The Pilgrimage to Cardiff
By DJ Forrest
Going to Cardiff was a pilgrimage for me. I had longed to return since 2008 when I didn’t know enough about Torchwood, about the people I used to RP with, and I never really did do any of the Locations from the Doctor Who series of which I was an avid fan of. Sure, there were some Torchwood sites that were famous to all.
The magic step by the water tower in the Bay, the oval basin that is the Roald Dahl Plass, the Millennium Centre, and so on, but in 2008, I knew of only a few places and only found them by pure chance and accident, and the Tourist Info booth beside the Bay that was not as cluttered with paper tributes as it is today.
So the return was important for many reasons. One to place our Project: Torchwood poster on the Ianto Jones Shrine. View the sites and visit the Castle, plus peruse and probably never leave Forbidden Planet and meet up with half the writing team and of course, meet my good friend, Justin Walters.
Actually, I was quite disappointed with Cardiff’s Forbidden Planet. There just wasn’t enough to keep me even mildly enthused. Any amount of Funko figures but not the ones I wanted. Nothing of Torchwood. Of course, Doctor Who was done to death wherever you went, and exploited to hell. I daresay, if you looked in all the right places you could probably buy a ribbed condom in the colours and design of the TARDIS!!!
That aside however, Cardiff is a real gem of a place. Our hotel was in St Mary’s Street, the name itself gave enough interest that we had to check out The Cardiff Story building and find out more.
Back in 1607 when the river Taff flooded, the church that stood in St Mary’s street, was destroyed, along with the graves. Skeletons were washed out to sea.
In 1843, a new church was erected through funds from the Marquis of Bute, William Wordsworth and others. We know it more these days as the church housing the Weevils that Jack has battled on many an occasion. You enter at the front of the church which from Bute Street is down the road where the Powell estate is situated in the first series of Doctor Who back in 2005. (where Rose Tyler lives).
Along Bute Street, the longest road that takes you from the City to the Bay, there are a lot of decorated slabs. Although there’s little I can tell you about these other than they depict fast fading images of Tiger Bay by artists David Mackie, Heather Parnell and Andrew Rowe.
From nearly every street and arcade you can picture a moment from Torchwood series 1 & 2, and a few little nods to COE. To the left of the hotel you can see the BT Tower of which I have a serious obsession with. After writing ‘Mitchell’ this became the base for the New Torchwood, and so began the love of the tall square building wearing the circular crown. It’s situated right next to the Millennium Stadium. It couldn’t be any closer if it tried.
There are Stadium tours costing around £12 each but I was more interested in the outside of the building rather than the ground itself. Although to be honest, if I’d really thought about it, I should have gone on the tour if only to see the areas where Doctor Who has been filmed, and indeed I’m sure, some episodes of Torchwood, but this was the last few days before we were heading home so finances were a little tight. I was intending on going home with at least a few quid to my name.
This building was used for the ‘Out of Time’ episode when Ianto dropped John Ellis off to explore. Plus, it was also used in the episode ‘Greeks Bearing Gifts’ when Toshiko listened to people talking along the boardwalk around the outside of the building.
I have to admit to being a little wary of the boardwalk, because I could see the river below. I was imagining all kinds of scenarios until my anxieties kicked in and I couldn’t venture any further. What I did photograph were the many tiled floor flags, photographing a few which I recall seeing in the ‘Greeks Bearing Gifts’ episode. I was actually relieved when I did finally look up the TW scene to see that it was at the start of the walk rather than the actual wooden boardwalk. One day I will overcome these stupid fears I have.
Some Torchwood agent I am!!!
Outside the Cardiff Market I saw the scene from ‘Small Worlds’ where the paedophile was being chased by the ‘fairies’ and who bumped into the man walking in the opposite direction.
I photographed this area a few times to get the angle right, I wasn’t intending on photographing the guy selling the Big Issue as many times as I did.
Although I didn’t photograph inside the Market, it was nice to wander around it and marvel at the architecture of the Victorian era. What’s interesting to note is that in three different British locations, these Victorian buildings are exact in every detail. As if Victorians had a template for all.
Such a long road, and fraught with heavy traffic and road works from the M5 onwards, I didn’t really pay much attention to the buildings on the way in. On the way out, if I’d not known where I was going, I’d have been convinced I was somewhere in England as the buildings were designed in the same style. There seemed very little difference to the suburbs in Wales as there are in England and in some towns and cities in Scotland.
I snapped the best photo of the Altolusso hotel where Jack stood on the roof staring out across the city. The Torchwood filming for that took place on 8th June 2006. It’s still an impressive building, standing 232 feet tall with 23 floors containing 292 luxury one to three bedroom apartments. I am really impressed with one of my zoomed in shots of the roof area where Jack stood. I’ve not found another like it on the internet. So go me!
Cardiff Castle was one of the highlights of the visit.
The Castle was used in several episodes of Torchwood, from the tunnels, the cells and the area above the Hub where Jack and John escape through the Rift, towards the end of Series 2. Since the tunnels were used for Torchwood I figured they must have been filmed in the dungeons, but I was amazed to discover that the area used was in the wall itself. The wall that faced onto the road where Forbidden Planet sits.
In the darkness of an Air raid bunker comes the sounds and the voice of the King and the Prime Minister over loud speaker. We walked along the ‘Torchwood tunnels’ and read the ‘Be like Dad and Keep Mum’ posters and all other WWII paraphernalia. In certain places I was able to photograph clearly the area used for the cells.
