UK 2019 Day 6: Wales

One of the great things about being in and around Bristol is its proximity to Wales. A relatively easy trip over the Bristol Channel and there you are. We were quite looking forward to seeing some of Wales in part due to the TV show Doctor Who. Many of the “new” series (since 2005) has been filmed in Wales, and the show’s spin-off, Torchwood, was based in Cardiff.

Our first stop in Wales that day was Southerndown Beach. Doctor Who fans might know it as the beach by “Bad Wolf Bay”, where Rose and The Doctor part (at least in term of Rose as a regular companion) after “Doomsday” at the end of series 2. The beach is beautiful, surrounded by cliffs and long stretches of sand at low tide.

a broad rocky beach with sand toward the surf
Rocks and sand at low tide.
Southerndown-Beach_02
Dramatic cliffs of Southerndown Beach.
Southerndown-Beach_03
Rockfall from the cliffs covers much of the beach and makes for interesting tidal pools.

After hanging out at the beach for a bit, we headed over to Cardiff. [map], and the now iconic Roald Dahl Plass and the Wales Millenium Centre.

The Wales Millennium Centre with the Water Tower in the foreground.
The Wales Millennium Centre with its iconic Water Tower, beneath which the last remaining Torchwood Institute team had their headquarters. Due to construction, the water features were not operating.

The Millennium Centre is a beautiful structure, with materials chosen to reflect the history and heritage of the people of Wales. It’s steel clad dome pay homage to the steel industry, and other local materials like slate figure into the design. The words across the front of the dome are from Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. The Welsh portion says, “Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen”, which means “Creating Truth Like Glass From Inspiration’s Furnace.” The English words are “In These Stones Horizons Sing”.

The front of the Wales Millennium Centre dome.
Poetic words on the dome at the Wales Millennium Centre. The steel has been treated with copper oxide to protect the metal from the seaside air.

Nearby to Roald Dahl Plass is the Senedd, or the Wales National Assembly. The political relationship among the countries in the United Kingdom isn’t always clear to Americans. Wales is a separate nation from England (as is Scotland and Northern Ireland), but for various reasons, Wales has traditionally enjoyed less self-rule than other parts of the UK. Without delving into politics of which I am a hopeless novice, I’ll just say that a degree of autonomy was attained in 1997 and the creation of a National Assembly for Wales (Cynulliad Cenedlaetho Cymru). While the modern Senedd building is where the Assembly meets and does its business, they acquired the nearby neo-Gothic Pierhead Building for use as an exhibit space and community center.

The Pierhead building in Cardiff
The Pierhead from Roald Dahl Plass.

Originally built for the Bute Docks Company, it was later used by the Cardiff Railway Company. The building is rather stunning in its setting, uncluttered by other architecture. The edifice is imposing, as befitting a 19th Century capitalist endeavor, of which both the docks and the railroads were.

The Pierhead Building in Cardiff.
In some ways, the Pierhead looks almost Romanesque revival, but perhaps my Art History courses are running a bit thin after 25 years.

It was a beautiful day to walk a bit around Mermaid Quay, the main shopping area at Cardiff Bay, looking out over the water.

A couple of sailboats out in Cardiff Bay.
A couple of sailboats out in Cardiff Bay.

As a bay-side city, the area was well represented by gulls, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls, in about equal measure.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
A Lesser Black-backed Gull looking for an easy chip (french fry) to scavenge…

While looking for a place to eat lunch, we walked away from the waterfront and I saw this sign, which did make me laugh. I’m no beer drinker, but how can you not love a brewery named Brains (even with the provocatively missing apostrophe)?

Brains brewery dragon logo on the side of a building.
Brains Dragon.

After lunch at a place called Eli Jenkins, we made our way out of Cardiff and north to the city of Caerphilly and the medieval castle there [map]. Caerphilly Castle is a magnificent ruin in the center of the city, surrounded by a moat and green spaces.

Medieval castle overlooking a lake
Caerphilly Castle on a glorious day.

The castle was built in the 13th Century, and was an impressive stronghold for a couple of hundred years. Its concentric design was influential in many subsequent castles throughout Britain.

Welsh flags flying over part of Caerphilly Castle
Welsh flags flying over the restored eastern gatehouse.
Leaning, ruined castle tower
Robbed of stones and a victim of subsidence, the “Leaning Tower” tilts at over ten degrees from vertical.
Wooden statue seemingly holding up a leaning castle tower
The 4th Marquess of Bute, holding up the tower.

The castle site is quite large, and the towers have many worn and narrow steps. Most of the rooms are barren, with missing wall sections and closed-off staircases. Some parts of the parapets have been restored and can be walked along.

Castle parapet
Northern parapet, with motion activated battle sounds!

The interior of the castle has been preserved in some state of ruin or left empty and unadorned, except for the Great Hall.

Large room with shields along the wall and vaulted wooden ceiling.
The Great Hall. Many of the simple tables and benches were not in place due to continuing renovation. But it is an impressive space.

The whole site is amazing and expansive. Here’s a little slide show with a few more photos.

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The moat and surrounding lakes are full of ducks and geese, some feral domestic stock and some wild or at least established in the wild. Many of the geese had goslings of various ages, too.

Adult goose with goslings in the grass
Canada Geese are and established introduced species breeding in the wild in the UK.
Greylag Goose swimming
Greylag Goose on one of the lakes.

There were also Common Swifts and Barn Swallows swooping around the castle grounds grabbing insects. There was one attendant Common Raven, suffering from some sort of dermatological problem or other health issue. It was missing much of its neck feathers.

Raven with missing neck feathers
This poor raven was watching over the castle.
Songbird on wall over the water.
A Grey Wagtail resting on the castle wall over the moat.

It was getting to late afternoon and so we made out way back out from the castle to head home. Somewhat like at Stonehenge, I had a feeling of deep appreciation of the skills and pressures of the people of the past. Caerphilly Castle was built in just 3 years – an incredible feat no matter what the motivation or means. It’s impressive but relatable, and such encounters can only be enriching and enlightening.

I’ll leave you with one parting shot, emblematic of the state of affairs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bollocks to Brexit
God save us all, not just the Queen.

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