My wonderful, but short time in Cardiff
Monday 23 – Wednesday 25 April Edinburgh, Scotland to Cardiff, Wales
I had booked an early train from Edinburgh to Cardiff, hoping to have a little time to sight see before dark when I arrived. However, it was not to be.
I had booked a seat on the train through my British Rail Pass. With this pass I travelled on more than one train company, in this instance, Virgin Rail.
Like most of the trains, they are roomy, comfortable and afford great views from the massive windows. Most of them had trolley service from the buffet car, although a word of warning. Whatever you do, stay clear of the liquid they sell as coffee. No way, no how, in no universe I can imagine, would what I tried to drink be called coffee. Ugh. Still, it was all part of the adventure. I took the brave step of trying it, even though I thought it may be ordinary. Ordinary! It was like….. Nope, can’t think of a description, so I won’t even try.
I logged onto Virgin wifi and paid for an hour of internet. This was another mistake. The signal dropped out every couple of minutes, making it impossible to use. I shouldn’t have expected much more, being on a moving train.
When travelling to Edinburgh from London the train went up through York and followed the coast. This train went through the countryside through Oxenholme, Lancaster and Hereford. Very English. Didn’t see any Hereford cows, which was slightly disappointing, nor any ox in their homes at Oxenholme.
I did see wonderful farm country. Hedgerows, with rolling hills, sheep and cattle, stone farm houses and whitewashed farm houses. I never once saw a whitewashed house that needed painting. I wonder whether they paint them yearly? Very pristine looking and they stood out wonderfully against the green fields and woods.
Lancaster was beautiful. Canals full of boats and pretty barges. It reminded me of the tv series ‘Three men in a boat’. I missed a photo of the canals as we had gone past before I could get the camera organised.
Hereford was surrounded mostly by farmland. Unless you see it, I really don’t think a photo does the beauty of the English countryside enough justice. I never tired of looking at the scenery rolling past.
After Hereford we stopped at Shrewsbury. This has some significance for me as I was an avid reader of Malcolm Saville’s The Lone Pine adventures as a child. I would have liked to explore this area of England and added this to my tick list of must do’s for my next trip.
The conductor informed us that we would be twenty minutes late to Crewe, which was where I was to catch the Welsh train to Cardiff. I was a little concerned that I may get stranded, he explained that the next train came along on the hour and that I would be able to catch that one.
I learnt that you don’t have to book a seat, which costs nothing with the rail pass, but it does guarantee you one if the train is full. I would do this for any train from London, and train trips in the holiday season, but I really didn’t have to do it for most of the trains I caught. You can sit anywhere so long as the seat doesn’t have a reservation ticket on it.
I arrived at Crewe and thought I’d grab a sandwich and a coffee while I waited. Not altogether sure where I was, I asked the girl in the station coffee shop where I was, as I didn’t know if it was England or Wales. On reflection, I only had to look at the station name, which are Welsh and English if it’s in Wales. She was a sour faced young thing with no sense of humour and I felt sorry for her. I think she was probably eighteen or so years, and seemed to be resigned to working in a café all her life. Never mind, she was the only person I had met that wasn’t outright nice, so I left her to it, with the god awful cup of coffee she made me.
Crewe is in England, by the way. The girl looked at me like I had six heads when I asked her where I was. Can’t say Crewe has come to my attention for any reason in the past.
I finally caught the train, having spent the last fifteen minutes watching about twenty deaf, elderly adults, conversing on the platform. Lack of speech certainly didn’t hold them back and they ‘chattered’ with sign language, laughing and smiling. They looked to be going on a short trip and I think it probably didn’t matter where to as they seemed to be having a good time already.
Missing my connecting train meant I arrived in Cardiff very late in the afternoon. It was raining heavily just before we arrived, lightening to drizzle when I made my way to the entrance. I had my backpack, suitcase and coat, my British Rail Pass, but no swipe card to open the gates to get out. There was no train employee in sight, so I just had to stand there and wait.
I was in luck. A young, very handsome bloke noticed me and offered to get the train employee. I told him I had a ticket but no swipe card to open the gate. He laughed and got out his ticket, swiping the gate to let me through and then helping me with the suitcase. What a nice guy. He then spoilt it by asking ‘Are you American?’