If you angled yourself so that you didn’t see the alcoves you could be mistaken in thinking you were in the tunnels as well as in the cells of the Torchwood Hub.
Amazing how a small space can evoke a scene as big as the ones used in ‘Everything Changes’ when Gwen is given a seat to view a Weevil. Or Owen is standing stark naked clutching his valuables as Cerys gives him the slip in ‘Day One’.
Sadly, there were no Doctor Who and Sherlock and SJA tour guides on the day we arrived for the tours. So it’s not clear as to which rooms were used for those programmes. I did pick up a small poster listing the areas but I’m sure others will be able to shed some light on this. Or I could just return at another date and view them again. Although what a lot of twisty turny staircases there are and boy was it testing my vertigo.
I felt the walkway towards the Castle rooms tour had been used in Doctor Who, but sadly endless scouring through episodes has proven me wrong. I had thought it had been a part of the Carrionites episode but it appears not. I’m not sure where Merlin was filmed.
Although we didn’t venture up to the top of the Keep, it was cool to climb the initial steep steps, although we didn’t linger long. By this point, I’d climbed to dizzying heights and didn’t want to climb many more steps.
Not a fan of religious buildings, I did find the architecture on this particular church extremely interesting. A lot of thought and hard work went into sculpting these tiny pieces of stone work. I’m also not too sure of the name of the church.
It was beautiful. This particular church wasn’t too far away from Waterstones and the Hayes eating place under trees, which we had planned on eating there a few times, but by 5pm it was shut and all the outdoor eating places were locked down.
On a boat trip around the Bay with my friend Kirsty, who has herself written a few articles for us over the years, I discovered a fair few buildings and structures that have appeared in episodes of Torchwood, in the background of episodes rather than fully featured.
I learnt a bit about some of the buildings as we sailed past. The Captain of the Aquabus was very informative.
The boarded up and suspected ‘haunted’ hotel can be seen behind Gwen and Andy as they discuss the disappearance of Jonah Bevan while on the Barrage.
This was also photographed a few times. In a novel I’m writing, the Barrage is a popular feature. So obviously I was snapping shots to use for later chapters.
I was also keen to find out which building had been used for Owen Harper’s flat – this took a bit of detective work. I discovered after much painstaking ‘counting the windows’ that it was filmed at St David’s Hotel. Yes, I know I’m late to the party and many people would have already have discovered this. But then the beauty of visiting a place for the first time – properly, is being excited at something that you didn’t have to Google first!
From what I can gather Owen’s flat was possibly a Meeting room and restaurant combined at one point. It’s on the ground floor as it has the largest windows that overlook the Bay in all its glory.
After much discussion and I don’t think I photographed this particular jetty, but the longest one of them all, is the one Owen ran along in ‘A Day in the Death’, the rest of the underwater scenes were filmed in a swimming pool – by all accounts.
The Millennium Centre has been used countless times in Doctor Who and only as a backdrop for the Torchwood Hub entrance in the series. So inside I went to snap the area used in the Doctor Who episode ‘New Earth’. It was also used in ‘Boom Town’ ‘Bad Wolf’, and ‘The Girl Who Waited’, as well as the three parter ‘Utopia, Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords.’
I over photographed the restaurant used in ‘Boom Town’ in the Bay.
It was too expensive to sit in for a meal and hope for the exact seats taken by Captain Jack, Ninth Doctor, Rose and Mickey. I also saw by peeking through the glass door, the restaurant used in ‘Out of Time’ where Diane and Toshiko sat with Owen Harper. The Asian restaurant with the fish tanks. Maybe next time I’m in the Bay I’ll call in for a meal.
Sadly, after overspending considerably on our first full day, we really couldn’t afford the Doctor Who Experience but did linger (for such a long time) in the shop, especially around the Captain Jack great coat stand. If only I’d had a cool £150 in my bank (I’d have then been able to visit the Experience) I’d also have been able to afford the coat – except they didn’t have any in my size. Probably just as well really!
One of the shops I wanted to see was Bilis Manger’s ‘Stitch in Time’ but that is in Newport. The outside of the shop is in Morgan’s Arcade however.
The biggest highlight of my stay was meeting up with my friends, especially Justin Walters, actor of Doctor Who and Torchwood who is now working back in theatre! (wishing him all the best for this role).
It was great meeting him and Tony and as we sat outside at Eddie’s Diner munching on 3 different varieties of French fries (chilli, cheese and plain), it was as if we’d known each other for years (as in real years and not online years). It was so great to just kick back and chill, and be surprised at the many Welsh actors in Hollywood that we didn’t know about. #ChristianBale
The last time I’d visited the Ianto Shrine, it had been the Tourist Information entrance, with a poster of the Mayor of Cardiff, Margaret Fel Fotch (Annette Badland). Now it was decked in messages from all over the world, some a little tarnished from the weather and waterlogged from the floods.
I love how a series is put together, from backdrops to entrances that are mere walls with a fake door to give the impression that much went on inside. Torchwood and Who have brought a substantial wealth to the city, through the fans who have travelled and stayed, and spent money and time visiting the sites and locations. Long may the BBC continue to use locations that will bring in the crowds, and oh how I hope one day the BBC will relent and allow Torchwood back on our screens so we can hopefully see Cardiff, and the New Torchwood in all its splendour.
I loved every minute of my stay in Cardiff, and I have the photographs to prove it and I hope to do it again in the near future. I won’t leave it so long next time.
Footnote: We came down with a Weevil, but Joshua didn’t come back with us. If you do happen to find him, please don’t tease him with chocolate – you might not get it back!