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Leaving Cardiff for Llantrisant you rise up from the delta into the South Wales coalfield. Cardiff at last touching that which made it great. In its most recent expansion (1996) the city took in the villages of Capel Llanilltern, Pentyrch and Creigiau. Upland parishes. Rising roadways. Land and hills and far less sky. I'm on the A4119 which heads for Llantrisant. I've already crossed the edge of urbanisation, passed Cardiff's last thatched cottage (The Thatch at Radyr) and travel between empty fields. Hedgerows, long grass. 59% OF THE PUBLIC SAY KEEP HUNTING. Union Jack on a tree. Cardiff's edge is out beyond here, ready for the next enlargement. Early clusters of up-market Barrett brick and gable mark the way.

At the far edge, nestling against a stream, the Nant Cessair , after which The Caesar's Arms, was named, lies the village of Creigiau. Creigiau - rocks, crags, a place of stones. The district is almost all new build middle-class and Welsher than anywhere else in the city except possibly parts of Pentyrch and almost certainly Pontcanna.

Morgan and I have driven here from Penarth where we had lunch at Cafiero Cioni's Bistro and Pizzeria Restaurant on the cliff top. Egg, beans and chips. I wanted a steak and kidney but they didn't have any. Morgan claimed, amazingly, never to have eaten pie. Afraid of the dark meat. So what did you have from your Onllwyn working men's chippie? Rissole. Morgan is a carpenter from Pant-y-Ffordd, in the Neath valley, half way between Seven Sisters and Onllwyn, not in the guidebooks. He's a teacher and a writer - man of hard hands, heart of gold. With me for the history.

We drive through increasing mist and face-clogging drizzle. We're looking for the Cae-Yr-Arfau cromlech. A ancient burial chamber. CADW listed but to me so far utterly invisible. Morgan claims not to know what a cromlech is, but I don't believe him. On the map it's shown in a field and the local histories talk of it being bisected by a farm wall, of its capstone sinking, of it being buggered by time, stones stolen, status ignored. Maybe it's no longer there. Wiped out, land ploughed.

In the paddock where it isn't, just beyond the golf club, there are horses, mud and great bales of hay. A stubby public right of way sneaks in here, hits a barbed-wire fence and stops dead. Used to go somewhere, no longer. A mound which Morgan thinks might be ancient is just bramble topping rubble. The cromlech is actually inside the garden of Cae-Yr-Arfau house next door, a gated new-build on the site of an older farm, smart driveway, neat lawns. This is the outer edge of the city. End. Cardiff finishing. The streams seep into the soil. Ditches fill. There was an ancient battle here. Blood on the grass. But, today, just damp.

The cromlech is half covered with stonecrop, ivy and hogweed. When the farmhouse stood this Neolithic home for the dead was distempered white and used as a store for coal. Milk churns stood on the path alongside it. Where the capstone now rests on the boundary wall I can still see a dab of weathered white. Sandra Coslett, the owner, tells me that she may well build a replica of the cromlech on the right side of the house drive. A garden feature. For balance. Much better than a fountain. Does she ever feel disturbed by having new stone age ghosts outside her window? No.

Creigiau's industrial centre was always its quarry. Opened in the 1870s this dolomite pit provided first the stone for the building of Cardiff Docks and later the limestone and magnesium dolomite needed for making steel at Guest-Keen's Tremorfa works. Two trains a day carried rock down the now abandoned mineral line to East Moors. In the woods the old passenger platform is still there serving an overgrowth of grass tussock, ivy and dogwood. The quarry did small-time road stone and material for river revetments until 2001 when costs outstripped prices and work ceased. The stone crushers were silenced. You could hear the birds again. The largest employer in the district, according the council statistics, became the white painted Caesar's Arms - Hancock's beer, bajan fish cakes, crispy laver balls, tiger prawns in garlic, scallops with leeks and bacon, monkfish, steak.

We look next through the driving mist for Castell y Mynach, medieval farmhouse, the largest in the county. The pub of the same name at Groesfaen is not it. Repaired and repainted the real house, once more residential, is now surrounded on all sides by the rambling Castell y Mynach estate. New paving where the mud tracks were. Stone barns now apartments. Houses in a weave of traffic calming bends, roads that go nowhere, turning circles. Grassed communal space, an urban resolution to the problem of fields. Ffordd Dinefwr twists through the centre. The new dwellings don't shout. Their style blends. The farm has no space to breathe but it's still there. No characterless extensions. No dormer windows. As was, almost. Bricked in gate arches, trefoil-headed lancets. Inside a mighty chimneybreast, shields, medieval paintings on the walls.

In finer weather I'd been here walking and taken the path up beyond the quarry towards Pentyrch hunting for medieval Bristol Fach - Brysta Fach - an isolated thatched farm cottage used as a storehouse for saddle leather lugged there from Bristol. The path went up through paddock and field climbing to almost 600 feet and ending at a gash of rubble overgrown with bramble. The cottage had been demolished in the 1980s. For no good reason that I could see. Nothing done with the space. Nothing rebuilt. From here Creigiau looked so totally detached from the city as to be no part of it.

All that'sleft of Brysta Fach
All that remains of Brysta Fach

I walked back down, through woodland, across the old Craig y Parc estate, passed Pentwyn Farm (that place name again, Pentwyn, the most common in Wales), skirted the iron-age encampment on the hilltop, went along bracken lined bridleways and returned through the forestry along Nant y Glaswg to where I'd started. Still Cardiff. Cardiff when I started and Cardiff when I finished. Strangest city I'd ever walked through. There's hope yet.



Peter Finch


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