I told him I was Australian. I must have looked offended, which I was. He apologised, saying that he couldn’t tell the two accents apart. HUH? Don’t understand that at all. Anyway we exchanged pleasantries and I thanked him profusely before we parted. My whole trip has been like that. Meeting nice people who are more than willing to strike up a conversation.
A woman on the train who I met had offered me a card with a website. It was eat with a local.com. She explained that you go out with a local person from Cardiff and they help you by directing you to the things in Cardiff you might be interested in seeing. What a good idea. I have spent my whole holiday talking to locals and getting the most amazing advice and information. It's the way to do things.
I walked to the Maldron Hotel, which I had seen from the train as we pulled in. It was literally less than 100 metres from the station. The Maldron is an Irish chain of hotels and offers very good ecofriendly accommodation.
My holiday was drawing to a close and I must admit that it was heavenly to have a very spacious room, queen size bed and a lift to get me to the seventh floor. The view was lovely, looking out over the city. The lights are all on sensors and turn on as you walk down the hall. The room lights are controlled by the key swipe too. You leave the key card in the controller at the door and you can turn the lights on and off at will. When you leave, the controller turns all lights off within a few minutes. Great idea.
The bathroom had a big bath with bath mats. I had experienced a couple of slippery showers in other accommodation and appreciated the non slip mat.
By the time I got into the room, unpacked a few things and had a shower it was night and I headed to the restaurant for tea. The hotel offered food in their bar or in the restaurant. I sat in the restaurant and as it was a Monday night, there was only one other couple in the place.
The waiter was lovely and we got chatting over the menu items and then started talking about travelling. Like almost everyone else I had spoken to, he seemed fixated on our creepy crawlies and snakes. I was a little amazed at the morbid fascination they have with out spiders and snakes in particular. I think they watch too much tv. However, on thinking back over my trip, I never once saw a cobweb anywhere I went, even walking through the forests and farmland.
Next morning the girl on reception advised that Cardiff Castle was ‘just up the street’. Yes it was, just a couple of hundred metres away. I walked up St Mary’s Street, past lots of Welsh flags flying , which was nice to see.
There are many small narrow arcades off the streets. I walked down a couple and found some interesting shops. One shop was a music shop, selling nothing but harps. I thought this was very unique. It was down one arcade that I came across a dalek. Another good find for me.
The first twelve shops I passed included ten shops that had sporting memorabilia, were sporting bars, or some sort of sport theme. The Welsh take their soccer and rugby VERY seriously. They have two sporting arenas in the centre of the city, again, within a couple of hundred metres from my hotel. The main stadium, the Millennium stadium is 13 years old. It’s exactly like Etihad stadium in Melbourne, with the movable roof.
Cardiff is very proud of the stadium. I walked to the end of the street and jumped onto the On and Off bus. The tour guide advised that Millenium stadium was one of many sporting arenas in Cardiff. One was attached to the big stadium, where the local football team practice. If you are interested in football (soccer) or rugby, then Cardiff is the place for you.
Cardiff is about 120 miles from London. A couple of hours by train. Cardiff’s population is 325,000, which is 10% of the population of Wales. It is very flat terrain, located on an ancient flood plain.
Cardiff was known for it’s coal, with five working docks exporting coal all over the world. It was the biggest coal mining industry in the world. The Coal Exchange was the place where, in 1901, the first ever £1 million deal was struck.
Now four of the five docks have been closed. The last dock exports scrap metal to China and imports, of all things, coal. Funny world isn’t it.
The first thing that struck me about Wales and Cardiff was the beauty of the place. Coming into Wales is a lovely trip through very picturesque farmland and colourful hills and mountains. Cardiff itself is a clean, cheerful looking city. My misconceptions about Cardiff were that it was an old mining town and would be run down, with a dirty industrial look about it. How very wrong. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s the hidden jewel of Great Britain.
The tour bus took us around the wonderful old buildings that bespoke of the wealth and opulence that the coal mining brought to the city. There were statues and parks, gardens and stone henges, all kept neat and fresh.
On the Boulevarde de Nantes, which was named after Cardiff’s sister city, we see the impressive civic building beside the town hall. A statue of Queen Boadicea sits on top of the town hall. She is just one of Cardiff’s legendary heroes.
Opposite the town hall in the gardens is a stone circle. This circle was placed there in honour of the Eisteddfod, which originated in Wales and is one of Europes oldest cultural festivals. Each year they hold national Eisteddfod’s and an international competition. Traditionally, Eisteddfod’s were all conducted in Welsh, but in recent years they have also used English to encourage more entries.
