All posts by Katie Hamer

I am a writer, an artist, a photographer, philosopher, interior designer, listener, and explorer.

Cardiff A–Z: Z is for Zzzz…

Katie Hamer concludes her A–Z series of Cardiff with the letter Z. Here’s what she discovered when investigating this most illusive of letters…

So this is my final article for this series! I can’t believe I’ve reached this point after all these months of exploring our very special capital city. But here we are…

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The River Taff in Cardiff, nr. Bute Park and the Millennium Stadium

What have I chosen to investigate for this concluding part? You’ve probably already partly guessed from the title that it has something to do with sleep. And you’d be right, because I’ve decided to explore places to stay in Cardiff.

Cardiff isn’t renowned for its plentiful supply of hotels, unfortunately, as visitors may discover when attending a major sporting event or festival. It does have its fair share of corporate chains, but I’ve decided not to focus on these. After all, I’m going to concentrate on what makes Cardiff special, and therefore different from other major cities.

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NosDa Hostel on the Taff Trail

With my focus on more unusual places, I have decided to cover hostels on the back-packing map of Cardiff. Why my interest in these, you may ask? Well, it was while I was investigating ‘T is for the Taff Trail’ that I first discovered the NosDa Hostel and this is my first topic for this article.

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Outside NosDa

You can find NosDa, which means good night in Welsh, on the banks of the Taff, in close proximity to the Millennium Stadium and Bute Park. You couldn’t think of a more perfect location to explore the city centre and all the various activities it has to offer. Known for being Cardiff’s original independent hostel, it has recently been refurbished in a modern style that still manages to compliment the Victorian style of its architecture. As their website states, they are:

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The reception to NosDa

“Proud to be one of Europe’s Famous Hostels we ensure our service is second to none, standards are high and our hostel is impeccably clean.”

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The reception and bar

 

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The bar resplendent with international flags

Certainly, their tripadvisor reviews back this claim up. So I decided to pay them a visit, just to make enquiries. I certainly learned a lot from visiting them.

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Other facilities

 

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Places to eat at NosDa, surrounded by art

They are a very modern and professional set-up, with a 24-hour reception, free WiFi, Key Card Access and free city maps, among other things. They also have a bar with a pool table and a lounge in which to relax. More surprisingly, perhaps, they also have an art gallery, which displays a fresh collection every three months.

Furthermore, they have an intimate ‘Underground Sound Lounge’, the Hafod, which is available for private hire. Perhaps less surprisingly, they also have a Tours Desk from which it is possible to enquire about options to explore Cardiff and the surrounding countryside by bus, by bike and on foot.

As fascinating as this residence is, its not the only option for backpackers on the Taff Trail. And so I now turn my attentions to the The River House.

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The River House

Situated within close proximity to the NosDa, The River House describes itself as ‘a smaller, family-run boutique style backpackers hostel’. They have been repeatedly voted one of the best places to stay in Cardiff if you’re looking for both great service and value for money. So, apart from that, what makes them special?

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Well, for a start, they’re more of a B&B than a hostel. They put on a fabulous breakfast for guests by all accounts. Also, they cater for people of all ages, whether they happen to be into backpacking or not. And when I paid them a visit, they also enthused about sights to visit and places to eat. I felt welcomed, and I would indeed be tempted to stay there.

There are of course, other great places to visit in Cardiff, but I feel I’ve covered enough in this article to at least give you a taster. You can find further information on either place here:

NosDa Hostel

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Website

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The River House

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Website

Twitter

Thanks for reading. I hope you’ve enjoyed my A–Z series of Cardiff! Sincerely, Katie Hamer.

 

Cardiff A–Z: Y is for Y Senedd

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series with an investigation into the heart of Welsh politics. Here’s what she discovered…

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And so I reach my penultimate article. For this one, I chose a landmark with a distinctive Welsh name: Y Senedd. And my reason for this choice? Well if there’s anything that puts Wales on the map, it’s the shifting face of politics, and Y Senedd (Welsh Assembly Building) places Cardiff firmly on the political map of the United Kingdom.

Also, disclaimer – I realise that the ‘Y’ in Y Senedd means ‘the’ in English … but I wanted to get the Senedd in somewhere, and had already done a post for S…

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You could argue that, as I’m born English, how could I possibly understand the unique political situation required by a country like Wales? Indeed, this would be a valid question to ask, as, before I moved to Wales two decades ago, I had little or no understanding of what it is to be Welsh.

However, upon moving to Wales in 1995 to study in Swansea, it didn’t take me long to realize that central governing from Westminster made little sense here. I am a supporter of the steps devolution that commenced in 1997, as I can see how it benefits Wales.

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It’s this devolution that has ultimately led to the creation of this Welsh home of politics, which became fully functional in 2006. The building, with its fully-glazed façade, is designed with full political transparency in mind.

The political debates take place in full-view of the general public thus re-enforcing the all-inclusive nature of Welsh politics. It is possible to watch the Assembly in motion from the Plenary (Public Gallery). You can also go on a guided tour of the public areas of the building. The guided tours and access to the Plenary are both free of charge, and available to the public for most of the year. Advanced booking may be required, and it’s worth getting in touch with the reception before visiting to avoid disappointment.

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I’d been lucky enough to get in touch with Gareth, the Tours Manager, prior to visiting the Senedd. He very generously provided me with a one-to-one tour of the areas open to the public, and I learned some fascinating facts.

Proportional Representation

The Assembly has 60 members. Forty of these represent the 40 constituency areas. The remaining 20 represent the five regions of Wales (four Members are elected within each region). The Regional Assembly Members are elected by semi-proportional representation; this process re-addresses the imbalances of power that often result from first-past-the-post politics. Each person in Wales is thus represented by five Assembly Members, who make laws and ensure that the government is run efficiently.

