Monday, April 27, 2015

And Back to Bristol........

For the second day of my recent meet up with Matt, we once again ventured into the madness of Bristol, with the intention of visiting some further venues that we had not yet run our eyes and taste buds over. The day started strangely. I succumbed to a sudden, inexplicable 5 minutes of projectile vomiting which I still can't really explain. Matt and I had both eaten the same food more or less the day before and I woke up hangover free and feeling completely fine. Straight afterwards I felt completely fine again. I'm inclined to blame it on a suspicious sandwich at the train station in Nottingham the day before. With this incident behind me, we set out for a bus journey into Bristol city centre. Arriving before the pubs opened, we began our day with a trek up to the Avon Gorge and the magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge, something I can now cross off of my list of 'Things to See in the West Country'. The weather was excellent again, a fine Spring day with temperatures in the high teens and bright sunshine, making Brunel's fabulous structure look all the more brooding and impressive. This imposing structure is made more so by the sightings of disembodied shades drifting around the area, believed to be the spirits of those who have taken their own lives by leaping from the bridge. I've also become aware since my visit of a legend associated with the construction of the Avon Gorge. The legend goes thus: To prove themselves worthy of the lady Avona's love, the giant brothers Vincent and Goram raced to dig a ditch in order to drain a lake. Goram started work but fell asleep digging the Hazel Brook Gorge, while Vincent dug the Avon Gorge, thereby draining the unwanted lake and winning the lady Avona's heart.

An intriguing legend I think you'll agree and one typical of those used to explain the presence of gorges and river valleys across the UK and elsewhere since ancient times. Anyway, less of the giants for now and on to the exploring. The walk back from the Bridge was considerably easier than the walk up, largely due to being downhill and we began our day of drinking in the Harbourside area of the city, a place visited during my first ever trip down last year. Our first pub of choice was the Grain Barge.
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As should be abundantly clear from the picture, this is a converted barge moored along the harbour side. The premises is operated as part of Bristol Beer Factory and it is largely their beers that are on offer, along with at least one guest. They also boast a bar in the Hold, open for live music performances. On offer on our visit were 4 beers from BBF, namely Sunrise, Malz, Nova and Seven as well as Arbor Triple Hop as a guest. Perhaps because of the gorgeous weather, I was instantly drawn to the Sunrise (4.4%). This is an English golden ale with a biscuit malt backbone followed by waves of citrus hops. Matt went for the Arbor Triple Hop which was also deliciously and, as expected, hoppy and very citrusy. The Grain Barge has an outdoor seating area on the upper deck so we decided that this was a good place to plant ourselves whilst the beers went down, which took a few minutes, during which we watched a dog jump in and out of the harbour chasing a stick thrown by its owner. Interestingly, a luminescent squid-like creature was filmed in the harbour in 2013 prompting wild speculation before being revealed to be a man-made promotional device for a TV show.  Matt had again come up with an excellent itinerary for our second day and we tried to stick to this as accurately as possible.

With Matt's itinerary in mind, we took a wander further into the city centre to a place that I assured that I would enjoy, Zero Degrees.
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Zero Degrees is a microbrewery nestled amongst some of Bristol's older buildings with a design that is sympathetic to the surroundings whilst incorporating the brewing equipment into the large interior. This is one of 4 venues across the UK, the other 3 being situated in Blackheath, Reading and, randomly, Cardiff. The beers on offer are put together on the premises and fill 16 handpulls with 6 main styles, including pilsner stout, wheat ales and craft lager. In essence, it's a less extreme but just as good version of BrewDog. I decided on a pint of the Wheat Ale (4.2%). This is a hefe-weizen with exotic top notes to the aromas. These aromas are predominantly banana with floral edges. On the palate the fruit notes continue with caramel coming through on the rich elegant finish. Matt opted for a 5.2% Californian Steam Lager, a pilsner style brew with a drinkable flavour and some nice aromas. We once again decided on open air heating, with the sun beaming down and my face taking the brunt of the damage. The smell of malt in the brewery added to the excellent feel to the day so far. I was very excited for what the rest of the day had in store.

