A Walk Through…Cardiff

Great Britain

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!

10 comments on “A Walk Through…Cardiff”

  1. Ian Luck says:

    I visited Cardiff Castle when I was a child, in about 1969. Your pictures of the Animal wall are delightful. We had gone to Wales, as it literally was ‘The land of my father’. His family came from a place called Mountain Ash, and I had an aunt and uncle who spoke very little English. I can just remember them, and do remember them being lovely people, but a bit bewildering when they spoke. Anyway, I do remember going round the Castle (and Wales is the place to go if you have children who like Castles, believe me), and there being an elaborate fountain which the guide allowed me to turn on. I believe that the renovation was done by a man called William Burge, who also renovated the beautiful, but slightly sinister Castel Coch not very far away. I rather envy you, as I should like to see the place again.

  2. Ian Luck says:

    Two tiny corrections: ‘CASTELL Coch’ and William BURGES. Sorry.

  3. Jay Mackie says:

    Awesome Chris – I’m Cardiff born and bred and lived there 41 years before defecting to England! My heart swells with Welsh pride that you enjoyed most of what you saw in a short space of time. It’s a young capital and relatively small and compact but with some good selling points. Next time try Troutmark second hand book emporium in the Castle arcade directly opposite the castle. You’d love it and are sure to find a few second hand gems no doubt!
    Wonderful to see a positive feature on Cardiff.

  4. admin says:

    I met someone from Troutmark and was given their card, so it’s on my list, Jay…

  5. Wayne Mook says:

    I ‘ve not been to Cardiff for a while, a friend used to live in Splott, we had a great deal of fun in and around the city. We were always made welcome and the Brains SA always went down well. Cardiff is one of my favourite cities, although I was not totally taken with the central regeneration, one of my favourite pubs was lost not far from the train station.

    To me Cardiff is a good mix of the old & the new, like most British cities it’s always changing, which brings the good & the bad.


  6. Ian Luck says:

    Wayne – the mention of ‘Splott’ reminds me of an episode of the Doctor Who spinoff ‘Torchwood’, which was based in Cardiff. The team are looking for someone, and it’s suggested that he might be found in Splott. The team’s doctor, who was from London, says something along the lines of: “There’s no such place as Splott!” Another member of the team replies that, yes, there is, but due to estate agents making attempts to make it attractive to house buyers, it won’t be long before you’ll hear the place referred to as ‘Splo’.

  7. Wayne Mook says:

    I can well believe that Ian. In Manchester they renamed some areas to make them appear more palatable. Strangeways, was renamed HMS Manchester Prison, and there is a list of others.


  8. John Griffin says:

    One of my favourite places, and will be there in ten days for a meeting, but quaffing in the most excellent City Arms the night before! Great real ale selection (and many lagers etc) in a real pub atmosphere, directly opposite the Millennium Stadium gates.
    Yes, it is ‘carnage’ on a Friday and Saturday night. Once saw a hen group, dressed as nuns, on St Marys (main street) taking photos of themselves with shocked passers by, especially the elderly. There was the flash of the camera, capturing the flash of assorted pubes as they raised their habits to expose the lack of undies below.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    They renamed HMP Strangeways? Dear me. The Smiths album ‘HMS Manchester Prison, Here We Come’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, methinks. Stupid re-branding of long standing things is a constant annoyance to me. My brother went to a secondary school in the west of Ipswich. It was called Thurleston. It was called this, as it was built on a new estate that was created over the site of the lost village of ‘Thurleston’. Fine. But recently, it underwent a re-branding, and is now known by the frankly poncy and over-achieving moniker of ‘The Ormiston Endeavour Academy’. Sane people in the area still call it ‘Thurleston’. Giving it a wanky name doesn’t make it a better school, by the way.

  10. Wayne Mook says:

    The Manchester thing was in line with the renaming of Windscale. If we rename things with a bad reputation the problem will go away.

    After the Strangeway riots they renamed the prison, they also did to a number of places that had notorious drug gangs, so Gooch Close became Westerling Way and Doddington Close was renamed not sure of the name, possibly part of Brentwood St.

    Your Right about the LP name plus Hank Wangford at Strangeways just wouldn’t be the same.


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