The Gorsedd stones, stone circles, are erected in communities that host the Eisteddfod’s each year. It is harking back to druidic practices that surround the ceremony of the Eisteddfod.
The bus took us past the Alexandra Gardens, with some trees still heavy with pink blossom. Housed in these gardens is the Welsh National War Memorial.
Around the corner we find the University of Cardiff. One of the most architecturally distinguished buildings, opened in 1912 is the Glamorgan building. Outside this building are two huge statues, one representing navigation and the other coal mining.
Another statue that drew my attention was the Boer War memorial, in the middle of a round-about opposite the town hall. The statue is the angel of peace and she is holding a whole olive tree sapling. It is a bronze statue and was erected in 1909.
Moving further along towards the dock area, we passed the Cardiff prison. Erected in 1850’s, the prison seems to bear a geographical resemblance to Melbourne’s Assessment Prison by being so centrally located to the town. The prison holds 700 prisoners and there has never been an escape. The local court house is ideally situated across the road, making easy access for the short trip from the dock to the cells.
The dock area at first, seems like any other working docks. There are boats, loading machinery and payloads waiting to be loaded. It wasn’t until we got closer to Mermaid Quay that the differences became apparent. The dock areas have undergone massive changes, with lots of restaurants, pleasant walking areas and lots of chairs and benches to sit and enjoy the view.
So far, Cardiff has spent £2 billion pounds on upgrading the dock area. For every £1 they have spent, £2 has come from private enterprise. It’s an area that the city can be proud of. Whether you like to walk, go for a boat ride or just sit in one of the many restaurants or bars and just enjoy the view, this is the place to do it.
Travelling past the dock area we passed over the Taff river with the Bristol Channel in the distance. We drove along what I thought was a bay, only to have the guide explain that the area we were looking at was an artificial, freshwater lake. It had been made by using a series of 5 sluice gates and a number of lochs to keep the water fresh from the nearby sea. There are a number of water sports here, including sailing.
We passed the old town, known as Bute Town, named after the Bute family, who owned Cardiff Castle. Bute Town is in the Tygo Baith (Tiger Bay) area. In Victorian times, Tygo Baith had a reputation for being a rough area. Tiger Bay was a name used by sailors for any dock or seaside neighborhood which was noted for being a dangerous area. One of Tygo Baith’s most famous residents have been singer Shirley Bassey.
We turned back toward town and drove past one of the statues erected of the Marquis of Bute. The Bute family resided in Cardiff Castle and they have donated a lot of land to Cardiff city.
An old tavern drew our attention. This place is heritage listed because of the lovely glazed tiles that adorn the outside of the building. Almost back at my hotel, we passed a large statue of two hands holding a large piece of rope. This symbolizes hard work, which the Welsh are obviously used to doing.
I departed the bus and entered Cardiff Castle. The Castle is large, with buildings set out close to the outer walls and a large open area in the middle. Much of the castle is in good repair, having been built in the Victorian era. It was designed to look Norman, but is much younger. The view from the battlements is wonderful as you can see down the city streets in most directions.
Under the battlements I found a very long tunnel which was used as an air raid shelter during the second world war. This part of the castle has only been on public display for the last couple of years. The shelter looks much as it did during the war, displaying some memorabilia from that time.
Underground, the castle has a new and very detailed war memorial museum. If you are interested in minute details of regiments, uniforms, what type of rations and kit soldiers had from the 1800’s up to the current day, then this is the wonderful display for you. There was a retired soldier in the museum who was swapping stories with another gentleman, also ex-army. I think this place would be very interesting to anyone who had served in the armed forces.
The large square keep on the high mound was full of French students, giggling and chatting. That and the dozens of steps up to the keep and then up to the battlements, put me off going to this building. I did love the look of it though. I rather imagined that the cast of Merlin could have easily emerged from here at any moment.
I have visited and seen a lot of castles, but Cardiff Castle and Eilean Donan both exudes residual energy of a time gone by when men wore swords and women had long skirts. There is an air of magical history about some castles, Cardiff being one of them.
Moving on from the castle, more because of the inclement weather than a need to leave, I jumped back onto the bus and headed in search of Dr Who and Torchwood. Coming to Cardiff had been a decision I took, almost entirely because I am a Dr Who and Torchwood fanatic. I’ve been watching Dr Who since the 1960’s and this was the reason I came to Cardiff.
