Lost in…Chepstow

Chepstow Town 2 – 0 Aber Valley

Larkfield Park / Friendly / 2nd August 2014

After a week of umming and ahhing of what part of Wales to explore this weekend, I eventually settled on a trip to Chepstow. Despite not recalling ever visiting the town (although there are many places in Wales that I have visited as a child and not recalled), Chepstow had always conjured up pleasant images in my head. The town is situated just 16 miles east of Newport on the Wales/England border in Monmouthshire with the River Wye flowing alongside it. The town is famous for its racecourse, the leading course in Wales, which is located on the outskirts of town. Of course, I was not heading there for horse racing though, I was there to check out Chepstow Town FC.

Joining me for the trip to Chepstow today was semi-regular Lost Boyos companion Sean, who I met up with in Cardiff before we made the 30-35 minute journey from Cardiff Central to Chepstow.

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Chepstow town centre.

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Chepstow town centre.

Due to trains being a bit rubbish today, we had arrived earlier than usual with the time not even 11am yet. It was not a problem though as we could engage in a spot of ‘Castlehopping’ – the second blog in the row featuring a castle visit after my trip to Abergavenny two days earlier (perhaps I should launch the side project ‘Castlehopping’ site after all!) Firstly, we had to find the castle, as there was no sign of it on the hills around Chepstow, so we headed for the town centre and hoped for the best.

The town centre really was a lovely scene on this pleasant Saturday morning. The main high street mainly consists of a large hill with many independent shops and cafes similar to what I had seen in Abergavenny two days before – incidentally another town of Monmouthshire. I’m also a big fan of a well sign-posted town and having spotted signs for the castle we headed down the narrow pedestrianised street, past the Bellhanger Wetherspoons pub (noted) and down a small winding street with more cafes and pubs. Suddenly, the castle emerged on our left out of nowhere, with it overseeing the River Wye and England on the opposite river bank.

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Entrance to Chepstow Castle.

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The view of the River Wye from the top of the castle.

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The view from the front tower of the castle.

We decided to go in and have an explore of the place and fortunately Sean had not had a night out in Glasgow the night before this time; the last time me and Sean ventured into a castle together, my Cardiff-supporting companion ended up spewing all over half of Dumbarton’s famous castle overlooking their ground, much to my amusement.

It turned out that Chepstow Castle was much bigger than it looked from the outside as we headed through all the different towers, halls and courtyards. Having taken in some lovely views of the River Wye below the cliffs of the castle, we made our way up one of the towers and I forgot how much I hate going up spiralling castle staircases – I was certainly relieved to be back on the ground after having a nose around the high walls of the place. Exploring the castle had been thirsty work, so I suggested that it was time for the pub.

A lot of the quieter looking pubs were still to open before midday and so we headed to the Wetherspoons we had spotted on the hill earlier. Clearly, disorientated from visiting a castle and having bad memories of Dumbarton, Sean opted for orange juice over alcohol whilst I settled for a pint. We watched some of the Commonwealth Games coverage and I continued to think of a way to implement penalty corners into football having enjoyed such set pieces whilst watching the women’s hockey; easily my favourite set piece in sport – apart from an indirect freekick in the box in football of course.

After giving up on implementing a new rule into football, we headed onwards up the steep hill of Chepstow town centre towards the large gatehouse at the top. On noticing a pub to our right, the White Lion Hotel, we decided to have a drink in there having climbed the hill. The bar was actually quite plush inside, but undoubtedly the star attraction was a Carlsberg beer tap with a small TV screen at the end of it (also showing the Commonwealth Games today). Of course, a photo of such a thing of beauty was required, but the flash of my camera seemed to stir the locals.

