Tag Archives: cardiff a-z

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 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

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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Cardiff A-Z: P is for parkrun

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series with an exploration of Cardiff’s ever-growing running community.

 

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A runner near the start of the route on Taff’s Trail near Bute Park

 

How are you doing with your New Year’s Resolutions? What do you hope to achieve in 2015?

Whatever you have planned, make getting out in the fresh air and exercising a priority. As I’ve discovered, there’s nothing better for blowing away those winter cobwebs. It helps to eliminate the gloom of long dark evenings, and may also have prevented me from catching a cold so far.

What’s so special about parkrun?

Parkrun events are free. All you have to do to take part, is register online and turn up with a printout of your barcode (scans from mobile phones don’t work, for some reason). They take place at many venues, both UK-wide and internationally. Local running clubs organize them and people of all abilities are welcome to take part.

At the end of the run your time appears online for all to see, provided you have brought your barcode. It’s not a race, but from my own personal experience, I’ve gained a lot of satisfaction from smashing my Personal Best.

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Leaders of the pack on Saturday

 

So, it it’s nationwide, what makes the Cardiff parkrun special?

Well, this I couldn’t initially answer, as I am in fact a veteran of another parkrun venue, the one at Bryn Bach, Ebbw Vale. So I decided to set out to investigate. This is what I discovered:

Cardiff parkrun is huge

Four hundred runners on average turn up every week to participate. The most they’ve had is a staggering seven hundred, now that makes for crowded footpaths!

Cardiff parkrun has a vibrant community

They have a very lively Facebook group with 2,000 plus registered members. They’re adding more people all the time. All members are encouraged to post, and there’s almost always a vibrant conversation going on. Which got me thinking…

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Determined runners stride ahead

 

How could I play an active role in that community?

I had to think about this. I could turn up to the Cardiff parkrun to take part, but what would that teach me? Then, it occurred to me that what I should do is sign up to volunteer.

What happened next?

I found signing up to volunteer very easy. A few days after signing up, I received an email requesting that I marshal at the crossroads. So, on a wet and windy Saturday at the beginning of January, I turned up at the Taff’s Trail next to the big Tesco Extra, donned a high-vis bib, and stood at the side of the course to cheer the runners on.

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My view from the crossroads, a stretch where marshals have to ensure runners have enough space to run both directions: there and back

 

How did I rate the experience?

Never having been to this particular course before, and not knowing anyone there, I did feel daunted. But that daunted feeling soon dissipated as I got chatting to the other volunteers. I quickly realized how passionate the people who marshal the event are. They are members of running clubs who have taken part in elite races, and yet go out of their way on a Saturday to give support and encouragement to aspiring runners of all abilities. What really impressed me is that they have a volunteer to ensure the slowest participants cross the finishing line and gain their time.

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The fastest runners pass the middle of the pack on the two-way stretch as marshals offer guidance and encouragement

 

Parkrun changes lives

Parkrun has changed my life. When I turned up for my first event, I did so as a casual runner. I’m now a member of a running club, registered with the Welsh Athletics Association and training to take part in the Berlin 25km race. If you ask around at any parkrun event, you will hear many similar stories, and ones that are even more remarkable.

Cardiff – a great city for running

Cardiff is an amazing city to be a runner. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this list of forthcoming races:

 

1st March 2015 St. David’s Day Run

4th May 2015 Cardiff Bay 5 mile

28th June 2015 Cardiff Triathlon

6th September 2015 Cardiff 10k

4th October 2015 Cardiff Half-Marathon

 

If you’re new to running or it’s been a while since you last did any running, you can find some great training tips here, to help you get prepared: Runner’s World Website.

So, what are you waiting for? Put your trainers on and get down to Cardiff parkrun this Saturday!

You can find more information on Cardiff Parkrun here:

Parkrun website

Facebook 

Twitter

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Cardiff A-Z: O is for OPENCities

What better way to kick off 2015 in Cardiff than to celebrate all that makes the city uniquely special?

I’m now halfway through my A-Z exploration so I decided to sum up what I’ve discovered so far. During this summing up I also uncovered the city’s involvement in the European-wide OPENCities project so I’m sharing this with you as well. Here goes:

OPENCities is a British Council project set up to examine the future role of urban spaces. Cardiff has had a pivotal role in this project since it began in 2008. I’ll explain why.

First of all, why openness matters

By 2050 two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. This urban expansion will be caused by mass migration. OPENCities examines how cities can embrace their migrant populations and offer new opportunities for all.

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A bilingual sign for the City of Cardiff

 

“Openness is the capacity of a city to attract international populations and to enable them to contribute to the future success of the city”

What makes Cardiff especially important?

