Monday 28 March 2016

Cardiff Bay

We had decided to visit Cardiff Bay on the last day of our stay in Cardiff and it's just as well because as we were checking out of our hotel we found out that the whole of the city centre would be closed due to a rugby match between Wales and Italy. The stadium was just behind our hotel  - thousands of fans were heading towards the stadium as we were leaving. We were glad to have the opportunity to be away from the city centre.

The regeneration of Cardiff Bay is regarded as one of the most successful regeneration projects in the UK. The Bay is supplied by two rivers, the Taff and the Ely, to form a freshwater lake around the former dockland area south of the city centre.

The Millenium Centre, a performing arts and cultural venue was our first stop.

The Millenium Centre is located in Roald Dahl Plass:

its bowl-like shape has made it a popular amphitheatre for hosting open-air concerts. Formerly known as the Oval Basin or the Bowl, the area was one of the docks for a thriving coal port during the latter half of the 19th century and much of the 20th. Following WWII, the space entered a period of decay and dereliction until the 1980s, when the Cardiff Bay area was regenerated.

Plass means space in Norwegian, a nod to the writer's roots and to the Norwegian seafarers' church which stands nearby.

At the north end of the plass is the Water Tower, which stands at approximately 21 metre high with a constant stream of water running down the metallic fountain. The tower was designed by Nicholas Hare Architects in conjunction with the sculptor William Pye.

The tower has also become known as the Torchwood Tower because it marked the location and entrance of the fictitious Torchwood Hub of the BBC television Doctor Who spin-off series, Torchwood.

The sculpture of Ivor Novello (composer, playwright, actor) stands nearby

Y Senedd, home to the National Assembly for Wales is next to the Millenium Centre. It houses the debating room and three committee rooms - the Pier Head and Ty Hywell are also part of the National Assembly.

It was designed by Richard Rogers. It has a glass fa├žade around the entire building and is dominated by a steel roof and wood ceiling. The first and second floors are accessible to the public and the ground floor is a private area for officials. The building was designed to be as open and accessible as possible. Rogers said: 'the building was not to be an insular, closed edifice. Rather it would be a transparent envelope, looking towards Cardiff Bay and beyond, and making visible the inner workings of the Assembly and encouraging public participation in the democratic process'.

The wooden funnel dominates the first floor

We were not able to go into the debating chamber as there was a meeting going on

looking out

In front of the building is this amazing sculpture

The Merchant Seafarers' War Memorial (1997) by Brian Fell

commemorating the merchant seamen who sailed from the ports of Cardiff, Penarth and Barry during WWII, never to return.

The Pierhead building opened in 1897 as the headquarters of the Cardiff Railway Company to replace the original Bute Dock Company Offices which burnt down in 1892.  It was here that the Harbour Master oversaw the ports, where the engineers drew up their plans and the docks accounts were settled.

In Gothic Renaissance style, it was designed by William Frame. Its multi-directional clock face would be visible day and night - illuminated by gas lighting at the rear of the dials, it would automatically light at night.

We were not able to go in the Main Hall, as there were rehearsals going on, but we visited the Chief Dock Manager's Office, where amongst other famous Welsh people, tribute was paid to Aneurin Bevan.

The day was dull and grey, a perfect backdrop for one of my favourite buildings in the Bay

The Norwegian Church, a truly iconic building.

It was built during the days when Cardiff was one of the greatest sea ports in the world. In Cardiff Docks' heyday, the Church was a haven for Scandinavian seamen, its pointed steeple dwarfed by the tall masts of the sailing ships which packed the quay. Founded in 1868 by Herman Lunde of Oslo and built at the entrance to the Bute West Dock, the church was designed along traditional village lines, it was the oldest church built by the Norwegian Seaman's mission overseas that remained intact. Packed with Scandinavian newspapers, magazines and facilities for writing letters home, this was a place where sailors could relax and talk with friends in their native tongue.

The Docks declined rapidly after WWII and the Norwegian ships turned elsewhere for trade. The church finally closed in 1974 upon de-consecration and fell into a state of disrepair. In 1987, the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust was established to raise money to rescue and rebuild the church. Its first president was Doald Dahl who was christened at the church. It reopened as an Art Centre and coffee shop in 1992.

On our way to the church we came upon the World Harmony Peace Statue.

Every year the World Harmony Run carries a flaming torch, as a symbol of harmony, in a relay run around the world. Running from country to country, and across several continents, the torch is passed from hand to hand.

The church is a little gem, one of the strongest memories I had from our previous visit.

In the past, a sailing ship model was suspended from the ceiling, while portraits of the Norwegian Royal Family were hung on the walls and miniature national flags decorated the tables.

Today, the interior is a bit of a mess and going in was a disappointment.

