(More) Street Art in Cardiff

A while ago, a friend told me about some great new street art in Cardiff city centre. It took me a few weeks to get down there with my camera and check it out, but now that I have I really wanted to share the photos with you all. I love this city!

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Learning to Scythe at Scythe Cymru

DSC_0927As I’ve written about before, I regularly volunteer at Plasnewydd Community Garden in Cardiff. My interest in the garden initially was to learn how to grow vegetables, but I’ve gained so much more from the experience. I’ve learnt about growing food and plants, composting, I’ve made new friends and got to meet lots of people from my neighbourhood. A few weeks ago, me and two other volunteers from the garden braved the drizzle and  headed over to West Wales for a scything workshop. Scythes are making a comeback in modern gardening and farming, and are a clean, environmentally friendly method of cutting long grass that also give you a free workout. After years of wrestling with an unco-operative diesel lawnmower, we recently bought two scythes for cutting the grass in the community garden. And, after a couple of attempts where I think I in particular looked more like a baddie from a bad horror movie, we thought we’d better learn how to do it properly from the professionals.

Scythe Cymru offer, amongst lots of other activities, courses on scything. You can also buy scythes and accessories from them. As soon as we arrived, we knew we were somewhere special. We were greeted by two goats before Philip, our teacher for the day, led us into the barn. This is where he explained to us the basics of putting our scythe together, how to sharpen our scythes and, most importantly, how to be safe.

Once we were all set up, we headed outside to practice our scything technique. I soon learnt where I had been going wrong in the community garden, and with Phil’s expert guidance we were ready to head out into the field and cut some real grass. I must admit, if I had to genuinely do this as a job, the sight of a large field filled with knee high grass would be more than a little daunting. However, having a go and scything a tiny section of that field was fun and taught me a lot that I can take back to the community garden. Plus, when I looked behind me at the area I’d just cut, I was overcome with a sense of pride.

Our afternoon was spent back in the barn where we learnt all about peening. In order to keep your scythe in good working order, you have to make sure that you flatten out the blade at regular intervals. Although I generally have the attention span of a 3 year old child, there are certain tasks that I can really focus on and this is one of them. Peening my scythe blade took me back to when I worked as a ski technician and I would edge and wax hundreds of skis by hand. I was in my element.

Come next summer, our lawn at Plasnewydd Garden will be expertly scythed and looking neat and tidy. Failing that, we might just have to buy a sheep.

The Taff Trail

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We are extremely lucky here in Cardiff. We live in a beautiful capital city with all the amenities and facilities that you would expect to find in such a place, but we also have some amazing green spaces to explore and relax in. Standing in front of the Millennium Stadium and looking up the River Taff, you’d be forgiven for thinking Bute Park is completely surrounded by the city. However, it hides a secret that is there to be found by those willing to venture a bit further.

The Taff Trail, as the name suggests, follows the River Taff from Cardiff all the way up to Brecon, a whopping 55 miles. I’d love to be able to tell you that I’ve walked, or even cycled, the whole route. Alas, for now, the first stage from Bute Park to Llandaff North will have to do.

Most of the trail allows you to forget that you’re anywhere near an urban centre, although the occasional tall building and the spire of Llandaf Cathedral peeping above the treetops don’t let you completely forget. Your surroundings change with every twist and turn of the path as you walk past tree carvings, under roads through beautiful gardens. On the day of my walk we were enjoying some hot, sunny weather and lots of the local kids were cooling off in the weir, daring each other to jump of the bridge.

My Dad and I are already planning to catch a train to Llandaf and tackle the next section of the trail, and I’m hoping to cycle to Castell Coch (8 miles from Cardiff) next time we have some good weather.

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Green Gathering 2014

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I’m not sure whether I’m crazy, stupid or just adventurous but for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to take my two godchildren (aged 9 and 3) camping to the Green Gathering festival at Piercefield Park, Chepstow. On my own.

