Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

A Football Tourist’s Guide To Cardiff – Part Three

(You can find Part One here and Part Two here).

After another good night’s sleep (guaranteed) on the Hypnos mattress (I looked it up) in the Premier Inn, we were ready to head home from Cardiff.

Except we weren’t.

We’d had a great time here so far but the weather had got in the way somewhat – forcing us indoors for much of the weekend. And there were still unticked items on my itinerary. Plus we hadn’t really learned much about Wales since arriving here two days earlier (other than they don’t really drink much dark beer round here). And that needed to be put right.

We were in no particular rush to get home. Our Sundays are usually spent whipping up something creative from the match the day before. But Lee had already done his vlog from yesterday’s match. And there was no way I was writing my blog after a five-hour journey home.

Cardiff Garden Centre

We couldn’t face two successive Premier Inn breakfasts, so we headed to the nearby garden centre for breakfast today. It’s not somewhere we’d have thought of, but it was recommended by the woman who’d been so incredulous at our visit to the opera.

It was raining heavily this morning and we sprinted from the car park into the greenhousey bit of the garden centre.

For years I refused to set foot inside a garden centre, believing that to be a sign of middle age. But I don’t care about that any more. Obvs I AM middle aged. But nor am I constrained by biases so much these days. Plus they’re magical places at Christmas and I got my dearly beloved Ralphie from a garden centre.

We strode through the store and followed the signs for the caff at the back. We were the first customers and were quickly seated and presented with the menus.

CAKE FOR BREAKFAST! Oh that was an evil seed to sew…

I cast the cake menu aside (all the time thinking about cake) and ordered an Earl Grey and a Full English (hmm I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had Victoria Sponge).

Oh my word this was a wonderful breakfast. The black pudding was the highlight; it melted in my mouth and was spicy like haggis.

Now I wanted cake so we left the cafe without delay before I could be tempted.

We couldn’t go out the way we came in (a COVID one-way system, I think) and our exit route took us in the direction of some woollens. Ooh hats! A tangerine jumper! But there was one item I could not resist.

I fell in love with these gloves instantly. They’re fleecy on the inside, they fit my tiny hands perfectly, they’re soooooo toasty and they even have magic material on the pointer fingers so I can use my phone with my gloves on. In fact, because the fingers have corners (unlike my actual fingers) it’s actually easier to type whilst wearing them. Oh what I’d have given for these gloves at Birmingham! They would be perfect for winter at the football. Where had they been all my life?

But now for some tourism! We had planned on visiting The Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park; however this was only open in the week. That was a shame, as it offered the opportunity to go down’t pit, which would have been a fascinating experience. One for next time! Onwards instead to the remaining item on my itinerary…

St Fagans National Museum of History

We knew this to be a predominantly outdoors museum, hence avoiding it thus far in the wake of Storm Eunice. But we had ‘fuck it’ mode firmly switched on today. We were still on hollibobs and we were going to make today count. So here we were.

The electronic sign that greeted us insisted we had to have pre-booked and be wearing a mask. I dug out my Fierce snood from the bottom of my handbag (probably not the most hygienic place for it to live, but I hadn’t anticipated having to wear it). I then furiously tapped at my phone in a vain attempt to book in online.

PAYMENT FAILED

Surely I hadn’t spent THAT much this weekend? I reassured myself it was probably just the crappy Welsh WiFi.

The man in the little booth waved us through and said we could pay for the car park once we were inside. It was £6 for car parking but entry to the museum was free.

Okay gloves – you don’t need to get into every photo…

We were greeted by a friendly woman in an incredibly spacious reception area. She explained that the indoor bit was pretty new and there were two galleries in here which we should head upstairs to visit before heading outside.

I’ll confess I knew little about Welsh history prior to my visit here. One of my favourite parts of these Football Tourist Guides is learning about the history of the places we visit. Here I was moved to tears by a number of exhibits, starting with this one from Aberfan.

I was shocked to learn that the Welsh language was actively discouraged in Welsh schools, with children punished for speaking in their native tongue.

I’d heard of this happening elsewhere in the world – for example in the Baltic countries during the Soviet era – but I hadn’t appreciated this suppression of culture had happened so close to home.

I was also appalled to learn about the deliberate flooding of Capel Celyn village to provide water to Liverpool. This was passed by Parliament so as to bypass permission from the Welsh local authorities. Houses and farms were lost. This happened as recently as 1965.