Outside the church is the Antarctic 100, a sculpture commemorating the heroic age of the Antarctic exploration and in particular Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Scientific Expedition of 1910-13. The memorial overlooks the point from which Scott's expedition ship, the SS Terra Nova, left Cardiff on the 15th of June 1910. Prior to the departure, Scott had launched a national appeal for funds and the money donated by the City of Cardiff and South Wales exceeded that contribution by any other city in the UK. It was in recognition of this generosity that Scott designated the city as the home port of the Terra Nova.

The expedition ended tragically and created one of the great legends of the 20th century. It touched the imagination of this country as no other expedition had done. His dying message, eloquently told in his diaries and handwritten in desperate circumstances: 'The causes of this disaster are not due to faulty organisation but to misfortune in all risks that had to be undertaken... Had we lived, I should have a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every[one]... These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale'...

The sculpture was designed and created by Jonathan Willliams.

The memorial depicts Scott and, trapped in the snow, the faces of his four companions, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Evans who died with him on the return journey from the South Pole.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Cardiff Castle

We spent Friday afternoon of last week visiting Cardiff castle.

Cardiff castle is a medieval castle and a Victorian Gothic revival mansion in the centre of the city. The original motte and castle was built in the late 11th century by Roman invaders on top of a 3rd century Roman fort.

The outer walls of the castle

The tour of the castle begins with the wall shelters. As Britain was preparing for air-raids in 1939, the Cardiff Corporation approached Lord Bute, the owner of the castle, asking if he would allow the strong outer walls of the site to be used as bomb shelters. Bute agreed and these tunnels were divided off into eight large shelters, allowing them to accommodate hundreds of people. The exterior walls were broken through, and long wooden ramps gave quick access during an emergency. Inside, civilians sometimes slept in the cold and damp shelters, which also contained an air-raid warden's post, a small canteen and a sick bay.

Looking out

We were fortunate to be the only people walking inside the shelters. Music from the 1940s was playing and from time we would hear the air-raid sirens - all very atmospheric

which was enhanced by posters of the period

We reached the air-raid warden's post

and soon after, the canteen

far too small for the hundreds of people who would have been sheltering there.

Having walked through half of the outer wall we came out and in front of us was the Keep

 which afforded a view of the entrance to the castle.

Once we got there, Ken helpfully tried the stocks

we then retraced our steps in order to visit the Keep

The Keep is set upon a motte, or artificial hill, which was built by the Norman invaders about 1081. The original Keep was wooden, but was replaced by the present stone version in the 1130s. The building was never roofed, but is called a 'shell' keep, the outer walls providing a shell for smaller buildings within. The early wooden defences were more vulnerable against attack, but could be built more quickly. They were also less liable to collapse on the newly-built motte. The Keep was once much larger than it is today, and massive fore-buildings that once formed part of the ward wall were demolished by 1784.

The high outer defensive walls of the Keep provided a walkway for guards, and buildings could be built up against the inner walls. The 'putlog' holes you see were for supporting timbers. There was once a large Great Hall within the Keep which was destroyed when the castle was besieged in the 17th century Civil War.

During the Civil War of the 1640s Cardiff Castle was held at different times by both the King's forces and those of Cromwell. The war damaged the Keep beyond repair.

The rooms of the Keep Gatehouse once provided accommodation for the lord's household. Such chambers would have had plastered or panelled walls, rush matting on the floors and a few items of furniture.

Looking out

Having left the Keep we came across this collapsed wall. The Normans divided the Castle into sections called Wards or Courts. A massive wall ran through the site, the remains of which can be seen here. The Inner Court contained the House and the lord's private gardens. The Ward Wall was so high that the house beyond was not visible thus keeping the 'plebs' away from the lord and his household.

We admired this wonderful tree and then started walking towards

the House. The present house was built between 1423 and 1439 by Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, although later generations altered it considerably.

The extraordinary interiors were created between 1869 and 1881. Note that the Bute family had many other homes besides Cardiff Castle, and would only spend a few weeks here during the year.

The Arab room

The interior was designed by William Burges and dates from 1881. The ceiling is of a style known as a 'muquarnas', made of wood which has been covered in gold leaf and decorated. The stained glass windows are inspired by Egyptian examples and in front of each is a crystal ball. These were placed so that sunlight would hit them and refract light into the ceiling. The walls and floor are made of Italian marble.

The banqueting hall

is the largest room in the castle. It has a theme of medieval history.

The area by the Octagon staircase was roped off so this is the best view we could get of it.

View of the sitting room from the library

The Library was my favourite room


the fireplace

the ceiling of the study

We then wanted to visit the Clock Tower which was accessed from here but found out that it could only be viewed at certain times.

It was time to go back to our hotel, but on our way back we stopped to look at the animals on the Animal Wall

which was designed by architect William Burgess

and which has inspired several literary works, most famously a story by Dorothy Howard Rowlands which was serialised in the South Wales Echo from 1933 and was popular with a whole generation of children.

We then walked through Bute Park before going back to our hotel for a well-deserved rest.