Edging The City - A Journey Round the Border of Cardiff


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Peter Finch is perhaps the foremost chronicler of Cardiff, past and present. His response to the 2020 lockdown restrictions confining people to their local authority area was to begin walking the boundary of his. This was in a mirror of his long walk along the south Wales coast recorded in Edging the Estuary.

The Cardiff border rarely appears on maps. The city is no longer has walls (like York or Chester), or a modern transport périphérique like London’s M25. Instead its dotted line boundary travels across fields, along motorways, up rivers, through forests, over rail tracks and along miles of intertidal mudflats following the edge of the Severn. The border itself is made up of waymarked trails, city streets, highway liminal zones, woodlands. Mud-soaked tracks up hillsides, bridges, diversions, disentanglements and discoveries all play a part in this informative text created for walkers and armchair travellers alike.

Edging the City the Garth

Edging the City explores (often literally) why and where borders exist, their purposes, their love of water courses. It discusses other cities with walkable borders including York, Chester, London, Paris, Bruges and Seoul. It considers legal and geopolitical reasons for borders (the battles over placement of ‘Welcome’ signs, for instance), how they change and what happens when politics crosses boundaries. Cardiff’s medieval and other boundaries are tracked. The border is walked, run and sailed. Finch talks to ultra runners who have traversed the 50 plus mile route in a single day. He provides textual diversions on border history, north Cardiff trees, words for mounds, the mountains of Cardiff, the city’s coalmines, its triads, historical figures, battles, hill forts, poets, politicians, housing developments and other divertissements. There’s a city’s edge playlist which filled the author’s head as he strode available on Spotify. Edging the City is a view of Cardiff like no other, full of insights and discoveries.

Listen to the Edging the City playlist on Spotify here.

Check what it all looked like in the Flickr stream here

View the interactive map at Plotaroute here

coast pathcaerphilly mountain

What The Critics Say


Bobby Seal in Psychogeographic Review

"Circumnavigating the city and then writing home had been on my mind ever since I’d encountered Iain Sinclair’s walk around the M25, London Orbital, which came out in 2002. But it was the Covid crisis that pushed it and the directive that for exercise citizens had to remain remain within the confines of their local authority. Stay Local. No border crossing. But what could that mean? Just how big was my local authority? How far out did it go and where did it end?"

Peter Finch has been a ubiquitous figure on the Welsh literary scene for over forty years. As a writer he is best known for the Real Cardiff series of books but has also written about music, produces walking guides and is a published poet.

During the 2020 Covid lockdown Welsh government rules meant that none of us could travel outside the boundaries of our own local authority without good reason. Being a seasoned jobbing writer, Finch seized on this situation as the perfect opportunity for a new project, rather than worrying about it being a limitation on the walking trips that had become so much part of his writing process.

Peter Finch, like many of us who are psychogeography curious, read and was intrigued by Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital back in 2002. Sinclair wrote about a circular walk he completed around the outer edge of London following a route as close as possible to that of the M25 motorway. The walk revealed new aspects of the city and took Sinclair through unfamiliar liminal zones, each very different in character to the London that he thought he knew.

Finch, a life-long resident of Cardiff, felt that a similar journey around the border of his own city might result in new insights about it. Not just discoveries about the edges of Cardiff and the places where it butts up against neighbouring boroughs, but more general insights into the nature of borderlands.

His first task was to plot his route on a map, which he reports was no easy challenge. Inspired by Finch’s book, I tried today to draw up a walking route around the outer edge of my own local authority area and can confirm the difficulties with this process that he writes about. Other than the sections of Cardiff’s boundary where it follows a road, a river or the sea, transposing a line on an OS map to the reality on the ground is no mean feat; especially if, as Finch decided from the outset, you rule out knowingly trespassing on private property.

In very simple terms, Cardiff is bounded by the Vale of Glamorgan to the west and south-west, the M4 motorway and a range of hills to the north, wetlands and the boundary with Newport to the east and the Bristol Channel coastline to the south-east. Finch began his journey in the south-west corner of Cardiff and, in a series of walks, followed the city’s boundary in a clockwise fashion.