For our next stop, we headed back downhill to a pub that has scene a resurgence in recent months due to a recent makeover with an emphasis on real ale and heavy metal (i.e. HEAVEN!!). The wonderful pub in question is none other than The Gryphon/Griffin.
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This is a small but atmospheric pub with a narrow entrance that widens into a V shaped pub with the bar in the bigger of 2 rooms. When Matt and I arrive, the music is pure genius, heavy rock and metal with well known and obscure acts on offer. Gig posters for established and up and coming acts cover the walls. At this time of day, we are the only customers and this is not a bad thing as it means we are able to discuss the beer with the very attractive bar maid who happens to be on shift, whilst simultaneously attempting to guess the identity of the songs and artists that are playing (Battle Beast anyone?). Speaking of the beer, the ceiling is completely covered in pump clips, a testament to the pub's philosophy to never have the same beer on more than once. On offer for our delectation are 4 of the 6 available handpulls, boasting Atom Dark Alchemy, Oakham Racketeer, Caveman Brewery Si Teh Cah and Cheddar Ales Totty Pot. I was intrigued by Caveman Brewery as it was a new one on me so Matt and I went for a pint each. Based in Swanscombe in Kent, Caveman Brewery specialise in hoppy beers with big flavours. Sih Teh Cah is a good example of this. At 4.8%, this is a deep amber ale, with Ella and Rakau hops from New Zealand. A caramel malt backbone is complimented by a rich fruity hop character. We had such a good time in this pub that we decided on a second pint here, this time going for Oakham Racketeer, another of my favourite breweries. A new beer from the brewery's Oakademy of Excellence, Racketeer (5%), is a citrusy golden beer with more New Zealand hops dominating throughout. All in all, this may be one of my favourite pubs, with the possible exception of the toilets, which are in the basement and slightly reminiscent of a scene from Saw. Still, you can't have it all.

Next up, we made a quick stop off at Bristol Cider Shop, an independent local emporium that even delivers outside of the Bristol area for a courier fee. I picked up a couple of local ciders for Amy and Matt got some stuff for himself before we made our way to Bristol's oldest pub, The Hatchet Inn.

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The Hatchet is named for the tools that local woodsmen used in nearby Clifton Woods. Grade II listed, the building dates from 1606 but has undergone significant alterations since. The pub has a pool room upstairs and a beer garden at the rear that faces the nearby O2 Academy. In the 18th Century, there was a rat pit at the rear of the building. The pub is notorious for being one of the taverns frequented by the infamous pirate Edward Teach (Blackbeard) who is alleged to haunt the building. The bar is U shaped and almost opposite one of the 2 entrances. The 3 handpulls feature Hobgoblin, Doom Bar and a charity Help for Heroes ale. Thatcher's real cider is also available. Matt and I decided upon the Help for Heroes ale (4.2%), brewed by Marston's on behalf of the charity with a percentage of the cost of each pint going towards this noble cause. The ale itself is copper coloured with nice malty, hoppy balance and an easy drinking flavour and mild aroma of biscuit. We were starting to flag a little by this time but were not about to give up easily.

Our next move was to a pub that Matt has raved about for a while. Nicknamed the 'Cat Pub', for reasons that will become clear, we next headed to the Bag O' Nails.

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The nickname given to the pub, mostly by Matt, is due to the landlord's fondness for cats, of which at least 6 roam the premises. Only one of these is present in the bar area during our visit, curled up in the window on a copy of New Scientist. There is even a sign on the way in warning customers to be aware of the kitten to prevent any risk of her reaching the busy road outside the pub. The pub itself is certainly atmospheric, fairly small inside with 8 of 9 handpulls in use. These offer a regularly changing range of real ales. During our visit, beers are available from Hop Kettle, Bragdy Heavy Industry, Naked Beer Company, Ashley Down, Flying Monk, Left Handed Giant and Red Squirrel. I decided on a pint of Bragdy Heavy Industry's 77 (4.9%). This is a big amber IPA with dark Seville marmalade and piney peppery bitterness. Matt decided on Hop Kettle's Kia Ora which was very sweet and smooth. As we took a seat and enjoyed our beers, I  took a moment to admire the long list of landlord's rules, scrawled on a pillar at the bar. Some of them are reasonable: Rule 11: No skipping a record once it has started. Others are tongue in cheek: Rule 12: Rule 11 does not apply to the landlord. Whilst simultaneously flicking through the magazine I'd extracted from under the cat (that's a strange sentence), and attempting to photograph said feline, Matt was engaged in conversation with a gentleman across the room. This began as a chat about Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits, segued further into music and then got strange when the gentleman told us about his 'innate ability' to identify a person's ancestral background from facial features alone. Interestingly, he couldn't work mine out until I told him, at which point it all apparently became clear. Worst superpower ever. We decided that this was probably our cue to leave.

We intended to only visit one more pub before I sadly had to depart for the station and the train back to the Midlands. This plan changed slightly when I became distracted by an interesting looking place that I'd never seen before. We decided to change tack slightly and made a quick trip to Beer Emporium.

