Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wales Diary, From Celtic Village to Castle Gardens

St Fagans Castle Grounds
The sun continued to shine for the remainder of my stay.  Nothing short of miraculous, and it created a conundrum for my last day in Wales.  I pored over the train and bus routes, but to no avail:  a stretch of wild Welsh coastal path where I might ramble as I quoted from Dylan Thomas (or something of the sort) was simply out of reach.

St Fagans Castle
There was, at least, an open air National History Museum I could get to by taxi, and that became the destination by default, if not by choice.  The Museum stands on the grounds of a bona fide castle, name of St Fagans.  I would be outdoors, I thought, in some facsimile of countryside, at least, and I could add a third castle to my visit’s collection.

The taxi driver was a fine raconteur, with several past lives for the telling.  The one I remember was his stint as a food photographer.  “It’s all a fraud,” he said breezily.  He proceeded to describe the thoroughly unappetizing steps involved to prepare a thoroughly photogenic roast turkey.  I’ve repressed the details, but they were fascinating, if appalling.

St Fagans National History Museum is one of those ultimate tourist destinations:  “the most visited heritage attraction in Wales,” and “the second most visited open-air museum in Europe, attracting over 600,000 visitors a year.”

Gwalia Stores
I’ll confess I tend to enjoy such things, having cut my teeth on Old Sturbridge Village and that pièce de résistance in the States, Colonial Williamsburg, both of which I have gone back to visit as an adult (and would go again).  Unlike Old Sturbridge Village and Colonial Williamsburg, however, entrance to St Fagans is free.

Kennixton Farmhouse
The only buildings at St Fagans that stand where they have always stood are the Kennixton Farmhouse and St Fagans Castle.  All the remainder, I was advised, were rescued from all over Wales, dismantled, brought to St Fagans, and reconstructed on the castle’s one hundred acre grounds.

My map showed 58 stopping points in all, so I thought, OK, I’ve got all day, I’ll start at number 1, follow the map, and go ad seriatim right through to number 58.  This soon proved to be the dumbest idea on the planet.  For one, impossible to accomplish in a single day.  For two, as a person with not just a bad sense of direction, but no sense of direction at all, impossible to figure out, even aided by excellent signs and a crystal clear map.

Lounging Turkeys
Anyway, why, on such a beautiful day, would I want to bury my head in a map when I could look at lounging turkeys, a perfect specimen of a guinea hen, or a fine passel of extremely pink pigs?

I consulted the map one more time, decided on two sites I would for sure take in—the Celtic Village and the Castle—and then began to wander.

Here is some of what I saw:

Thatched Cottage

In Gwalia Stores

Celtic Village



St. Teilo's Church

In a Cottage

In the Cockpit

Ewenny Pottery Kiln

In Gwalia Stores

Doves at St Fagans Castle

Castle Grounds

Trellised Walkway on the Castle Grounds

Leaving the castle grounds wasn’t easy, but the museum closed at five PM and the hour was nigh.  The obliging information desk staff summoned me a taxi, and I was whisked back to Cardiff Bay.

It was my last night in Wales, and, as I had no concert to attend, I decided it was high time I ate somewhere other than the hotel.  The tourist office proclaimed the Bayside Brasserie the absolute best for fresh fish, and it was “conveniently located” in Mermaid Quay.  This required some bravery on my part, as Mermaid Quay, to me, looked suspiciously like Touristaville Central or, worse yet, a multi-level mall.

And so it may have been, but the evening was glorious.  I had my pick of seats at the Brasserie and a prime view of Cardiff Bay, looking toward Penarth.  My cornish sole was delectable; the wine excellent.  For dessert?  No sticky toffee pudding and custard sauce, alas, but I did console myself with a fine lemon tart.

I paid my final respects to the Wales Millenium Centre, where I'd heard such magnificent music the night before, and headed back to the hotel.

Wales Millenium Centre


And so concludes Wales Diary.  The first four parts can be found at these links: Cardiff Bay Barrage here, Cardiff Castle here, The Covered Streets of Cardiff here, and Art and the Aquabus here.

Listening List

For a Spotify Playlist of the music of John Metcalf (composer and Artistic Director of the Festival), click on Wales Diary.

The road that led to Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music began with the discovery of a piece called Mapping Wales, and through that piece, to meeting its composer, John Metcalf (also Artistic Director of the Festival).  Here is its first section, Tranquillo.  The entire piece can be found here (harp and string quartet) and here (harp and string orchestra).

© John Metcalf.


A three-part series of posts on the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music concerts I attended while in Wales, including listening lists, can be found at these links: Crossing a Bridge of Dreams here, Ancient Instruments, Timeless Sounds here, and Worlds Entwined here.

Credits:  The first tourist attraction quotation is from the St Fagan’s Visitor Guide; the second can be found here.


Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

As I was listening to John Metcalf's soothing strains, studying your beautiful photographs and reading your thoughtful words, I wondered, as I always wonder, why you don't have more followers. I feel like shouting from the rooftops what a magnificent blog you have, how inspirational it makes me feel, what longing it creates in me to be more open to the world.

Anyway, your photos are stunning (the pigsty? Hilarious. The wares in the shop? Adorable. And oh, wouldn't it be fine to live in that thatched cottage?) and the tales of your trip make me wistful that it has concluded.

Friko said...

The intrepid traveller does it again.

For somebody who professes to have no sense of direction and lacks (or so she says) various other accomplishments that facilitate perambulations in foreign parts, you don't half get around, missis.

I dread to think what you'll get up to in quiet little Shropshire valleys.

Suze said...

I like that you paid your respects at the end of the tour. Seems very appropriate and quite in keeping with what I perceive of your personality.

I remember reading, I think in an advertising class, the nasty things they do to food and the nasty things that stand in place of food for shoots. Shudder.

klahanie said...

Hi Susan,
Your Wales diary has been an enticing recollection and with the interesting photos to accompany, I'm delighted that I could come along for the ride.
I hope you partook somewhat with the allure of the Welsh language.
Thank you for this, Susan.
In kindness, Gary

Scott said...

I did what you said. I went straight to Tranquillo. So he does have his moments. Let me explain. The plain chants. Alright I can get a grip. Hope. For all of us. Even the unholy. like me. I liked them so much. Tranquillo was a stoics song for me. Yes. we have had our times but let's move on. At times I was in serious trouble of breaking down, but there was a persevering tone of carrying on.

Rubye Jack said...

Looks like you enjoyed another lovely day in Wales Susan! I keep wondering if you're by yourself or with a friend btw. I like women who can do things like this alone and enjoy them, but sometimes it really is nicer to have a friend to share thoughts with. Regardless, thank for the trip through the Celtic Village.

shoreacres said...

I laughed at that pigsty, too. My mother always told me my room looked like one. If it looked like that, I would have been glad of it!

The other related note: I have a friend who spent a couple of years photographing food. Hairspray on burgers, and so on. It's no wonder nothing in a chain restaurant looks anything like its magazine image.

I'm printing out your whole series and mailing it to my friend who lives on the coast of Wales, in Twywn. She is adamant about non-use of the computer, so I'm forced to make use of the old-fashioned post. But she'll enjoy them immensely. Another friend in Cardiff will enjoy them, too. He's just coming out of several months of cancer treatment and is sounding inclined to get out and about - he and his wife might even find a nice day trip here, as they've made a move from England to Wales also and are still getting oriented.

The village is wonderful, and I do love to watch a blacksmith work. When I was in Liberia, there still were blacksmiths in the bush villages, though they no longer were in charge of making the "country money" - long, slender twisted iron rods that were about 25 to the dollar when I was there.

Dixie said...

I'd love to visit the Ewenny Pottery Kiln; anything to do with art grabs my attention... so many areas, so little time. Much like your map of 1-58, it certainly would have been a hard choice for me. No wonder those turkeys were lounging!
Once again I enjoyed the music. Though I was expecting a little 'hippity-hop' somewhere in 'Tranquillo', no problem; there's so many other wonderful tunes on the albulm! I am now a "Spotify fan". Loved this!

Heidrun Khokhar said...

Susan you are hilarious! Cab ride and stories of food photography and then suddenly a castle ground with too ugh to take in. Sweet!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan .. I think that Outdoor Museum is pretty special - so I'm glad you got out there .. there was a tv programme recently where they reassembled a wharf-house .. they weren't sure exactly what it was used for .. but it was probably used for security purposes .. I can't find it on the Museum site.

I look forward to getting out to Cardiff now .. so much to see and do out there ..

Loved your series of posts .. and you did find your way home!?!

Cheers Hilary

Mark Kerstetter said...

"a fine passel of extremely pink pigs" - I'd like to steal that line for a poem.

There's a beautiful melancholy feeling to this post, aided in part by the Tranquillo, like I went on the excursion and it was coming to an end. You convey the impression of someone who is rather methodical and discovering again and again how to throw out the rule book - that's a great quality, especially for a travel writer.

I had a job once making deserts for photo shoots. Never had to do anything weird to the food, just make them as normal, except they had to look perfect. and of course for a photo shoot you can't just make one. It was very hard work.

Jayne said...

No matter where you ramble, Sue, you convey your experience so adroitly that it's a joy to go anywhere with you. I've got some catching up to do on your Wales Diary and I'm working my way backwards, but I'll get there (slowly).

I could just picture you highlighting 58 points on the map, all well intended and determined, only to toss it out the window. I had this little screenplay running in my head as I pictured you plotting your course.

Sometimes, even the tourist traps surprise us.

Susan Scheid said...

