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Visit Wales: Carved Animal Wall at Cardiff Castle

Beth loves to travel and explore new places. She hopes her vacation experiences encourage you to visit them too.

A pair of lovesick racoons on the animal wall, Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales.

A pair of lovesick racoons on the animal wall, Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales.

Cardiff, the Capital of Wales

The animal wall is a carved treasure in the center of Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, UK. The lifelike stone carvings are situated on top of the boundary wall of Cardiff Castle. You can see them any day of the week throughout the year and they're free to visit. Generations of children have befriended them, and your family will love them too.

The wall is located next to Cardiff Castle’s colorful clock tower, which is also worth a visit, although there is a charge to enter the castle. The carved stone animals are very realistic, and it’s easy to imagine them coming to life. They represent 14 different exotic species, and I'm sure some of them will find a way into your heart.

I recommend you read The Lonely Planet’s Wales Travel Guide before your visit. The latest edition is updated to include changes to travel resulting from the COVID pandemic.

The Stone Animal Wall is on Castle Street

Menagerie of Stone Beasts

All the stone animals and birds come from (what were to the Victorians) far-away, mysterious places. The Victorian Era refers to the time of UK history under the reign of Queen Victoria which lasted roughly from 1837 until her death in 1901. None of the carved beasts straddling the wall are native to Britain. They were commissioned by the wealthy 3rd Marquis of Bute toward the end of the nineteenth century. He rebuilt the ruins of a Roman fort to create a magnificent Victorian Gothic castle which has become a major tourist attraction since it was donated to the city after World War II.

The stone carvings were designed by the celebrity Victorian architect, William Burges. The first nine animals on the wall were finished in 1891 by master stonemason Thomas Nicholls. These include two shield-bearing lions, originally situated on either side of the entrance up to the castle. Lions are a Bute family symbol of bravery. The other seven animals include a lioness, a pair of apes and a hyena to represent the continent of Africa, a lynx for the Americas, a bear for Europe, and a seal and wolf for the northern and polar regions of the world.

The last six creatures were added in 1922, and they were carved by Alexander Carrick. These birds and animals are as follows; a vulture representing Asia, a beaver, a pelican and a pair of raccoons for North America, a leopard for Africa, and an anteater representing South America.

A hyena makes its escape over the wall.

A hyena makes its escape over the wall.

Cardiff Castle and the 3rd Marquis of Bute

The fortunes of the Marquis of Bute and the city of Cardiff are inextricably linked. The Bute family seat was (and still is) in Scotland, but much of the revenue that filled the family’s coffers came from the South Wales coalfield. By the 19th century, the Bute clan owned coalmines, iron and steel foundries, and most importantly of all, the Cardiff Docks. These docks were the only ones at the time large enough to be able to handle large coal-exporting ships.

John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, became the 3rd Marquis of Bute in 1848 when he was just six months old. His inheritance made him rich beyond most people’s wildest dreams. He earned more in a minute than ordinary folk could amass in a lifetime. He was literally the richest man in the world, and remained so for his entire life. The Marquis had no need to work for a living, and so had lots of spare time.

The ruins of Cardiff Castle were added to the Bute estate through marriage. John Patrick set about restoring the castle to occupy himself. He used his Welsh business interests as an excuse to spend time in the region. Money was no object, so he employed the most fashionable architect of his day, William Burges, to create a fantasy fairytale of a castle. The result was a fabulous Victorian Gothic confection. Every part of the building was lavishly decorated, including the stone perimeter wall.

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The video below shows the animal wall carvings in context by the castle. It also shows the intricate and expensive interior of the castle made possible by combining William Burges’ skill with the wealth of the 3rd Marquess of Bute.

The City of Cardiff Welcomes Visitors

The 3rd Marquess was a great traveler and avid reader. The castle’s decorations reflect his interest in science and literature, languages and history. Like many wealthy Victorians he liked to display his knowledge of the exotic and unusual.

The animal wall was conceived as a decoration at the front of the property so that people would see it as they entered. It was originally located directly beneath the clock tower, but it was moved 100 yards away after the First World War to accommodate road widening. The first two stone animals in the series are lions holding the family’s shield. There was originally one lion on each side of the garden entrance gate but they have been relocated and are now side-by-side.

Who Owns the Wall Today?

The Bute family had a huge influence on the way Cardiff grew. Their investment in heavy industry along the Welsh coast enabled the city to become the thriving commercial center that it is today. Cardiff Castle was never more than a holiday home for the 3rd Marquess. He and his family spent most of their time in Scotland.

His son, the 4th Marquess, had no children and on his death in 1957, the family gifted the castle and surrounding parkland to the City of Cardiff in lieu of paying death duties (a federal tax). It is now owned and managed by the local council on a commercial basis. Thousands of tourists visit every year and their entry tickets help towards the huge maintenance costs.

The animal wall is on one of the main thoroughfares in the city center. Anyone passing by can view it for nothing. You can continue your walk through the adjacent Bute Park, also free of charge. As a result of the Bute family’s bequest, Cardiff has some of the largest amounts of parkland in relation to buildings within an urban area, in the UK.

Clock tower of Cardiff Castle (1869) with Venus, goddess of love and fertility, and Mercury, god of commerce and communication.

Clock tower of Cardiff Castle (1869) with Venus, goddess of love and fertility, and Mercury, god of commerce and communication.

Travel, Currency, and Weather Information

How to Get There

  • By air: The closest airports are Cardiff-Wales Airport and Bristol Airport.
  • By train or coach: There are hourly services from London to Cardiff.

Currency

  • Wales is part of the United Kingdom and uses the British Pound.

Languages

  • Both English and Welsh are official languages, and you will hear both widely spoken.

Weather

  • Wales has a temperate climate. It often rains, even in the summer, so take an umbrella with you whatever the season.

Further Information

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