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Situated in a series of brick vaults beneath the streets of Bristol, the Beer Emporium is also a restaurant and a bottle shop. The interior is very modern with low ceilings and dark alcoves off to the side. The bar is well stocked with both handpulls and a variety of bottled products. 6 of the 12 available handpulls are in use, with beers from a variety of breweries local to the area and further afield. With time of the essence and finances running low, we decided that halves would be a better option here. I went for yet another beer from another brewery that I love, Abbeydale Cosmology (5%). This is a premium blonde bitter with crisp fresh-hop aromas and soft pineapple notes due to a blend of 2 Australian hops, Galaxy and Ella. Matt decided on a half of a beer from Nottingham's own Blue Monkey brewery. I feel that Beer Emporium is definitely worth a further visit when we have more time in future.

We had time for one more pub before my inevitable departure. This led to another change of plan as we swapped a pub that I've not visited for one that we thoroughly enjoyed on a previous visit and that happens to be closer to the train station that I would soon require. So it was, with heavy hearts and fuzzy heads, we made a return to The Cornubia.
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The Cornubia is a much loved ale house, tucked away on Temple Street. It has featured in this blog before but I can't remember whether there was a picture but there is now at any rate. Amongst the quirky features of this great pub are various decorative flags and a turtle tank, complete with turtles which I took care to notice this time. Of the 10 available hand pumps, 7 were in use with their usual strong range of beers from all over the place. Between us we decided on Mantles Gold and Peerless El Dorado respectively. The El Dorado was excellent. At 4.8%, it is a full bodied malty amber ale with a distinctive, peachy fruit finish, derived from the hops that give the beer its name and provide a medium hop bitterness. It's a great beer with which to end a great couple of days.

Sadly, the time had come to make my weary way back to Temple Meads station for the long journey back to Nottingham. I always manage to have fun in the West Country. The beer and the company is excellent and I genuinely believe that a lot of regions would struggle to beat it for this. It's always increasingly hard to go home after so many hours of fun experiencing what this beautiful part of the country has to offer. But, never fear, I am intending to go back. As long as this part of the world keeps impressing me, it will be too hard to stay away.

With my work situation now more conducive to regular trips, expect to see further updates, on an almost weakly basis fairly soon. Until then, keep drinking!

Fan-TAFF-tic!

First things first, credit for this entry's ingenious title pun goes to Matt, who coined this during a text conversation to arrange a visit to the location in question. The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed my reference to an upcoming visit to the Welsh capital for an exploration of what beer over the border has to offer the seasoned drinker (assuming you were able to access my last entry; I had some slight publishing issues). I am pleased to announce that, not only did this trip successfully take place, it was the first of a 2 day excursion which took in a return to Bristol for a visit to some pubs not visited previously. What follows is an in-depth look around Cardiff and some of its many fine drinking establishments. But first, as always, the history bit.

Cardiff  is the capital and largest city in Wales and the tenth largest city in the United Kingdom.The city is the country's chief commercial centre, the base for most national cultural and sporting institutions, the Welsh national media, and the seat of the National Assembly for Wales. The unitary authority area's mid-2011 population was estimated to be 346,100, while the population of the Larger Urban Zone was estimated at 861,400 in 2009. Cardiff is a significant tourist centre and the most popular visitor destination in Wales with 18.3 million visitors in 2010. In 2011, Cardiff was ranked sixth in the world in National Geographic's alternative tourist destinations.
The city of Cardiff is the county town of the historic county of Glamorgan (and later South Glamorgan). Cardiff is part of the Eurocities network of the largest European cities.[5] The Cardiff Urban Area covers a slightly larger area outside the county boundary, and includes the towns of Dinas Powys and Penarth. A small town until the early 19th century, its prominence as a major port for the transport of coal following the arrival of industry in the region contributed to its rise as a major city.
Cardiff was made a city in 1905, and proclaimed the capital of Wales in 1955. Since the 1990s, Cardiff has seen significant development. A new waterfront area at Cardiff Bay contains the Senedd building, home to the Welsh Assembly and the Wales Millennium Centre arts complex. Current developments include the continuation of the redevelopment of the Cardiff Bay and city centre areas with projects such as the Cardiff International Sports Village, a BBC drama village, and a new business district in the city centre.
Sporting venues in the city include the Millennium Stadium (the national stadium for the Wales national rugby union team and the Wales national football team), SWALEC Stadium (the home of Glamorgan County Cricket Club), Cardiff City Stadium (the home of Cardiff City football team), Cardiff International Sports Stadium (the home of Cardiff Amateur Athletic Club) and Cardiff Arms Park (the home of Cardiff Blues and Cardiff RFC rugby union teams). The city was awarded with the European City of Sport in 2009 due to its role in hosting major international sporting events. It has been announced that Cardiff will again be the European City of Sport in 2014. The Millennium Stadium hosted 11 football matches as part of the 2012 Summer Olympics, including the games' opening event and the men's bronze medal match.

