I AWOKE on the Tuesday morning to the sound of pattering rain. The skies over Cardiff were heavy and grey. Undaunted, I prepared for a third day of walking in wet weather and soon bounded out of the door of my hotel, having eschewed their meagre breakfast offering.
Lloyd George Avenue
I set off south along Lloyd George Avenue (Rhodfa Lloyd George), a mile-long tree-lined avenue named for UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George who led the wartime coalition government of 1916-1918 and subsequent Liberal government of 1918-1922
Although born in Manchester, Lloyd George was the son of Welsh parents and grew up in Wales. He is the UK’s only PM to not have spoken English as his first language; Lloyd George’s first language was of course Welsh.
The Cardiff road now named after him was called Collingdon Road until 2000, when it was extensively redeveloped and landscaped to create a continental-style boulevard.
Lloyd George Avenue connects the city centre to Cardiff Bay (Bae Caerdydd), once a thriving coal port and now hailed as one of the most successful urban regeneration projects in the UK.
Having been subject to the massive tidal range of the Severn Estuary, onto which it faces — which meant that it comprised exposed mud flats for about half of each day — a barrage was constructed cross it in the late 1990s to create a freshwater lake.
Fed by the rivers Taff and Ely, its water levels are governed by sluices and maritime access is via lock gates. It was, during its construction, one of the largest civil engineering projects in Europe.
With the redevelopment of the bay came a host of new buildings replacing the derelict warehouses of the Victorian coal port. Many of these have since become some of Cardiff’s best-known landmarks.
Wales Millennium Centre
Rain and Rumbling
The rain started to intensify and a rumble that could have been thunder but was actually just my hungry stomach echoed across the bay. I thus availed myself of one of the many cafés and restaurants that line the bay in order to obtain a cup of coffee and that Ultimate Food of Walking the bacon sandwich.
When my body was suitably fuelled I emerged into a light, blowy drizzle and followed the Wales Coast Path (Llwybr Afordir Cymru) as it passed Roald Dahl Plass, a plaza named for the Cardiff-born author, and then circled right around Cardiff Bay.
Merchant Navy Memorial
Docks and Daleks
The path now carried me towards Roath Dock and Queen Alexandra Dock, the only two remaining docks. Here I saw a sign that stopped me in my tracks:
This is part of the BBC’s new premises, Roath Lock, in Cardiff Bay. It brings together the production facilities for several shows filmed in Cardiff and Bristol, including Doctor Who, Casualty, Upstairs Downstairs and the Welsh language soap opera Pobol y Cwm, which the Beeb produces for S4C.
Cardiff Bay Barrage
I passed by Queen Alexandra Dock and out onto the Cardiff Bay Barrage. Ahead of me lay Penarth, a town in the Vale of Glamorgan (Bro Morgannwg).
Crossing the lock gates at the western end of the barrage took me into the Vale of Glamorgan County Borough, a modern unitary authority within the old historic county of Glamorganshire. The path now led me through a series of suburban streets, first climbing and then descending the high ground of Penarth Head.
Penarth, whose name essentially means ‘promontory’, has been inhabited since Neolithic times.
It became the property of Bristol’s Abbey of St Augustine in the twelfth century, passing to Bristol Cathedral with the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Thereafter, it was leased to the Earls of Plymouth who outright purchased the manor in 1853. The Plymouth Estates remained the landowner for all Penarth households until the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 gave them the option of purchasing the freeholds.
Penarth has a pier, opened in 1895 to provide a permanent landing stage for the Cardiff-Penarth Ferry, which had been running since 1856 using a landing stage on wheels. The ferry service ended in 1903 but pier development continued, with the addition of a theatre in 1907 and an art deco pavilion in 1930.
As always seems to be the history for seaside piers, it was badly damaged by fire (1931) and collided with by ships (1947, 1966), requiring extensive repairs. The theatre, destroyed in the fire, was never rebuilt.
These days the pavilion is closed and in a shabby state but the rest of the pier is mostly open. I bought a cup of tea from a kiosk partway along it and sat on a bench to drink it, listening to the crash of the waves.