On a lighter note, I was delighted to meet Mistar Urdd, the mascot of ‘The Welsh League of Hope’, designed to ‘promote and protect the Welsh language’ and now ‘the largest youth organisation in Wales’ with over 55,000 members.

I was particularly amused by this photo from his visit to the International Space Station, which made me howl out loud.

Of course football features in every museum, as it’s a vital part of the culture everywhere we visit. Frankly it was predominantly rugby here but I did find this pic of Wales fans at Euro 2016.

You know I like a chippy tea (who doesn’t?), so here’s a coal powered fish frying range built in Cardiff in 1915.

Then I was moved to tears once more as I found myself fixed to the spot watching a video on the Senghenydd pit disaster, which left 439 dead in 1913.

So much important history that I had no idea about. Why don’t they teach this stuff in schools? All I remember from history classes was learning about hieroglyphics.

The rugby section included some seats from Cardiff Arms Park – a similar arrangement to that we’d seen in the Experience Barnsley Museum.

But obvs not as good because (a) the sound wasn’t working; and (b) it was rugby, not football.

Ah Tom Jones! That’s more like it.

The exhibition ended with a section on transport. We’ve seen a lot of vehicles on our travels so far this season but this was the first time we’d seen a horse-drawn hearse.

And that, dear reader, wasn’t half of what this museum had to offer. That was just the two galleries. Next we stepped outside into another world…and another time…

In the vast expanse of the museum’s grounds were many old buildings – the majority of which had been taken down from their original location and rebuilt here, brick by brick. Each building told a story of Wales’ history.

I was surprised to find a cockpit here. Not the type you’d find in an aircraft. But a mini theatre where cockfighting used to take place.

There was a row of village shops. We stepped into one and surveyed the produce. As always, my eyes were drawn to the beer.

And I couldn’t resist this chocolate bar.

There was a blacksmith’s forge, which immediately transported me to Joe Gargery’s forge in Great Expectations.

What larks, eh Pip?

There was a chippy which was unfortunately closed at the time of our visit (pre lunchtime on Sunday).

WTF is heartsease?

The museum staff were lovely and were happy to talk with us at length. They had so many interesting stories to tell eager listeners. The one thing they all mentioned was the current reconstruction of The Vulcan, a famous Cardiff pub.

Hmm we’d have to come back when that was open.

Oakdale Workmens’ Institute was quite the surprise on the inside. This was paid for by the miners out of their wages to repay a loan from the owners of the mine. What a fabulous and grand club this was. I felt quite at home here.

And then – the piece de resistance – St Fagans Castle.

They’ve filmed Dr Who here, apparently.

Technically more of a stately home than a castle, this was formerly a residence of the Earl of Plymouth. Its gardens were huge and we wished we were here on a sunny day so we could appreciate them more. It was a grey day today – still raining but we didn’t seem to be getting wet.

Token archway pic for Martin.

Sadly, most of the castle/house itself had been condemned so we were unable to access more than a couple of rooms.

Whilst we were wowed by everything we were seeing here, the staff were tinged with sadness. The castle and its gardens needed a lot of upkeep and there simply aren’t the funds to maintain it any more. We learned that Tony Blair had decreed that all national museums should be free to enter, so St Fagans could no longer charge people for entry. Whilst they made a little from charging for the car park and could apply for lottery grants, it was nowhere near enough. And thus the gardens (we could now see) were full of dead plants and the castle itself was falling into disrepair. How very sad.

We made our way back to the main building where we’d entered and called into the gift shop before we left. This was the highlight for me.

And I bought another badge for my hat because apparently that’s a thing now.

Lee and I were so pleased we’d made the decision to visit St Fagans. We learned so much about the history of Wales. I know we say this pretty much everywhere we go but that really was one of the best museums we’ve visited. Do not miss this on a visit to Cardiff, dear reader.

But now it was time for us to head home. We set Waze in motion and headed out of Cardiff and out of Wales.

My tummy was soon rumbling again. As we weren’t in a particular hurry to get home, instead of calling in at a service station for a KFC, I called up the CAMRA Good Beer Guide (GBG) app to find a suitable hostelry for lunch. I selected ‘Pubs Serving Lunch Near Me’, switched to map mode, saw we were closing in on Ross-on-Wye, zoomed in on the pubs there…and soon we were parking up outside this little beauty.

The White Lion, Wilton

There were two beers on here today.

