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A fabulous (and educational) day out
St Fagans National History Museum (Cardiff)
Member Name: chrisandmark
St Fagans National History Museum (Cardiff)
Advantages: A fantastic day out, interesting and fun, very kiddie friendly, free admission
Disadvantages: Not 100% disabled friendly
The St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff is a large open-air attraction, designed and put together to educate visitors about Welsh history. We found it while having a short break to South Wales with two of our children, only spotting it after driving along the motorway in search of something to do that we'd all enjoy.
After parking the car we followed the 'entrance' signs which took us through a large building; this building houses a restaurant, gift shop and the beginning of your Welsh experience in the form of decorative pieces along the walls, plus a few select statuettes displayed en route to the main area of the museum. Before you leave this building you walk through a display called Oriel 1 - this is an interesting look at Welsh dress, farming equipment and other displays designed to give visitors an insight into not only Wales of long ago, but also how the language and some customs have managed to survive to the present day.
Much of the display in Oriel 1 is kept behind glass so my (then) three year old wasn't very interested, her twelve year old sister enjoyed looking at the various Welsh costumes and fashions through the ages - and so did I actually, even though many of them were slightly too puritanical to really have any meaning in the 21st century!
We didn't linger in Oriel 1 for long as the sun was shining and we wanted to get outside and enjoy it! As we stepped outside I was shocked at how large and sprawling the outside of the museum is, it spreads as far as the eye can see and I decided to sent my daughter back inside to grab one of the free maps we'd spotted on the way in! The whole area is very green, peaceful despite the fact that there were hundreds of people walking around and extremely beautiful - even though the museum is located near a busy motorway hardly any traffic noise filtered through which gives the impression of being in the countryside.
The open air museum is amazing from the moment you clap eyes on it. Whole buildings have been uprooted and re-built here, made to look (and even smell sometimes) how they would have done in days gone by. The chapel with its striking colourful frescoes against pure white walls, this is a beautiful building and I can understand how awe inspiring it must have been as a working church in the middle ages. It has that air of peace that all places of worship have; it's not exactly spiritual feeling, but there's a define sense of 'something' in there.
The farmhouse is stunning; painted a fiery red colour, you can go in and see how the animals shared the home (to a point) and view for yourself how little room there was for the farmer and his (undoubtedly huge) family. I wasn't so keen on the tannery shed, the building having an air of bleakness about it - the way animal skins had been draped around made it believable, but it just wasn't my kind of building. My four year old enjoyed the ancient round huts, which we found out were Iron Age structures after sitting in on a talk inside one of the huts - we didn't stay inside for too long as there was an almost overpowering smell of earth,
After this we walked up the hill to see the more recent history of Wales - the ironmonger's shop, a sweet shop and store selling delicious looking Welsh goodies. This area of the museum is decidedly less twee and wandering around here you get a sense of how industrialisation hit the hills and valleys of Wales. Here we bought sweets for the kids (and daddy!), the most delicious scone I've ever eaten and a few sweet treats for when we went back to the hotel - everything was perfect and in these days of plastic wrappers my youngest was highly impressed to be given her selection of sweets in a paper bag. I personally enjoyed the Welsh foods shop and was surprised to find the prices weren't much different to modern food shops I'd been mooching around on previous days. I bought a few small souvenirs, Welsh Cakes and some delicious chocolate eggs which had been made locally to the museum.
Within this row of 'shops' is a photography studio which has been made to look 'of the times'. Here you can dress up in a variety of olden days Welsh costumes and have a black and white family portrait taken. I'd have loved to have had this done but unfortunately my partner doesn't like having his photo taken and one of the girls' was sick (and therefore not in the mood) so we had to miss out on this this time. I did, however, speak to an elderly lady who had just collected her photograph and the quality and posing of her and her two granddaughters made for an excellent memento of their visit to Wales.
In every corner of the museum there's something to look at or do, just when you think you've seen everything you'll walk around the side of a building and find something you hadn't noticed before. My youngest daughter loved the small woodland and after joining a talk (which we later found out she shouldn't have!) she was given a gift bag with a magnifying glass, book on English wildlife and pencil inside - which she was surprisingly thrilled with! Dotted around the woodland are interactive information boards designed to teach children about their surroundings. My daughter obviously enjoyed the one showing various 3D animal poo's the most, while I had to physically move her older sister away from the one showing lots of different butterflies and telling you where in the woodland to look for them.
The museum is set within the grounds of St Fagan's Castle, which was closed for restoration work at the time of our visit. This was no hardship as I hadn't even been aware of the castle until I heard it was closed! I've since looked at photos on the internet and it looks very pretty, but a bit too 'stately home' for me - I like my castles as the huge stone defence types, not this (admittedly beautiful) chocolate box building. I'm sure it's a lovely place to look round though, and if we ever visit the museum again we'll no doubt go and have a look.
We spent a good five hours in the National History Museum and all agreed that it had been a good choice of activity. It was an interesting day, I felt I learnt lots about the Welsh culture and how it's been shaped through the centuries - the fact that it's so hands on helps you to really absorb the details. As an adult I was impressed, but I was surprised by how much effort the museum has gone to to engage children. In Oriel 1 there are several points where children can play with masks, colour in pictures of the exhibits or choose from a variety of other fun activities - things like this are so simple to include in an exhibition such as this, but can make all the difference when it comes to capturing the attention of a young child.
The museum is (amazingly) free to visit, although there is a flat £3.50 car parking fee. This, in my opinion, is fantastic as we have a similar outdoors museum near where I live which charges an exorbitant entrance fee!
Disabled access is fine to a point. The museum is hilly in parts and the natural landscape means there will be parts that less mobile visitors will not be able to reach, this is a shame but I can understand it as the museum is kept so 'real' that a modern pathway would just spoil the effect they have so cleverly mastered. The same is true for pushchairs, which probably explains why I didn't notice many babies in prams while we were there.
I thoroughly, completely and utterly recommend a visit to the St Fagans National History Museum. It's one of those places that will grab you as soon as you walk in, and you don't even have to be terribly interested in Welsh history to enjoy the walk round. We all loved the day and the atmosphere made it perfect to have a natter as we were walking, away from the distractions present when doing a more modern activity - it made for an ideal family day for us, my only regret is not taking my mum as (as a real history buff) she'd have enjoyed it far more than babysitting our other two children back in Birmingham!
Summary: If you're stuck for something to do in Cardiff this place comes HIGHLY recommended by my family!
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- Yesterdays World (East Sussex)
- Walks of Life Museum (Tuxford)
- Birnham Arrts & Conference Centre
- Hornby Visitor Centre (Kent)
- Chesters Roman Fort and Museum (Hadrians Wall)
- Northamptonshire Ironstone Railway Museum
- Horniman Museum and Gardens
- Upton House and Gardens (Warwickshire)
- Mompesson House (Salisbury)