Merthyr Tydfil in Wales.

Now here is one of those places to visit in Wales that is more interesting than its appears..

Iron workers Cottages, Merthyr Tydfil 1800
(rebuilt at
 St. Fagan's Museum 1987)
courtesy of

Merthyr Tydfil, a town that lies around 20 miles North of Cardiff up the A470 was once the most populous town in Wales, but was never really renowned for its beauty because it has been ravaged by every type of industry since its more modern development in the eighteenth century. However, I still feel that Merthyr is well worth a visit especially if your imagination works as mine does when visiting a place with such a unique history.

The area surrounding Merthyr Tydfil was occupied from ancient times, by a tribe known as the Silures. Now this is very interesting because these dark-skinned people were thought to have been of European origin, possibly Spanish.  I lived in northern Spain for a while, and learned to speak the language. And when my Welsh-speaking brother-in-law paid me a visit one day, we were talking about Spanish and he remarked on the strong similarity between the Spanish language and the Welsh language. So had the Silures travelled up from Spain bringing their language with them that later evolved into the Welsh Language? It's quite possible. Anyway, back to the town of Merthyr Tydfil...

Some time around 48 AD, after a lot of fierce fighting with the Silures, Merthyr was conquered by the Romans  who then being true to their reputation as Romans, built a network of roads putting the area on the map, so to speak.  However, the Brecon Beacons, that are just North of MerthyrTydfil served as a great protection to these Welsh tribes who knew it far better than any invading army who often got hopelessly lost and perished at the hands of the Welsh during surprise ambushes. Even to this day, the Brecon Beacons are known to be dangerous and unpredictable to the unprepared traveller.  However a Norman castle was established in the town of Brecon around the 12th Century in the far north corner of the Beacons, but that didn't help the Normans to suppress the Welsh either.

Another claim to fame that Merthyr has is that it was here that the first steam locomotive in the world conveyed five wagons, full or iron and steal from Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon a journey of about 9 miles. The engine was built by 32 year-old Richard Trevithick from Cornwall and took this maiden journey in 1804. The engine had a brick chimney stack that was knocked off by a bridge but was rebuilt during that first journey! The engine didn't last much longer either, because on the return journey the entire engine totally collapsed unable to negotiate the twists and steep incline.

Merthyr Tydfil (old townhall)
picture from FreeFoto.comAdd caption

As we travel forward through time, it can be said that poor old Merthyr Tydfil was never much loved. A novel written by Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), describes how a young curate faints when he learns he is be sent to merthyr to work! Also later in the 18th century, Merthyr was described by Thomas Carlyle as "a vision of hell", when he witnessed the men toiling and sweating in the furnaces and coal pits.
Through its history up until the conflicts over the coalmines closing as recent as the 1980s, Merthyr has had its fair share of riots and back in the 1930s, it was suggested that the town be abandoned and its citizens re-housed elsewhere.

And what of the name Merthyr Tydfil itself?  

Here we get into legend again that tells of the murder of Tydfil, the daughter of Brychan, a 5th Century King of Beconshire who was murdered by a band of Irish Picts for defying them by refusing to renounce her Christianity. Merthyr being derived from the word martyr, and Tydfil the name daughter said to have died at what is now the site of the Parish Church of Merthyr Tydfil was put together to form the name Merthyr Tydfil original meaning of Tydfil the Martyr... Well... Perhaps!

Castell Coch

There are places in Wales that are famous for their  legends and ghost stories. One such place is a fairy-tale castle near Cardiff in South Wales called, Castell Coch.

This is one of my favourite places to visit in Wales, not only because it is less than an hour's drive away from my home, but also because its fairy-tale looks really get my imagination going.

There is reputed to be not only the ghost of a woman looking for her son for all eternity, but also some form of magic that was cast way back in time,  to protect valuable treasure in secret tunnels that lay below the castle.

True or not true? Well I have tried my utmost to see the ghost to no avail, but as for going down into the secret tunnels of Castell Coch to fight off some ancient magic spell? Well maybe I would, but the ground looks pretty rocky to me.  Read more of this legend...

The story goes that a woman by the name of Dame Griffiths lost her son when he fell into a bottomless pit of water and was never seen again - how he didn't just float to the surface I have no idea, but with the ghostly unseen world who can  really know? Anyway, the Dame was so grief-stricken that when she later died, her ghost became anchored to Castell Coch looking for her son for all eternity.  She has often been seen by visitors wandering around the wooded grounds that surround the castle. But I have looked long and hard, and whilst my imagination can create a certain eerie feeling in the woods of Castell Coch, I have never seen Dame Griffiths at all.

Not long after Dame Griffiths died or left the castle - I do not know which - another lady moved in with her two servants who were man and wife.  The servants complained of hearing noises in the night, but their mistress dismissed their complaints to rats or other small wild animals entering the castle at night.

One night however, the servant husband awoke to see a figure stood at the foot of their bed. It was a cavalier whose face was ashen and grief-stricken.  According to one legend, this cavalier was grieving for a lost treasure that he had left in the secret tunnels beneath the castle, but died in battle before he could return to retrieve said treasure.  The sight of this ghost proved too traumatic for the servants so they left Castell Coch leaving their lady mistress to fend for herself.  Not long after, she felt she couldn't possibly manage without servants so she left also. Or did she see the ghost? Or was it that in those days, servants were considered a necessity?

