top of page
  • Janet Radley

Off the Beaten Path - Cardiff, Wales

The city of Cardiff is on my list of places to see, besides its long history and the many castles located in and around the city, one of my favourite shows is filmed there, Doctor Who.

With the burial chambers from the Neolithic period, the Iron Age hillforts, the area around Cardiff has been inhabited for approximately 6,000 years. The Romans arrived in Britain in 43 ACE and soon invaded Wales. The Roman General Didius Gallus was with the invasion force that conquered the Silures (the Celtic people of the area). After they were defeated, Didius had the first major fortress built at Usk (44 kms from Cardiff) and it was called Burrium. Not long afterwards a large wooden fort was built at Cardiff. This is where it is believed Cardiff gets its name from “Fort of Didius “(Caer Didius). The word Caer means fort or castle but the Welsh word Dydd means day so it is thought Dydd or Diff is a corruption of Taff, the river on which Cardiff castle stands. So Caer-dydd then means the fort on the river Taff. The modern name is an anglicization of the ancient Welsh name. The Romans stayed in Britain until 407 ACE. After the Romans left not much is known about Cardiff. It is believed that due to raids on Cardiff life there was untenable.

By 850 the Vikings attacked the Welsh coast and started using Cardiff as a port. The street names, in modern day Cardiff, Dumballs Road and Womanby Street came from the Vikings. The Normans conquered Britain in 1066 after the battle of Hastings and within 20 years were marching on Wales.

In 1091 Robert FitzHamon started the construction on Cardiff Castle on the site of the Roman fortress. The castle was built in wood and around 1135 the wood castle was replaced with stone. In the 13th century the Black Tower was built by the De Clare family who owned the castle.

In 1423 Richard de Beauchamp who had built Warwick Castle in England owned Cardiff Castle. He built a tower which now forms the middle part of the House at Cardiff Castle. The town of Cardiff during this time was built around the castle and the population was between 1,500 to 2,000. There were attacks on Cardiff as the Welsh wanted independence from the Normans. Ifor Bach, Morgan ap Maredudd and Llywelyn Bach (great grandson of Ifor Bach) all tried and failed to gain independence.

By the end of the 13th century Cardiff was a small town compared to towns in England but with a population of over 2,000 it was the largest town in Wales. By 1327 Cardiff had an established port. In 1404 Cardiff was burned to the ground by Owain Glyndwr who then took control of the castle. The town was rebuilt shortly after and began to flourish again.

In 1536, the Act of Union between England and Wales was signed and Cardiff became a country town. In 1542, Cardiff gained representation in Parliament, and became a Free Borough. By 1573 Cardiff was made a head port for collection of custom duties. Elizabeth I, in 1581, granted Cardiff its first royal charter and by 1608 Cardiff had gained its 2nd royal charter. The last major battle in Wales, the Battle of St Fagans in 1648, was between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians and this allowed Oliver Cromwell to conquer Wales.

By 1801 Cardiff population had decreased to 1,870. In 1793 John Crichton-Stuart the 2nd Marquess of Bute was born and he is called “the creator of modern Cardiff”. In 1815 there was twice weekly boat service between Cardiff and Bristol. The Cardiff Gas Works was established by 1821. From the 1830s Cardiff grew rapidly when the Marquess of Bute built a dock which would become linked to the Taff Vale Railway. This allowed Cardiff to become the main port for the export of coal. Between 1840 and 1870 Cardiff’s population grew by nearly 80 percent and this was mainly due to migration from within Wales and people coming from England and Ireland. By 1881 Cardiff was the largest town in Wales and due its new status it was picked for the site of the University College South Wales and Monmouthshire in 1893.

The town of Cardiff faced challenges over the next few years with another port and railway surpassing them in coal exports. But the administration of the coal trade stayed in Cardiff, in particular its Coal Exchange, where the price of coal was determined for the British market. By 1905 Cardiff was granted city status and by the first half of the 20th century the population had reach 250,000. The city went into a decline between the 1st and 2nd World Wars but by 1955 Cardiff was made the capital city of Wales.