Caerdydd (the Welsh name of the city) derives from the earlier Welsh form Caerdyf. The change from -dyf to -dydd shows the colloquial alteration of Welsh f [v] and dd [ð], and was perhaps also driven by folk etymology (dydd is Welsh for 'day' whereas dyf has no obvious meaning). This sound change had probably first occurred in the Middle Ages; both forms were current in the Tudor period. Caerdyf has its origins in post-Roman Brythonic words meaning "the fort of the Taff". The fort probably refers to that established by the Romans. Caer is Welsh for fort and -dyf is in effect a form of Taf (Taff), the river which flows by Cardiff Castle, with the t showing consonant mutation to d and the vowel showing affection as a result of a (lost) genitive case ending.
The anglicised form Cardiff is derived from Caerdyf, with the Welsh f [v] borrowed as ff /f/, as also happens in Taff (from Welsh Taf) and Llandaff (from Welsh Llandaf). As English does not have the vowel [ɨ] the final vowel has been borrowed as /ɪ/.
The antiquarian William Camden (1551–1623) suggested that the name Cardiff may derive from "Caer-Didi" ("the Fort of Didius"), a name supposedly given in honour of Aulus Didius Gallus, governor of a nearby province at the time when the Roman fort was established. Although some sources repeat this theory, it has been rejected on linguistic grounds by modern scholars such as Professor Gwynedd Pierce.

Archaeological evidence from sites in and around Cardiff—the St Lythans burial chamber, near Wenvoe (about four miles (6.4 km) west, south west of Cardiff city centre), the Tinkinswood burial chamber, near St Nicholas (about six miles (10 km) west of Cardiff city centre), the Cae'rarfau Chambered Tomb, Creigiau (about six miles (10 km) north west of Cardiff city centre) and the Gwern y Cleppa Long Barrow, near Coedkernew, Newport (about eight and a quarter miles (13.5 km) north east of Cardiff city centre)—shows that people had settled in the area by at least around 6,000 years before present (BP), during the early Neolithic; about 1,500 years before either Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza was completed. A group of five Bronze Age tumuli is at the summit of The Garth (Welsh: Mynydd y Garth), within the county's northern boundary. Four Iron Age hill fort and enclosure sites have been identified within Cardiff's present-day county boundaries, including Caerau Hillfort, an enclosed area of 5.1 hectares (51,000 m2).
Until the Roman conquest of Britain, Cardiff was part of the territory of the Silures – a Celtic British tribe that flourished in the Iron Age – whose territory included the areas that would become known as Breconshire, Monmouthshire and Glamorgan. The 3.2-hectare (8-acre) fort established by the Romans near the mouth of the River Taff in 75 AD, in what would become the north western boundary of the centre of Cardiff, was built over an extensive settlement that had been established by the Silures in the 50s AD. The fort was one of a series of military outposts associated with Isca Augusta (Caerleon) that acted as border defences. The fort may have been abandoned in the early 2nd century as the area had been subdued, however by this time a civilian settlement, or vicus, was established. It was likely made up of traders who made a living from the fort, ex-soldiers and their families. A Roman villa has been discovered at Ely. Contemporary with the Saxon Shore Forts of the 3rd and 4th centuries, a stone fortress was established at Cardiff. Similar to the shore forts, the fortress was built to protect Britannia from raiders. Coins from the reign of Gratian indicate that Cardiff was inhabited until at least the 4th century; the fort was abandoned towards the end of the 4th century, as the last Roman legions left the province of Britannia with Magnus Maximus.
Little is known about the fort and civilian settlement in the period between the Roman departure from Britain and the Norman Conquest. The settlement probably shrank in size and may even have been abandoned. In the absence of Roman rule, Wales was divided into small kingdoms; early on, Meurig ap Tewdrig emerged as the local king in Glywysing (which later became Glamorgan). The area passed through his family until the advent of the Normans in the 11th century.

In 1081 William I, King of England, began work on the castle keep within the walls of the old Roman fort. Cardiff Castle has been at the heart of the city ever since. The castle was substantially altered and extended during the Victorian period by John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, and the architect William Burges. Original Roman work can, however, still be distinguished in the wall facings.
A small town grew up in the shadow of the castle, made up primarily of settlers from England. Cardiff had a population of between 1,500 and 2,000 in the Middle Ages, a relatively normal size for a Welsh town in this period. By the end of the 13th century, Cardiff was the only town in Wales with a population exceeding 2,000, but it was relatively small compared with most notable towns in the Kingdom of England.
In the early 12th century a wooden palisade was erected around the city to protect it. Cardiff was a busy port in the Middle Ages, and was declared a Staple port in 1327.
Henry II travelled through Cardiff on his journey to Ireland and had a premonition against the holding of Sunday markets at St Piran's Chapel, which stood in the middle of the road between the castle entrance and Westgate.
In 1404 Owain Glyndŵr burned Cardiff and took Cardiff Castle. As the town was still very small, most of the buildings were made of wood and the town was destroyed. However, the town was soon rebuilt and began to flourish once again.