Another slant on this story is that there was a certain Welsh soldier called Ivor Bach who used witchcraft to turn two of his men into eagles and left them to guard the hidden treasure but also never returned due to being killed in battle.

The story continues that after the lady had left Castle Coch, two local men decided to dig down into the tunnels in search of the treasure and eventually they found it with two eagles statues perched on the top.  As they approached the treasure though, the eagles sprang to life and attacked the men chasing them out of the tunnels.  Not to be thwarted by these eagles, the two men returned with guns, but their bullets had no effect on the birds who became even more aggressive and again chased them out of the tunnels. It is said that again they tried, and the same thing happened. This time they sealed the tunnels.

I think I would have given up after the first time! Statues coming to life!? I am fascinated by ghostly phenomena, but demonic indestructible eagles that had the power to inflict pain? I wouldn't go that far!
The eagles are still reputed to be in the tunnels to this day, but I wonder who is going to be brave enough to look for the tunnels or these crazed ghostly birds.

Ghosts or no ghosts, I love this little patch of my homeland, and would definitely recommend Castell Coch to be anyone's list of places in Wales to visit.

St Fagan's Welsh Folk Museum , Cardiff.

St Fagan's Castle (built 1580)

About five miles to the west of Cardiff lies the St. Fagan's Folk Museum which is one of the largest open-air museums in Europe. If you like hearing about country life in Wales from the Iron Age to medieval times up until Second World War and up into the 1960s, then St. Fagan's can offer you over 100 acres of various attractions.

St. Fagan's museum has various historical Welsh farm houses erected in the grounds. Here, one can really see how the Welsh peasants used to live. Some of these cottages have only two rooms, one on the ground floor with beaten earth under foot, and a crude ladder leading to cramped sleeping quarters in the attic of a thatched roof.

Kennixton Farmhouse (built 1610)
These buildings have been brought to the museum stone by stone from all over Wales. Originally these types of cottages were erected very quickly, because the builder would probably be staking a claim on the land that surrounded it. It was his as far as he could throw an axe. He could keep the land providing he could build it over-night and have smoke pouring out of the chimney by daybreak. In the larger cottages, animals often lived inside with the occupants. These were usually built on a slope, so that the animal's waste products could drain away from the living quarters. Smelly or what?

Workmen's Institute (built 1916)
St Fagan's Folk Museum is one of my favourite places to visit and I consider myself very fortunate to be able to get there in around half-an-hour from where I live. I have spend many a day just strolling around, taking photos and video of this remarkable place often taking a picnic as I sit back (sometimes) in the sunshine soaking up the atmosphere.

Stores and workshops still carry on a trade within the grounds and there is no shortage of stories about the remarkable history of the buildings in there.

Places to Visit in Wales: Cardiff

Cardiff City Hall
As this blog is about places in Wales to visit, City of Cardiff, the capital of Wales, must get a mention.  But first, where is South Wales and what does it offer the visitor?

South Wales, within easy reach of from most parts of the UK, has tended to be associated with coal mining and heavy industry. But now, steeped in history and legend, there are some fascinating places to visit in Wales. Well I think so anyway, but maybe I am biased. Anyway, let me tell you a little about Cardiff where I have lived since the mid 1970s up until last year when I moved to about 20 miles outside the city.  

In it's history Cardiff has been the foremost centre for the exportation of coal in the world. This may give the impression of a dirty coal-mining town, but on the contrary, Cardiff is a very attractive city to the visitor. It is an under-statement to say the architecture is very eye-­catching, with it's Norman Castle and Edwardian civic centre, surrounded by flowering trees and ornate flower beds.

Cardiff Castle
The history of Cardiff Castle goes back to the eleventh century. It was built on the site of a derelict Roman fort and many non-Welsh people settled there. This brought about many attacks from the surrounding villages of the native Welsh.   

In 1158, Lord Ifor ap Meurig, of Sengenydd (near Caerphilly), the Norman Lord of Glamorgan, together with his Countess, lived in Cardiff Castle and was kidnapped from the castle and held for ransom, for certain 'wrongs' he had inflicted on the natives.

Jumping forward several centuries to 1865, the castle underwent an amazing transformation by an architect named William Burges. He was doing the work for the third Marquess of Bute who was a rich historian, mystic, archaeologist - well you get the idea. Burges's work can still marvelled at to this day and the style can also be seen in many buildings in Cardiff and the rest of the U.K.

Cardiff Castle looks like a fairy-tale creation, that could well grace the pages of the book, Sleeping Beauty. There are guided tours around the castle, and it is full of medieval and ornate decoration, that includes: the 'Chaucer Room', based on Chaucer's works; the richly decorated Arab room; the Summer Smoking Rooms decorated with emblems of the universe, to name but a few.    Peacocks inhabit the grounds and screech-like calls can be frequently heard.

It is obvious that money was no object to the Marquis of Bute. Cardiff Castle is a magnificent place to visit, if Castles are your forte.

Shopping in Cardiff

Cardiff shopping centre is a mixture of the modern with the old. Modern shopping malls sit alongside Victorian Arcades, with the newer St. David's centre at the heart of the city that in Christmas 2009 became even larger. Adjacent to the centre is St. David's Hall. Here, we find a variety of entertainment all the year round, from singing stars like Shirley Basset' and Tom Jones to famous comedians, orchestras and opera stars.

 Other attractions in Cardiff are the National Museum of Wales, with it's fine artifacts of Welsh history and other collections and, about five miles to the West of the City, St. Fagan's Folk museum, which will be the subject of another post.