It was hard, writes Finch, to accurately follow the border as intended and he often found himself straying away from it. Either further into Cardiff or over the boundary into other council areas. He was surprised to find how rural much of the outer edge of the city was and, this being during lockdown, he encountered very few other walkers out and about.

Finch is a natural storyteller and he provides us with an engaging account of his journey. Cardiff is his territory and he knows it well. He fills in his descriptions of the places he passes through with episodes from the city’s history, tales of its characters as well as his own anecdotes. Like many cities, Cardiff has expanded rapidly over the years, particularly after the industrial revolution and the city’s role as the world’s busiest coal-exporting port.

Cardiff has steadily absorbed villages and whole swathes of rural land, pushing its urban boundaries outward. As he walks, Finch observes scores of new housing developments, retail parks and industrial zones near the edge of the city: evidence of Cardiff’s ongoing expansion.

As a block of land Cardiff comes in at roughly 8 miles by 12. Following its borders on a map with a map wheel, including the long section of tidal mudflats to the south-east, Finch calculates that the border extends for just over 41 miles. His walk, with diversions around buildings and gardens, the occasional climb to a hilltop viewing point and for his meanderings when the route was not clear, totalled almost 73 miles.

With Edging the City, Finch has created a work that is not just a walking guide, but is an historic record of a particular time and place. He puts flesh on the narrative bones of his journey with the monochrome pictures and coloured maps he uses to illustrate his book. There are also links to useful online resources he has created.

This is a fascinating and informative book. It is also, perhaps, a source of inspiration for those of us who feel tempted to try something similar in our own area.

Bobby Seal - Psychogeographic Review, January, 2023



Tim Cooke in Nation Cymru

Ever since he first encountered Iain Sinclair’s epic circumnavigation of the M25, in 2002’s London Orbital, Cardiff-writer Peter Finch has had something similar in mind for his hometown.

Twenty years on, Edging the City sees the author tracking a far less concrete border in a series of explorations of the outer limits of the Welsh capital.

Pushed into the project by the restrictions imposed during the pandemic, confining citizens to their local authority, he sets about discovering how far the city spreads and where exactly it ends.

In the process, he traverses an array of diverse landscapes, engaging with all sorts of subjects, from border politics to industrial, personal and cultural histories.

Starting at the southernmost point of the Ferry Road peninsula, sitting at a yacht club picnic table, Finch looks out at the water and ponders the city’s edge. ‘Like generations of departing mariners before me,’ he writes, ‘from here I can see the world… Behind me is Wales. A green place again now the dust has ended.’

Extraordinary adventure

It’s the beginning of an extraordinary adventure, and on this first stretch he seems to be setting out his stall.

With eyes fixed on how the past, present and future intertwine, he draws on how this once muddy spit of land and middling market town were transformed by the industrial revolution into a ‘coal port beast’.

With the coal ships now gone, he passes futuristic apartment blocks complete with porthole windows and yacht-sail roofs.


Following the Ely north, along its namesake trail, Finch recalls past reasons for the river’s pollution – coal washeries, coke plants, paper mills and sewage – and how it remains prone to flooding.

He treks beside Grangemoor Park and reflects on the strange, terrible beauty of a hump of city refuse ‘capped with a metre of soil with grass on top’, before spotting his first border sign. He comes off the trail at Leckwith Bridge, near Cardiff City Stadium, and gradually shifts his course west.

Among descriptions of one of Henry VIII’s antiquarians and changes to the local topography, he evokes images of Ely Racecourse, which operated from 1855 to 1939, its grandstand burning down in ’37.

Here, he weaves in some interesting family history, via a photo of his great grandfather, looking secure and content – ‘maybe his horse has just won’.

Time and space

The book continues in this way, skipping through mud, mire, time and space. We are taken back to a period of Roman rule and learn about the Victorian-era boom in rifle ranges.

We see the development of the Ely and Caerau housing estates, originally billed together as the Ely Garden Suburb, and there’s a great section on the Caerau Hillfort, which started life as a Neolithic settlement and was fortified in the Iron Age; since then, it has been a burial ground, a medieval farm and, more recently, a spot for downing lager and riding motorbikes.