I had been bitterly disappointed to find the exhibition had closed and that the new exhibition wouldn’t be opened until Summer. I almost cancelled the Cardiff part of my tour, but I was so glad I hadn’t. I was so enthralled with Cardiff that my disappointment over Dr Who faded away.
I jumped off the bus at the magnificent Millennium Centre. Like our Sydney Opera House, there is no other building like this anywhere. The front of it looks like it’s made of copper but is actually steel treated with copper oxide.
Inscribed on the front are two poetic lines, written by a Welsh poet. The Welsh words are Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen, which means "Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration". The English is In These Stones Horizons Sing.
The side of the building made up of multi layers of slate, a lovely contrast to the metallic front. The slate is purple, blue, grey, green and black, all found in different quarries in Wales.
Inside, the building hosts a number of stages and venues and is very modern. There are often free performances during the day and if the choir’s are rehearsing you can sometimes go watch. I’m not sure whether the people of Cardiff like this building or not, but I think it’s wonderful.
The Millennium Centre is the start of Mermaid Quay, the upgraded docks area. In front of the Millennium Centre is the Huge water column, a tall silver tower with water running down the sides. It stands alone and behind it is a big area known locally as the basin, which leads down toward the water.
As all Torchwood fans would know, the stones in front of the water column is the entrance to Torchwood. Of course, I have half a dozen photos of this spot.
Mermaid Quay is a lovely place to stroll around, soak up the atmosphere, eat or drink or both. There are a number of charter boats and the view across the bay is awesome.
I walked around the quay a little and found the BBC Cymru drama village. This place is where all the BBC magic happens. It’s the size of a small town and churns out shows such as Sherlock, Dr Who, Torchwood, and Casualty are all filmed here.
Heading back along the waterfront I came across the shrine to Ianto Jones. He’s a character from Torchwood and was killed off in the last special. I wasn’t happy either but I found it interesting that this shrine has sprung up. The Dr Who and Torchwood series have generated a lot of money for Cardiff in the way of tourism and the exhibition centre. I bumped into an Australian girl taking photos of the Torchwood stone and she had also visited the shrine.
I ate lunch at an American style diner, which was unique looking and okay food. While I ate a thunderstorm came over the city, dropping a bit of rain, but mostly making lots of pretty lightning and some big thunder. It went just as quickly and the waterfront looked lovely all damp and shiny.
There are shops and hotels along Mermaid Quay too to cater for those people who like everything centrally located.
I decided that I’d had enough for the day but instead of getting the on and off bus, I’d catch the local bus. It’s a good way to get a round trip and perhaps see part of the city that tourists don’t see.
I got on board just as a lady told the bus driver that someone had been sick on the bus. Of course, I have a terribly weak gag reflex and immediately began to dry retch when she said that it smelt terrible. I started retching even though I couldn’t see it or smell it. I had awful trouble getting it under control, heaving all over the place and trying to hide the fact of what I was doing. I saw the sick and it was only clear fluid, and I still couldn’t smell anything. I eventually got myself under control and thanked the gods that I didn’t know anyone to add to my embarrassment.
We stopped at the next stop and had to wait for a replacement bus. I had a lovely chat with the people on the bus and the bus driver while we waited. Nice people.
We eventually got underway again and we went on the opposite route to where I wanted to go, taking the long way back to my stop. We drove through the Islamic area, which is very big, with schools and shops all catering to Islamic needs. I would never have known Cardiff had such a big Islamic community if I had stayed on the on and off bus.
I finally arrived back at the hotel, tired and a little sad that my time here was nearly over. I enjoyed another fine meal in the bar, watching soccer with the ‘lads’. Not something I would do often, but I like good soccer. I left for bed thinking that Chelsea was going to get well beaten, but they won and won well apparently.
I left Cardiff knowing that I’d be back to explore some more in the future.
The view on the train back was limited as the weather had turned dismal with wind and rain. We went through Swindon, Didicot Parkway, Reading and Paddington before arriving in London. I made my way to Earl’s Court and my small, but centrally located room in the West Cromwell Hotel.
I was pretty tired and looking forward to coming home and seeing my dogs and family. Most of all I was looking for some space and peace and quiet. I found London way too populated for my liking.