We had our earliest start on the bus tour today, having breakfast at 6.00am and departing the hotel at 7.00am. We had to be at Rosslare and in the queue at the terminal in plenty of time to catch the 8.45am ferry to Pembroke in Wales. I think everyone on the bus was feeling a little sad to be leaving Wales. Just like Scotland beforehand, Ireland had been very welcoming and its people exceptionally friendly. Marg and I would love to return to Ireland some day.
The ferry crossing was four hours. We found some seats by the windows near the stern and spent the time chatting with some of our fellow travellers. The passage was smooth and the time passed relatively quickly. We bought some food on the boat and ate our lunch before we disembarked.
Our travel director, Rachel, was excited to welcome us to her homeland, Wales. Everyone on the bus tour has grown very fond of her and her stories about the places we visit. I sensed that she was particularly proud to be sharing her tales about the country, its history, languages, culture and those of her countrymen and women who went on to achieve fame in the entertainment world. En route to Cardiff, Rachel would say “Anthony Hopkins went to university over there,” and “Bonnie Tyler lives just a few miles down the road here,” and so on. Nearing Swansea, Rachel’s own neck of the woods, she told us, “We’ll be passing the turnoff to my sister’s place up here. … OH, THERE SHE IS! THAT’S MY SISTER IN THE CAR IN FRONT OF US!” It was quite funny. She was so excited. Our bus passed her sister’s car with people standing in the aisles and waving to her sister. Thankfully, she kept her eyes on the road during all these distractions. At a rest stop just a short time later, Rachel’s parents were waiting for us to take some of her heavy luggage off her hands. So the little that we saw of Swansea before we were on our way again was essentially tied up with a family affair for Rachel.
To our right we saw the industrial Swansea, with smoke billowing from the chimneys of the steelworks. Soon after, we entered the Welsh capital city, Cardiff. Our destination was Cardiff Castle.
Cardiff Castle was originally built by the Romans. Parts of it were constructed by the Normans. Over the centuries it fell into disrepair. By the early 1800s, it had come into the possession of the 2nd Marquess of Bute. He spent much of his time living in Scotland, but his business interests were in Cardiff, where he developed the coal industry and improved the shipping industry. In Industrial Britain, he was in the right place at the right time and he became very wealthy. When his son, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, inherited the castle and his father’s wealth, he set about remodelling the castle living quarters to his own satisfaction. He employed a leading Victorian architect and gave him licence to be innovative.
The resulting modifications to the old castle brought about one of the most extravagant castles in the British Isles – in fact, probably in all of Europe. Room after room became a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes, with painted and tiled walls illustrating biblical scenes, fairy tales and characters from literature. The texts on the walls represented the many different languages the Marquess spoke. He had one of the world’s first flushing water closets. He had a bedroom with a mirrored ceiling. He even had a room dedicated to Geoffrey Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales. On the floor of one room the tiles were laid out in the formation of a maze, where the Marquess could wander around, lost in meditation. He was an opium addict, and no doubt some of his design ideas must have come to him while he was in an opium-induced state of consciousness.
The Marquess gifted the castle and its grounds to the citizens of Cardiff. Every rate payer in the city has a ‘key to the castle’ and is free to enter the castle free of charge at any time it is open. Despite it’s ‘over the top’ extravagance, the castle represents outstanding craftsmanship and is quite beautiful in its own way. Please read on after these photos.
This evening many of us attended a dinner with entertainment provided by the Spirit of Wales, a talented group of young Welsh singers. It was held at the Wales Millennium Centre. Some songs were performed in the Gaelic language and some in English. A couple were audience participation songs, and some were humorous. The evening finished with everyone in the room standing while the Welsh national anthem was sung. It was a fun evening and the food was fantastic.