Monday, 6 July 2015

CARDIFF



Where in the country can you see all the following in one evening: Superman, a bevy of nurses and rival groups of cowboys and indians? Answer: Cardiff.  In the Welsh capital the great British tradition of hens and stags is alive and well, and the result is a considerably enlivened Saturday evening.  The first time my husband and I went to Cardiff for the weekend we spent a pleasant hour having an alfresco drink outside one of the city's bars while watching the increasingly surreal passing scene.  My own personal favourite was the female 'army' of soldiers marching along the street, led by a whistle-blowing 'sergeant-major'. 

Cardiff is a city of two distinct parts.  For the shoppers who want to mix some retail therapy with a wide variety of restaurants and some lively bar hopping the city centre is the part to head for.  The St Davids shopping centre dominates this part of the city, while for the more historically inclined there is Cardiff Castle, surrounded by the green and pleasant spaces of Bute Park. Alongside the modern chain-dominated St David's centre there are several atmospheric arcades with interesting individual shops.  This is also the part of town for the sports fans, since the Millennium Stadium, scene of many a thrilling rugby match, is very close to the shops and also to the main railway station.  The Castle has a fascinating history, with excavations revealing occupation going back to the Romans.  The present-day castle is surrounded by walls including the Animal Wall, designed by architect William Burges, which, as its name suggests, includes carvings of animals. There are two cathedrals within the greater city area, Cardiff Metropolitan Cathedral of St Davids and the much older Llandaff Cathedral, reachable via a pleasant walk along the River Taff.

The other distinct part of the city is Cardiff Bay, where the focal point is MermaidQuay, a complex of restaurants, bars and shops.  The Wales Millennium Centre is also to be found in the bay, along with the Senedd, or National Assembly Building.  There is also a rather sweet little Norwegian church which has been transformed into an Arts Centre and cafe.  The nicest way to travel between the two areas is to get the shuttle boat service which plies between Mermaid Quay and Bute Park, via the River Taff with its reed beds and associated wildlife.  As I mentioned in my previous post on Penarth, the Cardiff Bay Barrage is open to walkers who want to cross the mouth of the bay between Cardiff Bay and Penarth, a pleasant alternative to the considerable detour that the bus journey entails.     

As one would expect from such a city, Cardiff has a wealth of events throughout the year, especially in summer.  From the Food and Drink Festival in Summer to the Winter Wonderland and Christmas Market in the run up to Christmas there is something for everyone in the vibrant Welsh capital.  Follow this link for a list of events. 

Map of the area. 

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Cardiff Bay

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

PENARTH



You need to be fit to live in Penarth, since it's all up and down.  The town centre is at the top of the hill, and there is a steep descent from there to the promenade in one direction and the Cardiff Bay Barrage in the other.  The nicest route down to the seafront is via Alexandra Park, a steeply sloping Edwardian park with an aviary and a bandstand.  The promenade is quiet and unspoilt, with a pier and 1930s pavilion offering views across the Bristol Channel.  Another pleasant green space open to the public can be found in the grounds of The Kymin, one of the oldest buildings in Penarth, built between 1790 and 1810.  The area formerly occupied by docks in the 19th century is now a marina, and the entrance to the barrage is nearby, from where you can walk across to Cardiff Bay, enjoying views out to sea on one side and across the bay to the Wales Millennium Centre and other attractions on the other side.  

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The pier.

Penarth got into the news recently when an extraordinary discovery was made by two brothers on Lavernock Beach to the south of Penarth: a 200 million years old fossil of a cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex.  The find is believed to be the earliest specimen of a Jurassic era dinosaur to be found in the world.  The creature is described as a meat-eating, fierce hunter that walked on two legs with a fuzzy body.

Map of the area. 

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The seafront.


Saturday, 27 June 2015

BARRY ISLAND



Heading east from Llantwit Major we come to Summerhouse Point with cliff top walks reached by a lane from the village of Boverton.  There is a Seawatch Centre here with displays of weather-forecasting equipment and radar.  Further along, Limpert Bay marks the end of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast Walk which started at Porthcawl.  Further along still, the village of Rhoose nudges the southern end of Cardiff Airport.  After the quiet of the clifftops and the series of small towns and villages, the much larger settlement of Barry represents quite a contrast with its docks forming an alternative to the congested and expensive Cardiff Docks.

Barry Island, which is not actually an island, being accessible from the mainland via the A4055, has long been a family tourist destination.  There used to be a Butlins Holiday Camp here, but this closed in 1996.  However, the 'island' continued to be a magnet for tourists, and it also came to the attention of the Dr Who team during the filming of the series 'Delta and the Bannermen', in which it played the part of the Shangri-La Holiday Camp.  It also featured in 'The Empty Child' and 'The Doctor Dances'.  In the past Barry Island has had something of an image problem, being considered down at heel by many, however there are signs of attempts at an uplift.  A recent online review described the beach as beautiful and clean and pointed out that the dining options are no longer all fish and chips and burgers.  The main attraction on the island is the Pleasure Park, a traditional array of fairground rides and amusement arcades which recently changed ownership and boasts "brand new rides never seen in Barry before".  