First off it’s the youngest capital city in Western Europe. Since the 19th Century when the city become a major importer of coal from the valleys its population expanded tenfold. It has welcome new residents from all over the world, who have made a valuable contribution towards the city’s economy and culture. Cardiff is indeed a vibrant multicultural hub of which all its citizens can be proud.

As well as examining the patterns of migrant populations, the OPENCities project has investigated how cities such as Cardiff can raise its profile internationally. The longterm plan is make Cardiff an even more attractive place for people of all ages and backgrounds to live and work than it is now.

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In the picture – What will the future of Cardiff look like?

 

“By 2020…Cardiff will be a world class European capital city with an exceptional quality of life and at the heart of a thriving city region.”

In my explorations of Cardiff for my A-Z series I have indeed experienced a culturally diverse city, as my photo gallery demonstrates. Here’s to a good 2015 for you all, and Enjoy!

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Arcades provide a cafe culture as well as shops

 

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Green areas provide rest and relaxation within the City centre
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Different eras of history co-exist in harmony. The 19th Century clock tower at Cardiff Castle as seen from the Medieval Keep.
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Daleks, who have made their home in Cardiff Bay
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Cardiff University students dig for Iron Age remains at Caerau Hill Fort
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Visitors enjoy the sunshine outside Rhyd-Y-Car Terrace, an exhibit which takes you through 200 years of Welsh history.
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The Shree Swaminarayan Temple within Grangetown demonstrates the diversity of religions catered for in Cardiff.

 

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Brains beer, as celebrated in The Hennessys’ song ‘Cardiff Born, Cardiff Bred’.
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Ianto’s shrine at Mermaid Quay is on the tourist trail for international visitors.
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St John the Baptist Church provides an open door policy within the heart of the City.
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Roath Park – one of the favourite places for Christian Amadeo, the brains behind ‘I Loves the ‘Diff’
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Visitors gather to be spooked by ghost stories in Llandaff.
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Visitors can experience the view through the players’ entrance while on the Millennium Stadium tour.
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National and international exhibits can be viewed alongside each other at the National Museum, Cardiff

 

Cardiff A-Z: N is for the National Museum, Cardiff

Katie Hamer continues her A-Z exploration of the highlights of Cardiff with an excursion of discovery to the National Museum, Cardiff. Here’s what she discovered.

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I decided to go on a journey to explore the Evolution of Wales through the millennia, and where better to do this than at the National Museum, Cardiff?

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Right at the heart of Cardiff’s beating civic centre, I experienced a permanent exhibition of fascinating artefacts, which took me from pre-pre-historic times right up to the present day. I found it breathtaking to discover just how much Wales has evolved. Although today the country has a relatively wet but stable climate, its history reveals an entirely different story.

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My journey started 4.6 billion years before the Common Era. I ventured past giant screens where molten lava boiled and flowed, before cooling to form solid rock. I heard explanations for how meteors from space formed minerals here on Earth. I stood amazed in front of displays, which revealed that Wales at one point had a tropical climate with coral reefs around its shores. It appears that the country has had a very tumultuous time in the past, and we cannot take for granted that our current stable climate will last. Indeed, we take it for granted at our own peril.

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By visiting this vast exhibition I gained a great understanding of how modern day Wales came to be. I saw fossils of shells and plants, minerals such as gold, iron ore and coal. I discovered that the black gold, which led to the nineteenth century population explosion of the city, originated from fossilized peat deposits. I also witnessed dragonflies as big as buzzards, came face to face with dinosaur skeletons and even a life-sized Woolly Mammoth with cub, if that’s the correct word!

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I discovered that the Wales we know and love today didn’t actually begin to take shape until after the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago. At this point the glaciers retreated, and flora and fauna flourished. But it wasn’t for another 4,000 years that farmland for grazing herds of sheep and cattle were claimed from the woodlands, which resulted in the first permanent settlements being established. Farming communities, where families lived in wooden huts became the norm, then led to the extinction of the hunter-gatherer way of life.

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Following on from that, Wales experienced a Bronze Age, an Iron Age and eventually a Coal Age. We’re now heavily invested in the Technology Age without which I wouldn’t be sharing this article with you now.

So, where next for our small corner of the planet?

I’m sure whatever occurs the National Museum Cardiff will keep us updated.

You can find out more about the National Museum and its various exhibits here:

Museum Wales website

Twitter: @AmgueddfaCymru

Facebook: Amgueddfa Cymru Facebook Page

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy looking at my gallery. Catch up with you again soon!

