Path to Glory

The official opening of the Llwybr Arfordir Cymru (Wales Coast Path) with simultaneous ceremonies at Fflint, Aberystwyth and the Senedd on May 5th was undoubtedly a great day for Wales and congratulations are due to all involved in the daunting 5-year undertaking.  It is one more example of the devolution dividend, a steadily growing list of major improvements, new ideas and fresh attitudes that would never have happened were Welsh affairs still entirely run by London.  The principles that underpin the Llwybr – principles of open, equal access, of collective ownership eclipsing private property, of non-monetised, free public assets – are the polar opposites of the settled polity of Tory-dominated England/Britain: more evidence of how the ‘Union’ counteracts, stifles and neuters Wales.  The 870-mile long path that makes Wales the only country in the world with a route around its entire coast gives an exciting hint of the infinite possibilities complete autonomy would bring to our small but perfectly-proportioned nation.

I am aware that the opening of the Llwybr Arfordir Cymru is only the beginning and that improvements and enhancements are planned in many areas, but I feel obliged to bring attention to the Cardiff stretch of the route to follow up on an article I wrote last year (see   Reluctantly, I must now write the four most irritating monosyllables in the English language: I told you so.

The Llwybr in Cardiff

Going clockwise and entering Cardiff from the east along the long-established Wentloog levels path atop the sea wall, the coast walk comes to a complete halt ½ a mile before reaching the Rhymni/Severn confluence, turning inland for ½ a mile alongside a magnificent reen until reaching the unpleasant, pedestrian-hostile Wentloog Avenue.  Of course to continue along the coast would require a highly expensive new footbridge over the mouth of the Rhymni, but I would hope that this is a long-term aim – not just to patch a hole in the Llwybr, but also to allow more people to experience the sensational, elemental mouth of the Rhymni, one of the best places on the entire planet to witness tidal power and range.  The reen itself is a sight to behold; as wide as a canal in places, the barely-moving waters lined by dense reedbeds where coot, teal, mallard, moorhen, swan and heron make their home, while stagnant reaches covered in lurid green algae conceal unknown mysteries in the fathoms below.  Called Cors Crychydd (Heron’s Fen), it is the latest in a complex web of drainage ditches that have kept Wentloog from reverting to bogland since the Romans.  I was worried that this hitherto undisturbed wildlife haven would now be ruined by too much human activity – until I realised I was worrying unnecessarily because few will come to this section of the Llwybr twice.  Emerging onto Wentloog Avenue, the walker faces a ghastly ½ mile slog along a major arterial lorry route, firstly on the south side of the road because that’s the only side with a pavement, then, after passing the gates of the Lamby Way corporation dump, on the north side of the road because that now is the only side with a pavement, and eventually, on reaching the Rover Way roundabout, back on the south side of the road as the stingy pavement provision switches yet again.  This stroll criss-crossing a roaring 2-lane blacktop is supposed to be achieved without the assistance of a single pedestrian right of way.  They’re having a laugh.  Pending the construction of that Rhymni footbridge of my dreams, I don’t see why the route couldn’t at least have avoided most of this dangerous and well nigh impossible stretch by continuing around the foot of the mountainous Lamby tip and rejoining Lamby Way at the road bridge over the Rhymni.  This is a marvellous walk along the river’s east bank on Council land currently completely out of bounds for reasons that are not entirely clear.  I go there regularly anyhow and have never seen a soul.  As Wales moves to a plastic-free, recycling, sustainable future, the Lamby tip could become a fabulous new resource for Cardiff.  Cover it in topsoil and let nature do its work: a green hill with birds-eye views of the city from the Severn’s perspective – bendigedig!

We now come to the first new addition the Llwybr has brought to Cardiff: a short ramp from the roundabout up onto the flood prevention earthworks that run southwards back to the coast along the Rhymni’s west bank.  Following Rover Way’s big bend on the grassy embankment that was previously very difficult to reach owing to the total absence of pavements, the Llwybr swings past the secretive Sailing & Angling Club (avert your eyes from the Tesco Extra eyesore to the right, once the site of the short-lived Rover car factory after which the road was named) and back down to the Severn foreshore.  Here now is the real immediate gain for Cardiff: a mile-long track hugging the ethereal transient zone where land meets sea with vast vistas across the mutating palettes of the shifting, silver sea-river.

I have ambitious schemes for this part of Cardiff, which I will not bore you with now.  Suffice to say they involve the protection and extension of the last remnant of the East Moors at Pengam, new trackways and intense tree-planting on the ‘frag tip’ metal mountain, and the imaginative conversion of the Tremorfa sewage treatment plant into a bio-fuel, bio-degradable Green temple.  The Llwybr passes all these dubious delights before abruptly ending at “the Gut”.  I have written about the Gut before on this blog, and from now on I’m removing those inverted commas.  Let’s have the guts to call it what it is: Cardiff’s, ahem, exhaust pipe.

This is the second bonus for Cardiff from the Llwybr: access to the Gut.  At last there is an opportunity for more people other than the odd angler and an angular oddity like me to appreciate the thrill of the Gut when the sluice gate’s emptying and the tide’s galloping in across the lustrous muds.  There’s plenty of scope for big improvements here: a concrete plinth at the head of the cove would make a great viewing platform and at low tide there is a compelling little beach crying out for restoration. (WARNING: Under no circumstances walk out onto the mudflats – out here no-one can hear you scream) .

From the Gut’s east side the Llwybr abruptly leaves the coast again.  Instead of continuing onwards around the west flank of the Gut and along the Splott coastline for the 1½ miles to the Barrage, walkers are expected to cross Rover Way again onto a pavement so narrow you must go single file, then pick their way in a semi-circle around the sinister Dock entrance roundabout before heading north away from the coast on a 2 mile inland wander: through Enterprise Park purgatory along the aimless chicanes of Ocean Way, around the carbon-drenched ‘Magic Roundabout’, westwards on Tyndall Street under the flyover, then eventually turning seaward at Schooner Way and meandering through Atlantic Wharf toytown past County Hall to the WMC, the Senedd, the Barrage and, at last, the coast again.  Um, it’s a very interesting walk – especially at the beginning if, like me, you’re into the clanking, belching dramatic remnants of smokestack Cardiff as represented by the so-ugly-its-beautiful Celsa Works, and also at the end down the Bay where you can’t move for bloody icons – but, to paraphrase the immortal description of the Charge of the Light Brigade by French general Pierre Bosquet (1810-1861), C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas yr arfordir… 

Apart from sections at Barry and Port Talbot, this is the biggest gap and longest divergence from the coast on the entire path. It is apt that this void is down to Associated British Ports (ABP): that word “British” giving a clue to the malign nature of the beast.  How ABP got its talons into Cardiff Docks and how that led to us being denied the exhilarating cliff-top walk past Splott Beach, Longships Road, the great locks and hoists on the southern side of Queen Alexandra Dock, the eerily unpopulated container terminal and oil storage tanks, and on to the Sea-Lock bridge and the Barrage, is a sleazy saga that must wait for another time. Until then, ask Margaret Thatcher – second thoughts, don’t bother, she won’t remember… 

The Cardiff section of the path cannot be accepted as it is, and pressure must be maintained on both ABP and the Welsh government to open up this missing link between the Gut and the Barrage. Without it, to all intents and purposes Cardiff will play no part in the life of the Llwybr because no rambler is going to do the fascinating but bleak 1½ miles between the Rhymni and the Gut if it means urban, traffic-choked roads have to be negotiated at either end.  One day these Llwybr lulls will be filled: the day when Welsh interests are put before the shareholder dividends of a Jersey-registered conglomerate.