Whilst Butty Bach is probably a very nice beer, it’s one I actively ignore (like Bass, Greene King IPA, Doom Bar, etc) because it’s quite common (not that that puts me off the magnificent Titanic Plum Porter). At least I saw it a lot when I was based in the West Midlands. So it was for this reason that I ordered a pint of Wye Valley Bitter, which I wasn’t sure I’d tried before (Untappd confirmed not).

Now this pub was giving off a very strong ‘locals’ vibe. And I mean that in the best possible way (not in the League of Gentlemen sense; not where everyone turns around and stares at you with suspicion; and not in the cliquey cricket club sense). No, the White Lion felt like it was my local and I’d been coming here every week for years.

‘Move your glasses off that table, will you – they’re wanting to sit there’

There was jovial banter between everyone in the back room where we were seated. I saw something land underneath our table and thought someone must have dropped something. But no – the locals were throwing Haribo at each other.

‘Oops sorry about that!’

‘Nooooo that’s fine – you can throw Haribo in my direction any time.’

Indeed it was food we were here for this afternoon. Here’s the Sunday lunch menu.

It’s not often I find myself in a pub on a Sunday. I’m usually at home typing up my adventures from the previous day at the match. Therefore having a roast dinner served to me is a rare treat. I went in for the lamb.

The highlight of this meal was the cauliflower broccoli, which I’d never had before. But everything was delicious.

Indeed the food was so good that we wanted more. I asked for the dessert menu.

Lee went for the cinnamon donuts (sic) which he insisted I try.

‘It’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life!’

And my word the flavour heaven was not too far removed from my experience with the Black Forest Stout from last night.

Meanwhile I’d opted for the sticky toffee pudding because I recalled I’d liked it when I’d tried it in Burton a couple of seasons back.

In a half-hearted attempt to walk off my pudding, I headed out onto the patio overlooking the River Wye, which the locals had been watching gradually rise all afternoon but didn’t seem at all concerned about.

There was some cool pub art out here too.

And – what’s this? – was there a pubcat?!

Back inside, there was much banter between the locals at opposite tables.

‘So are you having a party, then?’

‘Nah it’s not safe with COVID.’

‘You could rig up a marquee outside and have a barbecue. What time d’you want us round?’

‘Well there’s no point inviting you anyway. You’ll be dead after your operation.’

This was a difficult pub to leave. I think it was only the slight fear of drowning that edged us towards the door.

As Lee made a point of enthusing about his pudding to the staff, I went exploring round the pub. I’d spotted another room which had more cool wall art.

Any pub with a picture of a robin gets bonus points from me. This reminded me of Chesterfield Alehouse, which had a random photo of a robin on the toilet wall.

I then remembered that the GBG app had informed me that the upstairs used to be a jail, so I headed up there to have a nose.

Loved this pub. Would definitely recommend for a stop-off if you’re passing this way. We’ll certainly earmark it for future visits down to the South West and South Wales.

When we got back to the car we were shocked to notice that the passenger side window was wide open. I’d been guiding Lee into the parking space from outside the car and we’d forgotten to close it. But because this was clearly ‘the kind of place you can leave your front door unlocked’ nothing had been taken from the car. Perhaps my hat – on the passenger seat – was lucky after all!

Northbound

The next part of the journey was way more perilous than anything we had experienced so far. It was raining heavily and we were off the motorway in search of reasonably-priced fuel (apparently not a thing). Again we were surrounded by flooded fields. We had to veer on to the wrong side of the road to avoid huge puddles. Mercifully the roads were pretty quiet.

We couldn’t find a petrol station anywhere. I couldn’t figure out how to get Waze to flag these up so we resorted back to old faithful Google Maps. Phew! There was a BP garage coming up.

While Lee fuelled up, I trotted into the shop and accosted the cleaner.

‘Is there a toilet in here please?’

‘Oh yes. Follow me – I live that way.’

I followed her through a door marked STAFF ONLY and was so pleased I’d asked.

My brain was well and truly out of diet mode my now (if you hadn’t gathered) and I couldn’t resist these when I saw them on the shelf.

Nom nom.

To stop us from flagging on the latter part of the long journey, we delighted in the latest vlog from The Mad Mistake, as Sunderland had lost at home to Milton Keynes.

And finally it was Black Lace as we bopped our way down the M55.

And that, dear reader, concludes the Football Tourist’s Guide to Cardiff.

Next Up: QPR v Blackpool.

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