In 1536, the Act of Union between England and Wales led to the creation of the shire of Glamorgan, and Cardiff was made the county town. It also became part of Kibbor hundred. Around this same time the Herbert family became the most powerful family in the area. In 1538, Henry VIII closed the Dominican and Franciscan friaries in Cardiff, the remains of which were used as building materials. A writer around this period described Cardiff: "The River Taff runs under the walls of his honours castle and from the north part of the town to the south part where there is a fair quay and a safe harbour for shipping."
Cardiff had become a Free Borough in 1542. In 1573, it was made a head port for collection of customs duties, and in 1581, Elizabeth I granted Cardiff its first royal charter. Pembrokeshire historian George Owen described Cardiff in 1602 as "the fayrest towne in Wales yett not the welthiest.", and the town gained a second Royal Charter in 1608.
A disastrous flood of the Bristol Channel on 30 January 1607 (now believed to be a tsunami) led to a change in the course of the River Taff and the ruining of St Mary's Parish Church, which was replaced by its chapel of ease, St John the Baptist.
During the Second English Civil War, St Fagans just to the west of the town, played host to the Battle of St Fagans. The battle, between a Royalist rebellion and a New Model Army detachment, was a decisive victory for the Parliamentarians and allowed Oliver Cromwell to conquer Wales. It is the last major battle to occur in Wales, with about 200 (mostly Royalist) soldiers killed.
In the ensuing century Cardiff was at peace. In 1766, John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute married into the Herbert family and was later created Baron Cardiff, and in 1778 he began renovations on Cardiff Castle. In the 1790s a racecourse, printing press, bank and coffee house all opened, and Cardiff gained a stagecoach service to London. Despite these improvements, Cardiff's position in the Welsh urban hierarchy had declined over the 18th century. Iolo Morgannwg called it "an obscure and inconsiderable place", and the 1801 census found the population to be only 1,870, making Cardiff only the 25th largest town in Wales, well behind Merthyr and Swansea.

In 1793, John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute was born. He would spend his life building the Cardiff docks and would later be called "the creator of modern Cardiff". A twice-weekly boat service between Cardiff and Bristol was established in 1815, and in 1821, the Cardiff Gas Works was established.
After the Napoleonic Wars Cardiff entered a period of social and industrial unrest, starting with the trial and hanging of Dic Penderyn in 1831.
The town grew rapidly from the 1830s onwards, when the Marquess of Bute built a dock, which eventually linked to the Taff Vale Railway. Cardiff became the main port for exports of coal from the Cynon, Rhondda, and Rhymney valleys, and grew at a rate of nearly 80% per decade between 1840 and 1870. Much of the growth was due to migration from within and outside Wales: in 1841, a quarter of Cardiff's population were English-born and more than 10% had been born in Ireland. By the 1881 census, Cardiff had overtaken both Merthyr and Swansea to become the largest town in Wales. Cardiff's new status as the premier town in South Wales was confirmed when it was chosen as the site of the University College South Wales and Monmouthshire in 1893.
A permanent military presence was established in the town with the completion of Maindy Barracks in 1877.
Cardiff faced a challenge in the 1880s when David Davies of Llandinam and the Barry Railway Company promoted the development of rival docks at Barry. Barry docks had the advantage of being accessible in all tides, and David Davies claimed that his venture would cause "grass to grow in the streets of Cardiff". From 1901 coal exports from Barry surpassed those from Cardiff, but the administration of the coal trade remained centred on Cardiff, in particular its Coal Exchange, where the price of coal on the British market was determined and the first million-pound deal was struck in 1907. The city also strengthened its industrial base with the decision of the owners of the Dowlais Ironworks in Merthyr (who would later form part of Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds) to build a new steelworks close to the docks at East Moors, which Lord Bute opened on 4 February 1891.

King Edward VII granted Cardiff city status on 28 October 1905, and the city acquired a Roman Catholic Cathedral in 1916. In subsequent years an increasing number of national institutions were located in the city, including the National Museum of Wales, Welsh National War Memorial, and the University of Wales Registry Building—however, it was denied the National Library of Wales, partly because the library's founder, Sir John Williams, considered Cardiff to have "a non-Welsh population".
After a brief post-war boom, Cardiff docks entered a prolonged decline in the interwar period. By 1936, their trade was less than half its value in 1913, reflecting the slump in demand for Welsh coal. Bomb damage during the Cardiff Blitz in World War II included the devastation of Llandaff Cathedral, and in the immediate postwar years the city's link with the Bute family came to an end.
 
