Amgueddfa Blog

The truth about cycling to work

Tom Cotterell, 28 September 2023

I live far away from my site and in the summer I dust off my bike ready for some epic commuting. Like many organisations, Amgueddfa Cymru has introduced a Cycle to Work scheme, so I thought that I would share my story (or part of it) and offer guidance to anyone that's unsure of getting into cycling.

I got my first road bike on a similar scheme about twelve years ago and have never looked back. Well, I say that but my first few commutes were hard, having never ridden on roads before and going from a background in running, to riding 40 miles on the road followed by another 40 home. I distinctly remember not being able to walk up the stairs at work and having chronic back ache on the bike, but now, even in my mid-forties, I am fitter than ever. I can even fix a puncture now which I couldn’t for the first five years!

An epic commute

In early summer I travel once a week from Raglan on the lanes to Newport then on to Cardiff via the levels - 34 miles in all. This is soon to extend to Monmouth (40 miles) and then my once-a-year full 50-mile commute will switch to through the Forest of Dean, Lydney, Chepstow, and then on through Newport. For these distances, time is obviously a factor and so I tend to ride fast - aiming at 20 mph average, but even carrying a laptop it is possible. However, beware of the dreaded headwind…. but that’s another story.

Cycling wasn’t always easy

The effect cycling has on you is gradual, but very positive. It is much better on the joints than running, but the difference it will make depends on many factors including how often and how long you cycle for, but also the intensity – uphill is more of a workout than the flat. When cycling for the first time the aches can be a little disconcerting – after my first long-distance commute it felt like my kneecaps were being pushed apart, but it was because I had none of the type of muscles used for cycling. I have no such issues now.

Your body adapts

I find now, that when I arrive at work I am fine and refreshed, but that has not always been the case. When I first started I would be quite tired, but your body adapts. I should say that I came from a very active background of training and playing at a high level of field hockey three times a week for about 20 years, but your body adapts. The running gave me a great overall fitness level but with the wrong muscles. Someone recently told me that cycling is a great leveler – in that you can continue to ‘perform’ at a really high level far longer than any running-based sport. My cycling times this year are significantly faster than when I was in full hockey training!

Commuting with a laptop and other tips

I carry a medium-sized rucksack and have my laptop case inside (without the charger to save weight – as they plug in at work anyway). Then a bag of clothes to change into and lots of food for lunch. Everything in the bag is inside several plastic bags in case of rain. I have some very small bags attached to my bike for my spare inner tubes and other repair kit things.

The ups and downs of cycling and things to think about

Bikes are a big outlay in cost now, but you save on parking, fuel, and general wear and tear on a car. The play off is that your journey takes a lot longer. If you walk or use a bus, then cycling might actually be quicker and also save money. The cold and wet of winter can put people off, but there are now many options for warm, windproof, and rainproof clothes. I find getting ready once at work slightly longer than if I drive – e.g. locking up my bike, getting changed, etc. but certainly manageable.

Reaching new heights

Now, several bike upgrades later and a house move even further into the back of beyond, I lead club bike rides of a hundred miles or more and have an obsession with climbing steep hills. This is a far cry from my early commuting experiences where I dreaded the hill up through Chepstow. On Saturday 24th June I took part in a challenge organised by Chepstow Cycling Club in aid of the Brecon Beacon Mountain Rescue. It involved ten ascents of Llangynidir Hill - most people’s idea of hell. It wasn’t a race, but remarkably I was the first competitor to complete the reps. The stats: 4,325 m of ascent, 124 km distance, and 6 and a half hours of cycling.

Art in Hospitals

Sara Treble-Parry with Carys Tudor and Stephanie Roberts, 22 September 2023

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsened over the winter of 2020, and the pressure on NHS staff increased, Amgueddfa Cymru wanted to use the national art collection in hospitals and care settings to provide solace for staff and patients.

Like many others, we watched in awe – and horror - as NHS staff made personal sacrifices day after day under unthinkable circumstances. We realise that we have seen only a fraction of what goes on behind-the-scenes, and asked ourselves what can we, as a museum, do to help?

As part of Celf ar y Cyd - a suite of projects launched in 2020  designed to find new ways for people to experience the art collection during the pandemic - we set out to work with health boards across Wales.

