An Olympic Stroll

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!

The Sun is Shining and I Can Go Anywhere!

Like this confectionery supply store! *airpunch*

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.

Note to self: discuss Stig of the Dump, possibly prostitution, with therapist.

It’s just around here that the stadium pops into view.

There it is. I’ve always thought those cantilevers look like crab legs (and that, one day, the whole thing will rear up and scuttle sideways into the River Taf)

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.

Bottom of Plantagenet Street and Tudor Street. Everything is too bright.

Now I have to walk away from the Stadium, into Riverside, where I stop to write. What can I say, the bus stop smells of natural gas and I spot a TfL poster, which advises me, in English, to ‘Get Ahead of the Games!’. The man on the poster, and his car, are being consumed by footballs.

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.

Though this does deserve a mention as it’s lovely.

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.

Aah. Back on familiar territory. That’s one of my favourite trophy shops on the right. I liked the billboard because it said ‘Memory Walk’ on it in big letters. Between them both is a private-sector hostel for people who have nowhere to live.

This used to be a lovely piece of subversive signwriting, but obviously too many people were driving lorries into it.

There’s the Hindu temple

and the bin lorry depot. I love the height of the space inside, but made a decision to stay away from municipal property, as I didn’t want to complicate things.

I think this is one of my favourite photos. The man is a mechanic.

Pendyrys St, you are really spoiling us! This, until recently, was the site of a cake factory. Now, as you can see, it’s temporary accommodation called ‘The Bakery’. There are many, many cctv cameras on this building.

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.

Thanks, accordion man! You totally turned this into full-blown flâneurie!

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.

Now, the Brains brewery sits nearby instead

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.

I bloody love bridges, me. (I really do). Also, note, stadium in the background. Looks like a crab.

Never before has a vinyl graphic and its surroundings so succinctly conveyed “SPORTS”

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.

This is where it gets confusing because the old maps show a canal somewhere around here.

Fans of corporate-space-public-art, take note ^^^.

Here’s another! Somewhere between a sail and some sort of ‘patriotic’ love toy.

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:

Be assured, the jauntiness is completely accidental.

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.

Nothing to see here

Just the displacement of the already-displaced

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.

I spotted this ‘x-ray marquee’. I also write, in my little book: “I am waiting for the green man – because I am not moving”

At the time, it seemed very profound.

And here’s a wayward one of boxer Jim Driscoll.

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.

Wehey! Here’s one that looks like a giant toy.

Ooh, topical!

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.

Shops, shops, shops. While there were some notable architectural details (residents of Cardiff: LOOK UP!), I’ve jumped forward to Queen’s Street. This is always worth knowing.

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.

Fact: when this was first commissioned, all the lions got sent back to London to be recut, as they were not adequately ferocious.

They were joined by this terrifying half-woman, half-trophy.

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.

There is cheese sandwich on the lens now.

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.

I leave you with this picture of a what used to be a Synagogue.

The hoarding outside is advertising ‘HYPNO-GASTRIC-BAND-THERAPY’.

Wishing one and all a happy ‘lympics xx


5 o Sylwadau on “An Olympic Stroll”

  1. Rhys Wynne yn dweud:

    Gwich. Mae’r Olymics yma’n llwyth o wanc, ond roedd werth o i gael darllen y cofnod hyfryd yma.

  2. Carl Morris yn dweud:

    Sara – gwych iawn. Mae croeso i ti cyfrannu rhywbeth i’r blog Ein Caerdydd unrhyw bryd! Pob hwyl.

    • sarahuws yn dweud:

      Diolch iti, a diolch Rhys, am yr adborth. Wedi joio fy antur Olympaidd – falch ichi wneud hefyd!

      Carl, dwi braidd yn ara yn sgrifennu pethe, felly nai’m addo dim byd i ti rwan. Ond mi wnai gnoi ‘nghil dros y cynnig yn siwr!

  3. Richard Nosworthy yn dweud:

    Waw – blogpost marathon! Un peth wnaeth fy nharo i oedd pa mor anghyfeillgar ydy adeiladau newydd y ddinas. Dyw’r ddinas ddim yn cael ei dylunio ar gyfer pobl – dylen ni wneud mwy o ymdrech yn Gaerdydd i wneud ein cymdogaethau’n fwy croesawgar dwi’n credu.

    • sarahuws yn dweud:

      Ymddiheuriadau na wnes i ryddhau’r sylw yn gynharach, Richard. Cytuno i raddau – mae fel tase’r rhan fwyaf o adeiladau yn gyfaddawd sy ddim yn plesio neb yn iawn. Yn amlwg mae’r pwyslais ar blesio’r masnachwr (neu, o leia, rhywun yn ‘Head Office’ y masnachwr, yn Llundain).

      Rhaid i fi weud doedd y cynulliad o folards ar hyd Stryd y Santes Fair yn gwneud dim synnwyr imi – tan imi weld y setup olympaidd

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