Friday, December 28, 2012

Capital Times

Cardiff and beyond on a rainy December day

What a miserable, waterlogged December we’ve had in the UK – and the rain shows no sign of abating. 

These are not good times for a hiking blog writer; the only walking that Harri and I have done for weeks is completing two short walks around Cardiff for

The ground everywhere is so soggy and boggy that it’s impossible to leave the pavements and tarmac trails unless you have a decent pair of Wellingtons. And after my spectacular puddle dive back in November when I injured my right foot and couldn't run for nearly three weeks, I'm now steering clear of anything that resembles ground water.

A disintegrating Christmas present completes
Newport parkrun
Even the Christmas parkrun was a wash-out; the 150+ hardy runners who braved the torrential rain and thick mud in Newport ended up soaked to the skin and plastered in mud for their efforts (I speak from experience here as I was one of them – starting the race as Mother Christmas, finishing as Alice Cooper). 
Imaginative fancy dress outfits disintegrated in the 20-40 minutes it took parkrunners to splash around the filthy, saturated route at Tredegar House. The lakeside path had been deteriorating for weeks but the conditions on December 22 were the worst I’d ever experienced.

I feel somehow to blame for all this rain. At the end of October, I sent a tongue-in-cheek email to the parkrun newsletter saying:

“As I approach my 50th parkrun at Newport, it’s occurred to me that I’ve never run it in the rain. I’ve only missed two parkruns since I started and I usually complete in under 30 minutes which must mean it never rains in Newport between 9am and 9.30am on Saturday mornings. Perhaps you would consider holding parkrun on a daily basis in the interests of some nice, dry winter mornings?"

Before alarm bells start sounding in the ears of parkrun volunteers, I should add that my suggestion was not greeted with a resounding 'let's do it' (or even printed in the weekly newsletter). I did, however, receive this spirited response from Michael at parkrun HQ.
"Hi Tracy
Thank you for taking the time to write to us. It means a lot!Here at parkrun we like to keep things as simple as possible, which just means providing free 5km runs on a Saturday morning to anyone who wants them. Also, as our events are run by volunteers, I don't think it would be practical to ask them to run an event everyday.Interestingly, there could be a scientific explanation for why it hardly ever rains on a Saturday morning (eg
I hope you find this answer interesting."
I digress, but only to emphasize how the seemingly interminable wet weather has forced us to hunt for new territories for our hiking pursuits. For us, Cardiff has become the new Brecon Beacons, the only corner of this lush green country where you don’t need to don thigh-waders to go for a stroll.
Looking across Cardiff Bay towards the Custom House
Wales’ capital city might not boast the spectacular scenery of the Black Mountains or the stunning beaches of Gower, but it does have a lot going for it:

1. It’s flat - flatter than almost any other place in Wales; the mean-spirited might even call it 'vertically challenged'. However, flat means more miles covered per hour, you can see where you’re going and you have enough breath to walk and talk. Flat wins Cardiff lots of brownie points, in my opinion.

Bute Park's paths can get pretty busy
2. Its trails and footpaths are well-used – while generally advantageous, this can occasionally be frustrating. We were forced to wait for several minutes on a corner of Bute Park one Sunday while hundreds of Santa Clauses ran, walked and limped past (hint to the slowbies: an event advertised as a 5k run means you have to move your legs quickly!). On a brighter note, footpaths that are used by other walkers, roller-bladers, cyclists,  students , basically the world and his dog, mean that you can locate them without needing a 1:25,000 OS map and that you can leave your bramble-cutting scythe at home.

3. The proximity of its long-distance trails, e.g. the Taff and Ely Trails, to the shops. Where else in Wales can you finish an eight-mile hike and pop into Tammy Girl to buy your niece’s Christmas present?

The Norwegian Church has an idyllic  location
4. There are nice places to eat en route, sites of interest, activities, pubs.  There are craft shows in the Norwegian Church, whimsical Christmas stalls along the Hayes selling crepes, mulled wine and unusual gifts and you can even stop at the Dr Who Experience if time travel's your thing. 

5. Park and ride  – for people who think life's too short to queue to get into the John Lewis car park (or, like us, are too poor to pay the massive charges).  Cardiff's park and ride offering is amazingly good value (£3 after 8.30 am, just £1 before) and even more convenient for those of us coming from the Newport direction.

6. Cardiff Bay - what an amazing feat of engineering the barrage is. And the views across the Bristol Channel are fantastically disorienting (try to work out which direction the open sea lies - your brain tells you one thing, your eyes another).  I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of being Welsh as when I ran the Cardiff Half Marathon in October. Running across the barrage in glorious autumn sunshine was definitely the highlight of an amazing day.

7. Last, but not least, Cardiff is a vibrant and spectacular city. True, it's taken me 50 years to appreciate what I've got on my doorstep, but that's the trouble with familiarity. Cardiff's always been there on the signposts, just a short train away, a place we went to ice-skate, see a pantomime, Tom Jones in concert or to spend our birthday money. Finally, I can recognise its real attractions.

Cardiff Bay has been transformed
in recent years
So, while the British weather continues to do  its worst (and Harri ensures me that it's forecast to carry on raining - now there's a title for a good old British comedy film), you'll likely be finding us wandering around Wales' capital city.

Happy hiking in 2013 everyone!

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