An A-Z Journey Around Britain

7 Cardiff


Three rivers and a coastline made habitation inevitable. By 1900 Cardiff was the biggest coal exporting port in the world.

Before all that Cardiff had a Roman governor called Aulus Didius Gallus. Nobody had invented one back then, so he did not drive a car. This is a pity because his names have potential as brands for future Toyota models. Wales was claimed as an English territory by Edward 1 in the 13th Century. Edward spent nearly £200,000 on castles. Despite his obsession with home ownership, the reality TV show never happened.

The Brecon Beacons is the last mountain range to be seen before a driver enters Cardiff. After that it is speed traps. Driving licences suffer in Wales.

London is different from England, and Cardiff is not the same as Wales.   For many, multicultural Cardiff is not Welsh anymore. The proportion of Welsh speakers in Wales is 19% and in Cardiff 11.1%.

Cardiff applied to be the European Capital Of Culture in 2008 but lost to Liverpool. The location of the BBC Drama Unit in the City has proved to be an adequate substitute.

A decent five-mile hike around Cardiff Bay crosses the river twice and passes the BBC Drama building. Apart from the prospect of Dr Who and time travel, the walk evokes the Bosphorus in modern Istanbul.

Thanks to major regeneration the City has some of the finest modern buildings in Britain. The older buildings are not bad, either. I always imagine sand blowing against the pale Victorian walls of Cardiff Rail Station. Cardiff architecture mixes baroque and rococo.   A defiant gilded dome sits on top of the National Museum. The chateau lines of City Hall would suit Paris. Cardiff hotels are not cheap but the Angel Hotel is friendly and funky.

David Cameron, famous Tory friend of international moneylenders, pokes fun at supposed Labour incompetence in Wales. But money has been spent well on Cardiff.  The presence of students, media folk and a financial services industry ensures good nightlife. Café Jazz has modern and traditional jazz, and blues on a Friday night.

Cardiff Castle suffers from this nightlife. People drink, shop or eat, and the Castle is reduced to remote history. The Welsh destroyed the Castle in the 15th Century but it was rebuilt by the Earl Of Warwick in 1543. Aneurin Bevan was the Labour politician who ensured that Britain has an NHS.   His statue opposite the Castle has been abused by Cardiff drinkers. Cardiff Council piloted placing social workers on the streets to confront and help the homeless and abandoned. The roving social workers ignore drunken students. For the alcohol free, Cardiff has charming quiet arcades. They offer an underrated retreat.

Cardiff avoids the high pockets of unemployment like those that scar London. Rhondda Valley has mountains that enhance back gardens. It is close to Cardiff but an expensive daily train journey is not feasible for workers on low wages. The Rhondda Valley has an economic strategy, which has failed. Between 1844 and 1980, 1266 Rhondda Valley miners lost their lives in mining accidents. Margaret Thatcher made all their descendants redundant.


Next week, back to England – Cheltenham


Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015

If you want to read more about his travels click here.