As I continue to reminisce about the places I’ve been to before, pre pandemic, I’m reminded that around this time last year we managed to have a weekend in Cardiff for Valentines. I remember, though, it was cut short due to a big storm. I would love to go back to Cardiff, maybe in the spring or summer, where there is no potential storm.
Barkers Tea Room
This was such a nice little place with big comfortable seats – and a very filling afternoon tea. We just had to go to one of the many afternoon tea places in Cardiff, and this one wasn’t too far from the station. The scones were good. I remember the finger sandwiches were cold (they seemed pre made and kept in the fridge for speed of service) but presentation was lovely and I loved the love hearts to tie in with Valentine’s Day.
We also managed to try a lovely independent cafe in the Red Dragon centre, which served brunch and breakfast all day. We went there twice as it was super quick and quite tasty.
The main event for us was visiting the castle – we love a good bit of history. The Earl of Warwick built quite a bit of the castle and in 1947 the Bute family gave the castle to the mayor and citizens of Cardiff. I recall we had booked tickets so we didn’t have to queue, and the weather was terrible so it wasn’t great getting around the castle grounds.
First we visited the Firing Line exhibition which showed the history of war, battles, Welsh involvement, and general history of British involvement in wars. It was an interesting read but a little jarring as it could be interpreted as glorifying unjustifiable conquests and wars. Underneath this exhibition was the Roman Wall and the Sculptured Mural, which was lovely to look at, but a little cold to walk along.
Next we visited the Wartime Shelters, where people used it as air raid shelters during WW2. As you walk to the end, the stairs up led to the battlement walk (which we decided not to chance in the stormy weather), whilst the stairs down led to the grounds. The Norman Keep was in the middle of the castle grounds, on top of a motte (an artificial hill) which was a common way that the Normans built castles. A shell keep, it was created to shelter the smaller buildings inside it.
We saved the best building last: the Castle Apartments.
The Arab Room was absolutely stunning, with beautiful floors and ceilings. Architect William Burges designed many rooms and this was one of the last he did. I was mesmerised.
The Banqueting Hall is the largest room and the oldest part of the building. All the decor is Victorian but the actual structure dates back to the 15th century. The stories in the carvings depict the time of Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and the Anarchy years between Matilda and Stephen. I recall there was a tour happening in this large room, and we were told to move out the way by the staff; a little rude to those not in the tour and a bit jarring when you’re looking around the room minding your own business.
Nearby there was an octagon staircase built by the Earl of Warwick for the Crichton family, who married into the Butes in 1792. We weren’t allowed to go down the staircase, but you could see the elaborately designed top and bottom.
We followed the set path of the tour, which led us to a small dining room. Apparently this was used by the Bute family when there were little to no guests around. And it was a pretty fine private dining room to me.
We followed through to the drawing room and then to the library. This was the oldest part of the building, and part of it once formed the 15th century great hall. The atmosphere here was wonderful, I can imagine (if only we could) taking a book off the shelf and reading it with a nice mug of hot chocolate.
In the library above a large fireplace there were 5 statues holding tablets of 5 ancient languages: Greek, Assyrian, Hebrew, Hieroglyphics, and Runic. Apparently the last figure on the right is meant to represent Bute himself.
One of the last rooms of the tour was Bute’s study, which was initially the librarian’s room, and then became Bute’s study. Inside there was an octagon table, and the pictures on the windows depict the legends of Hercules. One of the legends you can clearly see is the golden apples guarded by the dragon.
I would say the Castle Apartments were definitely the best part of the castle, but it was raining very badly when we visited. Perhaps on a sunnier day the grounds would have been lovely to walk around and we would have ventured up the Norman Keep too.
Unfortunately, our trip last year was cut short due to the storm and terrible weather, we had to make sure we could hop on a train homewards before anything happened to the train tracks. We were told that the bay is usually a nice area, but when we visited it was very very windy and we barely got to see much of the bay.
I recall there being a Norwegian church nearby, which was closed, so next time I plan to wander around the bay and look inside the Norwegian church. I would’ve also liked to spend more time checking out the Arcades, which we didn’t manage (surprise surprise) as we didn’t want to walk around in the storm. A lovely city that we should like to visit again.