My host in Cardiff last weekend, said he hadn’t been out to St. Fagan’s yet because he’d heard it was a pain to get to. Au contraire! There is a bus on the Cardiff Bus network (#32 to be precise) that leaves from Cardiff every hour and drops you directly at the entrance to the museum — a peaceful journey of less than half an hour.
And what will you find in St. Fagans? You will find the Museum of Welsh Life, an open-air museum situated on the grounds of St Fagans ‘Castle’. About the latter: I put ‘Castle’ in inverted commas because it’s really an Elizabethan manor home (with immaculate gardens) that was built on the site of a Norman castle. This manor home is also open to visitors, and is done up in the Victorian style of Lord Windsor, who owned St Fagans as a summer estate.
Now, on to the more interesting part: The Museum of Welsh Life: The concept of the museum sounds at first a bit strange: a number of buildings from all over Wales were moved from their original sites to St. Fagans. Many of them had fallen into disuse or were under threat in their original locations from changing water levels or subsidence. The buildings scattered around the site span the diverse cultural history of Wales: Tudor farmhouses, a woolen mill, an entire tannery, an 18th century Unitarian chapel, an early 20th century Workmen’s Institute and so on.
And of course, throughout the museum, there are livestock, although not as many sheep as I would have expected (this is Wales, after all!).
One of my favourite buildings is St. Teilo’s church, a medieval chapel which was probably built in the early 12th century, but had ceased to be an active church when it was moved to St Fagans. During the process of restoring it, they found that there were colours showing through the lime-washed walls inside the church. Exploring further, they found that the whole interior had been painted in murals — probably from the 1500s — and later covered with lime. Now, all the lime has been scrubbed away, and the church looks as it might have in the 1520s.
I spent about 3 hours at St Fagans, and left some things unseen, so you could definitely spend longer there. But if you were only interested in seeing buildings from a certain era or if you didn’t take much time talking to the delightful interpreters stationed in some of the buildings, you could probably also spend less time. Either way, it’s well worth a visit if you’re in south Wales, especially since it’s free!