Cathy: Such kind words for “me little blog”! As for being open to the world, seems to me you are, in spades. Glad you enjoyed this little trip to cyber-Wales and, above all, John Metcalf’s music!

Friko: Trust me in this: you would not want me to lead the way if you want to get where you’re going! Looking forward to the Shropshire valleys (though I know this hasn’t been the norm, to say the least, today it looks like you have sun, while here we have thunderstorms).

Suze: BTW, on the Metcalf piece with this post, the core of it is the piano piece Endless Song. You hear it in full in the last movement.

Gary: And I was pleased to have you along! As for the Welsh language, I’m afraid I remain mute, though I did love trying (and failing) to decipher the signage. Good thing they’re willing to help us mono-lingos out!

Scott: Once again, just love the way you describe the music. Tranquillo, the first movement of Mapping Wales, is an interesting one, given the idea of moving on. The whole of Mapping Wales unfolds to arrive at a beautiful, full-bodied song. I hope you’ll have the chance to hear the whole piece at some point. A wonderful journey (well, of course I would say that, as it is the work that propelled me on now two journeys to Wales).

Rubye Jack: Generally I travel, at least on big trips, in the company of other(s). In this case, while I traveled alone, I was in terrific company much of the time: tea with John Metcalf, a breakfast with him and Dolly Metcalf, rides to and from concerts with really fun and interesting people, and wonderful conversations before, at intermission, and after each concert. And of course there were those taxi drivers! From this experience, I do think a great way to travel alone is to do it in conjunction with a music festival or something similar. What was particularly wonderful about this festival is how tremendously friendly everyone was. I never for one second felt like an outsider.

Susan Scheid said...

shoreacres: I did think that was one classy pigsty, giving the lie to what we’ve all been brought up to think! I do hope your friends enjoy the posts, and that your friend in Cardiff might soon feel up to getting out and about. One of the nice things about the scale of Cardiff is you can do small trips out; no need to be on your feet the whole day to take in something nice. Love your story of the Liberian blacksmiths. What brought you to Liberia?

Dixie: I was quite taken with that kiln. Also, Ewenny was a name known to me from the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music, as the Ewenny Priory, which looks absolutely magical, is the venue for one of the concerts each year. Among other things, the concert is by candlelight. I was sorry not to be able to make it to that concert. Some pictures of the priory can be found here. As for the hippity-hop, as you now know, the Vivace from Mapping Wales fully fills the bill. So glad you were able to get on Spotify. There are some great Metcalf pieces there that I wasn’t able to post by other means, including the lovely Three Mobiles, Paths of Song, and Paradise Haunts.

Heidrun: So glad you enjoyed the post and got a chuckle out of it too!

Hilary: You’re right about the Outdoor Museum, and we’re not alone in thinking so, that’s for sure. One thing I didn’t mention, but enjoyed learning from a Welsh couple from the Snowdonia area with whom I shared a table at lunch was that they come back repeatedly to see what’s new, as the site is always evolving. St. Telio’s Church was apparently only recently opened this time around, and it was quite beautiful. And, yes, as you see, I did manage to find my way home. But it was never a sure thing—it’s quite hair-raising to get out of the JFK airport and up to Poughkeepsie!

Mark: I will look forward to that poem. They were quite the sight! As for photo shoots of food, yes, I can imagine it’s frightfully hard work, even without the odd “preparations.”

The Tranquillo movement from Mapping Wales did seem a fitting close to the post. So pleased it seemed so to you, too. As for your statement, “you convey the impression of someone who is rather methodical and discovering again and again how to throw out the rule book,” as you now know, those words were the direct inspiration for the In C post that follows this! (Cannot imagine where you get the idea I might be rather methodical [tongue in cheek] . . .)

Jayne: And I am pleased to have you join in and hope you enjoy the cyber-trip to Wales on the wings of Metcalf’s beautiful music, too! As for the Outdoor Museum: it was flat-out fun, and the castle grounds were truly beautiful. Everyone was having such a good time (of course the sun(!) was out), one couldn’t help but smile. There’s good reason why it’s so popular and clearly rewards repeat visits.

Brigitta Huegel said...

Dear Sue,
having access to Internet in Berlin for 2 days, I had the joy to read your diary! Beautiful written, and beautiful pictures, thank you!
I know a food photographer too - haha, in Germany we say "Not everything that shines is gold".
But you got good food - that's giving strength - even if it was after 58 points you might have seen at the museum. From (living) turkeys I always keep distant - they are really quarrelsome, I find.
Wales definitely is worth a travel - and you have been extremely lucky with the weather (another German saying is: "When angels travel, the sun shines") Wish you a beautiful week-end! Britta

Susan Scheid said...

Britta: wonderful to hear from you, and so pleased you enjoyed the "cyber-trip" to Wales. Best wishes, as always, to you and yours, and may recovery continue apace!

Bente Haarstad said...

Very good photos from this very interesting and beautiful place.

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