The city was proclaimed capital city of Wales on 20 December 1955, by a written reply by the Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George. Caernarfon had also vied for this title. Cardiff therefore celebrated two important anniversaries in 2005. The Encyclopedia of Wales notes that the decision to recognise the city as the capital of Wales "had more to do with the fact that it contained marginal Conservative constituencies than any reasoned view of what functions a Welsh capital should have". Although the city hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1958, Cardiff only became a centre of national administration with the establishment of the Welsh Office in 1964, which later prompted the creation of various other public bodies such as the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Development Agency, most of which were based in Cardiff.
 
The East Moors Steelworks closed in 1978 and Cardiff lost population during the 1980s, consistent with a wider pattern of counter urbanisation in Britain. However, it recovered and was one of the few cities (outside London) where population grew during the 1990s. During this period the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation was promoting the redevelopment of south Cardiff; an evaluation of the regeneration of Cardiff Bay published in 2004 concluded that the project had "reinforced the competitive position of Cardiff" and "contributed to a massive improvement in the quality of the built environment", although it had failed "to attract the major inward investors originally anticipated".
In the 1997 devolution referendum, Cardiff voters rejected the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales by 55.4% to 44.2% on a 47% turnout, which Denis Balsom partly ascribed to a general preference in Cardiff and some other parts of Wales for a 'British' rather than exclusively 'Welsh' identity. The relative lack of support for the Assembly locally, and difficulties between the Welsh Office and Cardiff Council in acquiring the original preferred venue, Cardiff City Hall, encouraged other local authorities to bid to house the Assembly. However, the Assembly eventually located at Tŷ Hywel in Cardiff Bay in 1999; in 2005, a new debating chamber on an adjacent site, designed by Richard Rogers, was opened.
The city was county town of Glamorgan until the council reorganisation in 1974 paired Cardiff and the now Vale of Glamorgan together as the new county of South Glamorgan. Further local government restructuring in 1996 resulted in Cardiff city's district council becoming a unitary authority, the City and County of Cardiff, with the addition of Creigiau and Pentyrch.

So, thousands of years of history have made Cardiff the place that it is today and it was into this backdrop that we eagerly flung ourselves. With Matt being in Bristol and myself in Nottingham, we agreed to meet in Cardiff. 3 train journeys and 2 changes later and I was stepping out into bright Spring sunshine in the land of the dragon. As much as that sounded like a Hawkwind lyric, it really was that kind of day, the clouds of England parting into bright sunshine as my train left the tunnel that runs under the River Severn. Matt is familiar with the Cardiff area as his sister lives there and so had planned a rough itinerary for the afternoon. Our first move was to jump on yet another train and make the short hop to Cardiff Bay. This relatively newly developed area is a haven of pubs and shops and it was to one of these pubs that we quickly ventured. Venue number one for the day was a Wetherspoons overlooking the entrance to Cardiff Bay, The Mount Stuart.

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Opened in July 2014 in what was previously a Harry Ramsden's restaurant, The Mount Stuart is a 2 storey glass building with extensive seating both inside and out, including an upstairs terrace with telescopes for those wanting to admire the impressive views. The building originally dates from the 1880s and was the long time offices of Mount Stuart Dry Docks Ltd.  There are bars upstairs and downstairs and these are well stocked as you would expect from a Spoons. Amongst the usual offerings such as Abbot Ale, Ruddles and Adnams Broadside, there were also a couple of guest ales, featured as part of the recent international brewery collaboration event. The two available on our visit were Celt Experience Chieftain and Norwegian Brewery Nogne O Wit. We decided on a pint of Chieftain to start the day and this proved to be a good plan. Brewed with Amarillo hops, this is a lovely aromatic ale of 4.1% ABV. This is a pale, fruity single hopped session ale full of fresh berry, floral and spice aromas. We decided to make the most of the excellent weather and sit in the outdoor seating area overlooking both the entrance to the Bay and the nearby Doctor Who Experience, sadly closed during our visit. The beer went down very quickly so we decided that a second pint was in order. It made sense to try the 2nd guest beer, which was again an excellent move. At 4.5 %, Wit is a Belgian style ale with generous contributions of orange peel and coriander giving it a fruity palate and a spicy finish. I thought that food would be a good idea at this stage so we moved to the upstairs seating area whilst I inhaled a very good Panini. The area is certainly very picturesque and has an intriguing atmosphere. The nearby docks were the scene of a ghostly sighting in 1962 when a teenager who was fishing encountered a man who was smoking a pipe and wearing a trilby hat and either a trench coat or overcoat. The figure swiftly vanished into a nearby field of flat prairie grass.