In 2011, planning permission was granted for a £3.9m renovation, with plans to reopen the pavilion as a major tourist attraction. I hope the plans come to fruition; I have a love of art deco buildings and it would be nice to see such a structure restored.
The path out of Penarth ran alongside the road and then between some houses and the cliff edge, which was verdant and park-like. Soon enough though the path left the road behind, becoming narrow and flanked by high vegetation.
Lucy the Canine Coward
While walking this path, I encountered a man coming the other way with possibly the world’s most timid terrier. As I approached, she hid behind his legs and then, when he strode past me, she backed off down the path.
Her owner called her name (Lucy) in increasingly imploring tones, while she stared up at me in apparent terror. I was surprised, I didn’t think that I was all that scary.
‘She’s a bit strange,’ her owner admitted.
In the end, I stood to the side and made a big point of not looking in her direction, allowing Lucy the Canine Coward to scamper past me at a rate of knots while my back was turned. Shaking my head in bemusement, I continued onwards toward Lavernock Point.
A line drawn from the headland of Lavernock Point to Sand Point on the opposite coast marks the limit of the Severn Estuary. I was now therefore opposite where ‘Alice’ and I met the madman who thought there had only ever been one volcano in Britain.
Also, I would now be walking alongside the Bristol Channel, looking out at actual sea rather than estuarine waters.
A fort was built on Lavernock Point in 1870, one of the ‘Palmerston Follies’ built in consequence of the 1859 Royal Commission into Britain’s defences.
Following its recommendations Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister, built a series of forts. By the time they were completed they were already technologically obsolete and Napoleon III’s France — the anticipated enemy — had been broken as a power by defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.
Many Palmerston Follies, like Lavernock, were rearmed for use during the two world wars. Lavernock became a WW2 gun battery protecting the Atlantic Convoy degrouping zone between Cardiff, Flat Holm and the town of Barry.
The path veered off through a series of fields which seemed to involve the most slippery mud imaginable; I’m still not quite sure how I remained upright.
Swanbridge & Sully Bays
When my boots and trouser legs were sufficiently mud-splattered to make it look as though I’d been buried to the knee the path relented, becoming more manageable before finally spitting me out onto a narrow tarmac road. The road was lined with trees and, through the occasional gap, I could see a small island just offshore. This was Sully Island and I was approaching the hamlet of Swanbridge.
Sully Island is a small tidal island about 400 m offshore and linked by a causeway for three hours either way of low tide. There is evidence of Viking and Roman activity on the island and also the remains of a Saxon fort and a Bronze Age barrow.
During the thirteenth century, it served as a base for Norman pirate Alfredo de Marisco, also known as ‘the Night Hawk’. Piracy later gave way to smuggling as the island’s main activity; these days it is mostly frequented by fishermen.
Sully Island sold last year to a mystery buyer for ‘in excess’ of its asking price of £95k. There are no buildings however and planning permission is unlikely ever to be granted.
The Captain’s Wife
I stopped in Swanbridge to purchase a gin and tonic and some lunch at the Captain’s Wife, a pub established in 1977. Lunch came in the form of a fish finger sandwich, made using some rather excellently crunchy fish goujons. It was excellent.
Swanbridge is a tiny hamlet although in times past it served as a commercial harbour and, from 1890 to 1960, had its own station on a spur of the Taff Vale Railway. The line, like so many others, was closed as part of the Beeching Axe.
The path out of Swanbridge started off on the road but soon switched to become a footpath along the shoreline. This carried me past a number of very nice looking houses with views of the Bristol Channel.
The houses were part of the village of Sully, named for Reginald de Sully, one of the so-called Twelve Knights of Glamorgan who accompanied Sir Robert Fitzhamon on his eleventh century Norman conquest of the region.
An agricultural village for much of its history, Sully is now an outlying commuter village of Barry. Like Swanbridge, the village lost its railway connection during the late 1960s.
A Silly Name?
Sully’s Welsh name is Sili, to which some of the villagers have voiced objections, feeling that it belittles them on account of sounding like ‘silly’. Which makes me wonder what they would say to anyone from the Isles of Scilly. In any case, the Welsh Language Board (Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg) is having none of it, dismissing their pompous oversensitivity with the assertion that Sili is the established and historically attested Welsh form.
