Foregoing the bus, my husband dropped me off at Mermaid Quay in the Bay, Cardiff. It is Europe’s largest Waterfront Development. It was once known as Tiger Bay or Cardiff dockland district and has the oldest multi-ethnic community in Wales. The singer Shirley Bassey was born here. It has been transformed by the Cardiff Barrage, built in 1999, that impounds the Rivers Taff and the Ely to create a massive fresh-water lake.
It was a busy Saturday so the crowds were quite thick. Nevertheless I negotiated my way through the throng past the restaurants and coffee shops. I managed to partake of some nibbles that were on offer to the crowds by the businesses on the Bay. My first picture of the day was a panorama of the dock with the Norwegian Church and Dr. Who experience featured in the distance. Mallards and Seagulls were feeding on the weed in the water. There were a number of sculptures strategically placed around the boardwalk. Queues were developing for ice-cream, free nibbles and boat trips. A beach and fair-ground had been set up on the Roald Dahl Plass and was fairly busy.
Across the bridge was the imposing Pierhead Building: bright red bricks, clock tower and wonderful architecture. Constructed in 1897 by William Frame (1846-1906), it replaced the old Bute Dock Company offices after they were destroyed by fire in 1892.It was restored and reopened in 2010 as a visitor and education centre for the Welsh National Assembly.
To the right of it the Wales Millennium Centre, “Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen”, which means “Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration.” and “In These Stones Horizons Sing. “emblazoned across the front of the slug-like copper domed roof. The building was opened in November 2004 and phase 2 opened in January 2009 with an inaugural concert. The centre has hosted performances of opera, ballet, dance, comedy and musicals. My husband and I are often to be seen passing through its doors to be entertained in the fabulous auditorium with its fantastic acoustics.
A statue of Ivor Novello, composer, playwright and actor (1893 – 1951) can be seen between the the Pierhead and the Centre.
Behind these buildings is the Senedd, the National Assembly for Wales, the main centre for democracy and devolution in Wales. It is a large glass structure surmounted by an upswept wooden clad roof and was opened in March 2006. The building is open to all, not just the Assembly members.
I follow the path around the bay, following a rather intricate pavement of sea related items inscribed within it. On the pebbly shore are the ubiquitous Mallards and Gulls, also Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus), Coots (Fulica atra) and Turnstones (Arenaria interpres). This path then passes the Norwegian Church and the Antarctic 100 Memorial where people are taking their ease on wooden benches or milling around the memorial sculpture. The Norwegian Church is a historic Lutheran church building, consecrated in 1868, and formerly a place of worship for the Norwegian community. It was a beacon for sailors returning to the dock and offered food and shelter between 1867 and 1915. It has been known variously as “The Norwegian Iron Church”, due to its iron clad roof, and “The Little White Church”. The Cardiff born writer Roald Dahl was baptised here. It was closed in 1974 and restored and re-opened in 1992 by Princes Martha Louise of Norway. It is now known as the Norwegian Church Arts Centre and includes a coffee shop and gallery. The Antarctic Memorial was unveiled in June 2003 by the Princess Royal. It commemorates the unfortunate and tragic British Antarctic Expedition led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott on the ship the “SS Terro Nova” which sailed from Cardiff dock on 15th June 1910. Part of the original dock can be seen in front of the memorial. The sculpture by Jonathan Williams depicts Scott and his four companions, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Evans who died with him on the return journey from the South Pole.
A bridge takes you towards “Porth Teigr” and the Dr. Who Experience. A dry garden has been laid to facilitate a picnic and seating area. It contains paved areas and many architectural grasses, rushes and colourful flowers. The canal that flows under the bridge plays host to Swans, both adult and youngsters, Mallards and a Juvenile Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus).
Near the Dr. Who Experience there is a bike hire yard. Go-carts, three-wheelers and buggies can be hired and ridden along the Cardiff Bay Barrage Coast Path. Which I was about to walk. This is a tarmac path enclosed at first by wire fencing, which holds back the tumultuous wild patches of ground with its Brambles in fruit, Butterfly Bush or Buddleia (Buddleia davidii) and an assortment of flowers: Yarrow, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Agrimony, Ragwort and Dog Rose in fruit. Further along it widens out and bursts of wild flower meadow like plants occur: Yarrow again, Welsh Poppies (Meconopsis cambrica), Evening Primrose, Calendula (Calendula Officinalis), Mayweed, St. John’s Wort and brightly shaded Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia), yellow and red and all red are scattered around. Some Ladybirds are also nestling amongst the profusion of flowers. Some trees run beside the water offering open windows onto it. A few picnic benches are strategically placed to give views of both the waterfront with its interesting traffic and the “wild” flower meadows.
Conveniently placed half way along the path are some toilets. What follows is a leisure quarter with a skate park and play area, together with an Age of Coal Exhibition. The exhibition consists of notice boards displaying archive photographs with explanations of why the development of Cardiff Dock in the 19th and early 20th century was so important to the South Wales Coal Mining Industry. There is also a Pithead Wheel which originally came from Bettws Drift Mine in Ammanford. This facilitated the hoisting of coal from deeper in the mine to the surface which was earlier carried by women, girls and boys, but an Act in 1842 put a stop to that. The wheel was first powered by horses then steam and finally by electricity.
