Cardiff: The Northern Parks (Three into One)

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These blogs were originally published as separates. Here to stem the number of blogs about any one city and future blogs I’ve amalgamated them into one (call it three into one if you like). Starting with…

THE MEADOW

If Bute Park is Cardiff’s Hyde or Central Park and Roath Park is its Regent’s Park, then the (unnamed) Meadow Walk is possibly its Hampstead Heath (I’d now say that was more likely Cefn-Onn below). And to think I only knew the north of Cardiff for its city train line but living up here these past few months has been a revelation.

For the uninitiated northern Cardiff is an affluent area running from Lisvane across Llanishen (you can pronounce it as Lanishen) through Thornhill and Rhiwbina (Ree-biin-ah) to Whitchurch and finally to Llandaff (again pronounceable as a singular L). If you live in any of those you can say you did reasonably good with your life.

I am of course an anomaly and/or aberration as a wandering nomad, only here courtesy of a very generous friend. It is a little like a housesitting gig while I pursue a daily routine to gauge whatever follows. Aside from the quaint villages of Rhiwbina and Llanishen (American’s would probably love them!) I was stuck for somewhere to walk. Every digital nomad needs a break from the screen sometime.

One day my curiosity was awoken when I noticed a path heading into what seemed like a wilderness. My curiosity was not disappointed. This is a popular spot for dog walkers and the kind of place people will greet you with a ‘good morning’ which I’ve not experienced anywhere in the UK before.

This walk begins just off an unassuming part of Thornhill Road. If you didn’t know it was there you wouldn’t know. A better access point is to follow Edgehill Avenue to its natural conclusion by which time you will find yourself still in suburbia but at the beginning of a wooded area. From there follow the path easterly (it’s the only way you can go) as far as you like. The wood doesn’t last long and it soon opens out to a clearing.

I suppose you’re expecting me to throw in a transport link here and I hate to disappoint, suffice to say you could follow the path (across Heol Hir) all the way to the Llanishen train line should you wish. As you journey, you’ll notice many pathways leading off to into the nearby abodes of pleasantville. Again if you live in this area you are very fortuitous; it’s a good place to be.

COED-Y-FELIN (MILL WOOD)

While it isn’t too much of a treasure trove to write about, the Mill Wood (pronounced Koid-e-Velin in Welsh) did the job of providing an afternoons walk and eventually offered a pleasant surprise but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Meadow is not too far away for those interested in the quieter surrounds of the capital’s northern suburbs.

There are several ways to get to the wood. One is by train alighting at Lisvane-Thornhill Station which considering it’s the local stop for the most exclusive suburb in Cardiff (like Highgate in London) is a bit of an under achiever in the looks department.

Another way is on foot, following Heol Hir (which dissects the Meadow) to its northern end onto Excaliber Drive, turn right, there is an oblong wooded area on the right skirting the train line.

In front is the expansive parkland of Cefn Onn (pr. Kevin On), turn right at the small roundabout and cross the bridge (over the train tracks). Directly on the other side, take another right down the very plush Clos Llysfean (Lisvane Close to you in English).

To reiterate The Meadow blog again – if you live in one of the Tudor style houses here or indeed any house here, you have done ok for yourself (and most likely need a bloody good burglar alarm!).

About half way down is a wooden kissing gate, enter here. First impressions that careen though my mind belong to a Midsomer Murders script. The woods continue to be both an enchanting and foreboding place of inspiration to writers, Mill Wood has the capacity to do both.

The former is a family enjoying the bridge over the swishing brook, there are wooden stairs leading back to another entrance point not far from the first.

The latter more brooding aspects lie away from the giggles of familial Sunday afternoons and the careless shouts and clatter of nine year old kids on their go kart.

Away from the noise on the muddier dirt tracks and amid the trees it’s easy to envisage finding a gruesome discovery and indeed the presence of a man approaching me is enough to cause internal alarms.

Fortunately he passes with a ‘hello’ and I can’t see a slaughtered body anywhere. It turns out he is coming from yet another entry point off Heol Cefn Onn (named after the aforementioned park).

Though the park is Council owned it’s further maintained by volunteers and is every bit the nature trail in that it’s not well signposted other than at its entrance points. It is here that a map app on your phone really provides peace of mind as it’s easy to get disoriented.

I cross the Nant Fawr (pr. Nant Var) brook again and follow a garden wall along the outskirts of Felin. Before I get to the end and onto the suburban street of Old Mill Road the park reveals its magic moment. A little library – exchange a book here.

Outside the wood I march south down another close to connect with the Llanishen end of the Meadow walk, through a small kids playground and turning right again to cross the train tracks. (See the Llanishen Lines video on You Tube to get a perspective on the bridge over the railway).

You can’t see the Lisvane station as it’s tucked around the corner but you can see Llanishen station (when the camera pans around). From there is a familiar walk home or rather to base crossing Heol Hir back towards Rhiwbina (incidentally on a different ‘city’ line to those mentioned but I may get to that in due course too).

PARC CEFN ONN

Bearing in mind its location, you may think north Cardiff was not the best possible place for a park. No sooner have you entered the gate and ambled up the lane than you’re strolling beneath the M4 (motorway/freeway/autobahn). Memorable if nothing else for its neat mural and though hardly serene, somehow it all works as the noise and frantic motion of vehicle rush soon evaporates.

Along with Coed-y-Felin and the Meadow Walk, Cefn Onn sits in a golden triangle of parks traversing Lisvane, Thornhill and Llanishen. Four if you include the Llanishen Park (there’s that word again) and five if you add Nant Fawr (nant var) which leads south all the way to the top end of Roath Park.

What most of these have in common with Cardiff’s main central Bute Park (and again) is there really isn’t much to do except meander and take in the extraordinary kaleidoscope of patterns the foliage and natural light create.

In the case of Cefn, you must also strive to avoid dogs of all shapes and sizes, for they are as energetic as the motorway traffic (they are supposed to be on leads but never are).

Another similarity is a lack of signage which at best makes it feel like you are in a wilderness rather than Bute Park which had its dirt trails tarred in order to be more excessable to cyclists. This in turn murdered the ‘feel’ (unless you happen to be a cyclist).

At Cefn this is all set to change with the aid of oodles of lottery cash thrown about which will hopefully add disabled toilets and better access to the northern reaches of the park.

Also slated are improvements to the ponds, symbolic audio and visual interpretations of the main walkway as well as the old summerhouse, whatever all that means. Can’t wait to see it, if that is I’m in Cardiff at all, such is life.

A stones throw away from the Mill Wood and Lisvane station, the Caerphilly train line skirts the eastern periphery, the former halt station now reduced to a platform just before the tunnel through Caerphilly Mountain (there is a trail over the tunnels entrance accessed from near the old summerhouse.

The Nant Fawr brook runs southward on its way to Coed-y-Felin and in the north west of this expansive blob of greenery is a clearing bordered by a golf course and a polite warning to avoid stray balls.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, check out the MEDIA page, and/or the UNIVERSITY page for my teaching ethos.

Meanwhile, stay tuned with things here at Kulture Kiosk via THE ATLAS or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Blog originally published as three separate posts June 10, June 30 and July 5, 2018.

PLAYLIST
Beginning the World (from Umbrella) – The Innocence Mission
Animal Ghost (from Flowermouth) – No-Man
Estate (Summer)(from Fascinoma) – Jon Hassell
It’s Late in the Day for Love (from Where the Days Go) – July Skies
The Width of a Room (from Gentlemen Take Polaroids expanded edition) – Japan

Photos: KH