Tag Archives: cardiff city centre

A-Z of Cardiff – C is for Cardiff Castle …

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! 

C is for Cardiff Castle

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I’ve always noticed a special atmosphere outside the castle, most noticeably at Christmas and on St. David’s Day. It’s very picturesque when decked out with twinkling fairy lights or crowned with daffodils. Also, in the summer you can see the tourists arriving by the coach load, pausing at the gates to take a group photo, before entering. The festive feel of this walled castle projects a vibrancy into the city. I often wondered if I were missing out on something by not making a visit, as I would rush by on my daily commute.

I finally decided to make a visit to Cardiff Castle last Monday, and was very pleasantly surprised by what I saw. As soon as I entered the castle grounds on my visit, I felt welcome. They have someone to meet and greet, who also informs you of the time of the next guided tour. I decided to join a tour, which takes you through a selection of Victorian apartments normally locked to the public.

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Entry into the castle isn’t cheap, but once paid for, you can stay there the whole day. If you live or work in the city, you do have the option to sign up for a Golden Key ticket, which allows you free entry for three years. For those who don’t, there’s also the option to buy a twelve-month season ticket.

Cardiff Castle has existed in one form or other, since the first century AD. There’s evidence of the Roman influence in the stonework of the castle walls. Apparently, the Roman fort would have originally been of wooden construction, but this was replaced by the twelve-sided Norman Keep which can still be seen today.

(below: two pictures of the Norman keep, from the stocks)

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Perhaps the most radical changes to Cardiff Castle were due to the Bute dynasty. The second Marques of Bute had much influence on turning Cardiff into the city it eventually became. In 1839, he built a dock, now known as Bute West Dock. His influence led to Cardiff becoming an international importer of iron and coal, and also led to a huge expansion of the population throughout the nineteenth century.

It was his son, the third Marques of Bute, who collaborated with artist and architect William Burges, to dream up much of the romantic Gothic revival style that characterises the Castle Apartments. The first part of the new castle to be built was the magnificent clock tower, intended to be bachelor quarters for the young Marques.

(below: photos of the ceiling and fireplace from the Winter Smoking Room inside the Clock Tower)

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There is a running theme, of the passing of time, within the Clock Tower. For instance there are stained glass windows designed to depict various days of the week, and astrological signs painted on the ceiling of the Winter Smoking Room, one of the featured rooms.

Burges also played upon the passage of the sun within his design schemes. In the roof garden of the West Tower, he created an optical illusion with the statue of the Virgin and Child. A Mona Lisa smile plays upon the Virgin’s face as the sun moves from east to west, and its rays soften.

(below: the Virgin and Child from the roof garden in the West Tower

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Time has not stood still in Cardiff Castle, since the Victorian era. Within the castle walls are also the air raid shelters, which would have been deployed during the Second World War. These were big enough to hide approximately 1,800 people.

(below: the air raid shelters…)

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The expanse of these tunnels takes you right round to the back of the castle, near to the Keep. Some parts are still fortified with blackout windows. Within the tunnels, the wailing of air raid sirens, and the crackle of a gramophone record playing Vera Lynn transport you to another era, as do the advertising slogans of that decorate the walls.

(below – three photos of the air raid shelters, complete with public information posters)

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Even today, parts of the castle are in use. As the expert who led the tour of the Castle Apartments informed me, the Banqueting Hall is available to be booked up for functions and weddings. It’s still the place for royalty, and celebrities alike, to dine in style.

(below: the ceiling in the Arab Room)

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I could tell you so much more about the castle, but I’d urge you to explore, and discover for yourselves.

Visit the Cardiff Castle website
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A-Z of Cardiff – B is for Bute Park …

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! 

Bute Park by Katie Hamer

B is for Bute Park

I know Bute Park from attending fundraising events. I’ve gone there for Cancer Research’s Race for Life, and also British Heart Foundation’s Santa Run. On these occasions, the park really comes alive. It buzzes with energy, and a riot of colour, as you’re caught up in a tidal wave of enthusiastic runners.

