We had such a lovely castle-hunting weekend! Kyle got off of work early on Friday and we drove to Cardiff, just an hour or so into Wales from the English border. We didn’t get out of town in time to check out a castle on the way there, so we spent a nice evening settling in and had a wonderful Italian dinner near the waterfront. Our waiter was fantastic and so friendly, seriously wonderful service. Nolan developed an instant and rather intense crush on a girl at the table next to us, so he was pretty much occupied the whole time. This restaurant was great, and they even had a contraption specifically intended for heating up baby food. We’re talking Tommy Tippee brand, people, not just some reasonably suitable vessel.
Unfortunately that’s where the baby-hospitality of Wales kinda came to an end. There were baby changes everywhere, just like in England, and other folks were also happy to get us a pitcher/bowl/something of hot water to heat Nolan’s food in, just like in England, but the experience was just different than it’d been thus far. It may have been because we were staying so close to the city center and the universities, so there were a lot of young (read: selfish), commercially-minded people in that area, but generally it seemed that Nolan was more of an annoyance to people than simply another human, albeit smaller, who needs respect and kindness just as much as anybody else. Wales is a truly beautiful country, but Kyle and I agree that the culture is a little more rough-around-the-edges than we’ve found in England.
Saturday we took a twenty minute drive to Castell Coch (meaning Red Castle in Welsh), which is a medieval castle that fell into disrepair and was built back up in the late 1800s by a man who had entirely too much money at his disposal. He hired famed architect and designer William Burges to turn it into an “occasional summer house for parties,” and proceeded to pretty much never use it because it wasn’t actually conducive to having guests due to the fact that there were no guest bedrooms. Fortunately, his wife fully partook of the building after her husband’s death when she retired there to grieve for several years in a gorgeous domed bedchamber with 270 degree views of the valley. It was so beautiful! Because it’s such a small castle, we easily went through it and thoroughly saw all there was to see in about an hour and a half. If you go, definitely get the audioguide. Super informative!
After Castell Coch east of Cardiff, we headed a bit north of Cardiff to Caerphilly Castle. When we got into Caerphilly we stopped at a little restaurant and got take away (which we ate in their completely empty storage area on the second floor, with a killer view of the castle on the other side of the moat right across the street, while we talked about how poorly they’re using that space and how much better we could do it because we don’t have pride issues at all), then went up to a pub on another side of the castle so Kyle could have a pint and we could feed Nolan. Again, fantastic view of the castle. Again, incredibly poorly managed. Shame 😦 There’s actually a famous Caerphilly Cheese that we didn’t get a chance to taste, but it’s clearly a big deal. They have a statue of it. A cheese statue. A statue of cheese. This statue sits in a roundabout so you can see it from all sides. The cheese is a big deal. If you go to Caerphilly, apparently you should try the cheese.
Caerphilly Castle is the largest castle in all of Wales and took us about three hours to get through. The plaques around the property are interesting, and there are great resources all about geared specifically towards children. It was constructed by the de Clare family in the thirteenth century, and is so well fortified. That place would have been nearly impenetrable! As most did, it fell into disrepair and was restored only in the past hundred years or so by the same family that took care of Castell Coch. It was a great stop!
That night we headed out for dinner around 8 and went to a great restaurant in the city center called Spiceberry. It’s a little second-floor restaurant featuring food from a narrow coastal area of southwestern India called Kerala. When you walk into a random Indian restaurant and at three of the five occupied tables sit old women in saris, you’ve done something right. Dinner was fantastic, and fantastically spicy. Nolan was less impressed than Kyle and I were, so we scooted out of there pretty quickly.
Nolan fell asleep on the walk back to the hotel, which was a great thing because, while we’d noticed quite a few rambunctious teenagers about on our walk to dinner, may have noticed/avoided a bit of vomit here and there on the sidewalks, everyone was utterly plastered by 9:30pm. There was the troupe of Spartan soldiers walking around. There was the group of girls walking like they were holding their pee in because their skirts were so short and tight and their heels were too high and platformy. There was the bachelorette party that descended upon a Burger King. Then there was the party bus that let an entire hen party of notably loud girls off on a sidewalk so they could “relieve” themselves…on a church. A CHURCH. Here’s how that one went down:
Kyle: Wow, they’re loud. They’re so drunk!
Emma: Oi, that’s gonna hurt in the morning.
Kyle: Why are they going into the church? Isn’t it closed? That’s not even a door.
Emma: Because even in their current state, they feel a need to cleanse their souls.
Kyle: Oh they’re not going in…holy s*%#! She’s peeing! They’re all peeing!
Both of us: [aghast, laughing in disbelief, because one must process these things somehow]
It was bad, kids. Bad.
After peacefully waking up Sunday morning sans-hangover, we walked down to Cardiff Castle, right in town, on the other side of city center from our hotel. This was another huge castle! We took a good long time, I think two and a half hours, going through it. And they offered my favorite…audioguides! There was also a guided tour of the private Victorian apartments designed by William Burges to replace a medieval manor house that stood on that corner of the property. The eleventh century castle was built on the site of a third century Roman fort, was then highly altered during the middle ages, and ultimately became an occasional family home for the same Lord Moneybags who took care of the other two castles we visited. Our guide of the apartments was so knowledgeable! It was a great tour.
The walls of the castle were more recently used as air raid shelters for the people of Cardiff during WWII. They’ve restored the interiors of the walls to reflect that time as an exhibition, and I think that was probably Kyle’s favorite part of the whole tour! I married a WWII junkie. We ended up climbing to the top of the keep for a gorgeous view of the whole city before heading off to a quick take away lunch before we checked out of the hotel.
On our way back, about an hour outside of Cardiff, we stopped at Chepstow Castle. It’s a little off the beaten path in the midst of a quiet, idyllic little Welsh town. We arrived with juuuuuuust enough time to quickly change a diaper before heading into the castle and running around like mad to see it all before they closed! We could have used another fifteen minutes or so, but we saw it all pretty sufficiently in half an hour. It was absolutely gorgeous, definitely my favorite stop of the weekend! All ruiny and mysterious…just my speed. Seeing it near sunset didn’t hurt, I suppose.
A delicious stop at the Gamekeepers rounded out the weekend, and now we’re wrapping up our last week in England before going to Belgium for the weekend. I expected to be ready to be done with this trip and anxious to get home, but I’m really not! I don’t feel like we’re finished yet! Crazy to think that we’ll be home a week from tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!