Near here in 1928, at the old pre-barrage tidal reaches of the Ely,
the magnificently named Jockenhovel O'Connor discovered a hoard of
bronze-age armaments. 600 BC. One rib and pellet socketed axe, one
socketed axe fragment, four leatherworking knives, two socketed sickles,
two razors and a chariot pole cap. Buried three feet down in the Ely
flood plain. Deliberately placed there. Hidden away but never collected.
Rotted. Dug up two and a half thousand years later, washed and cleaned,
given to the National Museum. They were heading west, those bronze-agers,
Brythons sliding home.
The bridge I'm standing on was in its day a main route west. It's
still busy enough with a smog and slap of vehicles heading for Barry
and the Glamorgan Vale. It was built by Norwest of Liverpool and deemed
important enough to have the then Minister of Transport, Leslie Hore-Belisha,
open it in 1935. Hore-Belisha of the beacons. He made drivers take
tests and erected globe yellow flashing lights on poles at all pedestrian
crossings. Saved a lot of post-Brythonic lives. A six axel artic roars
passed me through the icy air. No such crossing here.
Looking down from the new bridge, parapet soaring over the placid
Ely, the old one, sixteenth century and replete with triangular recesses,
three gentle arches and period narrow width, can be seen still there.
Dark shadowed by its mighty and so much younger replacement. Stone
marvellously unfaded, pointing intact. It once took carriers' carts
from the salt marsh of Leckwith moors, up the long incline of the
Pen-y-Turnpike, through Leckwith village (pop, in 1871, 169) and on
to Cadoxton, Barry, and the sea. When the new bridge opened the old
was left in place giving access to the ancient farm, Leckwith Bridge
House, which stood at the foot of the rising woods.
Today the old road is gated. The scrap of flatland on the river's
west bank completely industrialised. Autogas, Concrete Products, Vehicle
Storage, Police pound, American Burger van parking, Stone Flair Paving,
portacabins, shacks, garden with a well in it, tarmac, mud and damp.
This is the place where Cardiff ends and the Vale begins. The twinned
towns of Nantes, Hordaland, Stuttgart, Lugansk and Xiamen give way
to Fécamp, Mouscron and Rheinfelden. Hands up those who've
been to Rheinfelden. A mud-decked runner goes past, mp3, woolcap,
pulse-monitor wristwatch. Not him.
The path in through Plymouth Woods sags with running damp. Under
a thick mix of Oak, Hazel and Alder the churned cream of the Leckwith
incline slops over boot-tops and mortar-like jams the cleats. These
woods are ancient, what's left of the great deciduous woodlands that
had stood here at the flank of Cardiff for hundreds of years. The
path slides at more or less ground level, paralleling first the silent
Ely and then the roaring link road. Birds drowned out. Couldn't hear
any above the four by fours and town shoppers. This is Sunday. High
blue somewhere above the leafless branch canopy. Ice cold.
In the ivy chocked undergrowth are half-emerged root structures,
oak clinging where the rain has washed the cover, empty cans of Carlsburg,
evidence of sink penetration, tree trunks showing attempts to burn
(failed), trolley detritus, wrecked Cortina rusted almost back to
base metal, fragments of stolen Kawasaki, tyre high in the branches,
Victorian hard-core dumped and mashed into the bog of the now rising
pathway. Slide and grasp and grapple. Up past an ancient clay pit,
excavated and filled with Russian vine escaped from suburban horticulture,
got here by bird, or wind.
The path turns east towards the still thundering link road, a dual
carriage way cutting north on concrete pedestals. The Ely River has
snaked far east and is now out of view. The writhe of tyre tracks
increases. My large-scale Cardiff 1980 OS map has the explanatory
key printed over where this place would be. Land not worth much then,
less now. Would the Ramblers come through here in their elderly gangs
of a frosty morning? Where does the track take us? Through a concrete
underpass thick with green moss and water, graffiti and branch backlog;
over bent and rusted 70s fence and abandoned stile and gateway to
emerge at the top end of the long green stretch that was once Ely
Racecourse but is now Trelai Park. Prams. Push bikes. Footballers.
Dogs. City Hall on the eastern skyline with Capital Tower to its right.
The rest of Wales rising ever so slowly straight ahead.
So this is it. The bent ley between the Brythons' abandoned sword
and sorcery and a twentieth century green-lung for one of the vastest
of Wales' social housing estates. They came along here on their small
horses, bearskins, sweat and grease we wouldn't recognise. Threshed
the earth, made their marks, tried also to burn a tree or two. Probably.
Photo: Peter Finch
Real Cardiff #3: The
End of the Boom - Senedd - Whitchurch
Hospital - Leckwith Bridge - Contents
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