I thought I knew the park from these visits. Yet my explorations for this article uncovered aspects about it that surprised me. I realised how much I had yet to discover.

As a matter of fact, Bute Park is constantly evolving. Some of its greatest surprises didn’t even exist a couple of years ago, let alone in 2010, when I first took part in Race for Life.

I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the Sculpture Trail. The sculptures on this trail are carved from the remains of felled trees, or from surviving tree stumps. They sprung into existence in 2012, as a result of the Bute Park Restoration Project.

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As I searched for images of these sculptures online, I felt more and more inspired. They made me think of interplay between nature and man-made objects, something that was a constant source of fascination for me during my years of studying art.

I decided I had to discover them for myself. So I set myself the mission of visiting the park in order to find, and photograph, as many of these sculptures as possible.

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I found fifteen. There are twenty in total. Finding them became an adventure, especially as, at this time of year, they are largely hidden by tree canopy. Without warning, they suddenly emerge into view.

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One of the highlights of my visit had to be the discovery of a giant picture frame. You can view it from many perspectives. I thought about how I’d love to go back in order to take pictures of it with the changing seasons. Even in the few hours of my explorations, I became aware of a magical shift in light and perspective, as captured within its ornate carvings. I wish there were more sculptures like this one.



Following the sculpture trail without a map, or a guide felt like an adventure. I felt a sense of achievement every time I uncovered a new one. They are all unique and quirky, fun for adults and children alike.

If there were one thing that would have made my day more enjoyable, it would have been getting to know more about the background of each of these wonderful sculptures. Apparently, Bute Park regularly have guided tours of their Sculpture Trail, in which they unveil some of their secrets. The forthcoming dates are yet to be announced, on their website. I’m hoping the next one will be at a time when I can attend.

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As planned, I took photos of each of the sculptures I found, and it’s my great pleasure to be sharing them with you. I hope you enjoy my gallery.

Have you been on Bute Park’s sculpture trail yet? If so, what is your favourite? Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your stories about the park.

Find out more about the Sculpture Trail in Bute Park

A-Z of Cardiff – A is for Arcades…

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! 

The Hayes

A is for Arcades

I love these covered shopping streets, for providing shelter from the weather, and because I can browse without dodging traffic. Other cities have arcades too, but only Cardiff is “The City of Arcades”.

There’s a strong café culture here, even on a Monday morning. I’m greeted by cooking aromas. I feel tempted to stop at one of the outside tables, and sample some local cuisine. I have to remind myself that it’s just a couple of hours since I had breakfast. Oh, well!

Cardiff’s historic arcades are divided into the Castle Quarter, and the Morgan Quarter. I have a special fondness for the Morgan Quarter, so it’s this part of Cardiff that I decided to write about. I know this Quarter best because I worked at David Morgan, The Family Store, around which these arcades were centred. I worked there as a temp prior to its closure in 2005.

On Monday mornings long past, I would run down the Royal Arcade, to the staff entrance. I had to be on the shop floor five minutes before opening time. This was no tall order, as my department was on the top floor, and the staff’s changing rooms were in the basement. How I would panic if the train were delayed. Bad punctuality was frowned upon, even more than greeting a senior member of staff with their first name.

What David Morgan represented, was traditional values, and exceptional customer service. Along with everyone else who worked there, I felt a huge sadness on the day the store finally closed. Stepping out of the shop for the last time, I wondered what the future held for these special arcades. I still recall my department manager telling me that, within ten years, Cardiff would become indistinguishable from any other city in terms of shops.

Well, we are nearly ten years on, and I’m pleased to say that this isn’t the case. The oldest of the three arcades, the Royal Arcade actually predates David Morgan Ltd, so it is perhaps not so astonishing that it has survived the store’s closure. This particular arcade opened in 1858, 21 years before The Family Store was established.