 

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A-Z of Cardiff: M is for the Millennium Stadium…

Katie Hamer continues her alphabetical adventure through the landmarks of Cardiff! Today she’s reached M … and heading to the Millennium Stadium…

 

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The Millennium Stadium has to be the most iconic landmark in Cardiff. Its eye-catching structure is one of the first things visitors encounter after leaving the Central Station. The city centre positioning is exactly the reason why it’s so special as it places it within the beating heart of the city. It lends to it a vibrancy and liveliness that is harder to create in a stadium on the outskirts of a town or city.

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It’s strange to think that I’ve passed this Stadium nearly every time I visit Cardiff on the train and yet I’d never been inside it. Clearly, this didn’t put me in the best position to talk about the Stadium experience, did it? And I wondered what I could do about that. By searching the web I soon realised that I could sign up for a guided tour of the Stadium and buy tickets online, so that’s exactly what I did. This is what I discovered from my visit:

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First, I’ll give you a few facts about how the Stadium came to be built. The Millennium Stadium, home of the Wales National Rugby Union team, was built in order to showcase the best that Wales could offer in the run-up to the country hosting the 1999 Rugby World Cup. When it opened its gates to the public for the first time in June of the same year it could boast a full capacity crowd of 74,500 which makes it the third largest Six Nations Championship Stadium to this day. It also stands out for its amazing fully retractable roof, as there is only one larger stadium in the world to have this feature.

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All in all, the Stadium has to be one of the best features in Cardiff for getting a photographer’s ‘trigger finger’ fidgety. It’s photogenic from so many different angles. I felt wowed by the potential of visiting such an eye-catching landmark, so unsurprisingly the first question I asked upon joining my tour group was, “Can I take photos?” To my great relief, Pete the tour guide informed me that absolutely, I could take photos and there were no restrictions on what I took. Phew! That was good to hear!

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Pete guided my group of intrepid explorers on a tour of the whole building, taking in the press conference suite, the changing rooms for both the home and away teams, the prestigious boxes and of course the Stadium itself. Along the way we were allowed to take our time to relish the memorabilia that they keep in glass display cabinets and which also decorate the walls.

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At one point, when we were about to go through double doors which are the player’s entrance onto the pitch, Pete told us all of an experience he’d recently had, and of which he was most proud. He’d told us that he’d met many famous people while working at the Stadium, but the guest he met on Saturday surpassed them all.

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While the crowds within the Stadium were waiting in anticipation to see the home team play New Zealand’s All Blacks, he got a chance to speak with a world-famous celebrity, the ‘Hoff, no less. From what I recall, he told me he got a genuinely warm response along the lines of “Hey Buddy”. Oh, to be a fly on the wall on that occasion.

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We then entered the Stadium through that most lauded entrance. As I did so, I could imagine the sense of anticipation that the players must feel, the sense that anything is possible, that victory could be within their grasp. I imagined the roar of the crowds on all four sides of the Stadium as the teams finally made it on to the pitch.

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During the tour, we visited the Stadium at various different levels, drinking in the atmosphere each time. Pete the tour guide was very congenial and made every effort to make the tour memorable by offering to take photos for us. I’m very pleased with the photos that he took for me from one of the seating areas high up from the pitch. He’s clearly had a lot of practice.

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We finished up the tour gazing at a Rugby cup, which was perched on a stand near the top of the Stadium, which was emblazoned with ribbons, but sadly was not a Six Nations Cup. The whole tour party sat in seats over-looking the cup and out towards the pitch, admiring the way it is carefully preserved with sprinkler systems and sun lamps between matches, especially in the winter when there’s not much chance for natural daylight to filter into the grounds.

Looking out at the Stadium I got a real sense of how great the atmosphere would be when there’s an important match, or when the place is full of music fans dancing along to one of their favourite bands. I could imagine how the crowd would react to seeing headliner acts such as Madonna, Take That and Bruce Springsteen performing here. I read somewhere that the Manic Street Preachers were the first band to play at the Stadium, on New Year’s Eve 1999. Now, that’s one concert I wish I could have been at. Perhaps I should see if Doctor Who’s time machine in Cardiff Bay could take me back there!

You can find out more information about Millennium Stadium tours and events here:

www.millenniumstadium.com

Once again, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoy spending a few minutes looking through my photo gallery.

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Thanks Katie! More Cardiff A-Z very soon…

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Cardiff A-Z: L is for Llandaff

Katie Hamer gets into the spirit of the season, checking out the historic district of Llandaff…

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The City Cross at Cathedral Green, Llandaff

I’d heard rumours that Llandaff is one of the most haunted places in the UK. Deciding to investigate further, I armed myself with a camera and also some ghost-detection equipment, in order to join John Hutch on the Llandaff Ghost Walk. What, you may be wondering, did I discover?

