A Walk Through…Cardiff
I was all prepared for my event in Wales, courtesy of Cardiff Central Libraries and WF Howes. I’d packed everything I needed including notes, a sweater, laptop, iPad and assorted tech-junk, only to spend the journey reading ‘Selling Hitler’ by Robert Harris (the story of the fake Hitler diaries).
I arrived to find Cardiff sweltering in weather hotter than Barcelona. Everyone was outside in the sun. Before the event I had one hour to whip around the town. I started in the city centre, buying a couple of secondhand novels in the covered market. This is very different to the baroque markets we have in Spain which sell everything from Emu eggs to whole monkfish; Cardiff’s largely sells vinyl, clothes and gifts. The surrounding covered galleries offer more upmarket, stylish fare.
At the centre there’s the classic British city nightmare; too many deafening chain-cafes and bars crammed together in an endless row that feels like a social experiment gone wrong. What’s it like on a Saturday night? I ask one lady. ‘Carnage’, she replies. The problem is less the social drinking than the council allowing booze-ghettos to develop.
Instead I go looking for Cardiff’s gentler side, and head for the Cardiff Castle, a medieval castle built in the 11th century on a 3rd century Roman site, and the Victorian gothic mansion beside it. The setting looks so radically different from its appearance in old photographs that I am unable to reconcile the two images. Now foliage hides much of the old structure, a necessity to screen the rest of the town and create separate spaces.
Part of the unsold-off lands around it now form Bute Park, a stunning open parkland backing onto the banks of the River Taff. The castle is the calm heart of the town, intact and a must-see.
I’m taken with the life-sized 1890 sculptures of the Animal Wall, which surrounds part of the castle. The original nine animal figures were the hyena, wolf, apes, seal, bear, lioness, lynx, and two lions painted in natural colours, although now the paintwork has gone. Later a further six animals were added; the pelican, ant-eater, raccoons, leopard, beaver and vulture.
The park seems to be the best place to hear Welsh speakers; perhaps because older residents visit rather than hanging around in the bar district. Britain’s cities are blessed with beautiful parklands, and have another feature we never see in London; horizons of rolling hills that frequently nestle urban areas within the gently undulating landscape.
The event was a real pleasure, and the excellent Katherine Stansfield, whose novels, including her Cornish-set series, are elegantly written mysteries, was asking the questions. I’ve forgotten how much there is to see in Wales, or how big the country is. Time to head back there soon I think!