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Derek Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 11 June 2015

LLANTWIT MAJOR



Looking around Llantwit Major today, it seems hard to imagine that 1,500 years ago this sleepy little village a few miles to the west of Cardiff was an important academic centre, almost the Oxbridge of its day.  Cor Tewdws, Britain's oldest centre of learning, was founded in 395, but was burnt down during a series of raids in the post-Roman period.  Then St Illtud, after whom the Norman church in the village is named, came from Brittany in 508 and re-established the centre.  St Illtud's church stands on the site of Cor Tewdws, the current building dating from the 11th century.  It has a surprisingly imposing exterior for a village church, with some striking carved stones and effigies, earning it the title of the 'Westminster Abbey of Wales'.  Another relic of the area's past is the Roman Villa at Caermead to the north-west of the village.  A short distance from the village centre is the sand and pebble beach, backed by steep cliffs which are prone to erosion.  The beach is popular with surfers, and there is yet more history to be found here in the form of the remains of an Iron Age hill fort called Castle Ditches..  

Map of the area. 

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The beach. Photo by Archangel12, via Wikimedia Commons.



Wednesday, 27 May 2015

ST DONAT'S



One day in 1925, the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst was leafing through a copy of Country Life magazine when he came across a 12th century Welsh castle overlooking the Bristol Channel which was up for sale.  He decided to buy it and set about modifying the structure of the castle by adorning one part of it, Bradenstoke Hall, with a roof brought across from Bradenstoke Abbey in Wiltshire - as one does.  The castle in question was St Donat's Castle in the village of the same name - named after the 6th century saint Dunwyd - and during his 12-year tenure Hearst brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to this quiet corner of the South Wales coast by inviting such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks to come and stay there, as well as a young John F Kennedy and the playwright George Bernard Shaw.

The castle, which has curtain walls dating from around 1300, holds the distinction of being the longest continually inhabited castle in Wales.  For many years it was owned by  the Stradling family, and the village church includes monuments to them.  After Hearst sold it in 1937, the castle was requisitioned for use by American and British troops during the Second World War.  Today the castle houses an international secondary school called Atlantic College and an Arts Centre.  Not surprisingly, given its long history, there are a number of ghosts reputed to haunt the castle, including one of Lady Stradling in a long flowing dress and high shoes.  Her appearance, usually in the Long Gallery, is said to be a portent of impending doom.  An old witch-like woman is often seen in the Armoury, while the animal kingdom puts in an appearance in the form of a phantom panther which has been seen in a corridor.  The makers of the recently shown TV series Wolf Hall made use of two of the castle's largest rooms for filming, one of which was the aforementioned Bradenstoke Hall.   

Map of the area. 

File:Sea Wall at St.Donat's Castle, Vale of Glamorgan. - geograph.org.uk - 386849.jpg
Sea wall at St Donat's Castle. Photo by Peter Wasp, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

OGMORE-BY-SEA AND SOUTHERNDOWN



Ogmore-by-Sea lies at the mouth of the River Ogmore, an interesting estuary for birdwatchers who may spot egrets or kingfishers.  Bathers, however, should beware: the proximity of the estuary makes bathing unsafe from the nearby beach, although good bathing places are found further along.  There are large caves by the mouth of the river, which is where the village gets its name, 'og' being the Welsh word for cave.  Fossils are also present in the ancient sedimentary rocks along the shore, and many are clearly visible to fossil hunters.  This stretch of coast, which forms part of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, has been a hotspot for shipwrecks over the years, as the west facing shore is regularly battered by fierce gales coming in from the Atlantic.  A particular flashpoint is Tusker Rock, a dangerous reef which is submerged at high tide.  A short walk along the estuary to the Ewenny River, which flows into the Ogmore, leads to Ogmore Castle, a ruined Norman Castle originally erected by the Londres family in the early 12th century.

Those who have been following my sister blog, Britain On Page And Screen, will already have encountered the neighbouring Southerndown Beach, which has been used several times in the filming of Dr Who, most memorably in the heartbreaking scene where the Doctor says goodbye to Rose and disappears before her eyes. The beach, which forms part of Dunraven Bay, was meant to represent a Norwegian beach called Bad Wolf Bay.  It is popular with surfers and at low tide there is a large expanse of sand and pools. There used to be a castle on the headland to the south, albeit a relatively new one.  Dunraven Castle, which was built in 1803 but demolished just 160 years later, was used as a Red Cross hospital during the two World Wars.

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Mouth of the River Ogmore. Photo by John Goodall, via Wikimedia  Commons

Sunday, 10 May 2015

PORTHCAWL



Since his death in 1977, there have been many reported sightings of Elvis Presley - shopping in Walmart, grabbing a drive-thru cheeseburger, downing a cold beer in a remote desert saloon bar.  However, I can reveal that all these sightings are false and that he can actually be found in Porthcawl.  Oh wait, there's another one...and another!  OK, I'll come clean, they are not really the King himself: each September Porthcawl hosts its annual Elvis Festival during which thousands of fans descend on the town to see a variety of Elvis tribute acts, with the main focus of the action in the Grand Pavilion, while on the streets visitors are met with a white-suited wonder around every corner. 

During the 1800s Porthcawl was responsible for large amounts of iron and steel being shipped out to the four corners of the British Empire.  However, it was also during this century that the promenade was built to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The Welcome To Porthcawl website has some lovely old photographs from the town's earlier days.  Now the town is a popular resort, with local attractions such as the Coney Beach fairground for families, while for the golfers there is the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club.  The Porthcawl Museum is small, but houses some interesting exhibits relating to the locality.  The museum is currently displaying a fascinating exhibition about World War I.  Rest Bay Beach has attracted some glowing comments on Tripadvisor, such as 'stunning watersports beach'.  The beach is popular for surfing, and there is a vast expanse of sand and rock pools for the kids, though care should be taken at high tide. Trecco Bay, meanwhile, is known for its huge estate of mobile homes.

Aside from the Elvis Festival the town holds a number of other popular events, including the International Jazz Festival and Pro Surf Uk.  For a list of events see here.

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Photo by Ron Speed, via Wikimedia Commons