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Environmental Sustainability

Like the Millennium Centre, the Senedd is built from sustainable materials, which are sourced locally wherever possible. Welsh oak and slate are used throughout the building, although the roof and the funnel are constructed from Western Red Cedarwood sourced from Canada. This was chosen because its natural oils mean that it is low-maintenance, as well as being a stunning feature. The structure is designed to last for 100 years, from the date the building became fully functional.

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The building’s sustainability also factors in environmental concerns. Steel pipes at the front of the roof harvest rainwater to be recycled in the building’s public conveniences. The windows, another environmental feature, are made from reinforced and insulated glass. They open and close automatically, providing a consistent temperature and humidity throughout the building.

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Structural symbolism

In the centre of the Siambr, (debating chamber) is a beautiful glass sculpture. Entitled ‘The Heart of Wales’, it has been created by Swansea-based artist Alexander Beleschenko, and is made from painted glass up-lit by fibre optics. Apparently:

‘The dots symbolise ideas flowing outward from the Assembly and feeding in from the people of Wales.’*

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The funnel, which is the central feature of the Oriel (or Gallery), is meant to symbolise the tree of life. It clearly represents a well-established tree, with roots that delve deep into Welsh traditions and culture. One of my information booklets states:

‘The tree-like shape of the funnel is intended to encourage visitors to meet here and share ideas.’**

It also filters natural lighting into the Siambr through a glass lantern situated at the top of the funnel, another conservation feature.

The Welsh Language

I also discovered that Gareth, my tour guide, is a very committed Welsh-speaker. He enthused to me about the promotion of the Welsh language and the future of devolution in Wales. The information he  provided me with would have been enough to fill five articles. So Diolch, Gareth! I’d say it’s well worth going on one of these guided tours. I certainly learned a lot.

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Refreshments are also provided for visitors, and they have a lovely coffee shop with a good selection of food and beverages. You can also sit on one of the Swan chairs within the Oriel and watch the world go by in the Bay.

Other places of interest

There is a place for art exhibitions within the Neuadd (front-of-house reception area). Exhibitions are free to view and often reflect local themes.

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You can find more information on the Senedd and the surrounding community here:

Senedd Community FB page

Senedd website

I hope you enjoyed reading my article. Until next time!

and ** are taken from the ‘Explore the Assembly’ booklet, which is freely available to visitors.

Cardiff A–Z: X Marks the Spot!

Back from her summer holidays, Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series of Cardiff. She’s here to update you with her most recent adventures from around the capital…

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I can’t believe that I’m now at ‘X’ in my series! Where did that time go? It’s been quite a journey, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading so far.

‘X’ was always going to be a tricky one. I mean, there aren’t many words in English, let alone Welsh, that start with an ‘X’. I actually felt stumped for the first time while researching this. Then Helia, who is the brains behind this site, made a wonderful suggestion: how about doing ‘X marks the spot?’

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First view of Penarth Pier Pavilion

Well that immediately got me thinking of treasure hunts. But where in Cardiff would I find my hidden trove? The answer turned out to be Penarth Beach and I’ll tell you why!

Growing up, I dreamed of becoming an archaeologist, but perhaps without the drama of those Indiana Jones films. Although I never realised this dream, I still experience a sense of awe in learning about different centuries and from visiting ancient landmarks.

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Panoramic sweep of the Pier

My enthusiasm has so far led me to St. Fagans and also to the dig at the Caerau Hillfort. Due to time constraints, I never got to experience the dig at Caerau first-hand, so you can imagine my excitement upon hearing about Penarth Beach’s abundance of fossils. This is amazing in itself, but then I read about the discovery of an early Jurassic dinosaur at nearby Lavernock Beach, and that really captured my imagination. What if I were to discover an actual Tyrannosaurus Rex? Well, I decided, there’s only one way to find out…

And so I hopped on the next train with my bucket and spade, determined to make at least one discovery of a fossilised nature. That Penarth Beach is home to many fossil remains certainly isn’t what you’d call a well-kept secret. Over-collection could be an issue. But I’d also heard that it’s still possible to find at least one good example per visit. Feeling particularly optimistic, I decided to put this theory to the test.

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Penarth Beach looking South towards Flat Holm

The Pier is the defining landmark. To the right of the Pier you have the flower-decked Esplanade leading to Lavernock Beach. To the left are the cliffs, which lead up to the Barrage and this is where I decided to explore.

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Looking North at the cliffs

Upon arrival in Penarth, I decided to survey this particular territory from the safety of the Pier. I have to say, the stretch of stone-laden beech didn’t look the most inviting, but I’d arrived so I remained resolute in my mission.

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Once on the beach, I had to watch my footing. The loose stones and boulders make it a challenge. I also felt nervous of getting near the bottom of the cliffs, because I could see evidence of recent rock falls. All in all, I felt like a complete amateur and wished I had sought advice from someone ‘in the know’ beforehand. My problem lay in determining what kind of rock would bear fruit, as there are so many different varieties on this beach.

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What surprised me about this stretch of coast is the hint of more recent historical periods. There are the foundations of what look like nineteenth or early twentieth century buildings. It certainly got me thinking about what the purpose of these now ruined buildings had been and how they had reached their current state. To think in centuries to come, archaeologists could be exploring these sites for clues as to how we live now.

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My mission to find a precious artefact seemed to be going nowhere, however. After a couple of hours of searching I decided to head for the Pier for my cod and chips.

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The remains of a brick with socket-holes that almost look skeletal

 

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Could this be the impression of a beetle or a crab?

I made my most interesting discovery upon leaving the beach for the Pier. I found a stone with what looks like the impression of a hard-shelled creature. Could it be the markings of a beetle or a crab? Whatever the origin, the shape looks too symmetrical to be accidental.

One thing for certain is that this ‘find’ has certainly wetted my appetite and I shall return. Maybe I’ll see you there?

You can find more information about fossil hunting at Penarth Beach here:

U.K. Fossils Network Website

And here’s more information about the Penarth Beach dinosaur discovery:

Penarth Times website

Thanks for reading. I hope you will enjoy my photo gallery. Until next time!