View of the Severn Bridge from the festival
View of the Severn Bridge from the festival

The Green Gathering is four days of fantastic fun and learning for like minded people who are interested in environmental awareness to get together. The whole festival is run off-grid (which makes for some interesting sourcing of energy) and is particularly aimed at children and families. Under 11s even get their tickets completely free. My godchildren have been begging me to take them camping again all winter, and after a bit of effort I managed to convince them that camping in sub zero January temperatures in the UK is no fun at all and we should wait for the festival instead. I also thought that, as I would have to take them on my own this year, a family focused environment with lots of other children and parents around such as the Green Gathering would make it slightly easier for me. Besides, I wanted to go to the festival anyway and seeing as I didn’t have to pay for the kids’ tickets it seemed a win-win situation for us all.

I was entertained, educated and captivated by every aspect of the Green Gathering, so I can only imagined how itDSC_0426
looked through a child’s eyes. Every inch of the site was packed with offerings of music, arts and crafts, theatre, games, workshops, campaigns and much, much more. I’m sure there are stalls and tents that I didn’t even find during my time there. Although I assume there is some organisation to the event, the festival has the feel of being randomly thrown together. It’s like stumbling across a magical place where fantastic, talented people from all walks of life have suddenly decided to come together and pitch tents to display their wares and talents. Stalls selling recycled clothes and notebooks sat alongside the teenagers’ tent (strictly no adults allowed), a sauna and shower tent and food stands selling some of the best vegan, gluten-free food I have ever tasted.

DSC_0420The site is roughly divided into areas, which not only makes it easier to find what you’re looking for but also maintains the peace. A friend of mine who also visited Green Gathering this year told me about a similar festival he’d attended that hadn’t put quite so much thought into their planning. A stall offering chain-saw wood carving had been set-up between his mum’s disco tent and a relaxation tent. Cue some annoyed disco dancers who couldn’t hear what they were listening to and patrons of the relaxation tent coming out more stressed than when they went in. Thankfully, we had none of those problems at Green Gathering. Village Hill, the central area of the site, offered food stands, clothing and goods stalls and cafes and restaurants to chill out in. Right next door, the kids had their own area DSC_0402complete with vintage fairground rides, trampolines, cargo nets, climbing frames, theatre tent with dress-up, slack-lining and circus skills workshops. A couple of the crew had also set up a construction area and were asking children to help build a ‘pallet palace’. On the Thursday, they began with a huge pile of wooden pallets, saws, hammers and nails and by Sunday afternoon they had created and decorated a fun fort and play area they could all enjoy. The fairground rides and trampolines were good value for money too. Each one was priced at £1.50 per ride, or you could purchase a weekend ticket for £15 that gave you unlimited access. I was even more delighted to discover that the price for the weekend ticket reduces every day, so when I bought them on the Friday morning it only cost me £12 per child. A bargain for something that kept both children entertained for the whole weekend.

Traditional Victorian swing boats. I used to love these too when I was a kid!
Traditional Victorian swing boats. I used to love these too when I was a kid!

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One of the crew gets a free workout operating the carousel
One of the crew gets a free workout operating the carousel
The fairy glade
The fairy glade

Just off from the children’s area was the fairy glade, a magical place where you could learn about nature and maybe even spot a few mystical creatures. The Healing field was suitably situated away from all the action and offered therapies from head massage to reflexology and sessions in yoga and tai chi. The Campaigns Field was a must for information junkies like me. I loved the eclectic mix of tents in this field, where a charity helping traveller communities in Cornwall sat between a vegan sailing school and the women’s tent. I thought it really symbolised the coming together of all the different people who enjoy the festival. A walk through the craft area was difficult to do at any great speed because you were constantly distracted by opportunities to try wood carving, basket weaving and stone masonry to name but a few. Children aren’t patronised at Green Gathering either. If they want to try one of the crafts, they get to do it with the same tools as the adults would.

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Possibly the most carbon neutral paramedics I have ever seen
Possibly the most carbon neutral paramedics I have ever seen

I could go on and on about all the attractions there are to experience at the Green Gathering, there was literally amazing events popping up all over the place. The only downside to festival for me, apart from having to cope with a three-year-old having hourly tantrums, was getting on to and off the site. Moving all our camping gear was not as easy and organised as the festival organisers made it sound on their website and it was a big effort, especially on my own with two children. Having said that, once we were on site we had a great time and I would definitely return armed with the information I have from this year to help me. In fact, my godchildren have already asked me if we can book for next year.

