Joy as Olympic torch relay reaches Wales


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The Independent Online

The Olympic Torch has arrived in Wales on the first of a five-day relay through the principality.

The streets of Monmouth - known as "the gateway to Wales" - were busy more than three hours before the torch's arrival.

Red, white and blue bunting hung from scores of businesses along Monnow Street - with everyone from schoolchildren to pensioners waving Union flags and enjoying the party atmosphere.

Monmouthshire County Council chairwoman Maureen Powell said it was a proud day for her town as well as the rest of Wales.

She said: "We're tremendously thrilled to not only host the torch relay, but also to be the first town in Wales to have it.

"We're the gateway to Wales and its another great moment in our town's long history.

"It's really brought everyone together and the streets have been bustling since 8am this morning."

The torch will pass through more than 80 towns, villages and cities in Wales from May 25 to May 30.

Hundreds of runners will carry the flame through the route which covers all 22 local authorities in Wales.

The torch will be centre stage at four overnight stops in Cardiff, Swansea, Aberystwyth and Bangor during major celebratory events.

First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones said there was great enthusiasm across the nation for the event and the Olympics.

He said: "I think if the torch wasn't travelling around people would have just seen the Games as a London-only event.

"It's also incredibly pleasing that the first event of the Olympic Games is being held in Wales.

"I think Wales will be shown in its best light as the torch travels around."

Also witnessing the relay in Monmouthshire was Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan.

She said Wales was playing a crucial role in the Games - with the winners' medals made in Llantrisant and a Bridgend printing firm supplying all official numbers for athletes.

"The fact that the sun is shining makes it even better," she added.

The route began at Dixton Road, before travelling across the Monnow Bridge and along Monnow Street.

orchbearer number 35 of the day, and one of the first Welsh runners, was Hazel Cave-Browne-Cave, of Raglan.

She was nominated to take part in the event by her sister.

The 44-year-old is a seasoned runner who regularly runs marathons to raise money for local charity Bobath Cymru.

She volunteered at Raglan Youth Group before being offered a full-time role and has recently completed treatment for breast cancer.

She said: "I still find it very hard to believe that I was chosen from the many people nominated.

"I had lots of people cheering me on, my parents and sister plus a friend from Northampton is coming just to watch me run. There was also friends from church and from the village of Raglan.

"All in all it is a very exciting and momentous day."

Meanwhile, forecasters from the Met Office said the weather will remain mainly dry with lots of sunshine as the flame makes its way through Wales this weekend.

A spokesman said: "Temperatures could reach as high as 24C (75.2F) as the Torch Relay continues its journey.

"If you are planning to head out to follow the Olympic Torch then you can check one of our local forecasts available for locations along its route.

"The sun's UV levels are likely to be quite high and the public are encouraged to stay up to date with the Met Office's UV forecasts across the whole of the UK."

The first torchbearer on Welsh soil was Gareth John MBE, chairman of Disability Sport Wales.

He then passed the flame to Robyn Tyler, 21, who has lost more than six stone in the past year.

She said: "It meant an awful lot to me to be nominated. It feels so overwhelming and humbling that people felt I was deserving of this opportunity.

"I've been really looking forward to the whole day, not only my run but to supporting the other people that have also been nominated.

"And seeing the torch travel through Monmouth means a lot to all of us here.

"Despite being a small town on the Welsh border, we feel so much a part of the bigger London 2012 picture."

The torch then headed to the nearby village of Raglan before going on to the market town of Abergavenny and later towards a former coal mine turned tourist attraction Big Pit in Blaenavon, Torfaen.

The National Mining Museum of Wales was one of the biggest pits of its kind in Wales - and its history dating back to 1860.

Former miner turned tour guide Andrew Williams, 51, of Ebbw Vale, said the torch relay's route through the site was fitting given Wales' links to the coal industry.

Mr Williams said: "The great thing about Big Pit is keeping alive our heritage and it is vital children of today learn from the past and how things have progressed.

"A lot of them still find it bizarre that children would have once worked down a mine as well as the dangerous conditions miners back then had to face.

"The torch relay adds another piece to our history - and it is probably not going to come through here again in many people's lifetimes."

Just after 2pm, 16-year-old Newport schoolgirl Ellie Coster became the 51st torch bearer of the day.

She climbed up the steps of Big Pit's iconic lift shaft to brandish the torch before giving well-wishers below a wave.

The youngster has gone from never having ridden a track bike, to being invited to the Olympic Development Programme a year ago and hopes to represent Team GB in the future.