Day 102 – Penarth to Cardiff

homecoming to classic Cardiff weather, the end is a beginning

28th July 2013

miles completed: 1058
miles to go:  0 — Finished!

Three miles to go, a simple morning stroll.  In fact, given the weather forecast, perhaps we should have walked across at eight and had breakfast in Cardiff.  However, that was not the plan.

Fiona and I had spent the night at the Pier Hotel in Penarth, and at various points between nine and eleven, several people joined us for breakfast … some closer to eleven: Esther, Janet and Rachel joined us first and then later Zac and Candace brought Miriam and Oliver, having negotiated confusing roadworks in Llandaff and then Penarth, which includes going the wrong way round a roundabout.

At eleven I went down to the Pier and Andrew was there to walk the last day with me as he had walked the first.  And the rain started.  By the time the rest had joined us, after packing cars and finishing breakfasts, we were already a slightly dripping crew sheltering under the canopy at the pier head.   There were eight of us as Zac and Candace were not walking, but were going to drive round and meet us in Cardiff Bay.

So the final three miles started in classic South Wales weather; the rain poured.

We made our way over Penarth Head up stairs, then along Victorian terraces, with occasional views of the sea or of Cardiff ahead, all in surprisingly good spirits given the rain soaked every inch of our bodies, finding ways to sneak through unsuspecting gaps in waterproofs, or simply swamp them with its volume.

I was wearing my hat for this last day, but, worn and bedraggled I felt rain gradually dribbling down through the top onto my head, and starting to fill up above the seal between brim and head.

After a short while the path drops down towards the marina, where Janet and Rachel, who had popped ahead to find a shop, were waiting.

There is an imposing building, which, I guess, used to be the port office and is now a restaurant, the marina with a waterbus just arriving and then the expanse of the barrage stretching out ahead.

I was trying to take some photographs, sheltering the camera from the worst of the rain, but had to give up.  I must go back sometime, as I had never seen the barrage up close before, and the engineering is impressive, first a bridge and lock, although I did not spend a lot of time examining its mechanism, as I normally would, then what I think is a large adjustable weir to control the level of water in the Bay, and finally, after that, two large sail-like structures, huddles of sodden people sheltering in their lee, where the barrage becomes more of an earthy causeway.

Although the forecast had been for rain, and the previous day had rained, the majority of people were in summer clothes, whether in the perpetual state of British summer optimism, or simply not having adjusted to the break in the heat wave.  Although, the British are never totally unprepared for the weather, and there were many umbrellas over dripping summer tops.

I recall the first term I went to university in Cambridge. On the dry east coast it rained about twice.  I had a six week Christmas break and planned to do some repairs to the back door of Mum‘s kitchen over the break.  I had forgotten Cardiff weather.  It of course rained every day of the entire six week break.

I had expected days of rain like this during the last few months, to have to walk when the rain went on continuously from morning to night; this is Wales.  Instead I have had amazing weather with only six days of proper rain and then no day that was utterly unremitting, some days, as when I walked Church Bay to Holyhead, starting with heavy rain and then easing in the afternoon, some days, like Holyhead to Rhosneigr, starting bright and then turning to rain later, some, like going over Moel Famau and the northern Clwydian Range, with horizontal hail, but then alternating with bright and clear periods.

However, the weather decided I needed reminding that indeed this is Wales and Cardiff to boot, and so upped my rainy days quota by 33% in the final two days of walking.

Part way across there was a useful public toilet, of which those who had had serious amounts of coffee at breakfast availed themselves, while the rest gained what shelter they could against its walls, and then the final walk past the new Dr Who exhibition, where, just in time to let me photograph the Tardis by the waterbus stop, the rain broke and the blue skies that seemed to be to either side, but not over us, did eventually catch us up.

The last half mile was, well not in absolutely glorious sunshine, but bright and, compared with the hose-pipe-like torrential downpour as we crossed the exposed barrage, dry.

But we were early, as we got to the Norwegian Chapel it was only twenty past twelve.  The three miles on the official mileage charts feel as if they are definitely rounded up, and, with heads down and few stops to take photographs, we walked quickly.  We didn’t want to get to Cardiff Bay too early as Zac and Candace were meeting us there and also Rosie had said she was coming, and we had tweeted 12:30 to 1pm.  We didn’t want someone who had come to meet me miss me arriving.

So, for a few minutes, we dawdled near the Norwegian Church, built for Norwegian sailors on their visits to the docks, and Andrew and I took a look at the lightship, that once was moored in the channel to guide ships into the ports of the Bristol Channel, but is now permanently moored, and, if I recall, is some sort of Christian centre.  Near it is a tea, coffee and sausage van, but having had a very big breakfast at Pier Hotel, I resisted the temptation.

So, after dawdling for fifteen minutes, it was after half past twelve, and we slowly walked towards the Merchant Navy memorial, in front of the Welsh Assembly, where I had begun, three and a half months, 102 days, ago.

Zac and Candace had been sheltering under the huge canopy of the Assembly and took photos as we approached, and then more photos, and we opened two bottles of champagne at the memorial.

Rosie wasn’t there, but it turned out was at the Scott Exhibition; she had been at the end some time around twelve thirty, and then came along the barrage in the opposite direction, I’m guessing missing us when I was looking at the lightship, so for the third time we managed to miss each other along the path.  She had completed the coast path only a few days earlier up at Chester and then drove here on her way back down to the South East (of England).

So, that is it, the walk ended, but more celebrations for birthday and of the completion of the walk over teas, coffees, cakes and moussaka at the Norwegian Church cafe, Jaspers at Llandaff and the Bosphorus on Cardiff Bay.

It is odd, for three and a half months I have been ‘the man who is walking round Wales‘, and that has become who I am.  It feels odd to shift from being ‘Alan walks Wales‘ to simply ‘Alan‘.  Of course that is part of the point, although I end up where I began, things have changed, the location is the same, but I am not the same.

For 102 days the future has been to some extent mapped out, where I would be, and approximately when I would be there.  However, that presages a time of more openness.  I know some things that will happen in coming months, not least catching up on my work for Talis, including working on the online HCI course for a fresh autumn run, completing the TouchIT book on Physicality, and lots of data curation and writing relating to the walk.   But there will be more, everyone asks ‘what next’, and the question will hang there awaiting an answer; at the risk of nearly quoting Terminator, the future feels more open than it did when I started.

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