Walking Cardiff – The Republic of Roath

Walking CardiffMy adventure today was to follow the route entitled ‘The Republic of Roath’ in Walking Cardiff by Peter Finch.  It’s a beautifully written book, as are all Peter’s works.  Here is not the place to reproduce sections of the book, nor for that matter the excellent photographs by John Briggs.  Instead you’ll have to make do with my ramblings and my less impressive photographs. 

The route started off in town, outside the City Hall, then headed for Cathays before scything its way through the heart of Roath.  In fact it began at the Lord Ninian statue, one I am familiar with having put together a treasure hunt based on some of the civic centre statues of Cardiff last year. Today, Lord Ninian not only has his view of the City Hall blocked by the conifer tree that has grown but he also has to endure the sights of Winter Wonderland, which will no doubt keep him well entertained.

Lord Ninian Winter Wonderland South Africa War Memorial

The South Africa war memorial next to the City Hall is indeed one of those often overlooked by people like me who spend time researching names on war memorials.  I normally concentrate on WWI and WWII, maybe because they are easier to research.  One day I intend my work on the Roath Virtual War Memorial will take in the names on this memorial.

The walk route then took me into Alexandra Gardens.  This is a park I love visiting on long summer evenings. The flower displays are excellent and it’s a place to witness the cosmopolitan nature of our city; residents, students and visitors. There were still a few brave flowers making an appearance in the borders today, this late in the year.

I cut through to Park Place between the Sir Martin Evans building and the main Cardiff University building.  There were still a handful of students around, probably the PhD students with an experiment to complete of a paper to finish before heading home. The Martin Evans building is decorated in multi-coloured hexagon glass but what caught my eye today was the sculpture of an insect on a leaf seemingly injecting another, all in the name of research no doubt. It is a sculpture commemorating the life of entomologist Dr Mark Anthony Jervis

Welsh War Memorial Alexandra gardens Sir Martin Evans building Mark Anthony Jervis sculpture

The Centre for Student Life building which had only started being built when Walking Cardiff was published is now open, with just a row of red and white plastic barriers distracting your eyes from the vista. Do I like it?  I’m trying my best to.  The tall pillars are different but I remain unconvinced, particularly the way the building has been pushed towards the road. Having said that, it is better than another non-descript box-like structure.  

The footbridge took me over the railway line into Cathays and another new building to look at, this time the new Department of Mathematics Abacws building. Again it is better than just a non-descript box and I like the way the angles on it contrast with those of the curves on the nearby Sherman Theatre.

Cardiff Centre for Student Life and Abacus Building

I’ve recently started a new challenge – Armchair Travel Challenge where the aim is to visit every country in the world – virtually.  I’m spending a month in each, learning as much as I can, trying the food, listening to music and a host of other things. This month is Libya and I had heard that the owner of the McSims Maltese Bakery was from Libya.  One of the aims of my challenge is to meet someone from each country, so it was great to meet  Adnan Arashi and his son-in-law who run McSims Maltese Bakery on Senghenydd Road.  Their pastizzi signature bakes were very tasty.  They gave me lots of hints about Libyan food as well as some history and what to look out for as a tourist.

McSims Maltese Bakery on Senghenydd Road Cathays Cardiff

The student streets of Cathays were quiet today.  I walked down Miskin Street, past the site of  Miskin Street Bible Christian church which fell into disuse and was later demolished.  It was where Sir William Crossman attended, the first labour Lord Mayor ever to be knighted.  He lived a simple life in nearby Harriet Street. 

I cut down Lowther Road.  Peter was right, Dan Green’s Uganda art work has now disappeared to be replaced with a keyboard, the musical kind not the computer kind. There was time to view a bit more street art before heading up Northcote Street and the Gateway Christian Spiritualist Church which most people pass without even realising it is a church.

I stopped at the traffic lights, not just from the fear of being run over, but also to cast an eye at the house where Viscount John Sankey, Lord Chancellor – Roath’s top brief, grew up and is now Souvlike Greek restaurant. Across the road is the Roath Park Hotel, hanging on by a thread from the threat of being torn down and replaced by more flats.  The redevelopers have said they are open to offers from people looking to return it into a business or community venture but I suspect it is going to require not just ideas but also a sizable cash offer.

Roath Park Hotel City Road Cardiff

One building that appears safe, at least for the present time, is the Mackintosh Sports and Social Club.  Although it may not look like it necessarily, it has a long history by Roath standards, and was originally home of the Richards family in the 1800s, the heir of whom married chief of the Mackintosh clan, Mackintosh of Mackintosh.  They sold off the Roath land for housing and hence many of the Roath streets have Scottish names.

I walked along Keppoch Street and Cottrell Road, across Albany Road and Wellfield Road, too slow to snap the elderly Mods on their scooters,  and into Bangor Street.  That’s one street I have never found out the origin of the name.  Is it named after Bangor, Northern Ireland or Bangor, North Wales or somewhere else I wonder?

I was on home dog-walking territory by now.  I crossed Pen-y-lan Road and into Roath Brook Gardens then Roath Mill Gardens.  Signs of Christmas are already here, people out walking in family groups. I was approaching the very heart of Roath, where the old mill used to be.  In winter you can just about see some remains of the old wall on the river bank.  Roath used to be the bread-basket of Cardiff, a rural population supplying food to those who lived in and around Cardiff Castle. The sculpture of the former mill by Rubin Eynon is holding up well.  Almost opposite on the other side of Sandringham Road is the home of poet and physician  Dannie Abse, tastefully commemorated with a slate plaque.  

Roath Mill Dannie Abse Roath Parish Church

My walk finished at St Margaret’s church, the Parish church. the graveyard is largely devoid of headstones now after most were removed decades ago.  One interesting one remaining is that of Thomas John whose headstone reminds us that he fought at Waterloo.  His history is explored in the latest edition of the Roath Local History Society newsletter.

So why is the walk called the Republic of Roath.  I guess that’s another reason to buy the book. 

Date of walk: 22 December 2021

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