 

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Penarth Pier on a ‘sunny’ August day
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Underneath the Pier

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Some of my ‘finds’

W is for the Wales Millennium Centre

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z exploration of Cardiff with an excursion to the capital’s flagship arts building. Here’s what she discovered…

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Who in Wales wouldn’t instantly recognize this show-stopping landmark? Surrounded as it is in Cardiff Bay by other iconic buildings, it still holds its own as a bold design statement. Yet could such a well-known building still yield secrets? This is what I set out to explore.

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Like many others, I have queued up to watch performances on the Centre’s main Donald Gordon stage. I’ve seen everything Carmen the opera to Cats the musical on tour. I’ve seen the stage transform from an ornate palace to a desolate litter-blighted street scene and wondered if it could even be the same theatre.

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Every time I visit I’ve been impressed by how smoothly they run the scene and costume changes and how efficiently they process visitors through the building. But I knew hardly anything about the place that has brought pleasure to so many people both nationally and internationally. So I jumped at the chance to go on a guided tour of the Centre, tours of which take place twice daily nearly every day of the year.

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I won’t reveal all the secrets I uncovered, but I will let you know a few things which should be common knowledge, but surprisingly, they’re not.

For instance, I’ve often looked up at the copper-coloured exterior of the main building perplexed at the split between the Welsh language on the left and the English language on the right. Could they be a literal translation? Wrong as it turns out. The Welsh means something entirely different.

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The English, In These Stones Horizons Sing acts as a conversational response to the Welsh rather than an echo. The Welsh, Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen actually translates as Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration. This is particularly apt, as the glass that makes up this eye-catching calligraphy comes straight from the furnaces of Swansea Institute. Indeed, much of the construction material has been sourced within Wales, making the Centre truly routed within its heritage.

And did you know that they used different shades of glass throughout this installation? Neither did I. So I was fascinated, upon this discovery, to see how the various colours change in intensity depending on the time of day and weather conditions.

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Sitting in the main theatre and seeing the backstage areas including one of the main dressing rooms is another perk of the tour, although photography in these areas strictly prohibited for copyright reasons. I stood in the backstage surrounded by the easily three-storey tall walls and heard the orchestra rehearsal reverberating around the whole space. Then I realized that it wasn’t the whole orchestra, but just a few musicians, making it even more incredible. That’s the advantage of a purpose-built theatre designed to create the best acoustic technology around.

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The Wales Millennium Centre isn’t just a great place for theatrical and musical performances. It is also the home of arts organizations such as Literature Wales, The BBC National Orchestra for Wales, the Arts Council for Wales, and the Welsh National Opera, among others.

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There are bars and restaurants, and huge areas of the ground and first floor are open for the public to roam. Throughout the year, various artists use the public areas to show off their latest inspirations. For instance, upon my visit, I witnessed the Relics exhibition by Matt Wright, which runs from 20 June to 23 August. Relics is:

a multifaceted contemporary art project based around a series of short term, publicly accessible, site-specific art installations featuring a newly developed photographic medium known as the photosphere.’

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These photospheres capture images of other iconic buildings and places within Wales such as Tintern Abbey. Seeing these crumbling buildings and coastlines floating like air balloons within the altogether more modern and neutral environment of the Centre does lend to them a surreal quality that is worth exploring if you happen to be passing by. It’s great to see how many different ways the building can be utilised.

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And there are also free performances on occasion, on the ground floor Glanfa stage, around the building and outside, details of which can be found on the Centre’s website. Quite often these coincide with the main performances in the Donald Gordon Theatre and show how the Centre is always giving back most generously to it’s many visitors.

 

You can find more information on What’s On at the Millennium Centre here:

Wales Millennium Centre Website

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

 

CARDIFF A–Z V IS FOR VINTAGE: PART TWO

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series with further discoveries about vintage Cardiff. This time she visits The Castle Emporium, previously the Fashion Quarter until it’s relaunch on St. David’s Day of this year…

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I  didn’t know what to expect when I arrived outside The Castle Emporium. The building undeniably has one of the most recognizable locations. Positioned as it is, close to the Bute (clock) Tower to Cardiff Castle, I had no trouble finding it.

From the outside it’s very plain, with cream-coloured walls that lack any decoration. It would be easy to walk by it without batting an eyelid, as I’m sure Cardiff commuters do every day. All I can say is thank goodness I didn’t.

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Once inside, there’s just this amazing artisan feel. It’s more akin to the pop-up shops that enable small businesses to become established, than the traditional market place. I really got a sense of creative minds, from varying paths, all working together to create this vibrant space.

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My only regret is that I chose a quiet time of the week to visit and not all the businesses were open for trading. The upside, however, was that it did make it peaceful to browse. Of the merchandise I did see, the following made the biggest impression:

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Eagle Eye Vintage

Previously located at Jacobs Emporium, Eagle Eye Vintage got me excited about tie-dyed t-shirts in a way that I hadn’t been by the ones on sale at Hobo’s. They have an interesting range of accessories as well, with some odd looking watches. The giant Eagle Eye logo made this outlet very easy to locate. The wall decorations and the giant Persian rug lend to this space an otherworldly feel, almost like stepping on to a theatrical stage rather than a shop.

You can find more information about them here:

Facebook

Twitter

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Rock-Ola

Their slogan ‘Vintage Clothes, Modern Style’ sums this place up. Here clothing and other things from another era are given a new lease of life. There are the Snoopies and Gordon the Gopher as well as retro shoes and denim. Colourful boxed shelves fill the back wall and lend the whole space a Pop Art dimension. Particularly eye-catching for me were a display of cup cakes which sadly turned out not to be edible.

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You can find more information on Rock-Ola here:

Their website

Facebook

Twitter

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Minotaur Books

Secondhand books with a decidedly vintage feel, overlooked by the head of a giant Minotaur head (mythical half-man, half-beast creature of Greek origins). Books, like vinyl, have taken on an almost mythical status since the advent of digital downloads. Despite the convenience of digital downloads, there’s still nothing quite like owning a physical copy, is there? And here the books, which seem to be in good condition, have a chance of a second or perhaps even third loving home.

