I just came back from walking Cardiff’s Olympic perimeter. I was compelled to go after reading Pete Scott’s article on Legacy at the Junket’s website.
While I process my thoughts and double-check some names and dates, I’m just going to post my initial impression here, and the pictures I took along the way. It is street photography after a fashion, in that I didn’t take a lot of time to capture them, did so on my phone, and they document what I saw as I was walking.
They may be a bit jaunty, light-flooded or mundane as a result. I also tried to stay away from the ‘JuXtapositionZ!!’ school of finding things to photograph, which was hard because it is bin day, and very warm.
If you’re keen to wander the route yourself, here’s a .pdf of the Advertising and Street Trade Restriction Area as outlined by DCMS. Most of it is easily traversed, apart from one bit by the castle (on account of its moat).
Ok then, off we go!
So, I get two hundred yards down Lower Cathedral Road before stumbling into this shop. I tell them that I am walking the Olympic Zone. They say “nothin wrong wi tha” twice, maybe three times, and I feel like an idiot because, much as I like the idea, I don’t actually need any confectionery supplies. I grab a bag of lollipop sticks and peruse their cake-topper selection. I leave with a selection of sportspeople, after a discussion on the dangers of boiling sugar.
Next I wind past a couple of streets whose reputation is for brothely-love. Whether that’s deserved or not, I don’t know, but the empty-occupied vibe of this pub makes me feel unease. There are so many open slots, for a sealed-up building: through some, I can see bare brick and rafters – through others, I keep expecting to see an eye.
It’s just around here that the stadium pops into view.
I feel compelled to walk towards it, and the cool breeze coming off the river, but the map tells me to take Plantagenet Street instead. It’s here that I find people outside.
One side of the road has romanesque doorways, outlined by courses of tiles. The other side of the street is decorated in a more traditional Victorian style. There are swags (festoons? I forget what they’re called) of blooms and leaves around each door – most are weather-worn to the point of looking like stone ballbags. All is punctuated with rusty satellite dishes. I don’t stop to take photos. It seems life is doing quite nicely down here and I feel like an imposition. I count seven abandoned bikes and trikes in one garden, but they are colourful. It’s hard to tell if they’ve been there a while, or if they’ve just been dropped as loads of little feet run through the house and into the back garden. Three young boys are playing with the top-ends of pool cues, and they make a little gate that I must pretend to break through in order to carry on along my walk.
I’m taking too much in at this point, and I’m on a stretch of road which I’m more accustomed to driving through. There are many hilarious shop names but everything seems a bit heightened (could have been the gas) so I press on.
Round the corner I feel like I can take deep breaths again. Down a lane, I can see a big cloud of spray from a car valet place – no rainbows but it seems to help me relax.
It’s also worth noting that the Welsh on that sign (‘derbyniad’) describes the kind of reception you have after a wedding.
I’ve always enjoyed walking Pendyrys Street and, as I come to the end of it, I see the stadium again, and sense the openness of the adjacent river. A man is in an underpass playing a really mournful tune on the accordion.
Now, there’s a race-car shaped topiary on this embankment. No photo of that for you. Everytime I’ve tried in the past it looks just like any other shrub – so get to Taff’s Mead Embankment and just drink it in for yourself.
I’m on the riverbank. Looking towards the stadium, I try and work out where the Empire Pool used to be. Double the size of Plascrug, it was where the swimmers went when they got too big for our pool. It was also full of asbestos and built on reclaimed riverbank, so they took it down in the nineties.
It’s also where the tidal port used to sit, back before they moved the river.
“Forty years or more ago (c. 1854) Mr. J. Lucas could be seen drawing salmon from his coracle, at the site of the present Royal Hotel. He lost his life at sea, as a pilot of the Port of Cardiff. Salmon were exceedingly abundant here at the beginning of the present century, and were far from being esteemed a delicacy.” [source]
Just behind it stood Temperance Town, where the sale of alcohol was completely forbidden. It had its own congregationalist chapel, one of the biggest in Wales (it’s where the army recruitment centre is now), as well as a circus, peddling acrobatics and hot chocolate in lieu of booze. It’s this part of town that got me interested in the [deep breath] LOCOG Advertising and Street Trading Restriction Area in the first place. That temperate part of town is, naturally, ironically boozy by now. It also sits very cosily alongside the Competition Venue Footprint. I wonder whether the ban on non-branded chips will be more strictly upheld than the one they used to have on gin.
