of the 'rentrée', it was a bit tough on the old knees. Nothing to do with having done zero sport during the summer because it was so hot (except for walking in Wales), but everything to do with age-related decrepitude. My DB suggested that perhaps zumba was for osteoarthritis-free youth and that I could do something else. The truth hurts, but less than a dodgy knee.

It just so happened that I had to get some sporty clothes for my youngest in Intersport behind Carrouf, and what did I see opposite? A gym. And not just any old outrageously expensive 1OO€+ per month temple of the vain and oily, but a 245€ per year basic gym with a nice age range of the young and fit, to the more mature trying desperately to ward off osteoporosis and muscle shrivel.

When I popped over to look inside, I was pleased to find nice kind lads in charge, one of whom told me all about the gym, didn't make me feel like an old crock who had no place in a centre of fitness, and generally made me very welcome. So I went back the next day and signed myself up, and my eldest.

I go two to three times a week, take my Kindle, and am happy I can go whenever I want (6am to 11pm) whatever the weather. I even have a personal fitness plan that is training me to be hail and hearty, strong of bone, and firm of bum.

Age
I'm older than I was at the beginning of the month. It was my birthday (50+) which had to be a low-key event because it was mid-week. Otherwise of course I would have had a party for the masses... As it was, a friend took me out for a ladies-who-lunch lunch in a ladylike boutique restaurant called 'Déjeuner sur l'herbe' where you can buy the chairs you sit on if you so wish. I didn't, I just wanted to eat and chat, as you do in a restaurant. We had a very jolly time, even quaffing on a naughty work day glass of wine.

In the evening, I went to an InterNations bash. My co-Ambassador and I organised it for my birthday so I could celebrate it with a bunch of jolly people even on a Tuesday.

Happy Birthday me! I'm rocking the charity shop top!
When I arrived, I ordered a G&T to celebrate, and one was forthcoming. My co-Amb said she would get my drink and another G&T appeared. Turns out there was a little mix-up and this one had no home. When I told the patronne it was my birthday, she instantly gave me the second drinkie poo, so there I was, Two-Gins Sarah (see photo above). I got very merry (see below).

One G&T down
One of my buddies got everyone to sing ''Happy Birthday' and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

It was my eldest's birthday this month too. He is no longer a snotty teenager, but a go-getting young man of 20! Well, hopefully the go-getting will kick in at some point... and he has yet to dip his toe in the gym...

My son on his way to a gala event, suit bought 30mins prior...
Happy Birthday son, just kidding, etc.

Coding
It's a long, hard slog learning C sharp. I did very little over August with the result that I had to revise everything I'd done at the beginning of September, reviewing nearly all the videos and my notes so I could pass a little test. In order to boost my shit memory, I'm taking a complex of vitamins B and C, the sort of thing they give to Alzheimer sufferers...

The coding challenges often involve solving puzzles, and as I rarely use my brain in that way, it's like pulling teeth. My DB assures me it'll get easier, but I can just feel the rusty cogs cranking up in my brain trying to make head or tail of the problem.

#SavetheCulture
I joined a Facebook cultural Ponzi scheme which involved books. Getting up to 35 books back, was the pull that convinced me. All I had to do was send a book that I loved to one person, put my name on a list, and wait for the best-loved books of others to come flooding in.

Well, I didn't get quite 35 books back. But I did get two. That's two more than zero, so it's a win! I sent off one of my old favourites - Mrs Frampton by Pam Gems - not Great Literature, but a merry read by a fabulous author (of plays for theatre and tele). I got back 'The Deptford Trilogy' by Robertson Davies, and 'Stiff' by Mary Roach both of which look fab.


I can't remember anything else for the moment (not sure those pills are working yet...), so that's it for this post.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Discovering Swansea's Industrial Heritage #2

The boat trip up the River Tawe was very interesting but to get more intimate with a ruin, you have to go to the Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall. It's a National Trust site located in the Vale of Neath. My mother went there years ago when all that was apparent was the waterfall.

Aberdulais waterfall
But there has been a lot of restoration and conservation work since, and it has revealed the ruins of the most recent industry to occupy the gorge - the tin-plating works. The site has housed a succession of mills since 1584 : copper smelting, iron-working, textiles and grain mills and, in the nineteenth century, tinplate.

Behind me is the old school, now the café
In its heyday, tinplate from the works was exported all over the world, and only stopped when the Americans slapped huge tariffs on tinplate imports to protect its own infant industry. Some of the Welsh workers went to the US to use their skills in the factories there.


The museum really tries to convey the conditions of the workers. There are videos, a small cinema, displays and objects dug up from the site. Local children tell the stories of their forbears on film, how they were put to work at the age of eight, and the terrible conditions they endured. It was so hot, for example, that sweat ran out of their shoes.

Replica wheel in original wheel bed
The wheel, that uses 400 year old technology, was built by students and apprentices of British Steel at Port Talbot. It's the largest electricity-generating wheel in Europe. It wasn't working when we were there, but it normally produces 100-120kw of electricity per day.

The turbine has a generating capacity of 200kw and provides electricity to most of the neighbourhood!

Small site, global impact!
Apparently the river is quite something when it's in spate. It was already quite dramatic during our visit after raining overnight.
Aberdulais falls
It was an exceptionally interesting visit; well done the National Trust for all the work they've done to make the museum as fascinating as possible. 

They even provide picnic tables for those who bring their own food, which we did, and the rain held off while we ate it!