I couldn’t find a website for them, although confusingly they share their name with a New York publishing firm.

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Rough Neck Candles

Candles in vintage tins. A candle with a difference – once the candle’s gone, you still have the tin. A neat idea and they make for an attractive display.

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Jones the Barber

A traditional barber with a shop resembling something you’d expect to find in a museum exhibit from a bygone era. Just perfect for a hair cut or for giving your beard a trim (not mine, you understand!)

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Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey

A specialist in Doctor Who artifacts, they weren’t open when I visited, although I did find a flyer promising me a free film cell key ring with any purchase. So perhaps I will return (after some time travel).

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Other places to visit, though not strictly vintage:

An open art exhibition space currently displaying bold paintings from Pembroke artists. There are coastal paintings in highly-charged colours which spring to life when viewed through 3-D glasses (provided). Well worth a visit.

Places I would be curious to see on a return visit, but which weren’t open on a quiet Monday morning:

Simply – Cardiff’s 100% Vegan Store

Musique Al’s Boutique – Super smart menswear, accessories, collectibles and vintage ideas for the man about town and country

Amaras – Fair Trade, Incense, Hats, Gloves, Gifts and much more

Camilleri Photography – Who are all about the photos which purportedly sell themselves, and they do a fine line in portraiture/wedding photography.

So, if you’re into supporting small local business then you couldn’t choose a better place to visit.

Look here for more information on The Castle Emporium:

Facebook

Twitter

Late Night Opening

Watch out for announcements for late night ‘Summer Nights’ openings, the first of which took place last week, future dates yet to be confirmed.

Thanks again for reading. See you next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cardiff A–Z V is for Vintage: Part One

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series for Cardiff with a look at all things vintage. Here’s what she found…

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Has Cardiff become an identikit city in the last two decades?

Far from it, I discovered, as I set out to explore the less commercialised quarters. While it’s true that the capital has it’s fair share of chain stores and big brands, I didn’t have to delve very deep to uncover its more unique enterprises. In fact, I only had to hop off the train at Cardiff Central and walk under the railway bridge to make my first big discovery…

 

Jacobs Market

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In an old redbrick building, surrounded by modern office blocks and hotels, is one of Cardiff’s more surprising secrets; three floors of market traders selling everything from bric-a-brac to musical instruments, lighting and furniture to vintage clothing, comics and books to toys. The exterior is a little weatherworn to say the least, but the interior more than compensates with its Aladdin’s Cave of goodies. You may be surprised to know that Jacobs is far from new. In fact it became established 36 years ago and has been in its current location since the 1980’s.

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In the decades since the start of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, it has been much harder to find a bargain; people are much more savvy these days. However, the price tickets I found, which were clearly displayed, seemed reasonable. I also got the impression just from walking around the various floors, that had I purchased something, I would also have received good old fashioned customer care from traders with many year’s experience of the business. The whole experience of shopping here felt as reassuring as indulging in your Gran’s apple crumble.

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On entering the building, I became aware that this would be an experience like no other. I immediately reached for my camera, hoping to take as many photos of the place as I could, but I thought I should check the protocol first. So I approached one of the market traders on the ground floor who told me that would be no problem, had I visited before? I told her I hadn’t. She informed me that the best way to get a feel for the building is to start at the roof garden at the top and then work my way down.

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Well, I hadn’t been aware of a roof garden from my research so I decided to follow her advice and go straight there. I’m glad I did, because I’d never experienced a roof top view of Cardiff before and the views are spectacular, especially of the railway station. There’s also a little conservatory where you’re invited to have your coffee and cake, purchased from the café, and relax whilst reading a magazine or a book. On occasion, they also have a roof top cinema for which tickets can be purchased on their website but be warned, as seating is very limited.

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On making my way back down, I discovered the West Wharf Gallery on the top floor, which proclaims itself: ‘the home of contemporary art in Cardiff’ and ‘A contemporary art gallery which features both well established and emerging artists [with] a convenient city centre location and its friendly unique atmosphere, the gallery is Cardiff’s best kept secret. On my visit they were setting up exhibitions so I didn’t take any photos but I’m tempted to go back and explore again soon.

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Next, I explored all three floors of the antiques markets. I found much to fascinate me, especially old slate mantel clocks, vintage Oxo tins, and memorabilia from the movies. I think I even discovered a plastic E.T. from the movie of the same name, but my memory may be playing tricks on me. Most memorable for me was a wall of colourful glass ornaments with a sofa and a row of electric guitars lined up in front of it. Most baffling for me were the vintage wedding dresses they had displayed in every stairwell. I’d certainly like to know the thinking behind this…

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My overall impression was of a place where different eras converge in a way that is both eclectic and inspiring. Seeing people’s possessions from the thirties or earlier made me dream of what it would have been like to be young in those times, to have gramophone records etc as the latest new gadget instead of a symbol of a bygone era. A place like this really brings out the nostalgia bug in me and I know I’ll have to visit if only to experience it once again…

You can find further information on Jacobs here:

Their website

Facebook where you can also check their opening hours (They open Thursday to Saturday).

Twitter

 

Hatt’s Vintage Emporium

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A much newer addition on the Cardiff Vintage trail is Hatt’s. Situated on Cardiff market, and run by a father and son combo, they are a true vintage men’s outfitters. I only stopped for a few minutes, but that’s all it took for me to be wowed by their sense of theatre. They provide a bespoke tailoring service as well as well as inviting members of the public to trade their vintage garments with them. They’re very attentive to their customers and all their reviews suggest that their service is second to none. I was surprised to hear that they had only become established two years ago as they have the confidence and the skills to suggest that they could have been around their forever.

