If you'd have asked me about Newport a few years ago, I would have probably not have known anything about the place at all. I moved down here in September 2011 for University at the Universtiy of Wales, Newport to study Creative Sound and Music. I am living in Opal and studying at the city campus and have explored a fair bit of the city by now.
My first impression of the city after a trip to the supermarket is that there are a lot of dodgy looking people about and that the place seems very run-down, tired and sad looking. I felt a bit worried about wandering around on my own and quite intimidated by the locals. As I have spent time in town, my opinions have changed. There is so much on offer here.
Shopping in the high street seems pretty good, there are plenty of big name shops (namely HMV, Topshop, Waterstones, H & M, New Look, Primark e.t.c.) mixed in with bargain shops and small traders. It is a nicely planned high street, the streets are kept looking nice and tidy with plants, statues and plenty of benches and bins. These are all located very closely to the train and bus stations. There is also a retail park, which I'm yet to venture to, that is just a short bus ride away.
There is a nice choice of popular restaurants in town too including three Wetherspoons, MacDonalds, Subway a lovely little chip shop called Vacara, Kama Lounge and more.
Kama lounge doubles as a hotspot for a chilled out 'few pints' at night and hosts an acoustic night on a Thursday. It is such a nice venue, lovely atmophere. Kama is owned by the same people who own the other two most popular venues in town; Delilah's and Meze Lounge. Delilah's is the place to be if you want to dance the night away to chart music, pop, R & B, you name it! Meze Lounge is for the rockers, the indie kids, metalheads, punks and Reggae lovers. All three venues have well priced drinks, there are always offers on. A night out in Newport is always good!
However, I still wouldn't venture off on my own on a night out. I have heard a fair few stories happening to people I know and trust in the short time I've been here. In the day, the place seems so much brighter and friendly.
I think I am being introduced to the city at a time of change. There is a new University campus, a new bridge, almost new Shopping centre, new apartment buildings e.t.c.. Newport is changing for the better. From a dated, run down hide-away for dodgy people to a modern, exciting place to be! I'd give it five years and Newport will have a completely different feel to it. I look forward...
Croeso yr Casnewydd, or Welcome to Newport, my hometown.
While I was thinking of this review, I felt an introduction to the historic city of Newport was in order. History shapes a town and since Newport has only recently been granted city status, I will still refer to it as a town. This part of South Wales is steeped in history, but I immediately came upon a stumbling block, I thought I knew my town well, but its only authentic history starts less than 1000 years ago.
Whether from indifference or lost documentation, little is known of the towns origins.
Abergavenny, some twenty miles from Newport, once housed a huge library in its castle, but sieges left the castle and its contents burnt down around the time of Oliver Cromwell.
Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100 to 1154) was the main chronicler off the age, but his written works were interspersed by fables and legends, so how little of the truth remains is in doubt.
Newport, in ancient times, would have been little more than a crossing point for the river Usk. Its present location is built on a flood plain, where much of the low-lying areas are reclaimed marshland, in earlier times it would have flooded on a regular basis.
Shortly nearby is the opening of the Severn Estuary where the confluence of the rivers Severn, Wye and Usk give rise to the world-famous Severn Bore.
Far more likely a settlement of the Celts would have used the strategic place of Caerleon nearby to build a town. A race of fierce warriors called the Silures covered most of the South east part of Wales, a battle at Caerleon was fought in 50BC nearly a century after Julius Caesar first stepped on the shores of Britain. The Romans captured the place and built a large fortification here with garrisons, baths and an amphitheatre, the remains are well preserved and draw visitors from many countries.
The Normans built most of the Welsh castles; the ruins of Newport Castle still stand today and its likely that a small settlement would have grown up around the castle with a river crossing near the lowest point of the river Usk used for transportation of armies and goods.
The small town changed hands frequently until the last major family, the Morgans, settled at Tredegar House in the 15th century, up until 1951, the Morgan family still kept ownership of the house, now its another of Newports attractions.
Another landmark of Newport is St Woolas Cathedral, built on the highest part of Newport; its likely that since early times a church would have stood here. The original building made by St Gwnllyw, a fifth-century warrior saint, would have been built on many times until we see it as it stands today. Basically a 12th century church, Jasper Tudor, uncle of Henry V11, constructed a bastion around the church, which dominates the landscape of the town.
St Woolas was a corruption of St Gwnllyw, through centuries of language changes.
It wasnt until the late 1790s that the town started to thrive. With the expansion of the docks and a growing trade in coal and iron, a canal was made to carry the trade from the valleys pits to the loading bays at Pill in Newport. Although the canal has long ceased to function, it remains in the hands of the National Heritage site and is a popular area to learn about the history of the canal and barges, whilst remaining a lovely place for a leisurely stroll.
The main body of history that Im leaving out concerns the Chartist Riots, which are well documented. After all, this is not a history review, but its worth mentioning since visitors to Newport will see many murals depicting the riots.
The last feat of engineering was the building of the Transporter Bridge, only one of the three such bridges to remain in working order in the world.
It was a very much-needed link between the East and West banks of Newport. On the eastern side of town, several large industrial factories such as a steelworks and a chemical factory needed a crossing for their trade.
Different designs were argued over, until a French engineer, Ferdinand Arnodin, together with Robert Haynes of Newport, broached a solution. It took four years to build and cost £98,000. It was opened in 1906 and although not needed anymore with the new bridge across the river, it still carries cars and passengers for a small fee.
