Bute Park, Cardiff
If you’re looking for some of the best dog walks that Wales has to offer (and in video!), then you've come to the right place. Join us on our adventure, where we plan to travel all over Wales, seeking out the best spots to take your dog (or dogs!) and we want to share our adventure with all of you.
We've just started filming our new series in Cardiff, and aim to showcase some of the coolest walks that we can find. That way, more people can share our adventure, and find some of the best-kept secret walking locations in their local area!
To watch episode five, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Where'd we go this week?
This week we tackled a giant, and headed into Bute Park, bang smack in the middle of Cardiff’s city centre (see on maps). Bute Park sits just behind Cardiff Castle, and offers a ginormous space for you to get your adventure on. There are plenty of big open fields, café’s, historic landmarks, streams, trees and even an Eisteddfod stone circle! The place is absolutely massive, and anyone would agree, it’s a great place to take the dog!
Bute Park is huge; there’s just so much to talk about. From where we parked (you’ll see later on), we took a left and simply followed the path around. We'll talk about what we discovered, in the order we found them.
1. Bute Park (getting there)
2. Cardiff Castle
3. Jurassic Kingdom
4. The Eisteddfod Stone Circle
5. The Animal Wall
6. Blackfriars Friary
7. The Great Herbaceous border
8. The River Taff
9. Bute Arboretum Champion Tree Trail
10. Outdoor Gym
11. Mill Leat
12. The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
1 . Bute Park
Bute Park is a whopping 130-acre public park, that sit’s in the centre of the city. The vast green space and parkland once formed the grounds of Cardiff Castle. It wasn’t until 1947 when the 5th Marquess of Bute (who’s family owned Cardiff Castle since 1766) gave the park area to Cardiff Council who made it accessible to the public. It’s still owned and run by Cardiff Council today, helped by a number of park rangers, gardeners and volunteer’s.
If you’re in Cardiff city centre, you’ll be able to find the Castle (it’s big and mighty, and right in the middle of it all). If you can find the castle, Bute Park is sat just behind it. You can get in by going either way around the castle walls until you find an entrance.
We parked by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama at ‘Castle Mews Car Park’, and pay less than £5 for a few hours stay. It’s right by one of the entrances and provides easy access.
Before we get started with the actual park area, let’s quickly talk about Cardiff Castle because, well, it’s like the big elephant in the room...
2. Cardiff Castle
Get ready for a whizz through the ages, as we unravel some of Cardiff Castle's rich history...
The site at which Cardiff Castle resides was first used by the Romans as a defensive fort, way back in 55 AD.
A couple of hundred years later they built another (bigger) fort on the same location, and you can still see some of their handy work today!
There’s no evidence of anyone inhabiting the fort since then until the 11th century, when the Normans began to make incursions into South Wales. They built castles wherever they went, markedly upon the remains of old Roman forts, saving on a lot of manpower, and elbow grease!
The Normans dug a big trench and built a 27-foot bank of earth over the old Roman fortifications. Inside the fortifications, they built a motte-and-baily fort; a wooden keep, built on top of a 40-foot tall earth motte, and then surrounded by a 30-foot moat. These guys took their protection very seriously…
It’s tough to keep up with who owned the castle at any given time, as it’s history is rife with battle, death, passing of hands and the rest. We’ll try to keep this lesson swift and fast-forward a couple of centuries to what you need to know.
In 1766, John Lord Mount Stuart obtained the castle (through marriage) and in 1794 he became the first Marquess of Bute, beginning a family line that would control the castle for the next century or so.
The Bute family began extensive work on the castle, knocking a whole load of buildings down and building a couple of new ones. The motte’s moat was filled in as part of a huge landscaping operation that began to mould Bute Park, as we know it today.
In 1825, the Bute family invested heavily in Cardiff Docks, which in turn boosted their coal business making the family extremely wealthy.
Later, in 1848, the next Bute in line (John, the 3rd Marquess) inherited the castle and began to unload all of his wealth into it, with the help of architect William Burges. As you can imagine, more walls were destroyed and even more were erected. A lot of work was done in the grounds of the castle, including much of the landscape you can find there today.
It’s honestly hard to keep up with the renovations this place has had over the years. Just know that it’s a lot!
