Real Cardiff

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Real Cardiff
Bute Street
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The Garth
Gorsedd Gardens
Hadfield Road
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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)

Peter Finch

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The Garth