St Fagans is a village close to, and a suburb of, the City of Cardiff. At its centre lies St Fagans Castle and parklands, though today it is renowned as the home of the Wales National History Museum, formerly known as the Welsh National Folk Museum. The village of St Fagans lies on the River Ely some 5 miles, (8km) from the centre of the City of Cardiff. We visited the village and the Museum while en-route from Swansea to Cardiff and the museum is a great day out. However, you probably need to allow a week to cover the complete site! Our journey took us along the M4 and the Museum was clearly signposted, with just a few miles to drive after exiting the motorway at junction 33.
Wales National History Museum: The modern museum building is of no architectural merit, but we could not complain as it is entirely free to enter, and the museum treasures are not to be found in the main Museum but in the parklands at the rear. Froma typical shepherd's cottage from the Welsh hills, miners' terraced houses from the Valleys, Victorian streets complete with village school and blacksmith, they are all here in a delightful rural setting.
Parking the car was no problem, again free, and there were plenty of parking spaces. We chose to skip the tour of the main Museum and walked straight through the Museum building to the country lane leading toward the 'model village'.
After a short stroll we came to the village, a perfect setting for the old Welsh homes. The houses were complete with smoky coal and wood fires, and furniture to match the properties. Houses that had been completely dismantled, brick by brick, or stone by stone, and transported from their natural settings, in some cases hundreds of miles, to be rebuilt here in St Fagans.
Curators attend each house and they are happy to answer all your questions and explain the original construction techniques. Watch a blacksmith at work, a potter, a baker, and probably a candlestick maker. If you are feeling peckish, you may buy the fresh bread that has been baked in the traditional ways. We visited some fantastic stone and timber framed buildings, the Old Barn from Llanrwst (that once hid the Tardis of Doctor Who fame) and the Manor House from Radnor. As we ourselves are renovating an 18th century stone cottage in Snowdonia it was helpful to visit a rebuilt 18th century stone cottage from Snowdonia!
I suppose there are questions to be asked about the very idea of dismantling the old properties and moving them away from their natural location, but, as I understand it, they are only considered for the Museum if they would be at risk should they be left on their original site.
This is evidenced by the ancient church of St Teilo's that has been rebuilt on the site. It has taken several years and the project is still ongoing, but they are doing a marvellous job, and I do not think even the most cynical amongst us would be justified in criticising the Museum for their efforts.
After a couple of hours we returned to the main building and enjoyed a tasty bowl of soup and a cup of tea. Feeling refreshed we set out on part two of our visit... To see "how the other half lived.”
Castles and Forts
St Fagan's Castle: St Fagan's Castle and Parklands are the original estate, and these too are open to the public. The castle is a grand building and demonstrates both the "upstairs" and "downstairs" lifestyles, with furniture and fittings displayed as though the occupants had recently abandoned the home. "Upstairs" consisted of beautiful furniture and tapestries, while "downstairs" consisted of all the paraphernalia and equipment needed to keep "those upstairs" in the manner to which they were accustomed.
The formal gardens and lakes were as beautiful as the house and are well worth a visit in their own right.
In fact, whether you are Welsh or a visitor to Wales, I can highly recommend St Fagans as being "cheap at half the price", and have to commend the Welsh Assembly for their policy in allowing free access to Museums.
Unfortunately, we could only manage a half-day visit but there is enough at St Fagans to occupy visitors or family groups for several days.
TIP! If visiting the St Fagans Welsh National Folk Museum it might be worth considering the school holidays when choosing the date of your visit. St Fagans being such an excellent educational tool attracts schoolchildren by the coach load.
St Fagans is home to St Fagans Cricket Club.