My A49 road trip had quickly turned into a castle themed road trip and the castle theme continued as I headed into Wales and made my way down to Cardiff. It turned out I’d saved the best till last as Cardiff Castle was the most magnificent of the lot.
Cardiff Castle dominates the city – it’s at the end of the shopping streets, near the river, not far from the Millennium Stadium – and is set in some rather nice parkland, which I unfortunately didn’t get time to explore.
At £12.50 the entry price is quite steep. I realised that at this price this would likely be my one and only visit and so I needed to make sure I saw everything. With this in mind I stumped up an extra £3.25 for a guided tour of the apartments. The tour includes rooms that are off-limits to people wandering round on their own so is worth doing even just for this reason. However, the guide also turned out to be really informative which made me feel I’d invested my £3.25 well.
To say the apartments are ornate is a massive understatement. They are completely over-the-top, ceilings, walls, doorways, fireplaces, crammed with detailed decoration. It was impossible to take it all in. The guide pointed out lots of little details I’d not noticed, but he must have only mentioned 1% of what there was to see.
I took so many photographs; they’re not as great as I would’ve liked as I wasn’t allowed to use flash or a tripod, but they still give a pretty good idea of how amazing this place is.
Many of the walls are covered in detailed murals.
The murals in the children’s nursery are on tiles running round the top of the walls. They picture a series of fairy stories.
Severed heads on poles aren’t everyone’s idea of a suitable theme for a nursery, but why let potential childhood nightmares get in the way of a good bit of artistic decor?
This is the room the previous ceiling belongs to. I could imagine sitting in here with a pot of coffee and the morning papers.
This green bedroom wasn’t really to my style, but I still wouldn’t say no to a night here.
I always look forward to seeing the libraries in big old houses and castles and the one in Cardiff Castle didn’t disappoint.
I love a good library. I actually prefer the ones with sofas and big round tables, but this one was still very nice and I went back to it a couple of times.
For a 360° look at the library check out this site.
The castle has several towers, all of which have rooms inside. The one in the picture above is the Clock Tower and is the best looking from the outside. On the inside it has a double-height smoking room, bedrooms and servants’ rooms.
The nicest tower from the inside though, had to be the Bute Tower. This has a secret roof garden. I always love secret gardens, walled gardens and roof gardens and this ticked all three boxes.
It was designed in the latter 18oos and the walls depict stories from the Old Testament. Some of the text on them was written in Hebrew which interested me. I studied Biblical Hebrew as part of my degree. I’m very rusty now, but still like to have a go at attempting to read it.
As well as Hebrew text, there were other alphabets used in the decoration around the castle. These colourful stained glass and mosaic windows have what I think are Greek words as part of their design.
And the Biblical figures here are holding scrolls, each one of which is displaying a different ancient alphabet.
Everything I saw in the castle apartments had the wow factors in bucket loads, but the room that the drew the most gasps was the Arab Room.
You can’t actually go into this room – just stand in the doorway and peek your head inside. People crowded round the doorway only reluctantly drawing themselves away.
The Arab Room, so called because of its Moorish influenced design, was intended as a drawing room for the ladies. I wonder if Burges (the male architect) was equating Victorian ladies having tea with the European male fantasy of the Middle Eastern harem when he came up with this idea? I’ll forgive him if he was because it just looks so stunning.
If you want to see more of the Arab Room this website has a 360° view of it.
It took a while, but I finally dragged myself away from the apartments and went to explore the rest of the castle.
I climbed the steep steps to the keep and walked round the castle walls.
I saw birds of prey …
… a moat …
… and a green-roofed museum.
The museum had a lot of army history and also an exposed section of the old Roman wall.
Before I left, I had one more bit to see.
The passageways that run through the inside of the walls were used as bomb shelters for the people of Cardiff during the Second World War.
They went on and on and included sections lined with bunk beds. I suppose you’d have had to get in early to score one of the beds. I wonder if you had to bring your own bedding? Or was someone responsible for keeping the place clean and washing the bedding?
There was even a cafeteria. I didn’t spot any loos though. Or a place to have a wash.
And of course there were a lot of propaganda and informational posters on the walls.
My day at Cardiff Castle had been great. I’d been lucky enough to have lovely weather, but as there’s plenty to do inside (those apartments!), it would still be well-worth a visit even in the rain. Oh, and do pay the extra so you can see ALL the rooms and the secret roof garden.
So what do you think? Do you agree with me that Cardiff Castle is the best ever? Or do you know of one with even more wow factor? Share your thoughts in the comments below.