Clean beaches west of Cardiff where coal was once king
Wild cliffs and lonely bays encircle Nash Point, only a few miles from the docks and harbours of Barry, Penarth and Cardiff. Early this century, this part of the South Wales seaboard was the centre of the world’s busiest coal trade. Now the coal trade has dwindled almost to nothing; but the docks are still busy – with cleaner cargoes – and new coastal development in the area is devoted increasingly to the holiday trade.
– -j…1Ti ‘
ST DONAT’S CASTLE
The castle looks like a film set, or a mock-Norman fantasy built by a Victorian industrialist. In fact it is a genuine 14th-century fortress, but it was bought earlier this century by the American newspaper millionaire William Randolph Hearst, who restored and modernised it, turning it into his own highly individual conception of what a castle should be like. Hearst had parts of other ancient buildings dismantled and brought to St Donat’s to be rebuilt into the castle – among them a Tudor long gallery and the hall from a medieval monastery, complete with hammerbeam roof.
The castle is now the home of the United World College of the Atlantic, where students from all over the world follow a two year sixth-form course. It is occasionally open to visitors, and there is a theatre and arts centre in the grounds. A public footpath runs down beside a church to a small bay, bordered by rocks, with a low-tide beach of sand and shingle.
The Welsh name for this picturesque stone-built village of narrow, winding streets is Llanilltud Fawr, after a saint from Brittany named Iiltyd who arrived in the 5th century and set up a monastery where St David and St Teilo were both said to have studied. The monastery has disappeared, but the parish church of St Iiltyd has a stone font at least 1,000 years old and crosses dating back to the 8th century carved with the names of monks who taught there. Some fine painted frescoes have been revealed on the walls of the church.
The village lies on a stream called the Col-huw – and a road follows the brook down to the sea. A beach car park provides easy access to a stretch of sand and shingle, with rock pools, Walks lead up to the headlands on either side of the bay.
A lane from Llantwit Major leads past Tre-
Beferad and Boverton Mill Farm to end almost at the top of the cliffs above this rocky headland. From the coastguard lookout there is a fine view across the Bristol
This stretch of coast is dominated by the huge chimneys and tall blocks of Aberthaw power station, built in the 1960s alongside the old silted-up harbour of Aberthaw. A lane from the village of Gileston leads after half a mile to Limpert Bay, which has rocks, shingle and a stretch of sand exposed at low tide. A footpath follows the coast eastwards to Leys Beach which, despite the nearby power station, is an attractive beach with sand, shingle and rock pools.
PORTHKERRY COUNTRY PARK
A long, gently curving beach, backed by rolling green countryside, makes up the park which is little more than a mile from the docks and town centre of Barry. There is a golf course, and there are fine views from the clifftops. The park is crossed by a viaduct built in the late 19th century to carry the Barry Railway’s branch line to Bridgend.
This is a town with two faces: the docks which once exported coal all over the world, and the gaudy arcades of a popular resort.
Barry was a creation of the boom in South Wales coal which began in the late 19th century. Barry Island was joined to the mainland by a causeway, and this provided the western shelter for a new set of docks and coal sidings which were planned to outstrip those of Cardiff to the east. A new railway line, the Barry Railway, was built, and by 1889, when the work was complete, the population of Barry had expanded from 87 to 13,000. The £2 million harbour enclosed 74 acres of water, and it was soon breaking all records in the export of coal.
But the boom was short-lived, for the bottom fell out of the export trade in the slump which followed the First World War. Now coal exports have dwindled to a trickle, and are handled by a single conveyor instead of ranks of coal hoists and miles of sidings. Many of British Rail’s old steam engines were consigned to Barry’s large scrapyard – and some have been rescued from oblivion by enthusiasts who have bought and restored them for operation on privately run railways all over Britain.
Barry’s other face, as a brash and booming holiday resort, is as busy as ever. On the southern face of Barry Island is a large holiday camp, and there is a pleasure park and shopping centre. Part of the harbour is filled with yachts and pleasure craft.