Everyone loves bubbles
Everyone loves bubbles

Photo Challenge: Letters

Wales Millennium Centre

 

Letters are the subject of this week’s photo challenge. I’m always taking photos of signs, graffiti and directions that interest me when I’m travelling. However, I thought that for this challenge I would stay right here in Wales. The Wales Millennium Centre is one of the most iconic buildings in Cardiff. Built from all Welsh wood, slate, steel and glass, the centre was designed as part of the Cardiff Bay regeneration project. It took over 20 years for the idea for a Welsh home for the arts to be realised.

The English inscription reads ‘In these stones horizons sing’. Just as poetic, the Welsh inscription says ‘Creu Gwir Fel Gwydr o Ffwrnais Awen’, which translates into English as ‘Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration’. The letter themselves are actually windows into the building, making it a bright and sociable place that is loved by both visitors and residents. If you go into the 1st floor bar, you can sit in the letters and look out over Mermaid Quay.

Click here to see other entries for this week’s challenge.

 like glass from the furnace of inspiration

Cardiff Bay

After telling you about the Cardiff Bay Barrage, I thought I’d better show you all some of the things that it was built for, as well as some of the older buildings in the area that are important parts of the local history and culture.

Wales Millennium Centre
Wales Millennium Centre

The Wales Millennium Centre is famous as the home of the Welsh National Opera, but there are actually a lot more events and activities that go on there. The carvings on the front of the building, which are also the windows, reads ‘In these stones horizons sing’.

The Pierhead Building
The Pierhead Building

Probably the most noticeable building due to it’s bright red colour, the Pierhead Building was built in 1897 and is the former headquarters of the Bute Dock Company.

The Senedd
The Senedd

The Senedd is where it all happens. It’s the building of the National Assembly for Wales and houses the debating chamber and committee rooms.

Norwegian Church
Norwegian Church

As the name suggests, the Norwegian Church was built as a place of worship for the Norwegian community that once supported the docks. Cardiff’s most famous Norwegian resident was the author Roald Dahl.

The Water Tower
The Water Tower, with the water switched off
Merchant Seafarers' War Memorial
Merchant Seafarers’ War Memorial and St David’s Hotel and Spa in the background
Scott Antarctic Memorial
Scott Antarctic Memorial

One of my favourite facts about Cardiff is that this is where Captain Scott departed from on his last voyage in the SS Terra Nova on 15th June 1910.

Cardiff Bay Barrage

When I moved to South Wales fifteen years ago, my first experience of Cardiff was on a day excursion with my university. We were loaded onto a coach, dropped off in what felt like the middle of nowhere and told to meet our lecturers in the city centre a couple of hours later. Luckily for me, other people in my group had actually visited Cardiff before and knew where the city centre was. Who knows where I would have ended up if it hadn’t been for them.

I soon learnt that the building site in which we had been abandoned was to become Cardiff Bay, a huge development of shops, homes and businesses with a grand opera house as it’s centrepiece. As I listened to the Welsh students telling me about how one day the area would be the place to be seen in Cardiff, and how it was going to attract thousands of tourists, I looked around me and to be honest wasn’t convinced.

Fifteen years on, the Bay is exactly what all it’s supporters said it would be. We have our very own opera house in the Wales Millennium Centre, we are governed by the newly-formed Welsh Assembly that has made it’s home in the Bay and there’s even a Doctor Who Experience.

None of the development in the Bay would have been possible without building the Cardiff Bay Barrage. The Barrage, which stretches all the way over to Penarth, has caused a lot of controversy since the idea was first thought of. Opponents felt that creating a freshwater lake purely for aesthetic reasons was impractical, could cause damage to surrounding properties and would certainly prove to affect local wildlife in the long term. It didn’t just cause arguments here in Wales, either. Apparently even the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher got involved (she was against the barrage, and in a rare event was actually beaten down by another politician).

