Susan, who sometimes recites poetry at the Baskerville Hall Wednesday evening sessions, asked me if I'd like to go with her on a day trip. She belongs to Heritage Country House Tours, which goes to theatres as well as country houses and so on. Their website is www.heritagecountryhousetours.co.uk and they've got quite a full programme through the year.
She told me that the tour was going to St Fagan's Museum, which I've wanted to go to for years, so I was looking forward to it.
So, she picked me up on Thursday morning, and we drove to the Boat at Whitney, which was the pick up point for the coach. In fact, there was such a lot of interest in this tour that there were two coaches!
What Susan hadn't mentioned was that the first stop would be at a new Visitor Attraction which only opened this year - the Royal Mint Experience.
This is the place that makes every coin in Britain and, it turns out, in 80 countries around the world! They even make Euros! It's a secure site, with high fences and razor wire, but we were able to watch the factory floor through a big window - including fork lift trucks lifting big boxes of coins to empty into hoppers of machines which then count the coins. Which made a very satisfying sound as thousands of pounds worth of coins fell together. The coin counting machines are made in Germany, which has a Mint which is the main rival of the Royal Mint, but the Royal Mint can make coins more cheaply.
One chap on the tour was able to tell the guide (who was very entertaining along with all the information) that some of the raw materials for the coins (cupro-nickel, I think) came from Wigleys in Hereford.
This is where we got to see examples of the soon to be released new pound coin, which will have 12 sides - which means that all the vending machines and anything else coin operated using pound coins will have to be changed. Though the guide did say that changeover would be gradual. The final design for the last round pound is very beautiful, though I did think "Baratheon" from Game of Thrones rather than "Northern Ireland" when I saw the stag's head part of the design! It has a lion for England, dragon for Wales, unicorn for Scotland, and stag for Northern Ireland.
There was also an opportunity for people to have their own coin struck (at 69 tons of pressure) and to be photographed among glass boxes of pound coins - over four million pounds worth, if they were all full!
There was a good exhibition when we came out of the factory, with a good interactive area for school parties (there was a school party in the gift shop when we came out). It covered the history of the Mint from the Tower of London, through the Blitz at Tower Hill and out to Llantrisant - which was arranged by Jim Callaghan, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, and MP for part of Cardiff, before he became Prime Minister.
Another good aspect was the focus on the work of the designers, from the very recent designs for the Beatrix Potter 50p pieces right back to the Italian engraver in the early 19th century, who spent 30 years working on a commemorative medal for Waterloo, which was never used for fear that it would break apart!
The cafe was very good, too - we had lunch there - and all the staff were genuinely helpful and cheerful.
When we got to St Fagan's, I dragged Susan right the way across the site to St Teilo's Church - I'd seen a TV programme about how it was moved from it's original site before it fell down, and decorated with the most amazing wall paintings - traces of original medieval wall paintings were found under the whitewash, and the originals are now kept somewhere more secure, as they are very fragile. It is quite stunning, and I'm so glad I got to see it.
I'm never sure whether my camera will cope with photos indoors, but I think this one came out rather well - and this is the font cover:
We only got to see a fraction of the rest of the site as we made our way slowly back across it, including a Tudor farmhouse, Gwalia Stores, the Ewenny pottery (closed when we were there), a row of ironworkers' cottages furnished for different periods from 1805 at one end to the 1970s at the other, a Miner's Institute and a toll house. There was also a tannery where the tanning pits are being used as a habitat for great crested newts!
Work has started on new buildings - a medieval prince's court near St Teilo's, and a pub from Cardiff called the Vulcan by the Miner's Institute, along with a police station.
I shall have to go back!
On the way back home, Justin, who was the guide on our coach, mentioned the tours he organises with TravelArts Excursions - they include a day trip to London, a new Pinter play starring Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart called No Man's Land, and gardens at Highgrove and The Laskett (Sir Roy Strong's gardens). They can be booked via Leominster Tourist Information office.
It was a wonderful day out, and I'm so glad Susan invited me!