Wales 2019

Dragon at entrance of the National Show Caves
The National Show Caves

In early July 2019, we completed the Wales portion of our ‘England and Wales‘ tour as a private tour for two guests who then joined us on our Scotland tour that followed a few days later.

Day 1

We met in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, and stayed in a comfortable city centre hotel a short walk from the railway station.

Day 2

Today was the first day of our geology of Wales tour. Our first stop was the best Triassic dinosaur trackway in Europe, at Bendrick Rocks, near Barry just a few miles from Cardiff. Here the dinosaurs would have been walking on the lake shore in an otherwise arid environment. We then proceeded to Lavernock Point, where we were able to see terrestrial Triassic sediments grading up into marine Jurassic sediments, here we also found ammonites and gryphea. In the lowest Jurassic sediments, just centimetres above the Triassic/ Jurassic boundary. is the discovery site of the ‘Welsh Dinosaur’. The dinosaur a new species, Dracoraptor hanigani, which was found in 2014 and is the oldest known Jurassic dinosaur in the world and the first dinosaur to have been discovered in Wales. Our next stop was the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS), and the first stop in the WHS was the Big Pit National Coal Museum of Wales, where we were able to join an underground tour led by former miners and eat our lunch. After the Big Pit we visited the Blaenavon Ironworks. The Ironworks, which incidentally were once managed by James’ Great great grandfather, are at the heart of the WHS because it is here that steel was first produced from iron ore with a high phosphorous content. This discovery then led to the Industrial Revolution spreading around the world.

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Day 3

The second day of the Wales tour was mostly spent in the Fforest Fawr UNESCO Geopark. The first stop was a historic one – Brecon Cathedral. This was followed by Mynydd Illtud for magnificent views of all four ranges of mountains in the Brecon Beacons National Park, as well as glacial features. We then visited the oldest tree in Europe in the churchyard at Defynnog. This was followed by the Dan yr Ogof National Show Caves. The Brecon Beacons are home to the largest cave network in north-west Europe of which Dan yr Ogof is just a small part. We then saw fossil trees near Pontneddfechan before visiting Dinas Rock (reputedly the resting place of King Arthur’s army) and Bwa Maen – a faulted anticline that formed in the Variscan Orogeny. Our final stop of the day was Aber Dulais Falls where we learnt that Wales once led the world in tin-plating. We spent the night in Tenby before moving on to the geology of the Pembrokeshire. 

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Day 4

Our Wales geology tour moved on to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park today and we visited Skrinkle Haven to see impressive coastal erosion, with geos, arches and a blow-hole. Here the Carboniferous limestone is tilted vertical and the contact with the Devonian Old Red Sandstone can be seen. We then proceeded to Manorbier where the Old Red Sandstone outcrops on the beach and there are fine views of the castle. After this, we saw an impressive fold in Carboniferous limestone at Stackpole Quay. Further down the coast we then visited the Green Bridge of Wales, an impressive arch in Carboniferous limestone. There were also many breeding guillemots to be seen here. After passing Pembroke Castle we arrived in the UK’s and Wales’ smallest city – St Davids. Here we saw the magnificent St Davids Cathedral built out of purple Cambrian sandstone and hiked along the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park coast path at Caerfai to see impressive folding in the Cambrian sandstone and an Iron Age fort.

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Day 5

We spent the first part of the day in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park before moving north to explore the Central Wales Ore Field in Ceredigion. Our first destination was a drive past Llanvirn Farm which lends its name to the Llanvirn Series of the Ordovician. Nearby we visited Abereiddy where we found graptolite fossils and learnt how the Blue Lagoon was a flooded slate quarry. We then moved on to Rosebush slate quarry where the slates that roof the Palace of Westminster come from. This was followed by the Stonehenge Bluestone Quarry and nearby Pentre Ifan burial chamber. After a delicious lunch in Aberaeron, we visited the water-wheel at Pont-rhyd-y-groes, restored at a site where ore from nearby metal mines was crushed. We then visited Cwmystwyth mines from which lead and copper was extracted. Our final stop, and where we are also spent the night, was Aberystwyth. We visited the town’s castle and saw Silurian turbidite deposits.

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Day 6

Today our trip took us to the very roof of Wales: the summit of Snowdon. We began in Aberystwyth and journeyed through Machynlleth, Owain Glyndwr’s capital of Wales in 1404, before reaching Snowdonia National Park. Once inside the National Park we passed the beautiful mountain of Cadair Idris, which is an Ordovician sill, before stopping at Penmaenpool near Dolgellau, where we were able to view the Welsh Gold mine workings in the distance. We then traversed the Afon Mawddach on a wooden bridge, followed by crossing the Harlech Dome to reach the village of Tremadoc, which lends its name to the Tremadocian stage of the Ordovician. From there we paused at the Snowdon viewpoint before passing through Pen-y-pass into Nant Peris, a wonderful glaciated valley. In Nant Peris we stopped at the Cromlech Boulders and observed how they, and most of the rock of Snowdon itself, is made from pyroclastic material from a caldera forming eruption in the Ordovician. We then continued to Dolbadarn Castle for views of Dinorwic Slate Quarry, once the second largest slate quarry in the world (second only to neighbouring Bethesda quarry). The slate here is Cambrian in age and was contact metamorphosed by the Ordovician volcanoes. The highlight of the day was to take take the train to the 1085m summit of Snowdon. We ended our day with a visit to Nant Ffrancon, another glaciated valley. Here we saw the glacial features that first gave Charles Darwin the realisation that the area was once glaciated and that there must once have been an Ice Age. We also saw brachiopod fossils that had perished in a volcanic eruption and a Roman Bridge preserved directly underneath the modern bridge on the A5.

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Day 7

Today was the last day of tour and one of the highlight sites was the incredible Bronze Age copper mines on the Great Orme. These mines, that were only discovered in 1987, but were started 4,000 years ago (at the same time as Stonehenge was being built), and were already abandoned long before the Romans reached Wales. The principle ore is malachite and is hosted in Carboniferous limestone and dolomite. We also visited the GeoMon UNESCO Geopark where we saw Blueschist rock containing the mineral glaucophane. This rare rock only forms in subduction zones where high pressure and relatively low temperature conditions occur. The Blueschist outcrop is in the village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (the longest place name in the northern hemisphere) and is of global importance because most Blueschists around the world are less than 250 million-years-old, but the Geomon Geopark outcrop is Precambrian (Edicarian Period) in age. Additionally, because how could you visit Wales and not see some of the castles, we visited the World Heritage Site castles of Caernarfon and Conwy and learnt much about Wales’s bloody history. It was a fitting way to end the tour as, with over 600 castles, Wales has more castles per square mile than any other nation on Earth!

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