Todays visitor to Newport approaching from the East side will see the impressive sight of The Celtic Manor hotel and resort centre. Originally the site of a maternity hospital (where my own daughter was born), it has been developed into Europes largest conference site and the home of three world-class golf ranges. The hotel is built for luxury and out of the price range of most people. Outdoors activities can be planned well in advance and for the ladies there is a superb spa and sixteen different types of beauty treatments. For a reasonable price non-residents can still enjoy the facilities of the leisure centre, although Im not sure about the golf courses, a phone call or e-mail should remedy this.
Happily, there are a good range of cheaper hotels and clean, reasonable guesthouses.
Wandering around the town centre, you need to look up to see the mixture of Victorian and Georgian architecture. Many have been turned into banks, offices and shops and give the visitor an impression of the older town overlaid by modern shops.
Sadly, many old building have been renovated or destroyed. One such building was the Lyceum theatre, where people saw many famous entertainers. Harry Houdini made two appearances here and my mother remembered seeing some of the characters from the age of silent movies here. It was turned into a cinema and was finally demolished in 1961.
The Victorian parks of Bellevue and Beechwood are a shadow of their former glory, with the bandstands empty and the hothouses vandalised beyond repair. Both are still worth a visit, Bellevue is on the west side and Beechwood on the east side, commanding fine views of the surrounding countryside.
Newports Leisure Centre caters for families; children love the swimming pool and the water slide. In the evening, there are concerts for all age ranges and tastes.
For the younger crowd, there are several nightclubs, but beware if you are over twenty-five, you will certainly feel old and younger teenagers should be kept away from the town centre at night as it can get very noisy and sometimes violent on a weekend.
It was once said of Wales that on most streets you could find a pub and a chapel, Newport certainly has a plethora of pubs.
The outskirts of the town boast many quaint pubs and serve good cheap food. Most nowadays have a childrens play area and a room for adults along with children, to eat. A lot of these are on the waters edge, a fine place to sit of a summers evening and watch the world go by.
Caerleon is only three miles from Newport and is a lovely small town to visit, whether to visit the Roman remains or have a meal in the pubs or restaurants. Here you can try out Welsh cuisine or have a good old-fashioned English dish. The Hanbury Arms is one of the older pubs and the lodging place of many a famous poet such as Tennyson and Wordsworth.
A short drive to Christchurch overlooks Caerleon and the mountains beyond; on a clear day you can see a good thirty miles in each direction. The Church is worth a visit, or take a quiet stroll and return to the Christchurch Inn for a well-earned pint. This is my favourite place for a meal, but sometimes you need to book ahead. You can get a first rate meal here for £6-£10.per head either in the modern restaurant or in the older part where you still sit in wooded booths, a legacy from the coaching days.
Newport is a good base for sightseeing, in any direction it only takes a short drive to be in the countryside with much to see and do.
Wentworth forest is a cheap trip out for all the family. Once the forest spread over most of the surrounding area from Newport to Chepstow, some 16 miles away but is still a good place to walk, have a picnic or a barbeque. The brickbuilt barbeque area is free of charge, just take some food and some charcoal. An adventure playground allows the kids to let off steam and again is free of charge.
To the West side of the town, take the motorway to Cardiff, a ten-minute drive. See the old castle, which is still intact. Go shopping in St Davids centre or take a walk around Sophia Gardens.
Further on, is Caerphilly castle and also Castle Coch, a fairytale castle set in woodland walks. Take a trip to the Welsh valleys and see Big Pit, an underground mine you can walk around.
For a full day out, nothing can compare with the beaches of the Gower Peninsula, near Swansea. This wild, unspoilt area is home to protected species of birds, there are also a few good camping sites here for caravans or tents.
To the East of Newport lies an abundance of castles, churches and the beautifully haunting Tintern abbey, which inspired famous artists of the calibre of Turner and the poetry of Tennyson and Wordsworth.Travel through the Wye valley and stop off at Symonds Yat to see the rapids, or take a cruise along the river. Have a snack in the Old Court Hotel and listen to the locals talk about crops and the weather forecast.
Turning back to Newport, take a detour to the lovely old town of Abergavenny; visit the antique shops, the clothes stores and feast on homemade Welsh sweets. Catch the Wednesday market and find yourself a bargain. Meander along by the river route back to Newport, stopping off to visit part of the lovely Brecon canal where you can also take a trip on a barge.
A visit to the area should not be passed up by fellow book-worms, the town of Hay-on Wye is a feast for readers, nearly every shop sells books, maps, memorabilia and old posters. Beware the lure of the books; the low prices can easily carry you away with prices as low as 50p per book. Students often visit Hay to buy cheap used books for their coursework.
Check out the dates of the book festival and meet some famous authors, people travel from miles away to enjoy the festival.
Finally, back to Newport again; dont pass up the chance to cross the transporter bridge, visit the beautiful cathedral, watch craftsmen at work in the grounds of Tredegar house.
Expect to pay about £22 for B&B or stay at one of the many large hotels from about £50 per person per night. The average meal should come to around £10 per head but there are some very good carveries that only cost about £6.50 with all the food you can pile on your plate. Transport by bus is quite expensive so if you want to ditch the car for the night the local taxies are reasonable due to the competition between firms.
Disabled facilities are improving but still leave a lot to be desired, check up on hotels and guesthouses before booking.
Newports coat of arms bears the motto Terra Marique, By Land and Sea. A fitting motto for a town that prospered by its docks and harbour.
Fe wela I chi . Ill see you.