By day, Llandaff has the sleepy respectability of a village from out of Agatha Christie. But by night, it takes on much more sombre feel, as the landscape recalls past traumas. Indeed those more grisly moments of Llandaff’s history came to life for me on the ghost walk, thanks to John Hutch’s awesome powers of storytelling.

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Llandaff Cathedral

 

Llandaff’s history spans as far back as the Romans, and there is evidence of Roman burials beneath the walls of Llandaff Cathedral. History books illustrate how it became embroiled in the bloody battles of Owain Glyndwr in the fourteenth century. Later on, in the seventeenth century, Llandaff was again thrown into conflict, as Oliver Cromwell and his army of Roundheads, fought to bring down the monarchy.

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This is where we met for the walk

Llandaff Cathedral itself has a checkered history. It’s taken the brunt from uprisings, going as far back as the Norman conquests of the eleventh century. Only Coventry Cathedral was more badly damaged by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.

As recently as 2007, the Cathedral again suffered damage, when its spire was struck by lightning. The strike blew the brass weathervane clean off the roof, and destroyed the electric church organ.

Was this an act of God, as parishioners had allegedly been praying for a new church organ? Whether act of God or simply act of nature, the full impact of the new organ echoing around the Cathedral grounds as John recalled ghost stories certainly added to the atmosphere, and sent shivers down my spine.

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The Cathedral at night

The mist rolled in as we followed John down the footpaths, and through the fields and woodlands. He recalled so many different stories, and in such a magical way, that I wouldn’t be able to recall them all to you now.

Perhaps, the most sinister of them all is about a black faceless figure that watches people unawares, before gliding towards them faster than any human could run. Who could that be? John offered an explanation for this ghost after we reached the graveyard. His delivery of this story was perfect, that I wouldn’t want to steal his thunder, so to speak, by providing a spoiler!

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A woodland trail by torchlight
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John recalls one of his many ghost stories

 

Not all the ghost stories are fully polished and explained. In some cases we simply do not know the origins for the ghostly visitors. What makes the accounts fascinating are the number of unrelated sightings of the same apparition.

However, it appears that ghosts do not perform on cue, so sightings from beyond the grave cannot be guaranteed on the walk. Then again, there is always a chance that you might experience something otherworldly, or that an unexplained image could appear in a photograph. I didn’t spot anything in my photos, but I’d love to hear from you, if you think you can!

John touched upon how scientists have tried to explain away the paranormal with logic. For instance, it’s part of how we are as humans to be scared of the dark, to fear dying and what we may or may not face after death. From the very earliest age, we are trying to understand the world around us.

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The weir

Interestingly, when those of a sceptical or scientific leaning have experienced these phenomena for themselves, they often become willing converts.

For many people, when faced with the unknown, negative emotions such as fear become as real as fact in a way that happier, more positive feelings rarely do. The resultant sense of panic leads us into the fight or flight mode. More often with ghosts, it’s flight.

Another line of thought is that, when a traumatic event takes place, a memory of that moment is forever etched upon the atmosphere of that place. It is then replayed, as a permanent recording on the Earth’s magnetic fields, to be observed by particularly receptive individuals.

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Llandaff graveyard

Whatever the causes of these hauntings, they have certainly captured our imaginations, and our desire to recount stories about them will be around a long time after we are.

So, if you’re curious to hear the stories of ghosts past, while surrounded by some of the most magical settings Cardiff has to offer, I’d well recommend the Llandaff Ghost Walk.

You can find more information on ghost walks, and also how to sign up for them here:

The Cardiff History and Hauntings website: http://www.cardiffhistory.co.uk/index.php?p=1

And also on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/cardiff.ghosts?ref=name

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your spooky experiences, so feel free to share them in the comments below. I hope you also enjoy spending a few minutes looking at my gallery.

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Back in the Cathedral grounds

 

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Outside the Cathedral

 

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A-Z of Cardiff: K is for the Kaairdiff Accent

Katie Hamer carries writing her A-Z of our fine city – today, she’s looking at the city’s accent! Kaairdiff indeed!

I touched upon the Kaairdiff accent in my article, ‘H is for the Hennessys’. I realised what makes the accent special is its unique way of telling things. As Banarama sang, ‘It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it.‘ This is also true for the city’s distinctive accent.

Thinking along these lines intrigued me. I wondered how I could express the spirit of an accent in an article.

Then I discovered ‘I Loves the ‘Diff’. What this company have done is truly amazing; they’ve captured the city’s way of telling things in an original and quirky way.

