A Love Letter to Newport

For our final post of February 2021, and with St David’s day imminent, E writes a billet-doux to her home town

Dear Newport,

This is the longest period I have ever been away from you. It is 14 months since my last visit and it is fair to say I am missing you very much. You are not the prettiest town – sorry, city – in Wales, but your are my home town and you will always be very special to me.

I moved away from you for the first time for university, to beautiful Bath. That Somerset sojourn was pretty brief though and within six months I returned to you for a further year before leaving again, this time for London. And though I’ve now lived in London and the South East far longer than I lived in Newport, you will always have a huge place in my heart. Much of my family is still in Newport and I have memory upon memory of my noisy, often tatty, home town on the river.

I am a driver. I will drive myself anywhere in the UK and much prefer it to travelling by train or coach. As a Newport returnee, there is something very special about barrelling along the M4, topping the hill near Almondsbury and catching a first glimpse of the Severn Bridge and what I’ve known since its opening in 1996 as The Second Severn Crossing (not a very pretty title, but functional, I think). I know now, of course, that the second crossing acquired a royal title in July 2018: The Prince of Wales Bridge. Getting the correct money together for the bridges’ tolls was long an essential element of the journey to Newport, though the tolls and toll plazas were dismantled a couple of years ago. (I always thought the use of the word plaza in this almost-no man’s land between England and Wales sounded so exotic.)

A little further along the motorway, just before the Magor junction, comes the moment of delight for any proud Welshie: the big Croeso I Gymru signs, a little weather-beaten but resplendent with Y Ddraig Goch. For me, it’s not the enormously imposing Celtic Manor, with its phenomenally large flagpole and Welsh flag, nor the new international conference centre which, last time I was back, seemed to have cantilevered across the inside lane of the M4 like a Gesner Boat House across the Cahuenga Pass, that heralds Newport, but the sweep of the motorway from St Julians to the Brynglas Tunnels. I can’t tell you why exactly, but I’ve always loved driving down this motorway hill, seeing Caerleon to the right with the hills around Llandegveth behind, the dirty old Usk meandering around to split Shaftesbury and Glebelands Parks and then the tunnels with their orange lights heralding “my” junction, for Malpas Road, Bettws and the first proper look at Twmbarlwm. There’s nothing like it and even though I leave the motorway at the Coldra these days because that’s the closest to where my Mum now lives and it’s to my Mum that I invariably head first (naturally), I always try and fit in a trip down the “St Julians” M4 hill at some point in my visit.

Newport, in a photo taken by E in 2003, looking North West, across Bellevue Park and the Royal Gwent Hospital to Twmbarlwm

Newport city centre has changed so much since I left in the late 1980s and I enjoy exploring what’s new and what’s still the same. I like to see whether the dragons – green ones this time – have been returned to their alcoves under the railway bridge near Shaftesbury and whether anything has changed at the castle. Before Covid, I enjoyed looking around Friars Walk and the area around Newport market. I hear that it is to be renovated this year and I look forward to seeing how that looks in 2022. I love Bellevue Park and the area around Friars Walk, Stow Hill and St Woolos. My lovely Auntie, Uncle and cousins lived on Dewsland Park Road – indeed my Aunt still does – and I defy any child not to be thrilled as their Dad drives them down the road, from top to bottom, whizzing through all the twists and turns. It was much harder work walking up from Clytha Square when I’d been out playing with my cousins. The view from the top of the “Transp”, lit up at night, has always been a treat. I have always loved crossing the Usk via the Transporter Bridge. Dad driving us on to the cradle – properly, the gondola, which has always struck me as another very exotic word for this industrial city in South East Wales – for the short trip from Pill to Coronation Park. I have also walked across the top a few times. What has always excited me the most about the bridge though are the huge steel cables that seem to tether the structure to the ground though I suspect they have far more to do with keeping the boom suspended between the towers (as you can tell, I am no engineer). One of my best friends from school lived on Alexandra Road and the North-Western suspension cables made ground in a stocky, stone-clad building, just behind her house. These imposing steel ropes, slanting across the sky to the bridge, have long intrigued me.

Transporter Bridge gondola crossing the Usk, 2003. The suspension cables, travelling down to their grey stone housing on Brunel Street, are visible between the legs of the tower

There are too many other areas of Newport I love to do justice to in a single blog, but I can’t finish this letter to you without a quick mention of a few other favourites. Bettws – how could I not mention Bettws? It’s big, it’s busy, it’s sometimes messy and often gets criticised. I loved growing up on Bettws: I had lots of friends there and we had a brilliant time in and out of each other’s houses and exploring the estate, including the brook, once we were considered old enough. I love Tredegar House and its grounds and have the fondest memories of being permitted to visit them at lunchtime and in free lessons once we got to Sixth Form.

Tredegar House from across the boating lake, 2018

I love the old art college building and the streets that run between it and Corpa Road; I spent a fair bit of time in my formative teenage years hanging out with friends who lived near Clarence Place, Maindee and the top end of Corporation Road, and worked as a barmaid for about six months at the Vic pub which was, as I recall, located between Corpa and Rugby Roads. When I visit these days I like to have a mooch around this area and see what’s changed; a heck of a lot of houses between Rodney Parade and the river is one of the biggest changes.

E and L, at the top of the Transporter Bridge, nearly 20 years ago

Ahh, Newport, I hope to be back to you this summer. A long overdue trip up to “Twmbar-lwmbwm” and the scenic drive, and a wander through Allt-yr-yn nature reserve to the canal are high on my to-do list. Until then, Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus for Monday. ~ E

Dirty, but much loved, old town. A black and white photo taken by E in 1990 on her camera she had for Christmas that year

Has Covid kept you away from your favourite places this year? What have you been missing about them?

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