Falling In Love With Pubs And A Stunning Castle

John Laudando
Lamb pie with peas and mash — quintessential and delicious. Independent/John Laudando

We left off our Bath adventures with the history of the Roman baths that give the place its name (Indy, May 28, 2019). But one of our best times on the whole trip was the nearly two hours we spent in a tiny, cheery, friendly pub in Bath, talking about the world and our hopes for it with Edward and John — one an Englishman, one a Scotsman. Over beer and cider, which we learned to love on this trip, we discussed so many things with our two pub mates. We felt we’d well and truly connected with some folk from Great Britain. And we liked what we found.

That night, after wandering some more, we dined at Loch Fein — I later learned in a novel I was reading that it’s considered one of the top seafood restaurants in Great Britain. Honestly, the wild garlic pesto served with the whole fish we ordered would have made cardboard a real gourmet treat. And, once again, beer and cider.

Next morning, we were off to Wales, headed toward Cardiff, so we thought we might as well take a look at Cardiff Castle. We weren’t prepared for the astonishingly beautiful place it is. And though parking wasn’t easy, I’m so glad we persevered.

I love Stonehenge, but I think I loved Cardiff Castle more. It’s like a fairytale, only real. We saw a lot of castles and estates on this trip, but none of them come close to being as amazing, despite the fact that many are much larger. The Castle sits in the heart of Cardiff and has been a Roman fort, a Norman castle, and, now it includes William Burges’s masterpiece created for the third Marquess of Bute. Burges created a Victorian Gothic vision rich with murals, carvings, marble, gilt, and stained glass.

We took the tour of the apartments — led by a charming and very knowledgeable guide — and would recommend it to anyone! Just remembering the ceilings there is a fantasy trip by itself. It’s one of those things that is so astonishing, it’s nearly indescribable. And the man who commissioned this glory is but one figure in a long line of interesting stories the Castle has to tell, with tales of kings and royals galore.

The Roman fort at Cardiff probably dates from the end of the 50s AD and is sited with easy access to the sea. Archaeological digs show it was the first of four forts built on the same site, and remains of the Roman wall are still standing. After the Norman conquest, the Castle’s keep was built on the same site.

After passing through the hands of many noble families, in 1766, it passed by marriage to the Bute family. The 2nd Marquess of Bute made a fortune by turning Cardiff into the world’s greatest coal exporting port, and when the Castle and Bute fortune passed to his son John, the 3rd Marquess — John was reputed to be the richest man in the world. Clearly, he was rich enough to fulfill his wildest dream of what a home could be.

In 1866, he employed Burges, and the genius architect created lavish and opulent interiors, each room with its own special theme, including Mediterranean gardens and Italian and Arabian decoration. When the 3rd Marquess died, the 4th Marquess completed many of his father’s restoration projects and, after his death, the family deeded the Castle to the city of Cardiff. It was home to the National College of Music and Drama until 1974, and is now, deservedly, one of Wales’ most popular visitor attractions.

Once we had oohed and aahed over the beauty and rich history of the castle, we crossed the street and stopped for lunch at The Goat Major. At first, we were a bit surprised to find that pie was really all that was offered . . . and then we were delighted! We each had a different pie — lamb for me, steak and ale for John — with beer on tap for one of us and cider on tap for the other. Unbelievably delicious! As a matter of fact, it sent us searching for pie all the rest of time we spent in Great Britain, because we knew it would be hard to find such great pub food when we got back to the U.S. We stuck with beer and cider for most of the trip as well, and all because of the excellence we found at The Goat Major. America needs more pubs!

It bears mentioning that everywhere we drove on this trip — and we covered 1000 miles — we were treated to sweeping country vistas, often abloom with wide swathes of the bright yellow flowers of rapeseed, the basis for canola oil. Or covered in sheep. Or just unbelievably green! Check the slideshow online at www.indyeastend.com to see more of the glorious views we enjoyed. And next column, join us as we ride to Fox and Hounds.

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