Directly across from me, somewhere, is the old site of the Cambrian Vinegar Works.
There’s so much to dwell on here that I lose my place a bit. I stop to have a drink of water, and try not to think about history.
I arrange my cake ornaments olympically on a storm drain. Owing to a lack of choice, the blue and black rings are represented by a salmon fisherman and a horse. The lady on the right is a ghost from the Empire Pool.
About a minute after this is taken, I am punched, accidentally, by a small child. It really hurts.
Further down the embankment, I have to cross the river. This isn’t a particularly interesting plaque, but I feel surprised that it hasn’t been nicked, so I take a photo.
Realising I haven’t written anything down for a while, I stop by the Lloyd’s Bank building to take some notes. Two men are walking down the pavement and there is room for us all. One of them brushes against me and snarls. I don’t respond. The other, once he’s passed goes “Hey love, how much?” and nudges his friend. We make eye contact as he gestures back to me and I laugh. We all laugh. Mine is a slightly raspy pretend one. I am glad they’re away from me and for once, don’t feel guilty that I didn’t give them a ladylike dressing-down. I am safer this way, I reason, and hide behind some bushes til they’re gone.
Fans of corporate-space-public-art, take note ^^^.
There is an incredibly angry man on his phone nearby, who I won’t picture out of respect for his full-blown, public rager.
This is the point where I go the wrong way. I follow the main road around Custom House, rather than the alley behind it. I don’t realise my mistake until I’ve passed this piece of empowering whimsy:
It makes sense, of course, to include Custom House in the policed perimeter. It was, until about a week ago, a shelter for people with nowhere to live. The drink-in-the-square kind that good hosts clear away before large, international sporting tournaments. I am feeling cynical and knowing for figuring this out, but am sobered by the graffiti I find on its walls.
I pass along the side, by this sculpture which I’ve always assumed is called ‘Advert Headache’.
Now, I’m getting tired of writing. You may be getting tired of reading, I don’t know. For those of you still with us, it’s not far now.
At the time, it seemed very profound.
Did you know there’s not a single woman, living or dead, represented in Cardiff’s public sculpture? Just mermaids n shit? You didn’t? Click here to learn more.
The screen in the background is the spot from which the news that Jade Goody had died was beamed without consent into my sleepy brain.
Castle Street was lovely, from the first storey upward. They are re-re-doing the animal wall, which is a good thing. The last time, they gave the anteater a new nose. Apparently someone tried to pull it off the wall a long time ago. Possibly during a riot? Anyway, here’s a man tenderly measuring a lioness.
My favourite part is the word ‘COUNCIL’ along the bottom, and extrapolating from that, an imagined meeting where they discuss “how will they know it’s from the council?” while a beleaguered living-willow sculptor looks on.
Like now, in front of the screen, I was getting a bit distracted so I stopped for a cheese sandwich.
Not all the perimeter of the LOCOG zone is accessible – so I traipse along the footings of building, into the woods, and emerge by the stone circle. The story of performance, pageantry and Cardiff Castle is one for another day, but know that within this particular half-a-square-mile, the upcoming shenanigans fit into a rich heritage of dressing up in primary colours.
This part of the park is particularly well-tended, and looked spectacular (although someone’s been nicking plaques, for shame). I sat on a bench dedicated to the memory of Ken Jenkins.
It turns out that embroidering five interlocking hoops very quickly and in the midday sun is very difficult, so I abandon my handmade tribute to copyright-infringement so I can get home and put on sun-cream. Across the bridge and along a segment of the Taf Trail. There are lots of runners – some goading each other, others just goading themselves. The stolen glimpse I get of the bowls club through the fence makes it look all verboten and club tropicana.
The last part of the perimeter is the only bit blocked by private buildings. I take the main road and eye up my starting point, as I join Cathedral Road again. If you have the time, it’s worth walking along here a couple of times, looking just at the eaves of the buildings. Some of the masonry is breathtaking.
The hoarding outside is advertising ‘HYPNO-GASTRIC-BAND-THERAPY’.
Wishing one and all a happy ‘lympics xx