The path continued along Sully Bay before Wales Coast Path signs directed me inland away from a footpath which continued along the coast. I obediently followed the arrows, only to find that the short but narrow stretch of path I was now on was another that would benefit from a little machete treatment.
This path tried its best to prevent me from leaving but I eventually fought my way free and found myself on a busy road, heading back the way I had came past an industrial park that looked semi-abandoned.
The road led me east to a roundabout and then north along the B4267 before heading west along the A4055. Essentially I did three sides of a square in order to go around the industrial site, all of it on rather depressing main roads.
The busy A4055 led me through the suburb of Cadoxton, which was once a separate village before it got swallowed by Barry. Its name comes from St Cadoc, to whom its church is dedicated, with the Old English suffix ton meaning ‘settlement’. Its Welsh name, Tregatwg, is a direct calque of the English.
After Cadoxton, the road approached Barry Docks, which were opened in 1884 to serve as a coal port. The docks were developed by David Davies MP (1818-1890), a leading local industrialist and Liberal politician. By 1892, they were handling more coal than Cardiff, exceeding the latter’s tonnage by as much as a third.
The port was administered from a palatial set of offices, which are now grade II listed and used by Vale of Glamorgan Council. Barry’s port remains open for commercial business, operated by Associated British Ports.
Mercifully, the Wales Coast Path left the main road at this point, cutting past some waterside flats to follow the line of the docks and basins themselves. The rain fell ever more heavily as I trudged along, looking across to the bulk of Barry Island.
Barry (Y Barri) was once a small village but grew in the nineteenth century to swallow the neighbouring villages of Cadoxton and Barry Island.
Inhabited since Neolithic times, it has a small ruined castle — the seat of the De Barry family — and a thriving tourist trade centred on the island. It remains connected to the railway network with no less than four stations — Cadoxton, Barry Docks, Barry and Barry Island, not to mention a steam railway also serving between the town centre and island.
It is almost ironic that Barry should preserve a steam heritage line as Barry’s extensive railway marshalling yards were the final resting place of many steam locomotives in the 1960s, when British Rail switched to Diesel and Electric locomotive power. In theory, the engines travelled to Barry to be broken up for scrap value. In practice though, many were sold to enthusiasts.
I reached Barry Station in good time, albeit soaked to the skin. As I arrived my phone battery died and the heavens endeavoured to rain a bit harder, becoming a torrential downpour. I briefly considered just jumping on a train but decided against it. I had planned to walk the four miles or so around Barry Island and, well, I could hardly get wetter.
About the ‘Island’
Barry Island (Ynys y Barri) isn’t really an island although it used to be one. The construction of Barry Docks in the 1880s infilled the gap between island and mainland. Although of course it mostly filled that gap with docks, which are bodies of water. Even so, you can now cross to Barry Island on foot and I did so, temporarily rejoining the A4055 as I did.
Barry Island Butlin’s
Barry Island was home to a Butlin’s holiday camp between 1966 and 1987, when it was sold to Majestic Holidays. The camp closed in 1997 but Barry Island as a whole was by then firmly established as a South Welsh holiday resort although the site of the camp was turned into houses in 2002-3.
Barry Island on TV
Thanks to the camp, Barry Island even has a Doctor Who connection, nicely keeping a theme going from early that morning: it was used to film the 1990s serial Delta and the Bannermen (which was set in a holiday camp). Barry is also the current setting for the BBC’s supernatural series Being Human.
Impressions of Barry
I’d been told that I’d find Barry and Barry Island every bit as depressing as Newport, if not more so. Despite having trekked around it during a torrential downpour I didn’t find it so.
Barry looks a bit tired, yes, and it’s not exactly bursting with amenities but it’s no worse than a lot of seaside towns. Or maybe I’m just becoming more forgiving. Either way, it seemed okay although I admit I did catch a train back to Cardiff the very moment I’d finished walking round it.
A Cold Welcome Home
In Cardiff I ate and generally killed time until my train back to London. Having been cold and wet I was looking forward to a hot shower when I got home. No such luck. While I was out my immersion heater finally died (it had been limping on for ages); there was no hot water at all when I got home. This was less than favourite.
This time: 17 miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,080 miles