I AWOKE early on Monday morning, refreshed after a deep and restful sleep. I leapt from my hotel bed with a bound of enthusiasm, keen to get on with more walking. I threw back the curtains and looked out of the window, ready for whatever the world chose to throw at me. What I saw out there was Newport.
I may have reeled a little from this remedial dose of grim reality but nonetheless I recovered and prepared for another day’s walk.
I was soon navigating Newport’s city centre, pausing only to buy water and snacks in one of its shops. I passed The Vision of St Gwynllyw as I retraced my steps to where ‘Alice’ and I had left the Wales Coast Path the previous evening. Once there I took a deep breath and set off…
Newport Transporter Bridge
The going was initially alongside a dual carriageway, specifically the A48. This route carried me west and south so that I passed by the other end of the Newport Transporter Bridge.
It being a weekday, the bridge was now in operation and I watched the gondola make its way from one side of the Usk to the other. This might not sound very exciting but there are only a handful of working transporter bridges left in the world.
The path became a cyclepath and veered away from the A48 and then back under it, conveying me through some scrubby wasteland and across the rather lovely Ebbw River (Afon Ebwy).
Uskmouth Power Station
The path ran southwards alongside the B4239 for a bit and then became a track through fields over which towered pylons bearing cables from Uskmouth Power Station. Soon enough, I found myself at the mouth of Usk, looking across its waters towards where I had walked the day before.
West Usk Lighthouse
A little further along the bank was the West Usk Lighthouse, now a bed & breakfast that also offers ‘therapies’.
I’m not quite sure what that involves; it sounds a bit sinister to me. Probably some secret plot for our new robot masters when they stream forth from what we believe is Uskmouth Power Station. Nonsense you say? I’m just being silly? Well, in that case…
The path now ran atop a dyke, with the Severn Estuary on one side and fields on the other. A slow moving drainage reen separated the fields from the path and I passed two swans gliding serenely about on it.
St Brides Wentlooge
The dyke carried me past Lighthouse Park, an outlying development of St Brides Wentlooge, which is a small village about half a mile inland.
In passing them by I not only missed two handy pubs (I’d have quite liked a drink at this point) but also a plaque in St Bride’s Church which marks the high water point of the Bristol Channel Floods (or Great Wave) of 1607. On the other hand, since I was walking alongside the Bristol Channel, maybe I’d stay more at ease not knowing what it could do.
The path became thick with anglers near Lighthouse Park and then covered in cows a bit further on from that. I pushed my way politely through both and paused to look at strange patterns in the water.
The weather took my sudden interest in water as an invitation to drop some on my head, starting with light drizzle and building up to a downpour.
Although soon soaked through, I refused to be daunted and trudged along merrily in what was rapidly becoming ankle-deep mud.
Ahead, another herd of cows blocked the path and these were a long-horned variety rather than Friesians. The giant spikes of doom protruding from their heads did look rather intimidating but I thought to myself ‘they’re cows’ and marched myself forwards with a cheerful ‘good afternoon, ladies.’
The cows turned to look at me, swinging their fearsome weaponry in my direction. Then, as one, they shuffled out of my way.
The rain intensified as I passed Peterstone Gout, an outlet from one of the many reens draining the Levels. This helped the path become ever more squelchy and I was just starting to have trouble keeping my footing when it abruptly stopped and the sun came out.
Brean Down & the Holms
As I walked I could see Brean Down jutting from the opposite shore and both Steep Holm and Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel. These dark shapes would appear and disappear at random intervals as they were alternately lit by the sun or swallowed by rain and mist.
Crossing into Cardiff
At some point marked on my map but not on the ground I passed over the administrative border from Newport into Cardiff. This also meant I passed from the preserved ceremonial county of Gwent into South Glamorgan (De Morgannwg).
My surroundings soon became more industrial looking than agricultural and I followed the footpath as it left the shore and turned inland. Or at least tried to.
I was glowering in irritation at the padlock, which someone had put across a gate clearly marked with Welsh Coast Path signs, when a man and a woman approached and climbed over it, commenting sarcastically on how handy the locked gate was.
They turned out to work for the Countryside Council for Wales (Cyngor Cefn Gwlad Cymru) and were not only incensed by the padlock and going to report it but also fairly convinced that they’d actually paid for the gate. I too said that I would report it when I got home.
A track alongside a stream or reen led me up towards a busy road, which I walked next to for a while before another path ran alongside another road to bring me back the way I’d come. This little detour of roughly three sides of a square was necessary to reach the lowest crossing of the Rhymney River (Afon Rhymni), around whose mouth I had just journeyed.
The Rhymney is the traditional boundary between the historic counties of Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire (Sir Forgannwg); I was now in the latter.
The path passed over a small hill and through an increasingly industrial landscape, passing a sewage works. Thereafter I rejoined the roads, which carried me through a series of industrial and retail parks towards Cardiff’s city centre.
Capital of Wales
Cardiff (Caerdydd) is the capital of Wales and also its largest city with over three hundred thousand inhabitants. As such, it is also the tenth largest city in the United Kingdom as a whole.
It has only officially been the capital since it was proclaimed so in 1955 and prior to 1905 it wasn’t even a city. It was however the county town of Glamorganshire.
Cardiff, like Newport, grew quickly from a small rural town during the nineteenth century when the coal industry dominated South Wales. Cardiff is much older though, having been part of the territory of the Silures when the Romans arrived and built a fort. Later, when they had departed, Cardiff was part of the Kingdom of Glywysing, which later became Glamorgan (Morgannwg).
Seized by the Normans in the eleventh century, Cardiff saw England’s King William I build a Norman castle built within the old walls of the fort. The castle has since been much altered and was captured by Owain Glendŵr, the last independent Prince of Wales, in 1404, when he also burned Cardiff.
A Mammal’s Opinion
Having now revisited it for the first time since the early 1980s, I really like Cardiff. It’s a prosperous-feeling, happening place with a good atmosphere. It’s in good shape and has had a lot of relatively recent investment, from its various tall buildings to its shiny modern shopping centres and the Millennium Stadium (Stadiwm y Mileniwm). It’s positively full of places to eat and drink and manages to combine well the amenities of a capital with remaining a cosy, manageable size.
The Millennium Stadium is being used to host some of the Olympic football matches, which leads to an apparent identity crisis as Cardiff displays banners reading ‘London 2012’.
This seems appropriate though, given that the London 2012 opening ceremony celebrated Britain’s beloved NHS — although strictly speaking England and Wales run their own separate NHSes — as the NHS’s founder, Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan, was a Welshman from Tredegar in nearby Monmouthshire.
Aneurin Bevan Statue
My hotel turned out to be one of the city’s tall buildings and my room was on the eighth floor. This gave me an excellent view of the sunset and an even better view of the downpour to which I woke on Tuesday morning.
The hotel was trying very hard to be a stylish, minimalist sort of hotel not unlike one in which I once stayed in New York. Its effort exceeded its achievement by some way, sadly, and I’m glad I noticed there was no loo roll in my bathroom before it became a matter of critical importance.
This time: 15 miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,063 miles