This is history in motion.


Among other rambles, Finch skirts the shopping malls at Culverhouse Cross, takes in the dream-like views of Castell Coch, deviates to Caerphilly Mountain – where his father would drive him on Sunday afternoons in the 60s – and rounds on the modern medieval centre and the Bay again: in all ‘a great lozenge shape.’

Highlights along the track, for me, include his description of a nuclear war monitoring station, the story of the Welsh prince who gave his name to Clwb Ifor Bach (there’s good bit on the Welsh music scene, too) and musings on the politics of rights of way.

There’s a fascinating passage on the Great Flood of 1606, when a five-foot tidal wall killed around two thousand people.

Disused railway lines recur, as do golf courses and examples of anti-vax graffiti scrawled over brick and stone, as if to ground the book in its own time.

Cultural archaeology

It’s fitting, of course, that Finch started with mention of Iain Sinclair, who is clearly a strong influence. I remember reading London Overground in 2015 and thinking of it as an act of cultural archaeology, coming away, as I did, with reams of new names to explore.

Finch’s book does the same thing: he gives a short account, for example, of the brilliant – and influential – literary forger, Iolo Morganwg; he praises the work of naturalist Mary E Gillham, whose trilogy on the Glamorgan heritage coast I’ve already bought; and touches on the life of William Blake’s friend Benjamin Heath Malkin, who took up residence in Cowbridge and whose text The Scenery, Antiquities, and Biography of South Wales sounds essential.

And there’s the music he listens to en route: Robbie Basho, Merle Haggard and Philip Glass, to name just three.

Poetic prose

I’ve read plenty of books in recent years that use walking as a method of connecting with place in a fresh and meaningful way, but few have been situated so close to home.

I’m from Bridgend, went to college in Cardiff and worked briefly on the outskirts of the city – delivering goods to the likes of Celsa, mentioned in the latter stages – so I know some of these locations well, and more in passing.

What Edging the City does so effectively, though, is defamiliarize and enrich these landscapes, with allusion, digression and depth, all painted in seemingly effortless poetic prose.

Finch lifts the apparently mundane to a place of real literary significance, giving some of these lesser-known quarters the attention they deserve.

Tim Cooke in nation.cymru, 16 october, 2022. Here.


Madeleine Gray in Morgannwg - The Journal of Glamorgan History

"one feels this treasure trove of material has been building for some time.... He writes as a poet, but also as someone who has lived locally for many years and has digested the city, mentally, physically and emotionally. His conversation with the reader has the directness, intelligence and humour of a Guardian newspaper columist. He clearly aims to entertain, but he does not do this by cherry-picking the entertaining parts of the walk. It is all there: the grafffiti, the flyposting, the mud and the barbed wire."

- Madeleine Gray in Morgannwg - The Journal of Glamorgan History, January, 2023.


BenW in Silent Words Speak Loudest

"The local poet, writer and psychogeographer has already published several books on Cardiff, so it'd be tempting to think that what he doesn't know about the city isn't worth knowing. And yet he found that there was still more to be discovered about the Welsh capital - this time through walking around its fringes, fuelled by nothing more than the contents of a Thermos flask and his characteristic curiosity....
If you want a fresh look and insightful comment on the familiar as well as being metaphorically transported to places where your own feet are yet to tread, Finch is your man."

- BenW in Silent Words Speak Loudest, Jan, 2023.

Edging the City cover
A companion to Finch's Edging The Estuary
Edging The City
is published by Seren Books
isbn 9781781726761
275 pages. Paperback £9.99

available from Seren online
all good bookshops & from Amazon

It tells the whole story. Is it a real book? It's real enough.

st mary streetthe pink hut

Edging The City - Peter Finch
available from Seren Books


see more with PedrFinch's Flickr photosets

Edging The City - The complete Set

Estuary - Cardiff
Estuary - The Port of Cardiff
The Estuary - Sailing on the Waters
Estuary - The Land is Sinking

Bay Barrage Toilets sign
sign on the Cardiff Bay Barrage



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