We took our leave of this location and headed a few yards away to our next destination, Terra Nova. Image result for terra nova cardiff

This impressive looking building is yet another addition to the area following the recent redevelopment. The interior includes some traditional looking features such as exposed beams and period wall designs. This was the scene of our first encounter for the day with Brains Brewery as they are based in the city and feature in quite a significant number of the pubs. Terra Nova features the whole range of Brains beers. With quite a range to choose from, we went for a pint each of Brains Gold. This is a full-flavoured, hoppy and refreshing golden ale. There is a satisfying bitterness, balanced by vibrant citrus aromas and complex hop flavours from late hopping with Cascade and Styrian Goldings, all for a strength of 4.3%. We again made use of the sunshine and selected a table outside where Matt exposed me to some treats from the world of music on YouTube. After a few minutes, the breeze had begun to pick up so we decided to finish our pints and venture elsewhere.

Our next destination was a heritage pub a short walk from the bay area on Bute Street.

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Known as The Packet after a type of steamer vessel that used to frequent the nearby docks, this is a spacious pub that has retained its heritage look with fabulous mahogany construction behind the bar, consisting of columns and arches and 2 rope clad original pillars. The bar takes up much of the central space with seating around the edges into a series of alcoves.  The pub was built in 1864 as a hotel mainly for sailors. There is an unwritten rule that a sailor caught with the tide out must be given boarding. In 1985, the building was extended, consuming the house next door. The stained glass windows were replaced in 2004. Brains beers were again in evidence here and this time we decided on a pint of Rev. James (4.5%). Full bodied and warming, this is rich in palate, spicy and aromatic with a deeply satisfying finish.

We enjoyed our time at The Packet and then decided that we would venture back into Cardiff city centre. Opting not to jump back onto the train with the weather still good, we decided to walk back into the centre seeing as it was really only a few minutes away. On our way we passed the Oasis Dental Care practice which led to us attempting to make some puns combining dentistry with a legendary Britpop band. The winner: Don't Look Plaque In Anger......... I'm truly sorry. What happened next was pure comedy gold. Approaching the city centre, we spied a nice looking pub that we decided to investigate further. I needed the loo if nothing else. The pub in question was the Golden Cross.

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This famous listed building is a perfect example of an old Cardiff pub and the exterior retains its historic glazed tiles. We entered the pub to the sight of 4 handpulls, all out of use but Brains Gold was available on Smooth flow. Matt ordered whilst I went to the loo. Upon my return, we quickly realised what was unusual about the pub. The posters advertising performances by drag acts and the look we were given by the barman gave away that we were in a gay pub. This isn't so much of an issue but was a good indication that in future we need to make sure we research places properly. The Brains Smooth itself was very good. At 3.7%, it's easy drinking and very light and went down very easily indeed.

Next up was somewhere that we had definitely planned as part of the days activities, The Cottage. Image result for the cottage cardiff

This is yet another Brains pub, in the heart of the city centre on St. Mary's Street. The setting inside is very relaxed and traditional with a good range of cask ales. As well as the normal beer range, the bar also featured a beer from the brewery's cask beer range, Gin Lane (5%). This seemed like an excellent choice after our good experiences with their beers so far and we were proven correct. This ale was brewed especially for the Wales Beer Festival and is due to reappear at the Great British Beer Festival. Lemon and lime aromas give way to herbal, spicy hop flavours and a dry, pleasantly bitter aftertaste. This concoction also benefits from the addition of ground juniper berries and crushed coriander seeds creating an overall distinctive gin flavour. The pub is quite long and narrow and we pulled up a table in the back to enjoy our delicious pints. Matt took this time to outline the general plan for the rest of the day which would ultimately culminate in meeting up with his sister and her boyfriend.

I was heartened by the potential delights to come and before long it was time for a wander to our next destination, the Queen's Vaults.

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Probably later Victorian, this grade 2 listed building had a structural refurbishment in 1996, making it cavernous and open plan. It is not completely clear when the pub was extended to consume the 2 adjacent properties. The pub was previously known as the Flyhalf and Firkin until taking its present name in 2002. The pub is a stone's throw from the Millennium Stadium and inside it contains 3 pool tables, situated underneath a high beamed, pitched ceiling, like a barn. The bar was well stocked with 6 handpulls, most of which featured the now familiar site of Brains Beers. Additional to this though was Grog y Vog from the Vale of Glamorgan Brewery up the road in Barry. At 4.3%, this is a golden pale ale late hopped with whole Styrian Goldings for a fresh aroma and flavour. It was certainly refreshing and I was thoroughly enjoying my first ever trip to Wales. The beer was definitely starting to have an effect by this stage but more fun was still to come.

