TRAVEL IN WALES (continued)

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The Hunter Gatherers
Roman Roads
Norman Castles

The Hunter Gatherers

The first travellers in Wales were hunter-gatherers searching for food. After the last ice age retreated about ten thousand years ago, it is likely a land bridge existed across the area now occupied by the North Sea. Numbers of tribes could have crossed this strip of land establishing settlements in the growing forests in what was then the emerging island of Britain.

In mainland Europe of the Bronze age groups of people coming from the east and south had settled leaving in some places pits where they buried their dead, sometimes with their tools and weapons and necessities of life.

Skills gradually acquired, first with stone implements, then bronze and later iron, were used to transform their nomadic existence into more stabilized communities. Who were these people we do not exactly know. Did they speak a language? Without the written word there is no way of telling what their ancestry was. We can surmise from the grave goods that they were craftsmen who knew how to smelt metal. They discovered tin and copper ores to supply the increasing demand for tools and weapons. These folk were to become the Celtic race and would colonise most of Western Europe, from present day Spain and Portugal and to the east as far as the Balkans.

From the writings of early Greeks and other historians it is suggested that even in the dark ages traders from the Mediterranean had discovered the sources of these valuable ores in what is now Cornwall. What sort of voyages were made and what sort of ships were needed to cross the stormy waters separating Britain and the nearest harbours in Europe we do not know.

The Romans in their expanding Empire wanted to conquer the Brittanic Isles. Even in the years before Christ attempts were made to explore the country beyond the white cliffs. Caesar came with an army and was met with resistance but the power and organisation of the Roman legions was supreme.

For over 400 years the Romans governed the lands of Britain extending their domains as far as Scotland in the north and into what became Wales. The islands beyond the Irish Sea were left to others to conquer. Because the Roman legions were needed to control the sometimes rebellious tribes, roads were very important to enable marching soldiers and supplies to be moved from encampment to encampment.

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Roman Roads

Roman Raods Map
The builders of Roman roads were knowledgeable in their ways of road construction and even in the present day traces remain of the routes these roads took. Sarn Helen was one such road in Wales. This Roman road linked Neath and Brecon and eventually with the coast road running from Chester to Segontium.

This road was named after Helen, Welsh wife of the Romano-British emperor Magnus Maximus. She was St Helena, celebrated as the finder of the true cross and mother of the Emperor Constantine who was first declared emperor by the army in Britain. The Romans had a hard job controlling the Silures, a tribe who inhabited this part of Wales.

The Roman road builders built their roads in layers starting a foundation of smallish stones followed by larger interlocked blocks topped with further layers of stones.

Typical settlements in Britain by the early Britons were often in the low lying valleys where animals could be kept in winter grazing, then taken to higher mountain pastures for the summer months. This custom was inherited from the system still maintained in more mountainous districts like Switzerland. Tracks, which were the result of these movements, became the basis of links between places. After the Norman invasion little enthusiasm was forthcoming for road building.

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Norman Castles

The Norman earls and dukes built castles everywhere more to protect their ill-gotten estates and subdue the rebellious peasantry.

The Princes and lesser nobility kept their own entertainers such as poets who wrote and recited in the halls, poems in praise of their patrons. As time went on these poets travelled to visit other households with their mentors. Training for the craft of bard was lengthy and exacting; these poets acquired great prestige. Presents such as gifts of horses and clothing were given as rewards for their expertise.

Until the Reformation a number of monastic settlements had developed in Wales where monks built their abbeys and religious buildings. Cultivating their land to provide food and raising crops to feed the animals beyond the natural grazing. Naturally these establishments attracted travellers and pilgrims on journeys perhaps even to and from the Holy land.

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