There are three good beaches, patrolled by volunteer lifeguards at weekends in summer. Jackson’s Bay, to the east of the holiday ! camp, faces south-east. Whitmore Bay is a long sweep of sands between the holiday camp and Friars Point. The shingle stretch of the Knap at the western end of the town, beyond Cold Knap Point, has a large car park, a boating lake and an open-air swimming pool.
Geographically, Sully is a smaller edition of what Barry must have been like before its harbour was built, with a small offshore island nestling in the bay, accessible by a causeway at low tide. The beach is mainly pebbles, with a car park near by. Swimmers should keep clear of the currents which swirl in between the island and the mainland shore.
ST MARY’S WELL BAY
The beach at St Mary’s Well Bay is wild and inaccessible, with patches of sand between rocks and pebbles, walled in by crumbling cliffs. It is reached by a steep path from the road to Lavernock Point. The path becomes very slippery in wet conditions. The bay is overlooked by Lavernock Point, where in 1897 the first wireless telegraph message, consisting oi the three words ‘Are you ready?’, was successfully received from Marconi’s transmitter on the island of Flat I lolm in the Bristol Channel.
Like Barry, Penarth is another link in the once busy chain of South Wales coal ports which have now been turned into seaside resorts. The original dock is now partly filled in, but yachts and pleasure boats use the outer basin, and pleasure trips leave from the pier to cruise in the Bristol Channel.
The beach is stone and shingle, below a promenade lined with pleasant gardens and other seaside attractions. Bracing walks along the clifftops and up to Penarth Head lead to splendid views across the Bristol Channel to the coast of Somerset.
The estate of St Lagans Castle, an Elizabethan mansion belonging to the Earls of Plymouth, is the home of the Welsh Polk Museum. Buildings from all over Wales have been rescued and carefully re-erected; they include a working woollen mill, a tannery, a tollhouse, a smithy and a chapel. There is a collection of farm wagons and machinery, and in the outbuildings there are demonstrations by resident craftsmen – among them a cooper, or barrel-maker, and a woodturner.
The capital of Wales and a major city in its own right, Cardiff’s fortunes were founded on coal, and it was at one time one of the busiest ports in the world. It was founded by the Romans, and the fortress of Cardiff Castle in the centre of the city is on the site of the original Roman fort. The Castle’s Nor-man and medieval core was added to in the 19th century by the Marquis of Bute, in an extravagant mock-Gothic style.
Coal from the valleys to the north was the lifeblood of Cardiff’s expansion – good steam coal that was exported all over the world to feed the furnaces of the Industrial Revolution. In 1839 the 2nd Marquis of Bute expanded the docks and linked them by rail to the pitheads and ironworks. The area to the east of the Taff became known as Tiger Bay, frequented by seamen from all parts of the world. Today, Tiger Bay is a modern city suburb with an up-to-date dock.
North of the castle, in Cathays Park, is the Civic Centre which was built from 1897 onwards on land presented to the city by the Marquis of Bute. II contains the handsome City Hall, Law Courts and the National Museum of Wales, which is noted for its fine collection of French impressionist paintings. Behind the museum are the University
College and the colourful Alexandra Gardens, bordering the tree-lined and arrow-straight King Edward VII Avenue. There are theatres and concert halls, parks and sports centres. In Roath Park there is a 1 ½ mile long boating lake, and the National Sports Centre has an artificial ski slope at Fair Water.
The Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum, on the edge o the docks, has a specially designed hall housing massive exhibits such as a triple-expansion steam-engine, a beam engine and a turbo-alternator, used in ships, mines and power stations. Outside, on the edge of the old Bute West Dock Basin, the museum displays an early Bristol Channel tug, a turn-of-the-century sailing cutter which used to carry the Barry harbour pilot, dockside cranes, a narrow boat, and a steam locomotive and wagons.