Heading north from the city this is the first real hill you
come to. The ridge would run all the way from Llantrisant to Newport
if the Taff would let it. But the river cuts deep. The western outcrop
is the Garth. The Englishman who went up this hill came down a mountain.
They made bits of that film here. Hugh Grant and Kenneth Griffin carrying
mud loads to the top by bucket, horse, trailer, wheelbarrow, cup - anything,
just to make the hill high enough to register on the Ordnance Survey
as more than it is, to make it a real mountain. All fiction, naturally.
In the film the village shots were made in north Wales. Cardiff suburbs
are not regarded as photogenically Welsh.
On a fine day the Garth commands decent views of the city, the Bristol
Channel, the Taff, Pontypridd to the north, and the outlying suburbs
of Newport to the east. I last went there with a trail of party-goers
celebrating my partner's fiftieth birthday. This was the designated
start of a long celebratory day. A walk to begin with, to clear the
head and ready the body. We'd check the air, take in the views, feel
good about ourselves. As it went it was mostly mist. We all stood
on top of one of the Garth's three hummocks and stared out into the
fog. Hardly any point in taking a photo. This is one of three megalithic
burial barrows, I announced. Giants are rumoured to be buried here.
Chieftains with their jewels beside them. King Arthur and his waiting
armies. Hidden wonders. The remains of UFOs crash-landed 5000 years
back. You have to say something. My audience looked bored. What's
that fourth hump, over there? someone asked. An earthwork thrown up
during the war. Base for a radar mast. I think they grew vegetables
on its sloping sides. Nothing there now. Grass and mushrooms. Next
to it was a sign put up by the local community council warning visitors
not to dig among the megalithic turf. This had been done, of course,
by innumerable teams of visiting archaeologists bent on establishing
the great truth behind Arthur's reign. The most they ever found was
a cracked pot and a charred fragment of bone. Could these three aligned
hummocks actually direct Venusian spaceships to their landing grounds?
Or were they the knot-end of a powerful Ley channelling magic up from
Glastonbury? I found a Macdonald's wrapper at the base of the trig
point. Pretty good considering the nearest outlet was the drive-in
at Asda, at least fifteen minutes down the path. Tidy. I picked it
up and stuffed it in my pack.
In summer the Garth is the destination for many a family and their
puffy-anorak clad toddlers. It's an easy hill walk, a touch of almost-wilderness
not more than twenty minutes drive from home. Apart from one not too
well camouflaged silage tower the view south bears the illusion out.
Trees, green hillside, hedge row, the remains of a ruined cottage
or two. Not a road, real habitation or pylon line in sight. Horses
treck across here from the local riding stables. Illegally, so do
motor mountain bikers, clad like Martians and cutting the turf to
make it resemble canals.
On the way down Alma tells me how it was when she saw the famous
film. You couldn't hear it. We sat in front of five girls you could
tell were going to make a racket. And they did. Boyfriend this, she
said that. The man next to me went to sleep, and snored. The one in
front kept his eyes closed and the guy next to him spent the entire
film telling him what was going on. There was a woman two rows in
front I thought was being resuscitated from the way the bloke next
to her was struggling with her blouse. And two kids on the end of
her row were listening to rap on their walkmans. Tickety-tick. Then
someone complained about the noise and there was a performance as
the attendants arrived flashing their torches and telling people to
be quiet. I would have moved but you couldn't, the place was packed.
And I haven't told you about the sound of popcorn, sweet wrappers,
and coke slurping yet, nor about the man who'd brought in a bag of
fish and chips under his mack. Don't worry, I tell her, it'll be on
TV soon, small and quiet. Not the same, she replies.
The village stuffed between the hill's base and the inky Taff is
aptly named Gwaleod y Garth, the Garth's bottom. It's almost as Welsh
a place as it sounds and fervently proud of its status as not part
of Cardiff city. The accent is different. That changes as you head
out north through Whitchurch. Hark hark the lark does not stretch
this far. I try to explain this but Alma is from Liverpool and has
no idea of what I'm on about at all.
Fresh faced and ready for Brains, we drive back along the Garth's
sheep-grid protected single file blacktop, round and down the heart-stop
hairpin, and back to the A470 for the brief roar down the dual carriage
way to noise, party popcorn, hark hark the slurping, and home.
(The walk is celebrated in a poem. Check Peter Finch's Walking
Poems and look for Garth)
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