We wanted to give NHS and care staff the chance to make art part of their working day, and to decide for themselves how art can be incorporated into their work environment.

Since 2020, we’ve worked closely with health boards to continue this work that began from the pressures caused by the pandemic. We are delighted to launch the Palliative Care Packs, developed closely with Powys Teaching Health Board.


How are we working with Powys Teaching Health Board?

Powys Palliative Care packs are being developed to offer additional support to Powys Teaching Health Board’s palliative care teams.  These packs have been designed in partnership with staff at Powys Teaching Health Board and feature images of artworks from our collection, as well as digital resources, from audio descriptions to soundscapes. We hope that they will provide a compassionate, creative experience for patients, while also presenting opportunities for emotional support through conversation and sharing with friends, family members and carers.

We at Amgueddfa Cymru want to share the national art collection with as many people as possible, offering the opportunity to use our collections in ways that feel appropriate for all. Using Amgueddfa Cymru’s art collections to console and inspire has been our focus in working with Powys Teaching Health Board.


Funding and support

Amgueddfa Cymru support was made possible through Celf ar y Cyd. This started as a series of visual arts projects in collaboration with Arts Council Wales with the support of the Welsh Government, which challenged us to share the national art collection in new and innovative ways during the pandemic. The other strands include our digital visual arts magazine, Cynfas, and the 100 Celf – Art 100 exhibition. The Celf ar y Cyd website launched in June 2023, and offers the opportunity to browse, learn and be inspired by the contemporary art collection from the comfort of your own phone. Follow us on Instagram @celfarycyd for more.

The Roots of 'Unknown Wales': A Conference to Celebrate Welsh Wildlife

Ben Rowson, 20 September 2023

‘Unknown Wales’ is an exciting day of free public natural history talks held each autumn at National Museum Cardiff. It features top speakers from all over Wales, talking about their newest nature discoveries and projects. The talks are short and accessible, and often great fun!

First held in 2011, the bilingual event is a collaboration between Amgueddfa Cymru and the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. The conference is a popular highlight in our calendar, regularly attracting over 200 visitors in person and online. The Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre provides a impressive atmosphere in which to hear from people who work on the front line of natural history and nature conservation.

The event was initially created to meet two needs. The first was for a free public conference dedicated to the whole natural history of Wales. From the outset the intention was to cover Zoology, Botany, and Geology – three fundamental aspects of nature that aren’t always dealt with together. It aims to offer an event (and a platform) for everyone with an interest in natural history. The questions from the audience at the end of each talk give a flavour of the enthusiasm that’s out there, as well as the depth of each speakers’ knowledge! Held on a Saturday, the day is unusual in our events calendar in being aimed largely at adults (though anyone aged 12 and over can attend).

The second need was to emphasise that new discoveries are always being made, hence the name “Unknown Wales”. While the event always features famous Welsh nature reserves, familiar species, and well-worn conservation practices, we’ve always encouraged interest in frontiers. Many talks feature recent scientific discoveries (including those made at the Museum itself), or new approaches that are changing how people look at and live with Welsh nature. On occasion there has been controversy, as speakers grapple with the environmental issues and policies of the day. The variety of organisations and projects covered provide inspiration for those looking for career, study or volunteering opportunities in biodiversity.

In total over 80 speakers have helped build Unknown Wales into what it is, and to all of them we are most grateful. Particularly memorable talks include Tim Birkhead on birdsong evolution, Lynne Boddy on the diversity of fungi, Anne Bunker on Welsh seaweeds, and Derek Gow on beaver reintroduction (a situation that has changed drastically since 2011). TV celebrities Rhys Jones, Miranda Krestovnikoff, and Iolo Williams (twice!) have all taken part to lend their support to the initiative.

Subjects covered range from river pollution to heritage trees, caves, coal tips, dolphins, dinosaurs, and eDNA surveys. We have featured the latest updates on iconic species like Red Squirrels, Marsh Fritillaries, Natterjack Toads, and Manx Shearwaters. Plus, of course, the Glutinous Snail…an icon-in-waiting? Another good thing about covering the whole of Wales, including its more remote and quieter places, is that nearly everyone’s milltir sgwâr (square mile) has had a mention!