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I loved their products instantly, and was curious to know how they had come about. I sent an email to them to see if they would provide me with further information. To my great delight, Christian Amodeo, ‘The Chairman of the Bored” responded to the email I sent him, and agreed to answer the rapid-fire questions I put to him. This is what he told me:

Your logo is a play on the classic New York logo. When I first read it, I thought you meant ‘I loves the difference’ LOL! What do you think sets Cardiff apart from other capital cities?
Where d’you want to start? It’s pretty small for a capital city, which makes it unusual and also a fab place to live; it’s the youngest capital in Western Europe – not sure if you can compare a city to a human’s development, but Cardiff’s both growing and growing in confidence, and lots of exciting things are happening here – maybe the ‘Diff awkward teens are behind it and its about to swagger into its roaring 20s? Or maybe that’s just a terrible analogy!
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Bakers Row
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Bakers Row
So, Cardiff is your home city. What are the places of which you are particularly fond, that are special to you?
I really like the Bakers Row and the street it comes off for some reason, and not just because Metro’s is on it. My parents met in a club in Bakers Row according to legend so maybe that’s why. Roath Park has a place in the heart of many a Cardiffian – it’s the place you’re taken as a kid. So many afternoons spent here with relatives and friends. I remember my Uncle Gino bought some ducklings from Splott market and once they became too much of a handful, we released them on the lake.
When I was even younger, my grandad would take me on regular outings up the Wenallt – so that holds some great memories. Lavernock Point is another lush place – close to the city but away from it. Another place to think, to regain perspective. There are loads of great places. I’m quite fascinated by the way although we share a space, there are so many memories, like ghosts, on every corner of incidents and happenings in people’s lives.
I’m jealous of the way every building offers a different view of Cardiff. Which means we all see it differently. Not that I sneak into people’s homes and offices to look out of their windows – though I like delivering to office blocks in town and the Bay for the views.
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Roath Park
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Autumn colours in Roath Park
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Are these ducks the offspring of Uncle Gino’s ducklings?
Have you ever lived anywhere else? Would you think about living anywhere else? If so, where?

I’ll always live here, if only for tax reasons! I’ve lived in salubrious Swansea (at university), in Italy, and in London. I actually lived in rural Sussex for a tiny bit too, which was great. It’s well posh down that way. I thought I’d wandered into a Sunday evening ITV drama.In London I lived on a boat near the Albert Bridge for a bit, and later [with] my wife in Islington. (I’d been looking for her everywhere.) Being half Italian it was an amazing experience living in Italy – far more gay men than the national stereotype of womanising lotharios would suggest, but it’s like living on a film set the entire time. Even stopping to tie your shoe laces suddenly becomes some grand gesture.

I suppose it helps to live in other places, and certainly to see them, to be able to appreciate where you’re from. It’s one thing to blindly love your hometown, but it’s quite another to see the world and come back and still love it.
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What inspired you to set up this business? Did you have a ‘eureka’ moment?
If I did I wasn’t paying attention. I just admired the Glaser-designed NY classic and started playing with a Cardiff version. No one seemed excited by my design until I thought of the ‘s’ after the heart – it went from there. It wasn’t a business – the aim wasn’t to make a million pounds and retire to Flat Holm. No, I just wanted to see someone I didn’t know wearing the t-shirt. Never having designed a t-shirt before, everything that is now a part of what has slowly evolved into a business was brand new to me. It’s been a slow learning curve, and the business came about as a natural result of how things slowly grew. Most of it, like the Taffywood Welshified film and book title range, has been a series of happy accidents with no master plan of any kind.
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I pose for a selfie in the ‘Apocalypse Now, In a Minute’ t-shirt
 
I think my favourite product of yours, is the t-shirt with ‘Apocalypse Now, In a Minute’. It reminds me of someone I worked with, who always said ‘I’ll do it now, in a minute!’ 

I’m glad you like that one. It’s actually one of our most popular Taffywood titles. It’s on mugs and cards too. It felt a bit like Apocalypse Now In A Minute round here during the NATO Summit, didn’t it? Other fab titles from that range include Cwtch Me If You Can, From By ‘Ere To Eternity, When Barry Met Sully, Cwtch-22, The Llandaff Time Forgot, and Llanishen Impossible. There are loads of them.

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What’s your favourite product? Have their been any unexpected successes?
Having zero design or retail experience when this started, it’s all been an unexpected and fun adventure. And it’s always hard to predict what will be popular, that’s for sure. I loves everything we do, but I suppose the Cardiff Underground map is my favourite thing. It took quite a while – I even shelved it for six months around the time I got married – and then to think of all the people who’ve since enjoyed it, well, it’s a lovely thing really isn’t, to have people like something you’ve created. I’m very grateful.
 
