Thursday 30 September 2010, 13:41
Many people travelling to watch this year's Ryder Cup golf matches between the USA and Europe will be coming to Wales for the very first time. Many will be arriving by train and for many that journey will begin at Bristol Temple Meads railway station.
Statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The original Temple Meads station, as designed by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was opened in 1840 and is not the one currently in use. Parts of the old station are still in existence, however, sitting alongside the new one and are best seen from outside the station as you make your way to the platforms.
They sit at right angles to the newer structure, on your left as you gaze at the station complex. This is the world's oldest surviving railway terminus and looks far more like a Victorian mansion than a railway station. Although it was replaced by the modern station in 1878, parts of the old station were still in use in the 1960s.
The 'new' station serviced trains from the Great Western and Midlands Railways, as well as local and regional railways, and remains an elegant and engaging piece of architecture. It has a wonderful Gothic front and the internal canopies, wide and spacious, give the station a very period feel.
Leaving Bristol Temple Meads we are headed, now, into Wales. But before we cross beneath the Severn Estuary, take time to look out to the left for Filton Aircraft Factory. Here they built aeroplanes like the Britannia, one of the main passenger aircraft of the 1950s, and carried out the initial research on Concorde. Indeed, the supersonic passenger aeroplane took off on its first test flight from Filton in 1969 and transatlantic flights were made from here to New York in 1977. A Concorde aircraft has been preserved at the far west of the runway.
Both the first and second Severn Road Bridges can be seen as the train hurtles towards the estuary. The first bridge was opened in September 1966 and since that time has carried millions of vehicles from England into Wales - and vice versa. The second Severn crossing was built when the original way into Wales became too congested. Construction began in 1992 and the bridge was opened by Prince Charles in 1996.
Take time to gather your breath because now the train disappears into the dark immensity of the Severn Tunnel. Work began on the tunnel in 1873, with excavation beginning on both sides of the estuary at once. It was built to replace a ferry service across the waterway - the only other railway route into this part of Wales was via Gloucester and that took several hours of tedious travel.
The tunnel was almost finished when, in 1879, a major problem was encountered - the Great Spring. Water suddenly rushed into the tunnel and flooded the workings. It took several years to divert the water and the bravery of the divers who were involved in the process cannot be exaggerated.
Now massive pumps work around the clock, pumping out 20 million gallons of water each day. The fresh water from the Great Spring is currently being used by a brewery but, in the past, it was also used in the nearby naval propellant factory at Caerwent. The Severn Tunnel is over four miles in length and until the Channel Tunnel was opened was the longest mainline railway tunnel in Britain.
The route now, between Severn Tunnel Junction and Newport, takes the traveller through land that is neither English nor Welsh but looks more Dutch in appearance and topography. Look out for the remains of Llanwern Steelworks, a reminder that this part of Wales was once the steel-producing centre of the world. Also, on the right hand side of the train, the golf club at Llanwern runs for several hundred yards alongside the track. This is one of the most picturesque of all Welsh golf courses and anyone staying in the Newport area for the Ryder Cup is advised to try to play the course before they leave.
Watch out for the Transporter Bridge as your train pulls into Newport - it is a distant view but this Grade 1 listed building is the symbol of the city and should be visited if at all possible. Several other bridges cross the River Usk and just before you pass into the station look to the left.
The remains of Newport Castle, the original building being a 12th Century fortress built to protect the river crossing, sit on the bank and can be clearly seen from the train. What you see now, however, is a more modern structure, built after the raids of Owain Glyndwrin the early 1400s. There's not much of the building left these days, just a few walls and towers, but it is easy to see the majesty and strength of its position.
The Chartist rising of 1839 took place in the town, the Chartists being working men and women who demanded, amongst other things, equal rights for all, a secret vote in elections and professional MPs who were paid a living wage. It did not work, of course, and the rising was brutally put down by the government of the day.
The railway route into Wales is a fascinating way to travel - it could seriously enhance your experience during this year's Ryder Cup matches.
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Thursday 30 September 2010, 12:20
Thursday 30 September 2010, 16:39