Next up, in the shadow of Cardiff Castle, was Dempsey's.
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Situated opposite the main entrance of Cardiff Castle, Dempsey's is a traditional Irish bar operated by Brains (them again). The bar is well stocked with the Brains range and this time we opted for the SA (4.2%), whilst admiring the many gig posters dotted across the walls. The SA is copper coloured with a full flavour. A nutty richness comes from a blend of fine pale and crystal malts and this balanced with a satisfying dryness from the use of Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings. There is a pleasant hint of spirit in the aroma. I took some time here to admire the nearby castle, both impressive and imposing in the afternoon Welsh sunshine. As the history section above makes clear, the castle dates back to 1070. This area of the city is renowned for its extensive hauntings and the local ghost walk starts from the main entrance of the castle. The castle is believed to be the haunt of a phantom coach which heard when a member of the Hastings is about to die. It was heard by John Boyle on the night his cousin the Marquis Hastings died. Other ghosts reputed to haunt the castle include the second Marquess of Bute who walks through several walls, a faceless woman in a long skirt known as Sarah and a 3 metre tall giant who walks around the park. A couple of streets nearby also have accompanying spirits. Nearby Cowbridge Road is haunted by the ghost of a young boy and Queen Street, at the other end of Castle Road, is home to sightings of a phantom grey female figure who walks along the street until reaching the bridge where she turns and waves in the direction of the castle. These tales sound spooky in the bright daylight so it's easy to imagine how sinister this can seem when the sun goes down.

It was soon time to move again, this time for a rendezvous with Matt's sister Becca and her boyfriend Rich. The venue for this meet up was the City Arms.
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Locally renowned for its impressive and ever-changing range of beers, the pub was constructed in the 1880s, the same decade that Brains was founded, and was known as the Cattle Market Tavern. It was later renamed the Dover Arms and became the City Arms in 1905 in recognition of Cardiff's new City status. The pub specialises in serving high quality ales and ciders straight from the cask, on tap and in bottles. The pub was voted CAMRA Cardiff Pub of the Year in 2012 and was highly commended in 2013 and 2014. The bar is crammed with handpulls featuring Brains SA and Dark as it regulars and a myriad of ever changing guests. Catching my particular attention was East Street Cream (5%), courtesy of RCH Brewery. This is a full bodied beer which combines malty, hoppy and fruit bitterness with a sweet taste, which all vie for dominance in what is a complex chestnut coloured ale. The pub sits almost opposite the main entrance to the Millennium Stadium, leading to some excellent photo opportunities. As I supped my very nice pint, Becca and Rich soon arrived accompanied by Rich's friend Kit. With our gang now complete for the evening, we finished our drinks and nipped across the road to our next destination, conveniently located opposite.
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Urban Taphouse, pictured above, is a local outlet for the Newport based Tiny Rebel brewery. The bar has built a reputation for excellent beer and excellent food. As well as a selection of Tiny Rebel beers, the bar also features a changing selection of guest beers. Being a big fan of Tiny Rebel beers, I decided on a pint of Goldie Lookin' Ale (4.5%). This beer is a collaboration between the brewery and local novelty rap group Goldie Lookin' Chain. This is a golden and very tasty beer with a heavy smattering of American hops adding to the aroma and a tang on the palate. As well as beer, Matt and I had decided to sample one of the renowned burgers and this was another excellent decision. The food was amazing and I can recommend it to any visitors to this fine city. Another feature of Urban Taphouse is it's regular weekly board games night on a Monday. Matt and I, very much beer addled by now struggled to understand the rules of  a game called Epidemic, which was essentially Risk with added disease. The others seemed to be enjoying it though! It was at this point that we randomly bumped into David, a friend of ours from Nottingham who has now relocated to Cardiff. This was completely unexpected but very nice all the same.

Sadly, our day in Cardiff was almost over so it wasn't long before we had to bid our farewells and head off to the station for the train back to Bristol. We did have time to pop into another Wetherspoons near the station for a very quick pint but, due largely to the sheer amount of beer and the length of the day, neither of us paid much attention to the beer that we drank. The train journey to Bristol was a brief one but it gave us both a chance to reflect on our day. I was very impressed by what Cardiff had to offer, even with the preponderance of Brains in many of the establishments. The beer they offer is of excellent quality and there are many other pubs that we had no time to visit. Cardiff is definitely worth a visit for any fan of real ale. The Welsh certainly know what they're doing and this is reflected in the care and quality provided in the beers. I would fully recommend a trip across the border. The Dragon is waking and it's waiting for you.