Living near to Swansea in Southern Wales is an absolute gem of an experience. Having heard about ‘somewhere in Wales I definitely had to visit’ time and again from my Grandpa, I decided to do a bit of digging into what this place actually was.
My result, St Fagans National Museum of History. And let me tell you, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Full of reconstructions from across history all the way up until the 1980’s, this village is an adventure and a half living on the ground of an Elizabethan manor. Something we still can’t believe as well is that it is all free.
Rolling up to the car park, we were a little confused what we would find, the building fronting the museum didn’t look nearly large enough to house what we thought was there and, if nothing else, looked like a local town hall or visitor centre. Nethertheless, we persisted, and made our way confusedly through the building. What we found the other side, emerging back into the daylight, made us nothing short of gobsmacked. The building acting as a doorway into this other world had not prepared us for the sheer amount that we would find on the other side.
First Stop: The Castle
Wander past the high ropes and explorer’s site on your right as you pass through the doors and under the tunnel and you will emerge in a further beautiful green space. Having passed through ourselves, we were greeted with the emergence of something I can only liken to the various stone mansions dotted around Lisbon’s Sintra. Step over charming stone bridges, suspended over trickling waters below as you gaze up at the charming sights found of the manor from this angle. Dating from the Elizabethan times, this manor is worth a look itself. For history-lovers like ourselves, the fact that this place was a living breathing history project was fantastic enough, an Elizabethan castle on the grounds just added that extra touch.
The Red House
After a spot of exploring the manor, we made our way back towards the main event, back past the visitor centre and along to St. Fagan’s ‘village’ itself. Our first discover, a mammoth, bright red house! (Otherwise known as the Kennixton Farmhouse and buildings). Built in three stages, the striking red colours was said to ward off evil spirits. It certainly made it easy to spot from a mile off! Technically, the route is numbered, so you can follow this yourself. or, simply do as we did and take a wander and see what you find along the way!
Iron Age Dwellings
One of the spots I have to absolutely insist on you checking out is the Bryn Eryr Iron Age Round House. Although it is a bit of a walk from the other constructions, this merely made it more realistic when you got there, with no other ‘modern’ buildings to see around. Quite frankly, this place was huge. What we didn’t realise is that this hut was a double decker of a round house, with two sections for various tasks. Kind of like one of those modern tents with different bubbles joined on to each other. With a roaring fire inside and every bit of it true to the original, it was atmospheric to say the least and definitely my favourite spot on St. Fagans’ site. One thing I have to say, when visiting these ‘older’ buildings in the winter is try to visit them earlier on in the day, iron age people did not have electricity for lights, neither do these places.
Home to a Medieval Prince
If you are visiting St. Fagans, please do not leave before seeing this. When people thing of medieval, they either thing of Henry VIII and his fancy times or people practically living in the dirt. The Llys Llywelyn – Medieval Court, is anything but either of these things. With a dramatically sloped roof and clean white walls, it looks like something out of a scandi photography book but this (or something like it) was once home to one of the Princes of Wales, before Edward I created his own version of the Prince of Wales with his son. Stepping inside, a world of colour hits you with red-themed adornments and a history of what it would have been like and who this palace would have belonged to (the Princes of Gwynedd).
I’ll be honest here, this set of terraced houses with accompanying pretty gardens both intrigued and terrified us. With each home showcasing a period in time in which it was lived, we saw both interior design and amenities improve and develop over time in a fascinating fashion. In one garden an air raid shelter, converted into a garden shed features as a prominent piece. The last building along however, pulls a room from around 1985. Having sat in rooms just like this when we were little, (albeit not in a building like this) it was a surreal experience seeing it in a museum and walking around someone’s living room that you couldn’t quite place.
Near to this building lies a prefab home. Looking a bit like the mobile classrooms schools used to love, these were cheap and easy to build in times where supplies were scare and boasted up-to-date amenities. This particular type would have been built in factories that had produced aircrafts during the war and might be the only remaining aluminium prefab left in Britain!
Step into this quaint chapel and your head will instantly be filled with film scenes of fiery sermons, you might even be tempted to climb up to the pulpit to give a speech yourself if nobody is around. Not that we did that at all… with an upstairs gallery and more benches than you would have thought would fit in a building this size, it is well worth a look.
Of course, I couldn’t detail every spot of St Fagans National Museum of History, there is simply too much and it is definitely a place that should be explored personally. Part of the fun is turning a corner, or taking another route through the trees and discovering something you did not expect to see. For those who are making the trip, all I can say is, keep your eyes open and mud-friendly shoes on your feet. A phone torch may come in handy towards nightfall too!
Looking for more freebie days out take a look at my collection of free days out here. Looking for Welsh adventures? Try here or check out my midlands adventures just over the border. Still not enough? Click that lovely button below to see my latest blogs and check back again soon for more.