Sunday, 27 November 2011

Cardiff Castle - a monument to Victorian excess

New laptop is now up and working - can receive email but strangely can't send it! Oh well a job for another day.

I've had a few days away with some friends in Cardiff and although I've visited many many times before, the castle is so taken for granted it has probably been 20 years since I've been in. Neither of my friends had ever been so it seemed a good way to pass Sunday morning. Firstly I apologise for the photo quality. This wasn't a planned photo excursion so I didn't have my camera. These were taken on a fairly basic camera phone with no zoom or other refinements.

Firstly ( of course!) the obligatory stone circle. This is  the Gorsedd circle - a modern circle, erected in 1978 in Bute Park right under the walls of the castle. Dreadful picture but the best of a bad bunch!

The Normans reused the old Roman site and build a motte with a moat around it and a Keep on top. Originally wooden it was eventually constructed in stone.

Although the city with all the usual city noises presses up against the walls, the atomosphere inside is curiously peaceful.

 The climb up into the keep is by means of some steep stairs but the view over the mountains of South Wales and the modern city of Cardiff ins well worth it. Mostly now a shell, some medieval graffiti survives as well as a garde robe ( a lavatory which empties directly into the moat from a great height!)

The castle walls ( some Roman parts remaining) are hollow and were used during WW2 as an air raid shelter for the people of Cardiff. Even on a bright sunny day the corridor was cold and dank. Must have been far far worse to be there in the cold and the dark with the fear of bombs dropping.

The old castle is only part of the story. Also part of the complex is a large Gothic mansion built by the Bute family who amassed a huge fortune from the sale of coal and are largely responsible for the emergency of Cardiff as a major city. The house too has been enlarged  over the years and now stands as a magnificent example of the power of money over taste. Everything possible that could be decorated with gold leaf was and it is elaborately painted and carved.

 My camera couldn't possibly do justice to this jaw dropping interior but here are a few interior shots which will give the general idea.

This is the Arab room ceiling. A small octagonal room used as a sitting room or occasionally as a guest bedroom.

This is the over mantle in the library, the oldest part of the house. The central figure is holding a scroll inscribed with runes.

Finally here is some detail of the carving in the small dining room. The carved wooden frieze extends much of the way around the room and each scroll holds an exquistely carved bird. As far as it is possible to see they are all different.

Underneath are hand painted butterflies, again they are beautifully executed.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Technology woes

Having a few problems here so apologies but this week's update has to be postponed for a day or two. 

Got to love technology - the replacement for the faulty new lap top is also faulty and is going back to Amazon again.....the Roman Palace will follow as soon as  I'm back on line (won't be long!)

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Temple of Sulis at Bath

No walk this week for various reasons so more pictures from the archives.  I used to work in Bath so was able to visit the Roman Baths and the associated temple remains fairly regularly.

The site has recently had a makeover no doubt to "improve" the visitor experience. Whether it does is definitely debatable. I am not a great fan of the general "dumbing down" and "interpreting" of the remains and I don't think that large moving pictures of reconstructions and the associated sound effects add anything. I find them distracting and annoying but be that as it may. Judging by their proliferation I must be in a  minority

These pictures were taken before the recent changes, some of them would not be possible to take now.

This is the sacred spring itself. It bubbles constantly and in cooler weather you can see the steam rising. Many votive offerings have been found in here along with objects that may have been accidently lost by the priests and of course the famous curse tablets.

There is evidence of Neolithic activity here long before the Romans came and built the temple they dedicated to "Sulis Minerva". The importance of Sulis is reflected in her name preceding that of Minerva,  I am not aware of another case of conflation where the Roman  half of the deity did  not take precedence over the native god/dess. This surely indicates that Sulis ( also known as Sul) was a very important goddess and in fact there are archaeological finds here that originate from as far away as Egypt indicating her importance and power.

This is the famous Gorgon's Head. In fact there are only two snakes, the rest being hair. The main problem with this interpretation is of course that the Gorgon was female and this is unmistakeably a male face. Alternative interpretations are that this is the sea god, Oceanus, a view that is strengthened by the dolphins which form part of the frieze. Another theory is that this is a representation of a Celtic sun god.

 The Temple courtyard.  This was the sacred area surrounding the temple and housed the Great Altar where sacrifices to the Goddess were made, mainly cattle judging by the bones discovered. The area is surrounded by tombstones bearing Roman inscriptions. 
Part of the Great Altar.  Contemporary descriptions describe a fire of burning rocks kept alight on it. Almost certainly a description of coal which is found in the area.

Finally a video. This is taken in a corner of the courtyard and is of the overflow from the Sacred Spring. It captures the steam, the noise and the whole atmosphere of the Temple area.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Wanders in Wales - Even more dogs!

Last day and we are heading home - seemed a shame though not to take it gently and see what we could spot on the way. Approaching Barmouth  Cerrig Arthur appeared on the map. It looked reasonably close to the road and as all the walking gear was packed this was definitely a point in its favour. The road was narrow. Very narrow and very short of passing places. Mercifully we didn't meet anything as we wended our way up the mountain to the end of the line where there was plenty of room to park.

Hardly had we done so when a transit van appeared, followed quickly by another and a whole string of cars. Our remote deserted spot was suddenly busier than Piccadilly Circus. The mystery was soon revealed. The locals had arrived to exercise their dogs!

Very nice friendly people they guided us to our very destination and we spent some time chatting to them. Time very well spent as it happens as they mentioned a burial chamber nearby that we should visit... so we did. Back to the circle first though. Three conspicuous stones surrounded by others that may or may not be part of the circle.  In the background stands Cader Idris, claimed to be Arthur's seat.

Time to inch back down, again praying we didn't meet anything!  Lunch and then back to Dyffryn Ardudwy. This was another mind blowing location. Just off the busy main road it could have been in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mature oak trees and a thick carpet of acorns ( one or two of which just might have come home with me!)

Originally a stone covered mound  it now survives as two well preserved dolmens, one of which has some strange carved lines on one of the uprights.
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