Dr Who, Cardiff Castle and the Drinking of Brains

Day 5: Thursday – Cardiff

Day five saw us catching an early train from Cheltenham to Cardiff, checking into our hotel (aptly named The Big Sleep) and heading into the very centre of town to Cardiff Castle.

Cardiff Castle from the main road

The history of Cardiff Castle stretches over 2000 years. Excavations inside the boundary walls raise the possibility that the Roman legions arrived in the area as early as the first half of the reign of the Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68). Their first fort, a ‘vexillation fortress’,was the largest of the Roman forts and was built to contain a large garrison engaged in an active campaign. It was most likely built as part of the attempted conquest of the Silures, a powerful and warlike tribe of ancient Britain that occupied some of South Wales and possibly Gloucestershire and Herefordshire in present day England. Their defensive works surrounded a ten-acre site on which were built their timber barracks, stores and workshops.

Around A.D. 75, when the Romans controlled the whole of Wales, they rebuilt their Cardiff fort, somewhat smaller than before. The area now occupied by the southern half of the Castle lay outside new perimeter walls and on it rose the workshops of the craftsmen who gathered around any Roman base.

Yet another new fort was built on the site around the year 250 AD. This had 10 foot thick stone walls backed by an earth bank and served until the Roman Army withdrew from the area in the 5th century AD. It’s position gave the fort a new strategic importance as a naval base for the protection of the Empire against the menace of sea-bourne attacks by savage raiders from the west and north.

Little is known of the castle during the centuries that followed the Roman departure. Perhaps for long periods, the raiders from the sea made it untenable. The native princes of Glamorgan based themselves about a mile to the north and the ruined fort waited – for a new army of occupation.

In around 1091, Robert Fitzhamon (Norman Lord of Gloucester) defeated the Welsh Prince Iestyn ap Gwrgan and took over the site of the old Roman Fort. He built a Norman castle complete with wooden keep.

You may recall that Michael and I had established a link between Tewkesbury and Gloucester (our previous two day trips) with the last abbot of Tewkesbury becoming the first bishop of Gloucester. Well, now we managed to establish a link between Gloucester and Cardiff!

Robert Fitzhamon’s daughter married another Robert, the natural son of King Henry I in England. King Henry I was the son of William the Conqueror and brother of (yet another) Robert Curthose, who was buried in Gloucester Cathedral when it was still an abbey. Indeed, it is said that it was one of the main reasons as to why Gloucester got it’s cathedral.

Oh and Robert, son of Henry I, built the first stone keep at Cardiff Castle. The castle was an important stronghold of the de Clare and Despenser dynasties. Then came another instance of “isn’t there another name you can choose?”, this time Richard not Robert. When Richard Despenser died, the Lordship of Cardiff passed to his sister’s husband, Richard Beauchamp, the Earl of Worcester. He died a year later and his widow decided, yup, to marry not just another Richard, but another Richard Beauchamp who was not Earl of Worcester but Earl of Warwick. AAAARGGH!

The apartments in all their Gothic glory

Then came the Nevilles and the Tudors. The Kings of England then had it for a while before handing it off to the Butes. Now the Butes did good and bad things to the castle. Firstly, they, to quote the official website, made the castle the ‘gothic fantasy we see today’. The first Earl did some rework and, together with ‘Capability’ Brown, cleared all the land of buildings, filled in the moat and reworked the hall. The Great Hall was partitioned off into a new Entrance Hall, a Library and a Dining Room.

Dining Room
Michael in the Dining Room

The third Earl, with the help of William Burges, transformed the apartments into the beauty (and in some ways monstrosity) that you see today. We leave Cardiff Castle with a quote from the official website: “William Burges was able to create a richness and fantasy in his interiors that has rarely been equalled. Although “he executed few buildings as his rich fantastic gothic required equally rich patrons (..) his finished works are outstanding monuments to nineteenth century gothic. As such Cardiff castle was the last great masterpiece of the gothic revival, its interiors some of the most magnificent that the gothic revival ever achieved.”

We then headed down to Cardiff Bay so that Michael could indulge in his Dr Who and Torchwood fantasies! We saw the Millenium Centre, the big obelisk like water tower thing that is next to one of the entries to Torchwood (so I’m being told by Michael who is standing over my shoulder).

Then we indulged in his entire reason for going to Cardiff – the Dr. Who Exhibition. I guess it would have been cool if I got the references behind all the characters.That said, the Dalek’s were kind of awesome.

Michael out the front of the exhibition
I had to…it’s the Tardis!
The laser light show of the Dalek’s

We spent the rest of the day wandering around Cardiff Bay, which was reasonably nice.

We retired to the pub for dinner and, after not having any at the pub, tried Brains at one of the bars on the way home.