We arrived in Cardiff early afternoon and had our usual ‘coming to Cardiff’ pint of Brains at the Cottage on the St Mary’s Street. Checked into the Travelodge on Queens Street, right by the Castle, and met friends Sue and Ros. We found Nine Yards, a really nice Prosecco bar opposite The Cottage, and ordered the first bottle of the day with some snacks to see us through to early dinner at The Goat Major. By the time we returned to the hotel we’d gone through 5 bottles of wine. I had 2 pints of beer as well.
Clearly more activity will be needed to avoid alcohol poisoning. We spent the following morning in Cardiff Castle, taking one of their excellent guided house tours.
The 3rd Marquis of Bute, one of the richest men in the country, spent many millions on a richly ornamented home he used just 6 weeks a year. The above salmon, in the Banqueting Hall, indicates the level of detail. Note the small lizard beside it. The castle and nearby Bute Park ow belong to the people of Cardiff, having been given it by the 7th Marquis when the Labour Government nationalised the railways, docks and coal mines.
A third friend (Gerry) had joined us just for the day. He recommended a cafe in Royal Arcade, where we went for lunch. Simple good food but a very hectic lunchtime trade. Then on to the City Art Gallery.
This Cezanne (The Francois Zola Dam) is part of the Impressionist collection put together by the Davies sisters – spending some of the half million each received from their coal/railways/Barry docks owning father in 1908. The concentration of wealth goes into few hands, but sometimes a little of the stuff becomes accessible to the rest of us – be it a big Castle or a collection of paintings.
Elsewhere in the gallery are the five artists in the current Artes Mundi exhibition, an international contemporary arts event. The theme is, ‘what it means to be human in a fast changing and increasingly volatile world’.
My favourite is by Egyptian/Canadian Anna Boghiguian, and it explores the impact of metal working advances on society. She chooses to see most scientific and technological advances in a very poor light, and her drawings struck me as fairly simplistic, but I liked the written tale. The whole work is called, ‘A meteor fell from the sky’.
Above is the biggest single part of it. I have transcribed the words – I do not believe her message, but I like this visual, multimedia way of giving it. I’ll put it all at the end.
We decided on a trip to Cardiff Bay for wine and dinner and whatever cultural experiences it may offer on a cold damp December evening. The bus took us south through what little remains of the multi-ethnic Butetown where racial conflict sprang up whenever business sought the next cheap source of newcomer labour in docks, ships and warehouses. We wondered if the current Marquis of Bute was making money from this regeneration of what may still be his land.
This was the HQ of the Bute Dock Company, now housing part of the Welsh National Assembly. We passed it after a bottle of wine or two at a bar in the Wales Millennium Centre, as we went in search of a dinner venue. There are many places to eat, but all part of chains. We settled for a Sussex based franchise – Bills. Excellent surroundings, service, food and yet more wine.
The following day we had a morning coffee with Sue and Ros before they set of for home and we sought a bus for St Fagans – the National Museum of Welsh History. The core of the place is the collection of buildings brought from all over Wales, but there are also three galleries depicting life in Wales over time, with emphasis on lives of ordinary people. The site was donated in 1946 (perhaps to avoid the death duties being introduced by the new Labour government) by another wealthy nobleman, the Earl of Plymouth, who had a home (‘perhaps the finest Elizabethan manor house in Wales’) on part of this land.
This red farmhouse was originally on the Gower, it was built in 1610. The red paint (whitewash and ox blood) was supposed to deter evil spirits. I find it attractive, so no evil in me then. I did get a lot closer than this picture suggests, even inside, where I found a roaring log fire, a volunteer guide full of stories, a cupboard bed and (on the sloping ceilings upstairs) a knotted straw infill between rafters. What was that about, I hear you say.
This picture, from a history of St Fagans website, shows how the knotted straw interior actually supports the straw thatch – it is (was?) a Gower speciality.
The next farmhouse we entered was single storey longhouse from 1508. Longhouse farms held the family at one end and the animals at the other end. This one had a fireplace when the museum collected it in 1962, but they rebuilt it as original, with an open hearth and no chimney. The building is on the left of the picture below, and the room with open hearth is at the right hand end.
After visiting a terrace of cottages (1800) and an aluminium pre-fab (1947, made in an ex-aircraft factory) we found a church with restored wall paintings, based on what remained under subsequent centuries of whitewash.
The image here was explained for us by a volunteer who happens to be a musician. Its about the harm you will suffer should you decide to work or play an instrument on the Sabbath. Our guide happened to be a harpist and player of the ancient precursor of the violin seen top left, the Crwth. They have one of the only 3 original crwths in the UK in gallery of Welsh Life here at St Fagans. I could show you a photograph, but I prefer to finish on this one, brought back from the Riviera in 1950 by an aunt for her niece, the young woman never dared to wear it in public, but she and her friends laughed a lot when they tried it on in private (said the info board).