Several talks have come about through audience suggestions, helping the event evolve. We have sometimes toyed with the format, exhibiting specimens from the Museum collections, supplying goodie-bags, or holding a poster competition, book sale or quiz during the interval. The event moved online in the 2020 pandemic, before adopting the present hybrid event, which allows more people to take part.

Will there be more Unknown Wales to come? You bet! Welsh nature is always full of frontiers and mysteries, which move as times and techniques change. We look forward to the next event, and to many other opportunities to share these with other wildlife lovers.

Details for Unknown Wales 2023 are here.

Celebrating St. Fagans Heritage Welsh Apples

Luciana Skidmore, 8 September 2023

This year we celebrate our heritage Welsh apples by exhibiting samples of fruits that are sustainably grown in our orchards located in Kennixton farm, Llwyn-yr-eos farm, Llainfadyn and the Castle Orchard. You will find our Apple Exhibition at the Kennixton barn, next to the Kennixton farmhouse in St. Fagans.

Every year our apples are harvested to produce apple juice. The crop of 2022 was our most fruitful to date generating 400 bottles that were pressed by the Morris family in Crickhowell. You will find the St. Fagans apple juice available for sale at the St. Fagans Museum shop and Gwalia store.

For centuries apples have been grown in most parts of Wales, holding a cultural pride of place as a fruit of choice. They have been grown in cottage gardens, small orchards, smallholdings and farms.  The skills of pruning, grafting and tending the trees were passed from generation to generation.

After the second World War fruit growing suffered a decline.  Even the formerly widespread production of cider in the south-eastern area came to an end. Nowadays apples are imported from distant regions of the world and are available in supermarkets throughout the whole year. 

It is our mission to preserve our heritage Welsh apple trees for future generations. In the orchards of St. Fagans, you will find Welsh apple varieties such as ‘Monmouthshire Beauty’, ‘Gabalfa’, ‘Channel Beauty’, ‘St. Cecilia’, ‘Baker’s Delicious’, ‘Croen Mochyn’, ‘Trwyn Mochyn’, ‘Bardsey Island’, ‘Morgan Sweet’, ‘Gwell na Mil’, ‘Diamond’, ‘Machen’, ‘Llwyd Hanner Goch’, ‘Pen Caled’ and ‘Pig y Glomen’.

If you are coming to the St. Fagans Food Festival this year, please visit our Apple Exhibition at the Kennixton Barn.

Greenham Common Protest - Carole Stuart McIvor

Lowri Jenkins, Assistant Archivist, 25 August 2023

On 27 August 1981, 36 women from Wales left Cardiff and marched to RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire to begin their battle to stop United States nuclear armaments from being kept on British soil. The group named themselves ‘Women for Life on Earth’. ⁣

In recognition of these courageous women, I’d like to mark this anniversary by focusing on a collection I’ve been currently cataloguing which gives a valuable insight into the Greenham Common protest. The collection was donated by Carole Stuart McIvor, a leading peace activist heavily involved in the protests at Greenham Common and the later protests at the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) base in Llanishen, Cardiff. ⁣

This collection documents the sacrifices and continuous resilience shown by Carole and her fellow protesters. From numerous newspaper cuttings showing the prejudice they encountered and judgement by the mainstream media of the day to images of the arrests made by police and records of Carole’s time spent incarcerated as one of the many women who received prison sentences for their actions. ⁣

The collection also includes the court action submitted by Greenham Women Against Cruise Missiles against President Ronald Reagan and US Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger. Carole Harwood (later Carole Stuart McIvor) gives her reasoning for supporting nuclear disarmament and the women’s peace movement in her statement:⁣

“I finally became involved in the women’s peace movement after taking my family to the sea in Tenby in West Wales. The realisation that the sound of children’s laughter, which had been heard along these beaches for centuries could be silenced by men who chose never to hear it was simply too painful… I had been stunned to learn that if we continued to play with nuclear materials (not just bombs) the average lifespan of children being born now could be 18 years.”⁣

At its heart, this was a protest for peace by Welsh women, and others from across the UK, and this collection encapsulates that struggle.