Our first day in Cardiff had been spent exploring the area around Cardiff Bay but today the plan was to see some of the City centre. It is an amazingly compact city and everything is within easy walking distance, even so there is the usual hop-on, hop-off bus tours for those who are limited for time or have tired legs.
Before visiting we didn’t know that Cardiff had the nickname City of Arcades but after seeing the entrances to one or two which lure you in it makes total sense.
There is an eclectic mix of independent businesses which appear to be going strong despite the proximity of the large, all singing, all dancing St David’s shopping centre. Krusty took pride of place outside the fancy dress shop.
The main arcades are the Royal Arcade, Castle Arcade and the High Street Arcade. We loved them and could only imagine what it would be like to visit at Christmas when they are daubed with lights and lanterns. Magical!
Located only a stone’s throw from our hotel and the arcades, we started with a walk around this traditional market. It is built on the site of the Cardiff jail and the market entrance on St Mary Street used to be the location of the city gallows. The market opened in 1891 and is in what is known as the Castle Quarter although there was a farmers’ market in the area well before then.
We didn’t know until we entered that there are two levels of stalls. The ground floor and then a balcony level. Some of the stallholders have been in the same location for over 100 years and there was a great mixture on sale. On the ground floor there were some butchers which had some interesting marinades going on, a haberdashery stall that I had trouble leaving but, even with my love of all things crafty, I think the Hatts Emporium was my favourite – it was like something out of Diagon Alley.
The bakery stalls were piled high ready for a busy day ahead. It would be rude not to support these independent traders and to keep it local we had a warm welsh cake each for breakfast. Yum
Jonno’s favourite was upstairs. Covering about three or four stalls was Kelly’s Records and obviously Elvis lives! (in Cardiff). Established in 1969 it specialises in pre-owned rare and collectable records, or vinyls as they tend to be called now. We sort of stumbled across this shop but later we would be heading for another vinyl store that has a greater accolade.
It wasn’t hard to find! Right at the end of St Mary’s Street, literally as the shopping street ended we were faced with the Castle walls. The origins of a Castle on this spot were Roman but it was the Normans who constructed what we see today. In the grounds is also a Victorian mansion in a sort of gothic style. There were coach parties and school outings arriving as we entered and we enjoyed a coffee in glorious sunshine admiring the Castle green, surrounding Castle walls and the Keep.
If you ever go don’t miss the Chariot Wall. It can only be explained as a corridor that runs along the roman remains and it is totally covered in a wooden sculpture with so much detail. It was fascinating and I bet a lot of visitors miss seeing it.
During WWII the tunnels under the Castle were used as air raid shelters complete with toilets, bunks kitchens and it is estimated that more than 1800 people could take shelter there. The noisiest the Castle has been in more recent years is for music concerts with the likes of Tom Jones, the Stereophonics and Green Day wowing the crowds.
There were lots of photos of the Castle displayed but the one I liked the best was of the Rugby World Cup Ball. Very apt at the moment with us being at the beginning of the 2019 tournament. For the duration of the 2015 World Cup being hosted by England but with some games in Cardiff, a giant rugby ball was attached to the Castle wall. Known as the “Ball in the Wall” it looked crazily realistic.
The Animal Wall
Back outside the Castle we took a short walk to Bute Park passing along the Animal Wall. This wall was originally in front of the Castle and had nine animals sitting on the top of it. It dates back to 1892 but the road was widened just after WWI so it was moved to it’s current location and six new animals were added.
Apart from the anteater repeatedly having his nose knocked off and a few glass eyes going missing they look pretty good. One author wrote a story about these animals and gave them names such as Priscilla the pelican, Larry the lynx but I’m not sure what the anteater is called, maybe Andrew or Anthony.
Bute Park & River Taff
At then end of the Animal Wall is the entrance to Bute Park. It sits between the Castle and the River Taff. Such a huge open space in the heart of the city. The landscaped gardens and parkland were once within the grounds of the castle but are now separate and free to enter. We took a long walk around and there were a few different cafes all of which had outside seating and looked out across the park. Perfect for whiling away an afternoon…..
We followed a path down the edge of the River Taff where you can catch a boat down the river to the bay. Perhaps we would have done that the day before if we had known that we could have a cruise! The footpath and the boats take you past the next big feature which again felt like it was in the heart of the city.
Cardiff Arms Park & Millennium Stadium
The home of Welsh Rugby, although Cardiff Arms Park was originally used for cricket in the 1840s. The rugby began around the 1880s and it is still hosting events today. Like the Castle it has hosted it’s share of concerts. Today, it seems to be dwarfed by the Millennium Stadium which stands just next door. Completed in 1999 with its sliding roof it was state of the art at it’s opening.
Although some fans will be more impressed with each of the bars in the stadium having a “joy machine” which can pour 12 pints of beer in less than 20 seconds. During one match 63,000 fans drank 77,184 pints of beer, almost double drunk by a similar number of fans at a Twickenham game. The English fans seem to be lightweights in comparison!
Luckily we didn’t meet the resident hawk called “Dad” who keeps the seagulls and pigeons out of the stadium. Perhaps he gets free use of a joy machine. I should mention, in case I get a few comments, that the stadium was renamed the Principality Stadium in 2016. To us I think it will always be the Millennium Stadium though so I am sticking to that name.
After all this history and culture it was time to eat so following a tweet that Jonno received we headed to the very highly recommended Grazing Shed. It’s essentially a burger place so we knew we would be off our usual healthy eating plan but all the ingredients are locally sourced and you can go bunless and have salad instead but some would say why would you!. The decor is basic so it is not a fine dining setting but they offer beef, chicken, veggie and vegan options and in true Gavin and Stacey style their range is named Super Tidy Burgers.
After scanning the huge choice which found us wanting to try all of them, Jonno opted for a John Wayne beef burger which had cheese, smoked bacon, BBQ sauce, cajun mayo, red onion confit, ketchup and lettuce whereas I went for a Veggie Wah Wah which was a veggie patty, tomato salsa, avocado cream, Boom Boom mayo, apple chutney and lettuce. Well, they tasted sooooo good. Thank goodness for twitter and this recommendation. If you are in Cardiff don’t miss this burger heaven.
Having spent a fair amount of time pouring over the records in Kelly’s in the market, we thought we should head for what is recognised as the oldest record shop in the world. Spillers was founded in 1894. Originally selling phonographs and their discs, they have had to move locations a couple of times and are now in Morgan Arcade. From the outside it is a very unassuming shop and you could easily walk past without really noticing it.
Our two days in Cardiff were drawing to a close and we are so pleased we visited. It is a super tidy city.
17/09 – 19/09/2019