What’s next for the ‘Diff’? What new products can I look forward to?
We’re doing a wall calendar for 2015, launching a new logo, doing the popular Cardiff Heart poster in six lush colours at A3 size, we want to do some films, and want to break into the perfume market. Expect only 10 per cent of that to actually happen, mind.

Thank you Christian, for responding so enthusiastically to my questions. I shall definitely be adding your quirky designs to my Christmas present list!

You can contact them here for more information

 Thanks Katie! And we’ll catch you for the next instalment…
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Cardiff A-Z: J is for St. John the Baptist Church

 

Katie Hamer continues her quest to write the ultimate Cardiff A-Z! Today, she’s visiting St John the Baptist Church in town. Read on to find out what she discovered!

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With still three months to go, we’re already getting the early signs that the festive season is on its way. I’ve seen Christmas cards since August, and supermarkets are bombarding us with gift packs, toys, food hampers, etc.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got enough to think about, what with work, bills, family commitments, and social media distractions. Everyone wants to sell us something, with the pretence that our lives will be better. It can feel like life is getting ever more frantic, frenetic, and it’s hard to measure up to productivity targets, whether self- inflicted (as in the case of the creative writer) or work-related.

I felt a temporary reprieve from all this craziness, when I took a look inside St. John’s Church last week. Although placed on the Hayes, in the midst of the bustling shopping centre of Europe’s newest capital city, the church provides an oasis of calm. It’s a place to go and reflect upon the central message of Christianity, which is to reach out to the whole community and to:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ and also to ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39

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The longest established church in Cardiff, St John’s has been serving the community within the city for 800 years. Originally built in the 1100’s, it fell into disuse in early 1400’s following an uprising against Kind Henry IV of England, led by Owain Glyndŵr. Little remains of the earlier construction; the current church was built c.1490. Its most recognisable landmark, the clock tower containing a peel of ten bells, is from this era.

St. John’s reminds us that religion isn’t just for Sundays, not just a once-a-week performance of wearing the right clothes and saying the right things. Their doors are open to the community during the week as well. It’s a refuge for Cardiffians during their lunch hour, where you can pop in, light a tea light (there’s a small donation of 20p required), and have a quiet moment.

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As their website states:

‘The community that gathers at St John’s Church believes itself called to share in God’s mission by welcoming people of all ages cultures and traditions to worship, witnessing to Christian faith, knowing God and making God known by serving Christ in both our visitors and our neighbours.’

A thousand people visit the church every week. They’re also involved in local and international events, and supporting charities. Recently, they held a service of readings and prayers in order to promote peace, in the run-up to the NATO summit.

As well as services, such as the Eucharist, there is a daily slot at 10am: a Prayer for the City. On Tuesdays, at lunchtime, they organise a half-hour of ‘Stress busting’: an introduction to Christian mindfulness and meditation. The Chaplain is available during the day on Thursdays (from 12:30 until 2:00pm) for anyone seeking advice or guidance, or just a listening ear.

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I decided to attend one of the ‘stress busting’ sessions, to see how I could benefit from a quiet half hour of meditation.

I arrived at the church early for the service. I’d forgotten how big the building is; the pictures on the web don’t do it justice, as it really is a huge church. But then I grew up attending a Methodist chapel that was, and is, only the size of an average family home. I stood outside it, in the crisp autumn air, with direct sunlight above me, and marvelled at its stone carvings.

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Entering the church from the South entrance I saw adverts for the Tea sPot, so I decided to make this my first destination. There’s a small staircase that leads up to them, and also a lift. They offer a menu of simple food, cakes and hot drinks, and service with a smile. You cannot look out at the city while you’re in there, probably a blessing, but the room is filled with the rainbow light from two stained glass windows. I had the most generous serving of carrot and coriander soup you could ever imagine, and really, I never thought I’d get to the bottom of it.

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I then had a look around the church itself, taking photos, before I joined the mindfulness session, which took place in a side-chapel. I joined about ten others. We sat in a circle, on wooden chairs. The Vicar, Rev’d Canon Dr. Sarah Rowland Jones, was present, but didn’t lead the session.

We each had a leaflet, to guide us through the various stages. There were prayers and a Bible reading, but for the most part, we sat in silence. I had my eyes closed, and attempted to empty my mind of all it’s daily clutter, anxieties, and trivia.

The Bible reading, from the New Testament related to Jesus’ miracle of walking on water. For me, this passage relates to self-belief: do I have the strength to conquer barriers, or will I drown in self-doubt.

During the session, I did find my mind fill with light, a reminder that, in the beginning was the Word, but also light. I visualised the rotating beam of a lighthouse beckoning me home.