“Who’s taking photos in here!?” exclaimed the hat wearing gentleman to my right. When I admitted to committing the act and explained that I was overawed by the TV/beer tap combo. And so ensued the usual questions about where I had come from and what I was doing in Chepstow. When I explained the whole blog our new friend, who introduced himself to us “Robin…Rockin’ Robin”, began to describe how wonderful the town of Chepstow is and how we would get a good welcome at the football club, as well as telling us some of his wacky stories about travelling the UK as a roadie many years ago. Equally strange was the fact that Rockin Robin had even once gone out with a girl from Treharris, the village practically attached to my home village of Quakers Yard back in the Merthyr valley.

As we were about to leave, I told Rockin Robin it was tradition to have a double thumbs up photo, but he insisted on doing ‘The Robin’ instead – a double peace sign. We said goodbye to clearly one of Chepstow’s great characters and moved on up the road.

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The White Lion Hotel.

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Me and the legend that is Rockin’ Robin. (The flash had me in this photo – I’m not totally inebriated).

Next stop was the George pub just the other side of the gatehouse, as me and Sean decided to get some food in before heading up the hill to the football ground. The George was a typical Spoons-esque pub with cheap food offers so I opted for a simple jacket potato and chilli to keep me ticking over.

Sean’s burger had taken slightly longer than my food, but it seemed we had timed our exit from the George perfectly as we embarked to the football ground: we had walked directly outside into hammering down rain and a constant roar of thunder overhead, whilst lightning struck further down the valley. Within minutes of leaving the George, the hill we climbed up towards the ground resembled a waterfall more than a road. We were speedwalking up the hill, whilst I prayed that my Google Maps was leading us the right way.

Eventually, we turned left at the top of the hill and poking out of some bushes at the entrance to a housing estate was a sign reading ‘Chepstow Town FC’ and the entrance to the club’s Larkfield Park ground. Predictably, by the time we had arrived at the clubhouse the skies cleared and the rain subsided. Cheers Mother Nature.

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Arriving at the ground very wet.

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Arriving at the ground.

Chepstow Town FC are the most easterly of all the Welsh League clubs. The club were founded in 1878 as Chepstow Castle FC and the club have played in various leagues, starting in the local Gwent leagues until they become founder members of the Welsh League after the First World War. Relegation in mid-1920s saw the club play in the Monmouth and Gloucestershire leagues. Having played at places such as Bulwark and St. Arvans, the club found themselves by the 1930s playing at The Stute. Changes to the road system in Chepstow would see the football club forced out of their ground in the 1980s and that is when they moved to their current home at Larkfield Park, where they now play in Welsh League Division Two.

On arriving at the clubhouse, we were met with a gazebo housing a few benches overlooking the pitch with an adjoining pool room leading into the main bar area. As far as clubhouses go, this place was rather big for a club at this level; obviously, this was fine with me. We’d arrived rain-sodden ten minutes before kick-off, so we bought our drinks and headed to the shelter of the gazebo to watch the teams come out onto the pitch.

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In the club bar.

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The view from the gazebo.

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Match action.

The teams emerged from the changing rooms, housed in a separate building to the right of the clubhouse – Chepstow in white with blue shorts and their opponents for today’s preseason friendly, Aber Valley, in all green. Despite playing below their hosts in the South Wales Amateur League Division 1, Aber Valley started the game the better team and very much deserved their 1-0 lead. The ball was floated in towards goal from the corner of the box and caught the goalie out leaving it float over his head; I’m fairly sure it was an outside of the boot cross and not a shot, but ‘they all count’ as the cliche goes.

Just past the 20 minute mark it was 2-0 to Aber Valley, as an excellent through ball saw the away team go clear through on goal and with only the goalie to beat, the attacker passed the ball across the onrushing keeper for his team-mate to tap into a virtually empty net. I believe in the world of playing FIFA online this is called ‘a sweaty goal’ – at least that’s what the kids in the school I work at call it anyway.

With Aber Valley 2-0 up, I decided to have a nose around the ground. Like many grounds at this level it is very basic with the only real stand, a small, bricked, sheltered standing area, sitting on the halfway line. The rest of the ground is largely open with the opposite side of the pitch to the stand being engulfed by trees.

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The stand.

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Match action.

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The club bar.