In 1947, the castle passed into the hands of John, the 5th Marquess who ended up selling a lot of the Bute lands, and passed the castle to Cardiff Council.
Nowadays, there’s a lot less war in and around Cardiff, so there’s much less need for the defensive walls and the rest. The castle serves as a tourist attraction, and hosts a range of cultural and social events. Tom Jones, Green Day and Stereophonics have all played there!
Phew… That’s a lot of history, and there’s so much more! If you haven’t quite had your fix yet, you can find a lot more over on the wiki page.
On with the walk…
3. Jurassic Kingdom
It’s not uncommon to see events being held in Bute Park, especially during the summer. Of course, when we turned up to film this week’s episode there was one going on; Jurassic Kingdom.
If you’ve got kids that just love Jurassic Park, or dinosaurs in general then it may be worth checking out their website for any future events near you. It certainly looked like fun from what we saw of it!
After deciding that we’d film anyway, we started our pretty big circle of the park. It wasn’t long before entering before we came across these:
4. The Welsh Eisteddfod Stone Circle
To many Welsh folk, you’ll already know what these are and would have most likely seen a few in your time. They’re dotted all over Wales and mark any location that a National Eisteddfod has been held.
The Eisteddfod is a Welsh festival of poetry, music and performance, which dates way back to the 12th century. It takes place every year, all across Wales, and showcases some of the rich culture Wales has to offer.
The stone circle you can see in the photo is called the Gorsedd Stones. These are found at the location of each National Eisteddfod and usually involve 12 stones positioned in a circular fashion, with the Logan Stone sat at the centre. This is a flat-topped stone that serve’s as a platform, or a great way to get everyone’s attention!
After all of the celebrations, bards will compete to win the chair. This is a competition of poetry where the winner gains national prestige and a spot in the history books. You can find all of the chair winners, since 1880, here on the official Eisteddfod website.
5. The Animal Wall.
Past the Gorsedd Stones, you can follow the western walls of the castle through the park until you come across Pettigrew Tearooms, and the Animal Wall.
For more information on Pettigrew Tearooms, you can visit their website here.
If you take a stroll just outside the gate of the park, you’ll find some eerie looking animal sculptures sat every couple of metres, guarding the castle grounds (Bute Park).
The Animal Wall was actually designed by William Burges, the architect from way back in the 19th century, however work didn’t start on the wall until after he died unfortunately.
The original 9 animal figures were sculpted by a Thomas Nicholls and they all came with glass eyes.
In 1922 the wall was moved from in front of the castle to where it is now, and in 1931 a further 6 animals were added. These were sculpted by Alexander Carrick and did not have glass eyes!
So if you see one with glass eyes, it’s an original sculpture from over 100 years ago! Neat, right?
In 2010, a £5.6 million refurbishment saw the anteater’s nose being replaced, having been missing since the 90’s. Any missing glass eyes on the original sculptures were replaced too, leaving us with the Animal Wall you can see today.
6. Blackfriars Friary
Now, unfortunately we couldn’t get to the friary (or what remains of it), due to Jurassic Kingdom being there on the day we filmed. Something about a raptor infestation they were dealing with at the time? (It was fenced off…)
Either way we did learn a couple of cool things about it, so we’ll leave them here nonetheless:
What you can see of the friary today is the remains of an old Dominican friary, established in 1256. It was inhabited (by friars) up until it was handed over to (or taken by?) Henry VIII in 1538.
Since then, the remains were lost only to be re-discovered in 1887, when the 3rd Marquess of Bute excavated the area on one of his many garden renovation projects. He enrolled architect William Frame to create an ornamental garden feature of the site; very similar to how it looks today.
In 2013, the place got a little more TLC and the turf was added, along with blocks with inscriptions of the rooms they’d be.
If you end up visiting Bute Park, you should go check it out nonetheless; especially now that you know the history of it!
7. The renowned herbaceous border
Ever discover a new word that just blows you away? Herbaceous. There’s one for you.
The herbaceous border at Bute Park was put together in the 1950’s and ran along both sides of the path. It was considered the longest in Wales, and runs from the site of the old Friary up to the Summerhouse Café! (You can find out more about Summerhouse Café here)
In the 1990’s, one side of the border was broken up into smaller islands. We didn’t manage to fly the drone over on the day because it was pretty windy (and busy!) but here’s a great shot taken from the Bute Park website:
If you like a bit of gardening, then this patch of greenery is definitely worth coming to see.
