Having already covered 2 of the 4 capital cities in the United Kingdom (Belfast and Edinburgh), it is time to visit the Welsh capital, Cardiff, located at the edge of South Wales on the Severn Estuary…
Status: Cardiff City, City, Wales
Date: 15-17/04/2008 & 23-25/03/2012
Eating & Sleeping: Mercure Hotel, Ibis Hotel, Harry Ramsden’s Fish and Chips, Pizza Express, Millennium Centre Cafe
Attractions: Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff Bay, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff Castle, Bute Park, Norwegian Church, Lightship, Cardiff Bay Water Tower, Millennium Centre, St David’s Cathedral etc
Before I start talking about this beautiful and amazing city, I have to say that this exact spot (shown above) is my favourite place to be in the whole of the British Isles. Cardiff Bay is a wondrous place, which I have only been to twice so far, but each time was magical. The TV Series Doctor Who is based in Cardiff Bay with the new studios not far from here, and it was in the above building, on the right, the Millennium Centre, that I actually met incumbent (at the time) Doctor, Matt Smith, so Cardiff is a place I shall never forget.
Wales has got to be the most peaceful and relaxing place in the UK, the Welsh never argue, or make trouble, they just get on with their lives and they always seem so happy, so where better to relax than their capital city.
The Cardiff Bay Barage was created in the 1990’s, creating a fresh water lake between the city and the Severn, which is now a habitat for various different amphibious species. Originally part of the larger Cardiff Docks, these had declined rapidly by the 1990’s, so a regeneration project was started, and it has been one of the most successful in the UK.
This particular part of the bay is known as Roald Dahl Plass, named after the beloved author, Roald Dahl (1916 – 1990), who was born in the city. It is a large oval shaped basin, with light towers on both sides following the curve, that look amazing lit up at night. On the first picture, on the left, is the Cardiff Bay Water Tower, which has featured prominently in both Doctor Who and Torchwood and is one of my favourite landmarks in the city. The whole area opened in 2000 and there are many notable buildings around the area.
The Millennium Centre is the large bronze looking building at the back of the 2nd picture, and was where I met Matt Smith, and it is used to hold various conventions, conferences and shows in it’s many meeting rooms and auditoriums. There is a cafe and a visitor’s centre on the ground floor. It opened in 2004, with a second phase following in 2009. The inscription on the front reads:
In these stones horizons sing
Creating truth like glass, from the furnace of inspiration
Moving further around the bay (the Millennium Centre is visible on the far left) you can see the next section of the bay. The large red building on the left is the Pierhead Building, from 1897. It was built as the headquarters of the Bute Dock Company, and designed by the architect William Frame. Although a lot of other buildings in the area have long since gone during the regeneration project, the Pierhead Building was kept, and it looks magnificent in this new setting.
Next to the Pierhead Building you can make out the Senedd, which houses the National Assembly of Wales, which is the Government with devolved powers from the UK since Wales was granted devolution in 1997 following a referendum on the issue. The Senedd is a very modern building with a glass frontage, and was opened in 2006, after 6 years of construction.
As Wales was part of the Kingdom of England, and later part of England within the UK, it had no proper capital city, so a competition was launched to decide on one, and Cardiff won, and became the capital in 1955. Wales now has a much more separate identity within the UK, and is recognised as one of the four constituent countries along with England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
There are even more things to see further round into the Bay, including the Norwegian Church, an historic church built in 1868 by Norwegian Church Aboard, for sailors who came through Cardiff port, which was at the time one of the 3 largest ports in Britain. It was enlarged multiple times, in 1883, 1885 and 1894, before it was closed in 1974. When the regeneration of the docks started it was carefully dismantled and put into storage, then reassembled in 1992, and reopened by the Princess of Norway, Martha Louise. You can’t see it on the picture but it is a charming, white church building that looks brand new thanks to a loving restoration.
What you can see, is the Lightship 2000, which would have been moored off the coast with the light flashing as a beacon to warn sea faring travellers of nearby shores. It is open to the public and you can go on board and explore this amazing old ship. From 1953 until 1989 it was in active service, before being retired in and becoming part of the Christian Church.
Going further past this section of the Quay you will find Roath Lock Studios, the BBC’s brand new state of the art facility in Cardiff, where production began in 2011. Also, heading the other way, is the new shopping development which has a variety of new shops, restaurants and cafe’s, known as Mermaid Quay.
Moving through into the city centre, which is only a 20 minute walk from Cardiff Bay, you will pass the Pierhead Clock which stands on St Mary Street. It was originally installed in the Pierhead Building in the bay until it was sold to an American Collector in the 1970’s. It returned to Wales in 2004 and was restored, before being installed as a piece of street artwork in the glass cabinet for all to see in 2011. An information board next to it tells you all about the clock and it’s history. The design of the mechanism is based on Big Ben in London and operates very similarly.
From the Clock you will be able to see Cardiff Castle at the top of the main street, and if you pass through the gatehouse and into the grounds, you will see the 12th century Castle Keep, sat on a mound in the centre of the Complex. This is the oldest surviving part of the Castle, but it was a ruin by the 16th century.
