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Welsh banquet at Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales.

Welsh banquet at Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales.

Bricks covered the walls and ceiling–if indeed you could call the arch overhead a ceiling. They weren’t the symmetrical rectangular bricks I was used to, rather these bricks were thick and thin, long and short, pock-marked and smooth. These bricks were around six-hundred-years-old!

The lighting was dim, much as it would have been in the 15th century. Flame burning torches would have provided the light in that time, rather than the electric lights installed over the bricks above my head.

I was in the undercroft–the brick-lined, vaulted storage room or cellar–of Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales, ready to take part in a Welsh medieval banquet.

  • Cardiff Castle is on the site of two early Roman forts, with the first built around 55 AD.
  •  A Norman keep (or strongpoint) was built on the site in 1091 by Robert Fitzhamon.
  • The castle changed owners many times over the next centuries depending on the alliances of the rulers of Wales.
  • In 1766 the Bute family took over the castle and brought power and prosperity to Cardiff.
  • The Bute’s englarged and redesigned the castle into a Victorian mansion style.
  • In 1947 the Castle was given to the people of Cardiff by the 5th Marquess of Bute.

 

My visit to the castle was part of the planned activities for the TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) conference held in Cardiff, Wales March 7 – 11, 2010.

I’d already discovered Cardiff was a fascinating city before setting off for the much-anticipated banquet at Cardiff Castle. With daily events at Cardiff’s City Hall, my walk from the Barcelo Angel Hotel  where I was staying had taken me right past the castle several times a day.

Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales.

Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales.

I couldn’t wait to get inside!

The evening began with a glass of mead–for those who dared brave this ancient drink–in a waiting area.

Mead, some say, is the ancestor of all alcoholic drinks, while the specific origin of this honey wine or beer has been lost. Archeologists know that it dates back as far as at least 7000 BC in Northern China, and the Bell-Beaker culture in 2800-1800 BC in Europe.

Today, mead is produced in Wales in a meadery following traditional recipes. My thoughts on it? Well, even though it’s a honey based drink, I didn’t find this mead overly sweet. It was definitely strong, though, and pretty high in alcoholic content (mead may range from 8% like a strong beer to 18%, which is more akin to a strong wine). One glass was definitely enough!

The undercroft dining room soon opened and the whole group, some fifty or so people, moved into it. Serving staff were all costumed, and I soon realized were also the evening entertainers. The music was provided by a harp–an instrument I’ve long admired, and if I had any musical talent whatsoever may have learned how to play.

Costumed performers at Cardiff Castle banquet.

Costumed performers and servers at Cardiff Castle banquet.

The meal, as pretty well every meal I had in Wales had been, was four courses. I found the first course of glamorgan sausage served with red onion marmalade and wild leaf salad quite tasty. Contrary to expectations, the glamorgan sausage is actually cheese based (thus the V for vegetarian on my menu!) originally made with Glamorgan cheese. Now, however, it’s made with Caerphilly cheese, leeks and breadcrumbs that went very well with the onion marmalade.

It was followed by a lamb cawl–soup or stew that’s the national dish of Wales–and a dinner roll. The dish I had was like a chunky soup, and quite tasty even though I was rapidly approaching a maximum lamb consumption level. While I could count on one hand the number of times I’d eaten lamb before I went to Wales, now I’d have to use all my fingers and toes twice over!

The main course was chicken breast, vegetables and minted potatoes. It was followed with dessert, which is usually my favorite part of the meal and this time was no exception. Honey, obviously a more integral part of Welsh cooking than Canadian, was the most important ingredient in the honey creme mousse topped with raspberries and chocolate, along with a Danzy Jones (Welsh whisky) Creme Anglaise. It was light and sweet and melt-in-your mouth delicious. Yum!

Between all of these courses, we of course had glasses of wine (no more mead!) and entertainment by our very talented servers. Here’s a short sample from a video I uploaded to YouTube:

 

 


My Cardiff Castle experience ended up #12 on my 2012 staycation of great places I’ve visited in years past due to its history–while I’ve walked through a number of castles in various states of repair, from crumbling remains to beautifully restored, I really valued the opportunity to spend time in a place where people had been living since the 15th century. Indeed, Cardiff Castle is often described as one of Wales’ leading heritage attractions and a site of international significance.

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