Looking over to Penarth from the Cardiff side
Looking over to Penarth from the Cardiff side

Whatever your opinion of the building of the barrage, it’s here now. With a typical Welsh can-do attitude, the people of Cardiff have made it their own and use the barrage positively. In 2008, after yet more problems, the barrage path opened to pedestrians and cyclists (and skateboarders, rollerbladers and kids renting go-karts – watch where you walk!). The dream of this scenic route was to provide an alternative commute between Cardiff and Penarth that would cut out sitting in two miles of rush-hour traffic. Unfortunately, due to the unpredictable winds and the delayed opening of the path, not many people seem to use it for that purpose.

Enjoying the sun on the barrage, with the copper roof of the Wales Millennium Centre in the background
Enjoying the sun on the barrage, with the copper roof of the Wales Millennium Centre in the background

Take a stroll along the barrage on a sunny weekend, however, and you will find it bustling with locals and tourists. Starting behind the Doctor Who Experience, the path includes childrens playgrounds, a skate park, cafe and visitor centre. My favourite part, though, is definitely the locks that let the boats in and out from the sea to the Bay. I could stand there for hours watching the whole process again and again.

Lock number 1
Lock number 1
You can just see the masts of the boats waiting to come in above the massive gates of the locks
You can just see the masts of the boats waiting to come in above the massive gates of the locks
Lock 2, ready to go
Lock 2, ready to go
Up it goes...
Up it goes…
... and the boats sail through
… and the boats sail through

Churchdoors and Skrinkle Bay

A lot of places in Wales are given beautiful, poetic sounding names in Welsh that usually translate as something quite mundane in English. Others, however, are given very English sounding names.

During my week in Anglesey, I’d driven around with my bodyboard in the back of my car in the hope that I would be able to find a decent surf beach. One of my hosts for the week, Ela, told me that the best place to try was Rhosneigr. I went there to find it filled with kite surfers. Although the surf looked good, I didn’t fancy risking trying to boadyboard amongst the kite lines. Different sports are usually kept to different areas on the beach, but here it seemed that anyone could go pretty much anywhere they wanted. I asked one of the kite-surfers for advice, and he told me that he’s spotted some more surfer-friendly beaches further down the coast towards Newborough. On my next free afternoon, I headed that way to find no surf, no other surfers in sight, and really long walks to reach the beaches. I was given a couple more false leads in Anglesey before I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be bodyboarding that week.

On my return to South Wales, I drove down the West coast of the country. There still wasn’t a wave in sight. By 6pm I was close to Tenby, feeling tired, definitely hungry and more than a little fed-up. I considered driving straight back to Cardiff. I knew that if I did, though, I’d feel defeated. I didn’t have to be back in Cardiff for another 24 hours, and I felt I had more exploring to do.

Having given up on my search for surf for that day, I ambled along the coast for a bit and came upon Skrinle Bay. The approach to the area doesn’t do much for it’s sales pitch, and the campsite there is very basic ( and right next to an Airforce base, which may put a lot of people off). Just a short (although very steep) walk down the cliff, though, and it’s like you’ve entered a fantasy land the likes of which are only described in childrens books.

The path from the campsite takes you to Churchdoors, a small bay with a beautiful sandy beach. There’s a sign as you approach the steps to the beach that tells you not to attempt to access Skrinkle Bay from here, as you may get stranded. I had insider knowledge from the lady at the campsite, though, and she told me that when the tide is half-way in you can get to Skrinkle through a passageway in the rocks. You do have to keep one eye on the sea, though, as the tide does come in very fast in South Wales and there is a real danger that you could get stranded, or worse, trapped in the passageway between the two beaches.

Looking down the steps to Churchdoors. You can see the rock formation that the bay got it's name from on the left.
Looking down the steps to Churchdoors. You can see the rock formation that the bay got it’s name from on the left.
The 'secret' passageway through to Skrinkle Bay. In a couple of hours, this would be under water.
The ‘secret’ passageway through to Skrinkle Bay. In a couple of hours, this would be under water.
Skirnkle Bay was definitely worth the effort.
Skirnkle Bay was definitely worth the effort.
The route back…
...before tackling the stairs back up to the campsite!
…before tackling the stairs back up to the campsite!