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You can find more information on Hatt’s here:

Facebook

Their website

Twitter

Which leads me on to my final discovery for this part one…

 

Hobo’s

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With its rainbow skein of colours, this simply has to be the most colourful vintage shops around. It would be easy to be put off by the loud designs but after a few minutes of wandering around you soon aclimatise. There are fashions here from the sixties, seventies and eighties and, if I’m honest, the styles weren’t to my taste. Even so, I couldn’t help but be amazed by their range of vintage denim, tie-dyed t-shirts and retro bags. They provide a relaxed environment in which you are free to try things on, with or without assistance. What amused and baffled me upon visiting was that they appeared to have adapted a shower enclosure as a changing room, which I guess is, at least, a very imaginative and creative use of limited space.

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You can find more information on Hobo’s here:

Facebook

Twitter

Thanks for reading.

I hope you enjoy my photo gallery:

 

Jacobs

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Hatt’s

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Hobo’s

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A-Z of Cardiff – U is for Cardiff University

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series of Cardiff by taking a walk along the corridors of learning. Here’s what she discovered!

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Mythical beasts emerge from the earth at Bute Park

They say that travel broadens the horizons. What is equally true is that learning a new skill can have a similar effect. This is the discovery I made when I signed up for a creative writing course through the Centre for Lifelong Learning just a few months ago.

What course did I sign up for? Well, it began with ‘Once upon a time’ and finished with ‘they all lived happily ever after’. Is that enough of a clue? I signed up for a ten-week workshop: an ‘Introduction to Writing Traditional and Modern-day Fairy Tales’.

What inspired me to take up such a course? As I am an enthusiastic scribbler of short stories and poems I’m constantly aware that there is more I can learn. And Cardiff is the kind of place to inspire a creative writer with magic and fairy tales.

In fact, while writing this A–Z series, I have had many experiences to fill me with wonder. I’ve experienced a Medieval castle, ghosts at Llandaff, and even time travel in a matter of minutes at St Fagans. All these experiences have filled me with a sense of wonder as well as a curiosity to see what’s around the next corner. It’s this magic that is at the heart of fairy tales and I couldn’t have chosen a better place to study the ancient art.

I met like-minded people who had all been touched by fairy mythology in some way. We all sensed the otherworldliness, the escapism and the feeling that anything could be made possible from these stories.

Each week we wrote a new installment of our own stories before reading them aloud to the class. I loved this part, as I believe stories should be read aloud and not left static on the page. I wish we could just switch of our televisions and computers from time to time in order to share the experiences that previous generations took for granted.

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Will this frog ever be a prince?

Each installment of the stories served a different purpose, for instance to introduce the main characters or send them on a quest, or present them with a different challenge or obstacle. It was a pleasure to hear each story develop towards its conclusion. Although we all chose from the same ‘dressing up box’ of characters and settings, typical to most fairy tales, our destinations couldn’t have been more contrasting.

As a result, I have my first completed fairy tale, although I intend to write more. Thanks to the corroboration of my fellow students, I also have a small anthology of stories to cherish for many years to come.

So, I’d like to thank Cardiff University for providing me with the opportunity to continue expanding my horizons through their prospectus of day and evening classes. I would also like to thank Briony Goffin, the course tutor, who has provided me with the motivation to delve into a deeper exploration of fairy tales and fairy tale writing.

You can find more information about courses available at Cardiff University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning here:
Their website

Thank you for reading my article. I hope you enjoy looking at my gallery of magical sights from around Cardiff!

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A Celtic Ring in Cardiff Bay
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A Tale of Three Geese in Roath Park
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A Mother Goose Tale
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A boat flying over the lighthouse at Roath Park
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Fire-breathing dragons on Queen Street
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The ghostly image of an owl at the National Museum
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A giant dragonfly at the National Museum
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Llandaff at night – a truly spooky experience on the Ghost Trail
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Even nature is skeletal in Llandaff during the winter
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Snarling creatures bare their fangs on the Animal Wall
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Under the watchful gaze of the Animal Wall
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East meets West
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Back to the 1980’s in St Fagans
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Then even further back in a matter of minutes
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The remains of St Mary’s Church from the Caerau Hill Fort
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An ancient flint at Caerau Hill Fort brings ancient battles to mind
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Time travel from the safety of my sofa!
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An ornate ceiling fills me with wonder at Cardiff Castle
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An archer’s view of Cardiff Castle
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A steep climb to the summit is avoided by some, including me!
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Birds, who are often messengers in fairy tales

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Cardiff A–Z: T is for the Taff Trail

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series of Cardiff with an exploration of the Taff Trail. Here’s what she discovered…

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The Taff Trail forms a  pilgrimage in reverse, starting with Cardiff Bay barrage and winding upwards to its source in the Brecon Beacons. As it does so, the landscape gradually transforms from dockland to city centre to parklands and eventually to the craggy slopes that make up South Wales’ highest peaks.

This guided path which covers 55 miles of urban landscape and countryside has only been made possible by the co-operation of local councils. It’s strange to think a unified path didn’t exist until the Trail launched in 1988.

Well sign-posted, the path is easy to follow although, as I was on foot, I decided not to tackle it all in one go! So I decided to make a relatively short trip, from the Bay to Llandaff.

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I started my journey by locating the Celtic Ring. Shaped like a lucky horse shoe it points upwards into the Roald Dahl Plass and marks the start of the Trail. Commissioned by the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation in 1993 its engravings are a celebration of the industrial history of Cardiff Docks. Hidden within the Ring is what looks like a key which perhaps represents to all visitors their unique freedom to roam the Trail in its entirety.

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There are a couple of alternative routes from the Bay leading to the banks of the Taff. By trial and error I discovered my preferred route, which takes you south past the Techniquest building, past the Docklands and into the Cardiff Wetlands for a short while. The Cardiff Wetlands boasts a huge variety of bird life, most of which must have been hiding in shady corners on what proved to be one of the hottest days of the year so far.