We all need light in our lives, especially at this time of year, and even more so, if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, as I do. I left the session feeling more at peace. As I left, the Reverend smiled at me, and said she hoped I would visit again. I smiled back, and said I would. It’s these personal touches that mean so much, and people often overlook these days.

I hope you enjoyed reading my article. You can find out more about St. John’s here:
https://sites.google.com/site/stjohnscityparishcardiff/about-st-john-s

Also on Twitter: @stjohnscardiff

And St John’s Facebook page

I hope you also enjoy having a look at my photo gallery:

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A – Z of Cardiff: I is for Ianto’s Shrine

Katie Hamer continues her quest to write the Cardiff A-Z … today, she’s visiting Ianto Jones’ shrine in Cardiff Bay.

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Ianto’s shrine on Mermaid Quay

I have returned to Cardiff Bay, in order to pay my respects at Ianto Jone’s shrine. I am not alone in doing so. People visit from all over the world to remember this hero “who gave his life in defence of the children of the planet”. Below is his obituary:

Ianto Jones

Born 19 August 1983, died 9 July 2009

 Field Agent for the Torchwood three, Ianto Jones regrettably passed away in his hometown of Cardiff aged 25, while in the line of duty. His partner, Captain Jack Harkness, survives him.

 Remembered for his heroic actions he will be sadly missed.

R.I.P. Ianto

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A memorial plaque presented by the Management of Mermaid Quay
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Possibly someone standing in mournful reflection of Ianto’s passing

 

Mild-mannered and reserved, Ianto was initially employed as a ‘tea boy’ by the Torchwood Three. However, his actions gained him the trust of Captain Jack, and their relationship blossomed.

He was also known for his sense of humour. His mourners recall many a good humoured moment, such as when he bought a wedding dress for a friend. The shop assistant walked up to him as he was holding the dress to a mirror. Upon hearing Ianto’s explanation for his actions, He very tactfully informed him that he had men buying wedding dresses for their ‘friends’ all the time. LOL!

Rarely has there been such a national outpouring of grief, as for Ianto. His mourners visit the shrine on an hourly basis, leaving flowers and messages of grief. Some mourners clearly have reacted angrily to his passing, with suggestions that his death could have been avoided. Who knows?

I, myself, sensed some otherworldly intervention, when I arrived home after my initial visit to find my photos had been wiped from the memory card. Had they been erased from beyond the grave?

Upon my second visit, I decided to stay longer paying my respects. I was amazed at the diversity of the mementoes. There are Christmas decorations, coffee cups and, heaven forbid, even underwear. Well, the mind boggles!

As with Elvis Presley, some of his most devoted fans have even gone as far as to suggest that he is still alive. He’s not dead; he’s just gone globetrotting, apparently. They’ve even posted photos from around the world to ‘prove it’. There are also Christmas cards, and 30th birthday balloons, a milestone he sadly never reached.

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Flowers, and a 30th Birthday card

 

I noticed for the first time, upon my return, a photo upon which was scribbled Ianto’s final words: “Don’t forget me”, and Captain Jack’s response: “[I] never could”. My photos didn’t erase after this visit, so maybe these words were a message to me from beyond the grave. It certainly brings a tear to my eye. Sob!

 

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A reminder of Ianto’s final words

 

I hope you take a quiet moment to study my photo gallery. If you felt moved, upon visiting Ianto’s shrine, I’d love to hear from you. Thank you for reading!

 

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A hero in the league of Indiana Jones?

 

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Messages reflecting how sadly he is missed
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Ianto and Captain Jack – what a partnership!

 

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Coffee cups in his memory
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He’s not dead; apparently he was spotted at Tower Bridge in London!

 

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A quiet place to reflect on the life of a quiet, mild-mannered Welshman

 

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You can find the shrine on the waterfront in Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay.

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A-Z of Cardiff – E is for Ely …

Writer Katie Hamer is busily discovering parts of the city and revealing them through her We Are Cardiff series, the A-Z of what makes Cardiff special to her. She’ll be sharing the parts of the city she finds with you over the following weeks, so stay tuned! 

E is for Ely …

Hidden behind houses, and further concealed by a thicket of trees, you will find a treasure trove for archaeologists and historians alike. The magical place I’m referring to is the location of the hill fort, near the suburbs of Ely and Caerau. For the second year running, this site is being excavated by the CAER Heritage Project team, who are searching for evidence of its use during the Iron Age.

The existence of this hill fort is hardly a secret, as the naming of nearby Hillfort Close demonstrates. Even so, very little has been known about it, and there is almost no mention in history books.

