Spring Break in Usk, Wales 2015

Members of Rugby Rotary and Inner Wheel of Rugby enjoyed a Spring Break in Wales

True, some of us didn’t walk; and it wasn’t the weekend; but we were in Wales – Usk to be precise, and we had a jolly good time. Thank you Kevin (and Wilma) for all your hard work in making it happen.

Our hotel was the Cwrt Bleddyn. Nobody mastered the pronunciation. Apparently it’s the hotel of choice for the swingers of South East Wales, with goings-on into the early hours. Some of our group were worried that the strains of the Glenn Miller orchestra might keep them awake, but in fact no swinging of any variety was available – or at least was not noticed by your correspondent….

Our first event was not on the programme. We were invited to the Taylors’ room. No reason was given, but ‘bring your own glass’ sounded promising, and there was general approval as aperitifs appeared. We were treated to the fruits of our very own vines! “Diese Flasche Wein ist exclusiv gefullt fur den Rotary Club Rugby” said the labels. Our good friends in Russelsheim had delivered on their much-appreciated gift of six bottles of Johanneshof (promised when they visited us last year) and very good it was too.

Tuesday saw us pulling on our boots and heading into the little town of Usk to meet local Rotarian Doug, our guide for the morning. He led us, via Usk Castle and the local woods and fields, on a six mile circular route, characterised by splendid views and a profusion of spring wild flowers. Anything that wasn’t a bluebell, violet or primrose was referred to Carol Wakeford for identification Thus we can all now recognise stitchwort, and herb Robert.

There had been some trepidation about the number of stiles we would encounter. These obstacles would be put in our way, it was said, every time we arrived at a gap in a hedge or a field gate. Fifteen stiles to cross! As word got round, the number grew. Thirty stiles! – roughly one every three or four hundred yards. In the event the stiles were few and far between, and when Paul Smith adopted the clever trick of opening the gates instead of climbing the stiles, our anxieties disappeared.

The highlight of the walk however was ‘The Mystery of Richard Taylor’. Taking a short rest at a crossroads where one half of our party was due to take the ‘easy’ route back to Usk (they got lost), it was noticed – perhaps by Kate – that her husband was absent. Hadn’t been seen for half an hour. Couldn’t be contacted by mobile phone (“The person you are calling is unable to take your call at the moment…”). A certain amount of apprehension set in as various theories were explored. Collapsed in a heap? Broken leg? Vainly waving to the rearguard of walkers as they strolled into the distance, unable to hear his feeble cries? Abducted by aliens? A search party set out, including Mark Furber armed with horse tranquilliser and one of those lampshade thingies you put round a dog’s neck to stop it licking bits you don’t want it to lick. It turned out that Richard had stopped to tie a bootlace, and having done so, looked up to find the rest of us had utterly disappeared. Must have been a hell of a bootlace. (To be fair, Richard normally has Velcro fasteners on his shoes). The search party eventuallyfound him, and all were delivered safely back to base camp in a car owned by a man with a friendly one-eyed Jack Russell.

We lunched well in the Nag’s Head in Usk – where a very amicable and competent crew delivered our orders with great efficiency. The two waitresses, we noticed (or at least, I noticed) were still wearing their pyjama trousers – which added to the pleasant ambience.

 In the afternoon we ‘did’ Caerleon, once a Roman garrison town with a thriving amphitheatre, baths and barracks for 5,000 men. The remains were ably described for us by a local guide, who encouraged us to climb over the ancient stones. (‘Don’t climb over the ancient stones’, said a sign). Margaret Phillips accepted the challenge but unfortunately her courage was rewarded with a bruised leg as she fell in the arena. Not the first to do so, I imagine: many a gladiator ended his days here. Margaret soon recovered when she saw Mark approaching, lampshade at the ready.

For many of us the highlight of the ‘weekend’ was dinner courtesy of the Abergavenny Rotary Club. A good meal, enlivened by the friendliness with which we were received by the Rotarians and their partners, was followed by an hilarious game of ‘Call My Bluff’. Hosted by the lugubrious IPP Martin Love, the game was really a sideshow to Martin’s special brand of deadpan humour. Current President, Martin the Second – perhaps having heard that the Johanneshof bottles had been emptied – presented us with three bottles of Abergavenny wine (yes, really); a curiosity we look forward to tasting idc…

President Richard expressed our very sincere thanks for an excellent evening.

On our last morning, Kevin led us on a three mile walk near Clytha Castle., along the River Usk and then over some gentle hills. At the end of our six mile walk, following a map which bore no relation whatsoever to our actual whereabouts, we retired to the Clytha Arms where we dined on cassoulet. Kevin’s map-reading skills were also much in evidence on the journey home, when he was forced to announce that the town of Tewksbury had simply vanished (‘had done a Richard Taylor’).

Once again, well done Kevin for organising a truly great trip.