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As well as being a haven for wildlife, the Wetlands also have a more quirky aspect to them. I discovered this bench/bottle sculpture. This is ‘Ship in a Bottle’ by Melissa Gibbs (2004). It is just one example of how artists have made their statements upon the once industrial landscape of Wales.

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I soon discovered that artists have reclaimed the industrial landscape in other ways, too. Hidden underneath the Grangetown Link is the Hamadryad Park Mural. Commissioned by the Council in 2009 the ‘graffiti’ mural is the result of a collaboration between local artists and schoolchildren. Full of vibrant colour and youthful energy it is also a celebration of Cardiff’s industrial and coastal heritage.

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After the Cardiff Wetlands, The Trail winds its way past the Embankment, characterised by row after row of Victorian terraced townhouses and tree-lined avenues. While it is possible to walk/cycle/run along this stretch there is also the Water Bus, which provides an alternative form of transport from City centre to Bay.

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Following the Trail, I soon arrived outside the Millennium Stadium. Here, I found an assembly of food-inspired sculptures to feast my eyes upon. Made to represent various seed pods they are the result of a collaboration between residents and local artists as commissioned by the Council in 2006. Discovering them on my Trail was a pleasant surprise. I couldn’t help noticing that on an unseasonably hot day, they lent an almost Mediterranean feel to the City.

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From past the Millennium Stadium, you are in the heart of the City centre. From there, you have the choice of a walk through Bute Park, which takes you temporarily away from the banks of the Taff, or you can remain on the official path, which takes you to Sophia Gardens and the cricket grounds.

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The route through Bute Park is possibly the more scenic of the two with a wealth of flowers in bloom at this time of year. I had to stop and take a photo of the above sculpture, which, as Cardiff runners will know, marks the ‘turnaround’ point of the parkrun route. I also spotted one of the elusive sculptures I’d missed while investigating the sculpture trail for B is for Bute Park last summer!

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From there, the next landmark is the pedestrian bridge at Blackweir which wobbles underfoot alarmingly over rushing water!

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I next encountered the A48 underpass and discovered more murals, this time in celebration of the City’s architecture through the ages.

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I reached Llandaff in the early afternoon where I witnessed duck imitating speed boats and the spectre of the Cathedral spires on the landscape. I decided to make this my final destination for now, although I may return…

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S is for Specialists in Vinyl. Part Two: Shops Selling New and Second-hand

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series of Cardiff with her second and final article on the Cardiff music scene in the run up to Record Store Day 2015.

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Strategically positioned at the top-end of the High Street in Cardiff, Retro-Vibe Music can be identified by its bright orange and black fascia. There’s a mosaic of record covers on the shop windows, which reassuringly confirms that they sell vinyl. Approaching their bold shop front you would never guess that they hadn’t been there long.

In fact they opened their doors in Cardiff a few months ago, having moved from Barry, where the business started in 2012. The shop, a hit in its original location, quickly out-grew its premises. Hence owners Claire Richards and Mark Owen made the decision to move to a more central location where they can really showcase their vinyl.

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Having only recently heard of this shop, I decided to pay them a visit. I didn’t know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. They have a whole basement full of vinyl, and, as I have a life-long love of spinning discs, that’s where I headed first. I was amazed by how much space there is for records both old and new. They stock a wide range of artists and have something for everyone.

Although underground, the space is light and airy. There are comfy sofas to chill out on while listening to the music on the turntable hi-fi system and memorabilia to feast your eyes upon. They also have plans for sound booths for customers to listen to records, a really great idea to engage customers.

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While I was in there, I chatted to Claire Williams, one of the owners who very happily provided me with a potted history of their business. She enthused about how she had come into possession of a gramophone record and a whole load of 78s, which she decided to sell on. This led to a thriving business in gramophone records, from which she and her business partner, Mark, branched into other formats and eventually into their business as it is today. Indeed it’s encouraging to see new businesses arriving in what has proven to be a challenging time for the music industry.

Involvement in Record Store Day 2015

The team behind Retro-Vinyl Music are clearly very passionate about the autonomy of the independent record business. Along with Spillers Records, they have signed up to the Record Store Day Pledge to supply Official Record Store Day releases to customers on a first come, first served basis. Their doors open earlier than usual, at 8:00 in the morning, especially for the occasion. Supplies of special releases are limited so it’s best to turn up early if you’re after something specific.

As well as the official releases, they also plan to have live acts perform on the day, billings yet to be confirmed.

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Other Events in Cardiff for Record Store Day

Kellys Records, while not officially signed up for Record Store Day, will be providing customers with generous discounts on many of their records for the occasion. They are also hosting a huge party, after hours, at 10 Feet Tall which promises to be an ‘All Vinyl, All Night’ extravaganza. The party starts at 6:00 in the evening and continues until 2:00 in the morning. Full details of the event can be found here:

All Vinyl, All Night 

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If you’ve never been to Kellys, they are well worth a visit. Situated on the upper floor of the Cardiff Indoor Market, they are an Aladdin’s Cave of vinyl, among other formats, and have an amazing collection of memorabilia from yesterday. You have to visit to take your selfie with the Elvis statuette, if nothing else!

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You can find out more information about Retro-Vibe Music here: 

Their Facebook Page

Their Record Store Day Page 

On Twitter 

Their Website

You can find information about Kellys Records here:

Their Facebook Page 

On Twitter

Their Website 

More information on Record Store Day 2015, including official releases, can be found here:

Record Store Day Website

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you all at Record Store Day in a couple of week’s time!

 

 

S is for Specialists in Vinyl. Part One: Spillers Records

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series of Cardiff with a look at the local music scene. 

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I decided to delve into the exciting events occurring in the run-up to the annual Record Store Day on Saturday 18 April. And where better to start than at Spillers Records, reputedly the oldest record store in the world?

It’s been my great privilege to chat to Ashli Todd, who is joint-owner of Spillers, and to be able to share with you her extensive knowledge of music.

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Q: The music scene in Cardiff is very vibrant. There’s a lot happening. What are you most excited about currently?