8. River Taff
It’s hard to not talk about the River Taff when you’re in Bute Park. The river runs wide through the whole of the park, and offer’s plenty of views, mini-beaches and more to explore. You can cross over at a few different points, where you’ll find even more path and green space to explore.
If you’re looking to impress your friends with some facts about the River Taff, here’s just a couple to get the blood rushing…
So the River Taff originates in the Brecon Beacons, and comes from two smaller rivers, the Taff Fechan and the Taff Fawr. According to wiki, you can find Salmon, sea trout and eel in the river too!
Back in the 1840’s, Cardiff Council were looking for a suitable spot to build Cardiff Central Railway Station. The current location was marshy and prone to flooding, as the River Taff used to flow down what is now Westgate Street!
It wasn’t long before they decided to redirect the flow of the River Taff, and in 1850, the Railway Station was eventually built. The redirecting of the river allowed room for both Cardiff Arms Park and the Millennium (now the Principality) Stadium to be built. Hooray for modern engineering!
9. Bute Arboretum, Champion Tree Trail
As far as public parks go, Bute Park is considered of national significance and is unrivalled in the UK for the number of rare and significant trees it contains - there are over 3000 in the park!
Bute Park holds the most Champion Trees in any public park in the whole of the UK. What’s a Champion Tree I hear you asking?
Well, a Champion Tree is considered the tallest or broadest of its species. In 2013, there were 41 registered Champion Tees and a further 23 candidate trees!
These trees are pretty spectacular, and once you start looking out for them, you can spot them everywhere.
The official Bute Park website offers two downloadable (and printable) ‘Champion Tree Trail’ maps showing you the location of each Champion Tree as well as some more info about each one.
You can download the maps directly from their website, by clicking on the following links:
10. Outdoor Fitness Trail
If you live in Cardiff, you’ll have seen these around a few different parks. There’s a different station every ten or so meters, and they offer a great way to diversify your training.
We had a play with a couple, and you can see that it’s a great way to get extra bits done whilst out jogging! These are free all year round, and are a great addition to an already great park!
11. Mill Leat
What even is a ‘Mill Leat’? Well, we didn’t know until filming this episode!
A Leat is basically a body of man-made water. The one at Bute Park follows the 12th century millstream that was used to power corn mills at the time.
In 1970 the stream was drained, and the area fell into decline. It wasn’t until 2013 when water was restored and the place got a general up-lift.
The water is now completely self-contained and is pumped around and aerated by an upper pond and gravity-fed cascade.
12. The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
(or RWCMD for short)
The RWCMD began its life as Cardiff College of Music, back in 1949.
It was originally at Cardiff Castle but has since been relocated to within the castle grounds, alongside Bute Park. In 2002 it’s name changed to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, after being awarded it’s royal title at the Queens Golden Jubilee.
The college is only one of two conservatoires in the UK to be an all-Steinway school, with over two-thirds of its students studying a music-related subject.
In 2011, a £22.5 million was poured into the college, opening two new studios; the Richard Burton Theatre and the Dora Stoutzker Hall (plus a whole lot more!).
You can check out all of the facilities available at the college on their official website, just click here!
Like we said beforehand, Bute Park is massive. There’s plenty to explore, with loads of rich history surrounding every landmark you can find there. The Champion Tree Trail most certainly provides a brilliant treasure map to follow, and the river offers a rich diversity of landscape to gaze upon.
Whether you’re looking for a scenic stroll, or maybe you’ve got a dog itching to run free and play, Bute Park should be on everyone’s bucket list to visit.
We hope we have inspired some of you to make a date for Bute Park in the diary, and hopefully you can show off to your friends with all of the juicy history you’ve just learnt!
Without further ado; here’s the full episode:
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Where are we heading next?
We are already looking for new and wonderful places to visit and explore. At the moment we’re still in Cardiff, and we still have a couple of gems to showcase here. After Cardiff, who knows where next? Drop us a comment and tell us where you think we should go. Maybe we’ll catch you for an episode some day!
Thanks for reading, and catch you all on next week's Walk of the Week!
- Dino & Beth (and Marley!)