Nearer to the Barrage a road runs alongside the path and a number of pedal-powered vehicles were racing upon it. On one side was the Cardiff Bay area and Marina and on the other the open sea and the Bristol Channel. Perched upon towers were a number of Shags, some sunning themselves with their wings outstretched. In the distance both Flat Holm and Steep Holm can be seen through the haze. Motor boats, speed boats, yachts, water taxis and dinghies were all enjoying the large water space of the Marina. Landscaping of the barrage embankment with both cultivated and wild plants began in 2001; regions contained Yuccas, Tamarix, Phormiums, Cistus, Ceanothus, Eryngium, Viper’s Bugloss and other wild flowers and there were also area of grassland.
There is another small exhibition housed under what looks like a sail. It is the Scott of the Antarctic Exhibition. Views of Penarth Quays and Heights housing development can also be seen in the background. At long last the Barrage comes into sight as well as the old Custom House, now a popular restaurant.Here I had one of the best steaks that I have eaten and the sea-food was delicious. When my husband and I visited here, everything was fresh and you chose your preferred meat or fish at a counter and the chefs cooked it, to your liking, in front of you.
The Barrage lies across the mouth of Cardiff Bay between Queen Alexandra Dock and Penarth Head. Construction was completed in 1999 and opened in 2001.Much protestation occurred because of the increased water levels threatening houses in the area and also the loss of the mud flats which was a haven for wild fowl. The Barrage incorporates a specially designed fish pass to allow salmon and sea trout to return to the rivers Taff and Ely. It regulates the flow of sea water and provides a permanent fresh high-water lake. As I approached the Barrage I could see boats outside the lock gates waiting to enter the Bay, so I watched as the bridge ascended and the lock filled with water, then inside gates opened to allow them access. Once all were safely through, the gates closed and the bridge descended. People trapped on either side of the open bridge had a wonderful view of the whole operation.
Penarth Quays Marina and the apartment blocks of the prestigious Penarth Quays lie at the end of the Barrage Coastal Walk, together with the Water Bus Stop.
The water bus takes you across the Bay either to Mermaid Quay, my starting point, or to Flat Holm Island to do some wildlife spotting. Once the Barrage had been crossed the route then wandered through Penarth, first up a steep hill, Penarth Port Way. Then before reaching the top, I took a left bend which led to Paget Place, following this to the left past Northcliffe housing estate and veering right up the hill on St. Augustine’s Road past Headlands School towards the church. By veering to the left on to St. Augustine’s Crescent, I could see the church on my right. St. Augustine’s Church is 19th century and located on the headland between Cardiff Bay and the Bristol Channel, affording it a clear view of the surroundings for miles around. It was designed by architect William Butterfield and built between 1865 and 1866, replacing a ruinous medieval church. I turn right onto Uppercliffe Drive where I picked up the WCP logo on a lamp post. I followed road signs, Jenkinsvill, Clive Place before turning left onto Kymin Road. At the bottom of the road I turned right then left down Kymin Terrace. This would lead me on to the main road to the pier. I decided to take the gate on the left into the Kymin and walk through the park which is open to the public. The park has a Japanese feel to it with a tea house and suitably Japanese planting. It also has a “Place de la Petanque” and a woodland walk. The Kymin hosts the Penarth Petanque Society and a number of events. In fact the lawn area was laid, under an awning, for a wedding party. Accessing the main road I then descended towards the Pier. Brightly coloured flower displays were all around.
Penarth Pier was built in 1894. It is 658 foot long and reminiscent of more gentle times, it being one of only two surviving pleasure piers in South Wales. It has led a very chequered life, both tragic and entertaining. In 1907 a wooden pavilion was built at the seaward end that became a dance hall. In 1929 the existing pavilion entrance was built. A large portion of the structure was destroyed by fire in August 1931, and 35 years later, in 1966, the White Funnel paddler ‘Bristol Queen’ hit the pier. The pier is still as popular as ever with visitors and is a port of call for the cruise ships Waverly, the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world, and the Balmoral. The newly restored Penarth Pier Pavilion is open to the public and brings a unique facility to Penarth Esplanade as a multifunctional art and learning building, with a cinema, arts, events and exhibition space, cafe, bar and restaurant. In fact I had some lunch here with my daughter who was meeting me and taking me home later that day. I have seen a few films in the intimate theatre, 70 seats only, with extremely comfy armchair-like seats from which to watch the film while quaffing a very acceptable glass of wine.
From the Esplanade , Flat Holm and Steep Holm were a little closer and some yachts were at rest in the bay.
Looking backwards past Penarth Head the Bay and Docks can be seen. Along the Esplanade, multi-coloured apartments and a new apartment block with a gift shop, the Shore, and a prestigious restaurant “JS” James Sommerin underneath.The Fig Tree, Beach House and Romeo’s are the other eating establishments which can be located along here. There is also a small park with seating and at the furthest end are Penarth Yacht Club and the Life Boat Station.
Just as I was making my way to my daughter’s car the heavens opened and we were obliged to take shelter in the gift shop and under the canopy, at the end of which I saw James Sommerin, the celebrity chef, taking a rest from cooking. I had my picture taken with him and we talked for a while. What a lovely end to the walk.
Wales Coast Path Region H maps 103 and 104