It seems appropriate for Newport to be the first place visited on the Great Welsh Tea Towel Adventure. It is here, after all, that I finally passed my Mod 2 exam, thereby earning my motorcycle license.
According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, Newport’s original Welsh name was Castell Newydd ar Wysg, meaning “New Castle on the River Usk.” The castle being referred to there hasn’t been new since about 1087. Get used to this sort of thing as the Great Welsh Tea Towel Adventure rolls on: stuff is really old here. Sadly, this particular really old stuff is no longer visible, its crumbled remains having been buried under rubble created by railway work in the 1840s.
All of these road junctions are in the north of the city, where the M4 runs past, exporting goods and talent to Cardiff and the more profitable towns and cities of Southwest England. And therein lies the only thing that Newport has ever had going for it: it’s conveniently located near better stuff.
During the Roman occupation it was conveniently located near the legionary fortress of Caerleon. During the Industrial Revolution it was conveniently located between Wales’ ore-rich valleys and the sea. These days it’s conveniently located between the major cultural centres of Cardiff and Bristol. However, its interminable ugliness and notoriously drunken and drugged-up residents mean it hasn’t really been able to shape itself into a commuter town.
Newport’s most famous residents, comedy rap group Goldie Lookin’ Chain (who achieved their greatest fame with the songs “Your Mother’s Got A Penis” and “Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do“), are a mocking but equally accurate portrayal of the sort of person you’re likely to encounter in the city: dirty, bedecked in discount leisurewear, under the influence of at least one kind of substance, but ultimately convivial and open to conversation. Newport, in other words, is one of those places that apologists like to describe as “having a lot of character.”
And, indeed it does. Or, rather, it should. If you look at Newport, it seems to have all the elements necessary to be a cool, quirky, artist haven like London’s Camden neighbourhood, or Brooklyn’s Williamsburg. But it isn’t. The artists aren’t here; they won’t come. It’s just an ugly place full of scary people that, because of its general desolation, happens to be a good spot to practice riding one’s motorcycle.
Eventually I settled on the Transporter Bridge.
These days it is just a tourist destination that struggles to stay open because there are no tourists. When I stopped to take pictures, a woman at the bridge’s shed-sized visitor centre asked me if I was lost.
She explained to me the bridge was closed for the winter. Should I be keen to return in summer there are specific open days during which I can ride the bridge’s gondola back and forth to my heart’s content and climb to the top of the structure all for the low price of £2.75. It’s an unmitigated bargain, to be sure, but the problem is that it requires you spend time in Newport.
After finishing the cup of tea the woman had kindly offered, I decided I had spent enough time here and packed up to move on. If the goal of this whole adventure is to improve my opinion of Wales, it was probably best to get Newport out of the way as soon as possible.
(c) Which took place in the 1640s. If you’re unfamiliar with the English Civil War, here it is explained in two and half minutes through the medium of song.