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Thankfully, when the David Morgan family dissolved the Cardiff Arcades Co in late 2004, new owners, Helical Bar, stepped in to save them. It’s wonderful to see how much investment the new owners have placed in them, and how they have preserved them for future generations. True, there are vacant shop units, but that’s the state of shopping centres everywhere, these days.

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The Royal Arcade and the Morgan Arcade are very much at the heart of the Morgan Quarter, with their rows of shops linking St Mary Street with the Hayes. There’s a vibrant mix of boutiques, health food outlets, artists’ studios, furniture stores and bookshops. One of my favourite surprises is hidden in the middle of Morgan Arcade. This is where you can find Spillers Records, the world’s oldest record shop. It opened in 1894, but hasn’t always been where it is now. In fact, its existence predates that of its current location by five years.

I feel I should also mention the Wyndham Arcade, as it is more easily overlooked. These days, it’s more tagged on to the Café Quarter, and it has the ambience you’d expect from such a location. It’s quieter than the other two arcades, with a relaxed atmosphere that reminds me of the cobbled streets in the Algarve. This arcade is light and airy, and more inviting than I ever imagined it to be, from photos.

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I have only scratched the surface of what is so special about these arcades. I could spend a whole day exploring them, and still have more things to come back and see. Have I convinced you? Why not come and explore them yourself – they’re worth a visit. Please share your opinions in the comments below.

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It’s our 100th We Are Cardiff story! “Since moving back to Cardiff I’ve managed to keep my single girl status” – Stacey

Year three has been a year of milestones for We Are Cardiff – we hit 100k views of the website, we made a documentary film about Cardiff, AND WE’RE PUBLISHING OUR 100TH STORY! Read on and meet Stacey!


Okay, so I haven’t really fallen in love with ‘the’ Big Issue man.. In fact  I think it’s safe to say the single-girl-fairy-godmother has a vendetta for me (yes, there is such a thing).

Now I can only imagine how desperate I must’ve looked when purchasing It’s Called a Break Up Because It’s Broken and It’s Just A Date, but hey, when you’re faced with being single for the first time in the 21st century, you need all the advice you can get!

In a quick relationship summary, my high school sweetheart is now my high school best friend’s sweetheart (didn’t see that one coming!) and the guy I traveled the world and then got a mortgage with broke up with me one Saturday morning using the same nonchalant attitude you’d use to discuss the weather.

Heartbroken and, well, quite frankly broke, I decided to ditch the diet of junk food and re runs of rom coms and head to  Sydney, Australia (as you do). With just 796 dollars to my name I set out in the hopes of discovering myself without having a man there to hold my hand and pour milk on my Wheatabix. *Sigh*

What was suppose to be a three month trip turned into three years, and consisted of me swapping my days of asking ‘Would you like to keep the hanger’  for a  front row seat at fashion week , working not only as a registered business owner but alongside the editor of one of the most read magazine’ in the world as a features writer – the single girl features writer to be precise.

Yes, there would be no hiding my newly changed relationship status – I was being pimped out by my editor in the hopes of entertaining my fellow single ladies who were dating vicariously through me.

From doctors to lawyers, musicians to the real life kinda Dear John (who didn’t just want to ‘service’ me) I quickly realised that having your dream job didn’t entitle you to your dream guy…

…and even since leaving Sydney and moving back to Cardiff I’ve managed to keep my single girl status *sigh* and shall be documenting my life (post-koala bears and surfers) (major sigh over the lack of the latter) on my website – thatcardiffgirl.com

So, whether you have some dating advice or just want to hear about my last jaw-droppingly-awful-date put the kettle on, grab a biscuit and stay a while.

Stacey is 24 and turns the big 25 this year (the thought of which makes her want to projectile vomit). Since arriving back from Sydney she has moved back home to Cadoxton in the house her family have lived in since forever. Prior to this at the age of 19 she jetted off to LA the first stop on an around the world trip she embarked on and it’s safe to say she has had itchy feet ever since. Visit her blog at thatcardiffgirl.com.

Stacey was photographed in Cardiff city centre by Jon Pountney