A: Oh, good question, it’s the diversity. There are a couple of labels that we stock that have been around for a few years and are really evolving. Particularly I’m thinking of the Peski Records label that centres mainly on alternative electronic music. They’re kind of quite glitchy, sometimes a little crowd rocky, sometimes quite technoey. They are a great label and have been going for a number of years now.

Then there’s another label, Shape Records, who are run by a fantastic local band called Islet. I was at Art College with one of their members.

Both labels have stood the test of time. We can mention them to customers and they will buy things on the strength of those labels alone. It’s always really lovely when a label can generate that kind of support. You know that a label is doing something great when people put their confidence into the releases blindly.

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Q: What are the big releases with them at the moment?

A: At the moment, Shape Records have just released an album by a band called Them Squirrels. Them Squirrels have actually been around for a good number of years; they’re members of the main band, Islet. They’ve been recording between other band stuff over a number of years. As always with these musicians, they always have loads of commitments. But now they’ve released this and it’s fab. Graff who works here has been recommending it to lots of people over the counter.

Gwenno is the big release with Peski, which came out the end of last year, and it’s doing fantastically well. She’s an interesting musician who used to be in a band called The Pipettes, a fantastic three-piece girl band. She’s evolved into a really interesting artist with a lot to say, you know, about politics among other things, which adds another dimension to the music.

Q: If you were to live anywhere else, where would that be and why?

I’d love to live in Barcelona. I’ve been there a couple of times, most recently last year. I was impressed by the amount of independent record shops that are there. All the record shops there were absolutely fabulous. And it’s such a culturally exciting city, such a pleasure to walk around. There’s so much art there. I just found it a real inspiration. I can’t wait to go back. So, yes, Barcelona!

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Q: I’ll have to add it to my places to visit. 

A: You’ll love it there, definitely.

Q: Looking around your shop, I understand that you also sell tickets for gigs. Who would you say are the hottest live acts at the moment?

A: Well, last night I went to see a band called Sleaford Mods. That was a sold-out gig, so obviously quite a hot ticket. It was the second time they’ve played Cardiff; the first time was last year at The Moon Club. They played CF10 in the Union to a 300 capacity crowd. It was fantastic.

They are extremely political, they’re kind of a bit Marmite, people either love them or hate them. A lot of people don’t get it or like it. I always like it when a band doesn’t get the reaction of ambivalence, when it’s literally people venomously do hate them or wholeheartedly love a band and I find that split really interesting. I think it’s normally indicative of real talent. They make a social commentary along with electronic beats. They’re very reminiscent to me of John Cooper Clarke and they draw a punk following.

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Q: What are your favourite venues in the city?

A: Club Ifor Bach, it’s the one really. It’s the longest running, most consistently running of the small venues. They’ve got two great floors. And I like gigs in the downstairs even though there isn’t a stage. It can be really very intimate because it breaks down the boundaries between crowd and performer.

The Moon Club opposite is another decent venue, that’s where the Sleaford Mods played before. It’s run by real music enthusiasts, the bar’s well stocked, and again it’s the size that makes it intimate.

The Globe’s another great venue. It’s well established and has great diversity of music. It’s not as cover-band heavy as it used to be at certain times. The layout is perfect, the height of the stage, everything, they’ve just got it spot on. It’s a great venue. It ticks all the boxes. It’s always a pleasure to see a band there.

There are some gigs in interesting places also, that don’t normally get used. For instance, the St John’s Church have been putting on gigs there.

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Q: Wow, sounds interesting! With Record Store Day just around the corner, what events/activities are you most looking forward to?

A: Well, we’ve got shop favourites both sides of the counter. A band called The Lovely Eggs is gigging with us. They’ve got a new release for Record Store Day, so it’s going to be an absolute honour to have them come and play for us. They’re a great duo from up North and they’re full of character, full of charm. We know customers are going to be excited about that one.

We’ll also be scheduling in some DJs. There will be someone from Penarth Soul Club, who started up quite recently, a guy called Liam Curtin. And we’re speaking to people from the Peski label to see if they can come along as well.

Record Store Day is very much about the releases that are on offer which are mass-produced for independent record shops and are stocked across the country. But it’s important to us to link it into the local music scene as well because you know, that’s a very important part for Spillers.

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Q: What new releases are you looking forward to this month?

A: I’m looking forward to the release a new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album (Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress, released on 31 March), which is hot on the heels of their last one. It’s good to have another release so soon as they tend to be sporadic with when they schedule their releases.

Another new release I’m looking forward to is by Australian singer Courtney Barnett. Her album is out this month (Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, released on Monday). She has a really great delivery to her lyrics; a naïve but almost deceptively naïve way of song writing. She has a deceptively simple delivery which isn’t necessarily easy to achieve.

Scottish band Errors also have got an album out (Lease of Life, released on Monday). They’re a band close to my heart. We’ve been following them since their first E.P came out. Their sound has evolved a lot over the course of several releases. It’s always nice when you can track an artist and their progress. And they always draw a good crowd whenever they gig with us.

And Bjork has a new album out (vinyl release date for new album, Vulnicura – as stated on the One Little Indian record label website, is Monday) which I’m very excited about. She’s such an innovator. She’s always working with new producers. She’s so experimental and she’s such a maverick.

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Thanks, Ashli, for taking the time out of your busy schedule. I can see you’ve got a lot to organise for the big day! 

You can find more information about Spillers Records and their upcoming releases/events here:

Spillers Records website

Their Facebook page

On Twitter

R is for Roath Park

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z exploration of all that’s special about Cardiff. So what’s she seen this week?

 

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I hadn’t planned on returning to Roath Park for this series. But, having heard rumours of an apartment in The Scott Memorial lighthouse for rent, I put on my running shoes and sprinted over there. I’m so glad I did because I realized there’s so much more to the park than I’d seen previously.

I’d taken photos there for my article about ‘I loves the ‘Diff’, so I thought I’d covered it all. How wrong I was!

