Want to know about Cardiff? Meet Huw Clarke

The man behind the walking tours

Huw Clarke

This is Huw Clarke. He’s 25 and from Cardigan, West Wales. He’s quite the character.
As you can see from the picture, Huw likes playing his guitar and reading little tiny books about Wales. But what you can’t see is that he is somewhat of a Cardiff geek – he loves the place. So you should join him, as I did, on his walking tour of the city. You won’t regret it.

I first met Huw at Mansion House on Richmond Road – the setting of Discover the Past’s first story – at a lecture on the Marquess of Bute. We got chatting and soon learned that he runs a walking tour of Cardiff. He gave me a leaflet which read ‘Explore 2000 Years of Hidden and Historical Cardiff’ – I couldn’t miss out.

Meeting Huw for that first time he didn’t really strike me as a workaholic, so when I discovered his tours ran twice a day from Tuesday to Sunday I was quite shocked. A thick beard, bracelets around his wrists, a worn brown leather jacket (which he bought from Hawkes Essentials, the city’s iconic menswear shop in Morgan Arcade) he came across as a sort of urban bohemian, a free spirit in a city. I wasn’t at all surprised when he later told me his first love was travelling. He’s just come back from a three month tour of South Africa. “Just my guitar and me” he told me.

Travelling is a big part of Huw’s life and one of the reasons why he started these tours. He told me about it when I met up with him (after going on one of the tours). I asked him where the idea had come from.

“It’s Interesting really, it basically snowballed from something tiny. In my halls of residence in Treforest (He attended Glamorgan University) I had loads of French, German, Polish, Indian and Chinese friends, and being from Cardigan it was a new experience for me. People started asking me about Wales and I started to become more self-conscious and self-aware about Wales than ever before. I was learning more about people from Germany, Poland etc. and they were asking about my country and I realised I didn’t know that much about it and I felt a little embarrassed. So I did more reading etc and through my world travelling it made me more interested in the history of Wales. There’s a famous Welsh saying, ‘Gorau Cymro, Cymro oddi cartref’ (Best Welshman, Welshman from home), meaning the longer you spend away from Wales the more you come to appreciate the country.

“I started working for a backpacker’s hostel (Nos Da Hostel) in Riverside the year I graduated, and I was there for three years. I became more interested in local tourism and what was going on in South Wales, and began suggesting places to visit. In 2007 I went to Latvia of all places, and went on a walking tour of Riga, the capital, led by a young, enthusiastic girl who worked at the hostel I was staying at. After that, I thought what a great idea. Like Cardiff, Riga has a small centre, and being so walkable I thought I could do the same. I did some more background reading on the city and visited placed like Cardiff Castle. I started in the summer of 2010 three times a week for about a year, then stopped due to other work commitments and have just started doing them again more recently.”

The Sunday after meeting Huw for the first time I attended one of his tours. I don’t want to give too much away because I want you to go on it yourself, but what I will say is there’s no way better to spend two hours of your day.

Spillers Records – The world’s oldest record shop

Although the past is the tour’s main focus it isn’t all about the traditional history of Cardiff. We were taken to Riverside Market as well as Cardiff Castle, the Millennium Stadium as well as National Museum Cardiff These are places which are only beginning their journey but are already a part of the city’s rich tapestry.  We were taken to the world’s oldest record shop, Spillers Records also in Morgan Arcade, which was established in 1894. We were told where the best places to eat and drink are, the best post night out curry, even the best pub for atmosphere during a rugby international. Its as much about Cardiff today as it is about the city’s history.

2000 years of Cardiff history in one picture – Castle, Church and Stadium

Huw doesn’t charge a penny for his tours, but I’ll challenge you to try not tipping him – I guarantee you won’t be able to resist. The man’s an asset to this great city.

The tours leave Tuesday – Sunday at 10.00 and 14.00 from NosDa Hostel, Riverside. For more information call Huw on 07896532968.


Mansion House opens its doors to the history of Cardiff

Mansion House on Richmond Road

Mansion House. Heard of it? If you haven’t, then you almost definitely will have seen it. The Grade II listed house on Richmond Road is hard to miss. Situated behind grand gates, its flag poles, imposing double doors and Bath stone decorations set it apart from the area’s other buildings. But it’s when you step inside that you really get a feel of what this place once represented.

In a series of three lectures, Cardiff Council have opened the Mansion’s doors to give people the chance to explore its 120 years of history. The first lecture was given by David Clay on November 10th and traced the story behind “Cardiff’s hidden gem”, offering a chance for people to see its original interiors. It was built in the 1890s by one of the city’s most famous businessmen, James Howell, the name of whom I am sure all Cardiffians recognise (if you don’t, he’s the founder of the city’s famous department store on St Mary’s Street). The house was purchased by Cardiff Corporation in 1912, and in 1913 became the official residence of the city’s Lord Mayor, playing an integral role in the civic life of the city.

Second Lecture: Bute

I went along to the second lecture in the series on November 18th, on the subject of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, given by the Curator of Cardiff Castle Matthew Williams. Around thirty of us listened to how the once richest baby in Britain went on to become the maker of modern Cardiff. John Patrick Crichton Stuart spent the money his father made in the coal industry laying the civic infrastructure which would eventually transform the town into a city. As a public benefactor he spent a lifetime “flexing the muscles of civic independence.”

Despite being a prolific writer, keen astrologer and philanthropist, his most lasting contributions are rooted in the city’s architecture. Partnered by the great Victorian architect William Burgess, they reconstructed and redesigned Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch, considered two of the era’s finest Gothic Revival creations. For a man who brought so much aristocratic glamour to his civic role it only seems appropriate that a lecture chronicling his life be held in a building which was once central in the local community.

After the lecture I spoke to David Clay and Kate Branch, both Protocol Officers at Cardiff Council about the talks and the importance of letting the general public explore such prominent buildings..

David Clay

Kate Branch

The third and final lecture takes place on October 31st at 6pm. Victoria Rogers from the Cardiff Story Museum will trace the city’s journey from town to the capital of Wales. Click here to book tickets.

To explore Mansion House for yourself you can view a panoramic gallery of its interior here.