Having spotted me snapping photos around the ground, a lad under the gazebo asked me was I groundhopping and when I replied in the affirmative, he revealed to me that he helped out at Aber Valley (I’m sure he said in some sort of looking after finances capacity, but beer has slightly faded my memory). Me and Sean spent most of the game chatting to Matt with his mates seeming to be relieved that they’d found people for him to talk to for the game, as they claimed he was big talker. He probably met his match in me after a few pints. Sadly, just when we seemed to be getting on so well I found out he was a Cardiff City season ticket holder. Oh well.

As the three of us chatted away about Cardiff City and Swansea City, Chepstow made it 2-1 as their striker took the ball around the keeper to bring the home team back into the game just before half-time.

Half-time: Chepstow Town 1 – 2 Aber Valley…well it might have been. I can’t remember if Chepstow equalised just before or after half-time, as it seems I failed to make a note of it on my phone. Oops. I was clearly enjoying the beer too much. Usually my maverick match reporting might be rescued by a match report to aid my memory a little bit, but no such document seems to exist online at the moment.

I continued to head to the bar, watch the game and discuss the prospects of Swansea and Cardiff City in the coming season with Sean and Matt, whilst Chepstow were beginning to dominate on the pitch after a slow start.

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Sean enjoying the game in his new Wales shirt.

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Me and Cardiff City-supporting, Aber Valley-following Matt.

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Match action.

As the game entered the final stages, Chepstow really turned it on and scored 3 goals in less than ten minutes to make the scoreline a tad bit harsh on their guests. The best, well most comical, goal would come about with an Aber defender getting in a muddle with his own onrushing keeper and lobbing the ball over him for a Chepstow player to run on and score into an empty net. In fact, even Chepstow’s 4th was a slight bit fortunate with a sliced shot from a corner trickling past the Aber goalie for a simple tap in for Chepstow again.

The scoring was completed not far from the end with a low cross from the right finding a Chepstow player in the box to tuck home simply.

Full-time: Chepstow Town 5 – 2 Aber Valley.

After the game, we headed back into the club bar for one last drink and I got to nosing around at the various memorabilia on the wall. My favourite piece was the black and white shirt with number 5 on the back hanging on the wall. On reading the news article underneath it, I learned that it belonged to Ollie Burton from his time playing for Newcastle United between 1965-73. Apparently Burton, who also played for Newport County and is also a Norwich City Hall of Famer, was born and bred in Chepstow and seems to be one of their most famous sporting personalities. I then read the article all about Burton’s encounter with George Best on the pitch (which I also found online here), before calling it a day at Chepstow Town FC and heading back into town.

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The view from the road back down the hill from the ground.

With a bit of time to kill before our 18:30 train back to Cardiff we decided to head back down to the pubs by the castle, which were closed earlier in the day. Instead we got sidetracked and ended up in the much dingier, but probably more fun, Five Alls, which on this early Saturday evening had Kings of Leon’s Only By The Night album blaring out and an intense game of poker going on in the corner, which had even attracted a crowd. With the guitar riffs of the Followill brothers rocking around the bar, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find Rockin Robin running in through the door all of a sudden and immediately performing air guitar with his walking stick. What a man.

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The Five Alls.

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Rockin’ Robin rocking out in the Five Alls.

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A drink in the Three Tuns to finish our day.

Enough rocking our in the Five Alls, we decided to end our day in Chepstow with a trip to the far more quaint Three Tuns Inn a bit further down the road and in the shadows of the walls of Chepstow Castle. Sat in the beer garden with the sun shining, the castle above us and beer in hand, it was a pleasant way to end a very pleasant day out in a very pleasant town.

Highlights: lovely town, nice castle, lots of nice pubs/bars, nice club bar, decent game for preseason.

Low Points: getting caught in the storm, ground not the most interesting.

See the rest of my photos from roaming Chepstow town, Chepstow Castle and Chepstow Town FC here https://www.flickr.com/photos/125327149@N05/sets/72157645739816927/

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