We are about to explore Bute Park/Parc Bute, Cardiff.
Yesterday, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) on North Road was bustling with its new intake of students. Lunchtime specials were a tomato, red pepper and truffle soup; chicken, ham and mushroom pie; fish pie; and a pasta and tomato gratin.
You can enter Bute Park and Arboretum from North Road next to the RWCMD during daylight hours. Cross the bridge over the feeder stream and turn left. This area of Bute Park is called Cooper’s Field. After a short distance, take the right fork in the path. This curves across the park through the trees (with the giant warthog emerging from the ground on your left).
Although Capability Brown originally landscaped Bute Park in the late eighteenth century for the first Marquess of Bute, the park in its present form is the result of landscaping done in the late nineteenth century for the third Marquess of Bute. The arboretum was created in 1947, when the existing trees were supplemented by a diverse planting of species. There are now many Champion Trees (e.g., trees noted because of their size, rarity or historical significance), which are pointed out on guided walks organized by Cardiff City Council.
Among the events held in Bute Park is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Spring Show. The show was in its eighth year in 2012.
Just before the footpath reaches the River Taff, turn to your left:
Bute Park and Arboretum, Castle Road, CF10 1BJ
The Summerhouse / Tŷ Haf is a coffee shop and sandwich bar that, despite its name, is open all year round; serving take-away with plenty of outdoor seating, some of it under a covered veranda. Yesterday, there were cyclists, walkers and parents with young children taking a break and enjoying the winter sunshine. Serves breakfast; sandwiches, paninis and baguettes with a wide range of fillings; salads; jacket potatoes (e.g., chili con carne filling); flowerpot muffins and home-made cakes. Current best deal is for cake with a hot drink. Does a good trade in ice cream during the summer.
The Summerhouse was built in the style of the original Bute Summerhouse, designed by William Burges (architect to the third Marquess of Bute), which was removed in the 1970s and is now in the National History Museum at St Fagans.
The footbridge across the River Taff by the kiosk takes you to Sophia Gardens (on a different part of our tour). You can also catch the Water Bus near here, which takes you down the River Taff to Cardiff Bay. The service was not running yesterday due to high flow levels on the river.
Walk past the Summerhouse, toward the Millennium Stadium and the city centre. One of the city’s best herbaceous borders runs alongside this footpath (visit again next spring or summer), with the river a short distance away on the other side.
The Gorsedd Circle you will see on the lawn to your left was erected here in 1978, after that year’s National Eisteddfod; although I believe the large flat central stone (Logan stone) may date from the 1938 National Eisteddfod.
The building by the exit to Castle Street is the West Lodge:
Pettigrew Tea Rooms
West Lodge, Bute Park and Arboretum, Castle Street CF10 1BJ (2023 5486)
The West Lodge was built in the 1860s. It was recently restored by the Bute Park Restoration Project, with funding from Cardiff Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. David Le Masurier opened a traditional tearoom in the building in late March 2012 (just in time for the RHS Spring Show). David chronicled the stages, from leaving his previous job until the café’s opening, on a popular blog: I Want to Bake Free. There have been many satisfied customers since; this morning Pettigrew Tea Rooms was ranked #1 of 511 restaurants in Cardiff on Tripadvisor (98 reviews). The Tea Rooms are named after Andrew Pettigrew, Head Gardener to the third Marquess of Bute, who landscaped Bute Park from 1873.
I stopped by yesterday for a pot of Earl Grey tea and a large slice of carrot cake (see photos). The cakes are home-made and taste every bit as good as they look. The tea menu includes Assam, Lapsang Souchong, green teas, chamomile, white peony and pink rosebuds, lemon and ginger and, for the real connoisseur, Darjeeling 2012 First Flush from Selim Hill Estate (“bright taste, a floral aroma with a smooth finish and a hint of musk…”). There is a typical range of coffees, luxury hot chocolate, and the Fentimans range of soft drinks (including their classic ginger beer). Tearoom Classics (cakes and tea) include a Welsh version with bara brith, and the de luxe Pettigrew Afternoon Tea has just been given a seasonal make-over.
Other food available at lunchtime includes soups; sandwiches (including a finger sandwich collection); ploughman’s, farmer’s and fisherman’s lunches; and salads. Cups, plates and décor are old and characterful with a Victorian and Edwardian feel. There’s a gift shop next door, and additional seating in a room upstairs that doubles as an art gallery. The Pettigrew Tea Rooms are open 9am-4pm Monday to Friday, 9.30am-5pm Saturday, and 10am-4pm Sunday.
The gates to Bute Park close half-hour before dusk. Therefore, during the winter the park closes relatively early (yesterday it was 3.45pm). This affects access to footpaths running through the park (to the annoyance of bicycle commuters) and entry to the Summerhouse and Pettigrew Tea Rooms (which may therefore close earlier at this time of year). If you do get locked in, then head for where we started at the RWCMD and go through the exit-only turnstile.
From the Pettigrew Tea Rooms, exit the park through the arch and turn left. Walk along the famous Animal Wall, which was carved by Thomas Nicholls and was originally erected in 1880 in front of the castle. It was restored in 2010. Toward Cardiff Castle: pelican, anteater, racoons, leopards, beaver, vulture, hyena, wolf, baboons, sea lion, bear, lioness, lynx, and a pair of lions (on the gates by the clocktower).
Entry is free if you are only visiting the café and gift shop, otherwise buy a ticket to visit the grounds and castle (or get a Cardiff resident's Keycard for free entry to the grounds).
Castle Street CF10 3RB (2087 8100)
This site was first fortified by the Romans in the first century AD. The Norman Keep is still impressive, and you get good views from the top. Once through the main door, turn right for the Bute Café (and the gift-shop). The cafe serves good-value breakfasts (9-11am), and a range of sandwiches, light lunches and specials (11.30am-3pm); as well as teas, coffee and Welsh cakes throughout the day. Yesterday’s specials were steak and ale pie and a risotto.
I highly recommend a tour of the castle, which takes in the ornate gothic rooms designed by the architect William Burges for the third Marquess of Bute. The Banqueting Hall is still in demand as a banqueting venue, for civic and corporate events, wedding receptions and parties.
The Great British Cheese Festival
Cardiff Castle CF10 3RB
The Great British Cheese Festival has been held inside the walls of Cardiff Castle every September since 2008. It claims to be the biggest cheese market in Britain, with over 400 cheeses on offer. In addition to the Big Cheese Market, where you can sample most of the cheeses, there is a Best of British Market selling other food and drink products. A programme of workshops, talks and demonstrations runs through the weekend, along with entertainment (on the council’s mobile bandstand). The evening before the festival, the industry’s British Cheese Awards are held (in 2012 they were in the National Museum of Wales).