Cardiff Bay has undergone an exceptional transformation since its industrial origins as a coal exporting port. However, this weekend saw the return of a spectacularly large vessel, one which dwarfed surrounding buildings and illustrated just how far shipping has developed since those first coal exporting ships visited Cardiff. HMS Dragon made a five day visit to Cardiff Bay to receive the honour of the Freedom of the City of Cardiff. During this visit the boat was opened to the public; a rare opportunity which saw over 3,000 people explore the ship.
Cardiff and the surrounding Valleys owe much of their existence to the rich coal fields on which they sit. Coal fields, which at one point, not just supported the region, but were fundamental in shaping and defining it. Cardiff Bay has been no exception to this phenomenon; with the signing of the first million pound cheque and previously one of the largest coal exporting ports in the world.
Popular with students in search of a sea breeze, Cardiff Bay is just a short train journey from Cathays and an even more scenic water taxi ride from Bute Park. Whilst still overlooked by the commanding Pierhead building, the bay has changed considerably since this industrial heyday. Following extensive regeneration, the bay now buzzes with people enjoying the variety of restaurants and attractions lining the waterfront, including the Norwegian Church, the Millennium Centre and the Senedd to name but a few.
This weekend however, the limelight usually enjoyed by the high speed boat rides and tours of the bay was stolen by the Royal Navy’s newest warship. Developing the existing affiliation with the Welsh capital, HMS Dragon had arrived to receive the Freedom of the City of Cardiff – the highest honour which the city could bestow upon it.
Queues of over an hour skirted the harbour as the public were given this rare chance to explore the ship. It was the sheer scale and complexity which shocked me; countless cables and pipes snaked neatly throughout the already narrow gangways. Gangways which, without helpful arrows for the civilians amongst us, would surely have been a maze. We were even given access to the heart of the Dragon; a darkened room with row upon row of computers to control each and every aspect of the ships defences. It is clear that the days of manual controls have long since gone and that ships such as HMS Dragon have embraced such 21 century technology.
The weekend of events culminated with the Freedom of the City ceremony and a parade from the 190 strong ship’s company through the centre of Cardiff. Whilst it wasn’t your typical weekend in Cardiff it did provide a great excuse to enjoy the sun and to explore the unique aspects of what Cardiff Bay has to offer!