Looking at the other main buildings in the Castle Complex, you can tell that there have been many additions over the years, evident from the many styles you can see. The Castle was commissioned in the 11th century by either William the Conqueror or Robert Fitzhamon, as a wooden motte and bailey design. In the 12th century this was replaced with a stone castle, believed to be the idea of Robert of Gloucester. This is when the keep (in the previous picture) was added. In the 13th century Richard de Clare had more additions made to the Castle, to cope with war between the Anglo-Normans and the Welsh which was a frequent occurance. The Castle came under many sieges and was attacked notably in 1404 during the revolt of Owain Glyndwr who tried to resist the English rule of Wales and was the last Welsh Ruler. His campaign ultimately failed and Wales was made part of the then Kingdom of England.
The next owner was Richard de Beauchamp who acquired the Castle in 1423 and added more buildings on the west side, including the octagonal tower, before the Herbert Family took over in 1550 and added their own touch to the Castle. When the English Civil War broke out, the parliamentary forces took the Castle but the Royalist’s soon captured it in 1645, and thankfully the Castle survived destruction (as many castles of the time were ordered to be destroyed by Parliament to stop them being used against them) and was instead kept because of fears of an invasion from Scotland.
The Marquees of Bute inherited the Castle in the 18th century and took down some of the older parts of the Castle, replacing them with new buildings and redoing the grounds. By the time of World War II, the Castle was used a refuge from falling German Bombs during the Cardiff blitz, before being given to the City itself after the death of the 4th Marquess in 1947. It is open to the public and on my first visit to Cardiff we had a tour around the inside of the main buildings which include the Regimental Museum. The Castle and the ground are used for various festivals and events throughout the year, and it is a tourist hotspot.
The outer walls of Cardiff Castle are very extensive, and walking on the outside of them gives you a great tour of the immediate area, and we came across Cardiff City Hall, a magnificent building flanked by a series of gardens that with immaculate and colourful flower beds.
Built in 1906, it was originally going to be the Town Hall however Cardiff was granted city status during it’s construction, in 1905 so it became City Hall. At the west side of the building is the Clock Tower, which stands 194 feet tall, with a clock face on all four sides.
Moving further around the walls, is a series of parks, with the main part being Bute Park, laid out in 1873. The river Taff runs through the parks, down to our next port of call…
Here you can see the river Taff winding its way past the Millennium Stadium, the national stadium of Wales that frequently plays host to Football and Rugby matches, and it is the 2nd largest stadium in the world with a fully retractable roof.
A new (at the time) stadium called the National Stadium predated this one, but it’s capacity was poor against other leading stadiums in the country, so a new stadium was built on the same site, and opened in 1999. It’s an amazing building and the metal spires around the roof can be seen for miles around.
There are a number of arcades and shopping centres in the vicinity of the Castle and Millennium Stadium, including the Capitol Centre, Queens Arcade and the Queens West Centre.
Directly across from the stadium is the main railway stadium in the city, Cardiff Central, which is the 11th busiest station in the UK outside London itself. There are 20 stations around the city area, and they offer a variety of destinations including London, Chester, Manchester, Swansesa, Newport, Crewe, Shrewsbury, Hereford, and Bangor, with many others.
Opened in 1850, the station was rebuilt using Portland Stone in 1934. The name of the station has changed a number of times, including to Cardiff General in 1924, and then to Cardiff Central in 1973. The main station building is very impressive,
One night we took a walk down towards the Cardiff Bay Barrage, and you got a stunning view back across the fresh water bay, with the Millennium Centre easily identifiable due to its signature curving roof. You can walk across the Barrage itself, over to the town of Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan on the other side. It was a bit foggy so we couldn’t see all the way over to Bristol and Somerset on the other side however I was stood once on the Somerset side looking across at Cardiff and could just about see the city.
The river Taff, as well as the river Ely both empty out into the bay, which has a set of locks allowing boats to access the Severn Estuary.
It was dark when we returned to the main section of Cardiff Bay, and the light tours around the basin were lit up. What a beautiful sight they are in their different colours, and helps to highlight why I love Cardiff so much, its just an all round amazing city.
We spent the start of our last day in Cardiff in the bay, before heading off back to the car, with one last look back at my favourite place in Britain…
There many other things to see around the city, including St David’s Cathedral in the city centre, and Llandaff Cathedral, situated further out of the centre. The National Museum of Wales is also located in Cardiff, in a building next to the City Hall.
As well as the handy rail links to other parts of the UK, the M4 Motorway runs past the City, coming from London, Bristol and Newport, and continuing on to Swansea. It connects with the M5 past the Severn Bridges, giving links to the South of England, and Birmingham for the North of England and Scotland. Cardiff International Airport is located 12 miles out of the city centre, and is the only airport in Wales that has international flights. Bristol International Airport is the next nearest airport, around 48 miles away.
Cardiff is just an incredible city to visit, so please please anyone in the area take a trip to Cardiff, you won’t regret, I promise you that.