Cardiff Castle was once a Roman fortress then a Norman stronghold and later a Victorian gothic palace. It is located in the heart of Cardiff. With its opulent interiors of gilding, wood carvings, murals and stained glass to the exposed Roman walls and medieval keep and the wartime shelters there is something for everyone to see.

Llandaff Cathedral lies in the ancient “City of Llandaff” much of which now a conservation area. The city of Cardiff surrounds the conservation area but you will find it surprisingly tranquil and unspoiled. The cathedral dates from 1107 and was heavily damaged during the 2nd World War so you will find a mix of old and new.

The Animal Wall is located alongside Cardiff Castle. It is one of the most photographed places in Cardiff. It was designed by architect William Burges for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. The best view is at the southern boundary of Bute Park from Castle Street.

St. Fagans National Museum of History stands in the grounds of the magnificent St. Fagans Castle. It is a later 16th century manor house donated by the Earl of Plymouth. Over 50 original buildings from all over Wales and covering different historical periods have been re-built in the 100-acre parkland. You can see how people of Wales have lived and work. There are farmhouses, a row of ironworkers’ cottages, a medieval church and a Victorian school to name a few. Make sure to visit the gardens which are considered to be among the best in Wales. There are also workshops where craftsmen demonstrate their traditional skills. You can purchase some of their produce.

Dyffryn Gardens located on the outskirts of Cardiff and is a 55-acre Edwardian garden design around a Victorian mansion house. This garden is one of the best of its time period. There are intimate garden rooms, formal lawns and a glasshouse with a cacti and orchid collection. In the heart of the estate you will find Dyffryn House and everyone is free to play the pianos, try your hand at a game of billiards and sit and take in the views. The arboretum located on the east side of the garden has one of the most significant collection of trees in the National Trust covering 22-acres. Even Doctor Who has been filmed here.

Caerphilly Castle is located 12 kms from Cardiff and is worth a visit. Marcher Lord Gilbert de Clare built this castle to stop the rise of the powerful Prince of Wales Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1268. So, he built the biggest castle in Wales and the only castle in all of Britain bigger is Windsor Castle. See the massive walls, towers and gatehouses and the water defences. After the death of the Prince of Wales it passed into the hands of ruthless and greedy Hugh Despenser a favourite of Edward II. See the most popular site in the castle, its own leaning tower, which came about from the Civil War when the tower was damaged by gunpowder.

For the sports fans you can take in a Cardiff Blue Rugby game or Cardiff Devils hockey team. If you wish to go shopping go to the Royal Arcade built in 1858 the oldest shopping arcade in the city. You could take a tour of Hensol Castle Distillery located 18 kms outside of Cardiff where they make gin. Take a short boat ride and spend time at Flat Holm Island. These are just a few of the places and things available to you in Cardiff.

A few places to stay:

Voco St David’s Cardiff -

Located on Cardiff’s waterfront with its ceiling to floor windows.

Park Plaza Cardiff -

This is a central city hotel within walking distance of many attractions.

Where bespoke design meets classic Welsh heritage.

Welsh Cakes Recipe

8 oz self-rising flour

2 oz castor sugar

4 oz margarine or butter

1 or 2 handfuls of sultanas

1 or 2 eggs depending on mixture


Makes around 10-12

Sieve flour into bowl, then add margarine or butter, rub in finely together.

Add sugar and sultanas and mix.

Add 1 egg and mix. The consistency needs to be bound together, so if too dry add another egg.

Roll out on a floured board, to about a quarter inch thick.

Cut using a 2-inch (approx.) cutter, then cook on a greased pan, or bake stone, on a medium heat for about 4 to 5 minutes each side.

The exact cooking length will depend on what you are cooking your Welsh cakes on, but keep a close eye - too short a period and they won’t be cooked in middle, and cooked for too long and they will be dry. When touched during cooking they should feel springy, but not wet to the touch (no mixture should come out of the middle).

Once cooked dust with castor sugar and enjoy.

Once cooked dust with castor sugar and enjoy.a on where you can travel now. #timetotravel

JANET RADLEY//Helen Thompson Travel//Telephone 416 967 4404 ext.134

36 views0 comments


bottom of page