Perhaps I missed a lot on my first visit because of the time of year. Although the leaves on the trees had turned to beautiful shades of red, it felt like everything else had gone into hibernation or shut down for the winter.

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To my great delight, upon my revisit, I noted that spring is awakening in the park. The daffodils are beginning to open up their golden trumpets and many trees are already in blossom. Everywhere, there are signs of fresh buds and new life. I just love this time of year.

Another thing that surprised me is the huge variety of birds that inhabit the lake in the spring. That’s not to say there weren’t birds on my first visit. How could I forget having to fend off hissing geese as I sat on a bench having my sandwiches on my first visit, for instance?

The main difference with the birdlife is that there are now a lot of courting couples. For example, I saw a couple of pigeons gently cooing and rubbing chests together in a very public show of affection. I expect the park will soon be filled with the patter of tiny pigeon feet!

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Also swans and geese there are huge, much bigger than I’ve seen anywhere else . I know there are signs up in the park warning you not to feed the birds, but it’s very hard to believe they got to this size without the help of some human carbs.

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I’d also not noticed the Centenary Garden for Captain R. F. Scott before. It’s immediately opposite the Scott Memorial lighthouse and is also coming into flower. As someone who struggles to garden and has murdered many an innocent house plant, I’m always stunned by what people can achieve with a bit of imagination and a lot of hard work.

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And as for the apartment within the Scott Memorial lighthouse, let’s just say it turned out to be just a little too bijoux for my liking!

 

I’ve kept this article brief, hoping you’ll feel tempted to explore for yourselves. If I’ve piqued your curiosity, you can find out more about the park by visiting the conservatory within the Botanical Gardens. There’s a little shop there where you can buy souvenirs. You can also explore the plants within conservatory for a small fee of £2.00, and maybe pick up some gardening tips.

Other things to do in Roath

If you visit on a Saturday morning, there’s also the Roath Farmers Market, which runs all year. You can find information about it here:

Roath Farmers Market

There’s also the Roath Craft Market which starts up again on Saturday 7th March. This is next door to the Farmers Market. You can find information about it here:

Roath Craft Market

Thank you for reading my article. I hope it made you smile, and that you will also enjoy leafing through my photo gallery. Until the next time…

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Cardiff A-Z: Q is for Queen Street

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series with revelations about Cardiff’s history. 

 

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Queen Street during a busy lunch hour

There’s more to Cardiff’s central thoroughfare than meets the eye. For instance, did you know that it only became known as Queen Street relatively recently? Perhaps you did –clever you – give yourself a pat on the back if you knew that already!

Well, it certainly came as a surprise to me, and so I decided to investigate further. I uncovered a fascinating history, of which I hope you will enjoy reading.

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A seagull enjoys a bird’s eye view of the street

The obvious question to ask is, if the main shopping street hasn’t always been called Queen Street, what did it used to be known as? In order to answer this question, I will pose another question that is apparently a well-known pub quiz question:

“What are the five towns of Cardiff?” The answer to this question is Butetown and Grangetown, which are still in existence, Temperance Town and Newtown, which disappeared during the first half of the twentieth century, and finally Crockherbtown, whose main road we now know as Queen Street.

Crockherbtown, often abbreviated to Crockerton, means simply “the town of the crock herbs”, a name that is thought to be Saxon in origin. The area gained its name from a 13th Century order of Franciscan Monks known as the Grey Friars, who would trade herbs from the town’s East Gate (now demolished this gate was situated where the Principality Building Society currently has its headquarters).

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The headquarters for Wales’ Principality Building Society

It is perhaps hardly surprising, when you think about it, that Queen Street gained its new name in honour of Queen Victoria. The change took place in anticipation of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Year of 1887. It heralded in a new era for the thoroughfare; one that saw domestic dwellings replaced by retail outlets.

All that remains of the original name for the place is the Wetherspoon’s pub, ‘The Crockerton’ on Greyfriars Street, and its back alley, Crockherbtown Lane, which has featured as a film set for television series Doctor Who.

The newly named street became the crowning feature of the Victorian era of high street commerce. Shoppers could arrive in their droves via the renamed Cardiff Queen Street rail station to enjoy a new feature of the industrial age: leisure time.

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An eye-catching window display

Standing in the middle of the now-pedestrianised shopping street, I can easily imagine the excitement and novelty that visitors would have experienced in that Victorian era. Even today, this street is an exciting and vibrant place to shop. Any day of the week you will find street artists and musicians, market stalls and fun fair machines to entertain the children.

Every day, many, many people pass along this main shopping street, yet despite this, there is undeniably a community spirit to the place. In order to explain what I mean, I will reiterate the challenge as set up by Dicmortimer’s blog:

“A [Cardiffian] standing on the same spot in Queen Street for 10 minutes is guaranteed to see someone they know from the chain of links that is Wales.  Try it.” Go on, I dare you, and if you do, feel free to post the results in the comments section below.

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A panoramic sweep of the West end of Queen street from Cardiff Castle

While you are still contemplating this challenge, I hope you will also enjoy looking at my gallery.

If I’ve made you curious and you want to know more about the history of this important street, you can find further information here:

Dicmortimer’s Blog

Cardiff History

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Time doesn’t stand still in Queen Street
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The street is tidy with flowers blooming all year round
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A dragon motif which is prevalent in Queen Street

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Queen Street at the heart of bilingual Wales
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The Lloyds Bank building displays ornate carvings
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Pedestrianisation has made way for many ‘seating islands’
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A statue of an un-named miner
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An outdoor cafe culture even during the winter

 

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An interesting mural that is worth stopping and admiring
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St John’s towers over the shops as seen from the top end of Queen Street

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Tourist information is readily available
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‘Green’ commuting such as cycling is encouraged
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Aneurin Bevan watches over as volunteers petition to secure the future of the NHS for which he is the founding father
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The view of Cardiff as seen from the Aneurin Bevan statue

 

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