Last weekend we headed into Cardiff on the search for free things to do for challenge number two. As soon as I saw what the new challenge was I new exactly where to go. But I spent some time researching on the internet too in case there were some places I hadn’t thought of.
First port of call was the National Museum of Wales, it’s somewhere we haven’t visited since the older two boys were very small so I was excited to explore the museum with them again. I love the fact that Museums now are free to be enjoyed, their a great place to learn about our history, art, the natural world. We started in the “Origins” section and worked our way through the displays and exhibits. Trystan in particular was in his element, he loves fossils and the museum had the largest collection he has seen to date. Better still for him was that he was able to touch some of them. Watching his expressions as he explored and read all he could was amazing. Erin loved the walk through exhibit of the solar system, a darkened area with the star constellations twinkling in little led lights. Rowan was scared to death of the dinosaurs and various animals in one area of the exhibition so he moved through quickly with his dad. Luc loved the dinosaurs and thoroughly enjoyed the area where you are able to explore various exhibits up close using large microscopes.
We decided not to go into the ceramics gallery on this occasion as we had already spent two hours there and the boys were desperate to be allowed to run around for a bit. The National Museum is on several major bus routes and there is some parking available at NCP car parks nearby. However it is only a five minute walk from the centre of Cardiff and ten minutes from the central train station.
As the boys needed to let off steam our next free spot was Bute Park. A large park located right next to Cardiff Castle. It took us about ten minutes to walk to the entrance from the museum.
On our way from the Museum we stopped outside Cardiff City Hall to look at the architecture. You can go into the City Hall free of charge and look at the City’s achieves. There was a wedding about to take place when we were there so we opted not to go in on this occasion and continued our way to Bute Park.
Bute Park is Cardiff’s largest city centre park steeped in history. It was originally created as the private gardens for Cardiff Castle for the third Marquess of Bute between 1973 and 1901 by his head gardener Andrew Pettigrew. However in 1947 the fifth Marquess gave a large portion of the gardens to the public along with Sophia Gardens and Cardiff Castle. Bute Park boosts a great events programme throughout the year and is open from until half an hour before dusk daily. There is so much to see and enjoy in Bute Park that hours can easily be spent here. I’ve spent many an hour over the years under taking various activities or just simply relaxing and watching the world go by while I was studying at the Institute of Cardiff.
Once we had ventured through the West Lodge entrance the boys ran happily along the paths. We spotted a water bus stop which costs £3 per adult and £2 per child to ride into Cardiff Bay, something we made a mental note to come back and enjoy on our next visit to the park. We walked towards the Gorsedd Stones which are there to mark Cardiff’s hosting of the National Eisteddfod in 1978, their quite deceiving in their ancient appearance. The daffodils were still in full bloom and Erin squealed with delight as we walked between them.
The boys quickly spotted some of the Sculptures that form the sculpture trail throughout the park. We didn’t make it as far as the Arboretum on this occasion as it was getting a bit chilly. But the Arboretum is well worth a visit, it was created in 1947 and has some of the biggest examples of Champion Trees species the UK. There is also the BlackFrairs Friary which is the medieval Friary remains. It is one of only two full friary layouts in Wales.
You can also access Sophia Gardens from Bute park which is best known as the home of Glamorgan County Cricket Club. As we walked around we could see areas that were cordoned off and under going restoration so there were a few places you can’t venture into at present. There were a few people in the park while we were there but it was relatively quite, I think mainly because the weather was chilly and slightly overcast. We enjoyed a walk along the various paths for about 40 minutes before the boys and Erin started tiring.
Taking this as a cue to move on to our next destination we started back towards the West Lodge entrance. I asked the boys if they had spotted any animals on the way to Bute Park. The older two looked a bit puzzled so I said they needed to look everywhere to see if they could spot animals watching people. Trystan and Luc quickly spotted the sculptures of Animals along the wall between Bute Park and Cardiff Castle.
The Animal Wall was created by William Burgess and has undergone cleaning and restoration in recent years and was completed in 2010. The original Wall featured nine animals and stood right outside Cardiff Castle. But due to the road being widened in the 1920’s the wall was moved to it’s current position to the west of the Castle and six further animals added. In the 1930’s a series of comic strip featuring the antics of the animals ran in the South Wales Echo making the animal wall widely known. We asked the boys how many of the animals they could name as we passed. I was quite surprised how many they were able too!
We were all getting hungry by this point so decided to return to the car and get something to eat on route to our final destination of the day. We walked through the city centre, passed the shops on the pedestrianised zone. There is always some form of street entertainment happening there in the form of buskers, entertainers or promotions work. Many asking for donations. We passed Iron Man on our way back to the car much to Rowan’s delight.
After a quick food and comfort break we headed back out of Cardiff on the link road to the M4 junction 33, round the roundabout on the junction and doubled back on ourselves to St Fagans Museum of Welsh Life. It’s been year’s since we visited, in fact it was about a year before entrance became free. Although Luc has visited since with his school. Although entrance is free there is a £3 per car parking fee but it is also on the bus route and can be walked from the city outskirts.
I still remember visiting St Fagans as a child with my parents and was thrilled by all the buildings that had been rebuilt there. I remember going into them all and exploring them. Of course since then more buildings have been relocated there from around wales and development has occurred with in the museum. We had arranged to meet my mother in law and one of my brother in laws there and the children were delighted to see their grandmother and uncle.
It was extremely busy at St Fagans the afternoon we visited but the sun had finally started to appear and the earlier chill had almost disappeared. We headed towards St Fagans Castle and gardens to explore.
The lakes below the castle had ducks on them and we stopped to let Erin watch them. I’d forgot some spectacular the grounds were here. The boys had freedom to run around within reason too while we walked leisurely along behind.
We went into the Castle grounds and explored the walled gardens and terraces.
Then we made our way up along one of the paths back towards the visitors centre and beyond to some of the houses. It was gone 4pm by this time and we knew the museum would be closing at 5pm so we opted to explore a few of the houses close to the visitor centre on this occasion.
The boys were getting tired by now too so we only managed five maybe six houses before it became apparent we would have to start heading home. Venturing into a few of the houses I remembered the delight I felt years earlier at discovering the rooms laid out as they would have been when they were occupied. The smell of peat fires I find homely and comforting and was pleased to discover a few smouldering in the houses. We’ll certainly be making more of an effort to return to St fagans soon and continue exploring the houses and buildings.
One thing struck me on our way home that not only were the places we visited free but they were steeped in history and we all learnt so much from our visits. So not only were our hot spots free but they were educational as well.