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Archaeology students uncover evidence of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure

As I’ve always been fascinated by archaeology, I decided to make a visit, to see with my own eyes, what discoveries they are making. In this article, I’ll be telling you how I got on, but before I do so, I’ll also provide you with a few snippets of information on why this project is so significant within Wales.

The history of Ely is often overlooked, and it would be easy to assume that this suburb sprung into existence relatively recently. The great expansion of the area started after the First World War, when many houses were built to accommodate returning heroes. Although there is evidence of a Roman Villa in the area, what makes the hill fort so fascinating, is the hint that the occupation of the area extends back even further.

In fact, the hill fort at Ely and Caerau may well be to be one of Wales’s oldest settlements, and the largest of its kind. Its existence as an Iron Age hill fort would date it to approximately 600 BCE. Therefore, the newly found archaeological interest is not before time.

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Cardiff University student, Sarah, sifts through the soil for artefacts

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Liam, also an Archaeology student, digs for further evidence of the causewayed enclosure

For the second summer, the Caer Heritage team have planned a dig on site. As well setting up trenches, they have had temporary exhibits at St. Fagans, and Cardiff Bay. They have also gained UK wide recognition, by winning awards for their engagement with the public.

They extend an open invitation to the public to come and get involved in the dig. Last year, 1,000 volunteers got involved, and a similar number are expected this year. Visitors have included Welsh Assembly Members, such as Eluned Parrott, and it’s inspiring to see how many people have rallied behind this project. It has thrived on one of the suburb’s greatest strengths: community spirit.

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In another trench, Nick from Cardiff University, shows me evidence of the different layers which built up over time

Local schools have been encouraged to plan trips to help with the dig, sort through the ‘finds’ and also get stuck in with making clay pots. As a result of this project, these children may well know more about the history of the area than even their parents, or grandparents.

On the day of my visit, I found my way to the site fairly easily. I drove up to the fort, via a narrow uneven single-track lane, which winds through Caerau woods. I found a parking spot near to the abandoned St. Mary’s Church.

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The dig, with St. Mary’s Church in the background

On reaching the site, I initially felt daunted about introducing myself to the dig party. I quickly realised that there was no need to be, as they were all very welcoming and friendly.

As soon as I arrived, Lydia, an Archaeology student from Cardiff University, volunteered to show me around. She showed me the various trenches, and introduced me to a handful of people involved in the dig.

She explained to me that, although the fort is believed to be Iron Age, dating to around 600 BCE, there is also evidence of earlier Neolithic usage, and later Roman occupation. More recently, the land has been used as pasture for animals.

In one of the trenches, the dig members were particularly excited about the discovery of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure, marked out by a ditch. Causewayed enclosures date between 5,000 and 3,000 BCE. This one could well have functioned as a gathering place for performing rituals or burials.

They have also uncovered Neolithic flints from this trench. The soil in this area is heavy with clay, which allows for the preservation of flints, but isn’t so good for preserving organic material, such as bones, so they haven’t uncovered so many of these kinds of artefacts.

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A Neolithic flint

In another trench, they were uncovering the ramparts that would have been the ditches for the walls to the fort. They uncovered various layers, relating to different eras of history. Another of the archaeologists, Nick, explained the various different layers, and how the further down you dig, the further back in history you explore. Just after I visited, they successfully uncovered one of the most exciting finds so far: a green Iron Age rampart, which was concealed beneath several other layers of history, including a Roman midden deposit.

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A Roman pot, which would have been mass produced from a mold

After my tour of the trenches, I joined Vicky in their tented enclosure, and she showed me some of their most recent discoveries. She showed me examples of Roman pottery, and Neolithic flints. I was particularly fascinated to see a flint tool designed to make holes in leather, perhaps an early development of the sewing needle?

 

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A Neolithic tool for making holes in leather

I told Vicky of my own early forages into the field of archaeology. I recalled finding an old piece of very dense glass, shaped like a bowl, which was possibly the base of a large bottle. When I mentioned that it was covered in a thick crust of rainbow patterns, I could see her eyes widening with interest. Very enthusiastically, she informed me that rainbow patterns form when glass decays, and that what I had found could well be Roman glass. If true, this ties in nicely with the history of where I grew up; I lived on top of a Chiltern Hill, rumoured to have been a Roman lookout post.

The project is collaboration between Cardiff University, Action for Caerau and Ely, local residents and schools. If you’d like to visit, the site is open to the public until Friday 25 July. For further information, go to: the Facebook page or the website.

I’d like to thank everyone from the Cardiff University team, who showed me such a warm welcome, especially Lydia, Sarah, Liam, Nick, and Vicky.

 

 

Thanks Katie! Look forward to your next instalment of the Cardiff A-Z….