We arrived in Wales on Thursday, much to my utter delight. I first visited this breathtaking country many, many years ago and have always wanted to return. <insert squeals of joy> While the All Souls Con in Cardiff was a hoot, I cannot wait to start exploring the countryside.
But first, a little PSA. Many of you are probably already fans of Deborah Harkness’s Discovery of Witches All Souls Trilogy and/or the television series of the same name, also executive produced by Deb. But … in case you are not familiar with the story, here’s a trailer for season 1 which premiered on Sky One in the UK in 2018 and on America’s AMC channel earlier in 2019. As I’m sure you can find several write-ups on the Con floating around the internet, I’ll spare you my summary. (You’re welcome. 😛)
After saying good-bye to old friends and new ones (Bonjour, Isabelle!), I made my way to Cardiff’s Central Market in search of Welsh cakes in the company of my good friend Summer.
The Market has been the heart of the city since the 1700s, as is the market in many towns. The building itself housing the Cardiff Central Market dates back to 1891. Summer and I performed an expedition of the giant warehouse, checking out …
… the junk shops, jewelry stands, clothing booths, mini-cafés, flower marts and the meat vendors until finally zeroing in on the tastiest-looking stall of all.
The Welsh cakes pictured above are delicious little flat breads baked on a griddle. I’m wondering how in the world I missed these last time I was in Wales. If you’ve never tried them, I highly recommend you do so. Of course, fresh are the best! I’ve only tasted plain, thus far, but they come in many other flavors – much to my surprise. And who knew they even come in heart shapes? Well, probably everyone but me❣️
Goodies in hand, we left to wander about the many arcades and other shopping venues surrounding the iconic Victorian market building. Being a Saturday late afternoon, the area was quite crowded and extra rowdy because of the upcoming football game between Manchester United and Milan. And that’s all I know about that!
I love to people watch, and Cardiff is full of interesting-looking people. It’s a young, vibrant and diverse city. As I walked around, I started thinking about the paintings I had viewed in Torquay and how I had compared the painted street scenes to short stories. I realized I was part of a short story, surrounded by people with their own short stories
The picture below is a particular favorite of mine because it exudes so much energy and cheer. I can still hear the men singing at the top of their lungs and feel their arms pumping the air. (Yeah, the arm in the foreground kind of ruins the picture, but what am I gonna do?)
Where there are men … there are women … and vice versa. Of course, as is typical, the men wear whatever the heck they want while the women doll themselves up. The women of Cardiff are no exception, leaving me to wince every time one of them walked by on shoes built to topple them over, especially on uneven stone walkways. But, they do this every Saturday night, so I guess they get a lot of practice.
From the market I returned home to our little Victorian abode on Newport Road. I walked in the rain, carrying scones and Welsh cakes for Mandy. Needless to say, the Welsh cakes faired better than the scones. But, the sweets were met with much appreciation.
The neighborhood we stayed in housed an assorted mix of eastern cultures from Indian to Persian to Asian. The street below was lined with shops, most selling the same wares, but with different languages printed on the packaging. And everywhere I walked, my ears picked up a wonderful variety of exotic conversations.
Finally, after dinner, it had stopped raining (for the most part), enabling me to venture out again. I wanted to walk around the outside of Cardiff Castle, having decided not to go inside this visit. The game was over, and I found myself walking against the wave of foot traffic on my way back toward the market district.
The castle is an awesome sight, sitting across the street from modern hotels and storefronts. Many of the locals were sitting along the short, perimeter wall with their backs to the castle. Some people were picnicking at the base while a father played football with his son in the grass.
The origins of Cardiff date back 2000 years. The Romans were the first to take advantage of the three rivers running through the region which put Cardiff in a powerful trading position. Over the centuries, the castle became a target (of course!) during conquests and uprisings. Ruins from the Roman era and other time periods are still present though most of the main castle structure only dates back to the 19th century – thus, it’s grand condition – but it’s still well worth a look-see. You can find more history on the castle here.
My final night in Cardiff ended after a long day of walking, watching and wistening. Refreshed, my final morning began with a crisp walk to the flea market. I didn’t expect to buy anything I couldn’t fit in my pocket, but I still love to look – especially in other countries. I plan to pop into as many antique shops as I possibly can, in-between castle exploring and hill climbing.
I don’t actually find insect taxidermy eerie (well, maybe a little). I mostly feel sorry for the bugs ending up pinned or cocooned on display. They are fascinating in their way.
After the flea market, I met up with the gals to take tea with our friend Stephanie at Insole Court, aka All Souls. Built by James Harvey Insole in 1855, the Victorian mansion with a gothic flair is located in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales. Surrounded on all sides with open gardens, the locals bring their dogs and children to run freely on the grounds. I, of course, joined in. Read more about the history of Insole Court here.
The stunning architectural details of Insole Court led me to have yet more fun with my digital photography. Lo and behold! I found another Harry Potter tree waiting to come to life.
Now, on to the good stuff … the whole reason we ventured to Llandaff. The Insole library is a stunning room and perfectly “cast” as part of Matthew Clairmont’s apartment at All Souls. The room is used on a regular basis by the on-site Montessori, and thus, is quite lived in and comfortable. We took our sweet time, hanging out and browsing through the books which each visitor is encouraged to do. I fell in love with the peacock chair near the window and quickly ensconced myself among its wings. The rich, warm brown ceiling, I think, looks made of chocolate. The teal walls give the room a cheerful feel, and the colorful mural wrapped around the room adds the kind of grandeur one would expect to find in a vampire’s home. We were thrilled to discover the books on the shelves are the same ones used during filming, although rearranged.
Here are a few close up details. Perhaps you’ll recognize some of them from the show. Note the dragon etching on the door hinge and the cabinet which houses bottles, rather than books, like the beautifully aged editions below.
Just for fun … here are some stills from Discovery of Witches, episode 1.02.
Yeah … I just added that last one for the look in Matthew’s eyes.
Anyway, our escapades through Matthew’s apartment came to an end. We bid a sad farewell to our dear Stephanie and hit the road once again. This time, we had a farm house waiting for us in Llangynog. After leaving our marvelous house in Cardiff, I hoped for something similarly comfortable, but I never expected such a beautiful, rustic cottage. See for yourself …
The interior stone walls give the house an old world charm. The wide, chunky floor boards are soft under the feet. The door cases on the second floor are very low, barely clearing the top of my head. The entire house is cozy and warm and wonderfully inviting.
Last week, I felt like Jane Eyre on the moors. This week, I am Marianne Dashwood. Like her, I dashed from room to room, exploring the cottage. Of course, Marianne did not like her Barton Cottage!
Also like Marianne, I ran from field to field, chasing the sun … really, there was very little sun as I had waited too long to take a walk. But still, the views were specular.
Alas … no Willoughby came charging toward me, but then, that’s a good thing, right?
Oh, well. I’m more like Elinor Dashwood anyway.