Exploring Anglesey

One of the great things about volunteering as a wwoofer is that you get to explore new areas. Whilst in Anglesey this week, I took advantage of all the spare time I had to get out and about on the island. Here are some of the places I visited.

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Just like most of the country, the coastline in Anglesey is stunning.

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The colourful architecture in Beaumaris is beautiful.

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If you can turn away from the buildings, you can see the mountains of Snowdonia over on the mainland.

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As I walked towards the pier in Beaumaris, I saw that it was crowded with hundreds of people. I was surprised to to find that they were all crabbing, or fishing for crabs, with long fishing lines and identical buckets with cartoon crabs painted on them. Crabbing is popular in Fleetwood, near where I come from in Lancashire, but I have never seen so many people involved at once. You’d think the crabs would get wise and avoid the pier, but apparently there are plenty of them.

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South Stack Island and Lighthouse provide one of the most dramatic landscapes in Wales.

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These little blue and yellow markers direct you around the Coastal Path, a walk which covers the entire coastline of Wales. The Anglesey coastal path is 125 miles on it’s own. DSC_0085

I couldn’t leave Anglesey without visiting what is probably the most well-known destination on the island –  even if it is just for the fact that it has the longest name!

Port Eynon and The Gower

Exploring new places is one of the things I love most about travelling. Seeing new landscapes, finding different subjects for photographs and discovering those little oddities that make places unique are all things that excite me. So when one of my best friends announced that she wanted to celebrate her 30th birthday camping in Port Eynon, somewhere I’ve never camped before, I jumped at the chance. I had briefly visited Port Eynon once before, but I hadn’t had the chance to explore much. During the winter, I’d offered to take my mum and dad on a drive around the Gower so they could see a bit more of Wales. The weather was pretty dire that day, so our experience of Port Eynon was nothing more than running from the car to the fish & chip shop for dinner and then back again. It was so grey that I didn’t even realise there was a camp site less than 100 metres away.

My second trip to Port Eynon, I am happy to say, was much more successful. I wouldn’t recommend Carreglwyd camp site, though. They are very insistent (on their web site, on the booking form, face-to-face) that their camp site is for FAMILIES ONLY. NO GROUPS are allowed. If, for any reason, you do not understand this rule, they will kindly repeat it to you at every given opportunity. Our party was mainly my friend’s family, all age ranges included, and then a few more of us who booked in as pairs. So as not to disturb anyone, we camped at the very far end of the campsite (a 15 minute walk to the toilets, which were next to the electrical hook-ups – the only people on a campsite that don’t need a toilet?!). It turns out, however, that as long as you’re part of a ‘family’ (which apparently can include school groups and families where every member is about the same age), you can make as much noise and disturbance as you want. Members of our party were quizzed every time we walked through the site. Were we staying there? As the only other reason to be there was to walk the coastal path which runs through the site, I did point out that I’d be unlikely to be hiking wearing shorts, sandals and a vest top and carrying nothing but toilet roll in my hand. Members of my friend’s family were stopped from entering the site and we were generally made to feel very unwelcome. The only people in our party who weren’t treated this way were a gay couple. In the UK, it’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of their sexuality, and rightly so. You can, however, choose to make assumptions about and discriminate against people because of their age and who they choose to travel with. I think it’s time that businesses need to stop assuming that ‘groups’ are going to be disruptive and realise that anyone can make a disturbance if they put their mind to it, regardless of age, race, sexuality or how many of them there are. My tent-mate and I did make a trip to another local caravan park, as they are the proud owners of the only supermarket in Port Eynon. I have to say we were made to feel very welcome there, so rest assured there are nice places to stay in the area.

The accommodation issues did not dampen out weekend, though. Although we had the weirdest weather, bright sunshine interspersed with sudden, dramatic rain showers, once we’d pinned down all the tents in the strong winds we had a really nice, relaxing time. Port Eynon, like all of the Gower, is beautiful. Here are some photos that I managed to take between the rain showers.