Driving out of Cardiff towards Penarth the road takes you to Culverhouse cross and then goes up a hill called the Tumble. I remember when I was very young, my parents had an old Austin Ruby car, and when we got to the beginning of the hill my brothers and I would have to get out the car and walk up the hill as the car didn’t have the power to do it when full. My mother would accompany my father in the car and wait for us at the top.
There used to be a lovely narrow country lane which went from Culverhouse Cross to St Fagans crossing over a ford and the railway line. At the railway line there were lights that flashed to warn that a train was coming, then the gates would close and the cars had to wait until the train passed and the gates opened again before heading into St Fagans.
As a young kid these events are exciting, I used to hang out of the car window craning my neck to see the passing train. I believe the country lane has now been widened to cope with the increase in traffic due to new housing developments in the area and I’m sure doesn’t hold the same magic.
The name Culverhouse Cross comes from a farm of that name which used to exist in the area. In the past many farms had dovecotes and used the birds for meat when other sources of food were scarce. Culver is another name for a dove and so a dovecote was also referred to as a Culver House, hence the name, Culverhouse Cross.
The town became popular during Victorian times as a holiday destination for tourists from England and I’m sure the local area too. The beach at Penarth is mainly pebbled, and as a young lad I used to love walking along the beach looking for pebbles which had the marks of sea shells embedded in them, collecting seashells or finding suitably flat pebbles and skimming them across the water.
Probably, because I was brought up in a coastal city with the sea just minutes away, I feel a natural bond with anything marine. I love the sound of the waves, the salty smell of the water, and shrill calls of the gulls hovering overhead, as they glide over the currents of air looking for fish to quell their hunger.
In 1895 a pier was opened in Penarth and it is still there today. Renovation work began on the pier last year, and includes a new cinema and observatory plus restoration work to the existing pavilion. The project should be completed soon.
Besides the beach and the pier, Penarth has an esplanade where you can have a refreshing stroll, The Turner Art gallery, and the Cosmeston country park with its lake and replica medieval village.
Between the late 1890´s and the late 1960’s Lavernock was a thriving tourist resort for people from the surrounding areas. I remember my mother telling me that when she was a child she used to go to Lavernock with her siblings and parents, to camp during the summer. Her father would commute to and from his work in Cardiff each day.
The closure of the railway line to Lavernock in the early 1970’s had a dramatic impact on its tourism industry, and now the area is a nature reserve with many varieties of wild flowers, butterflies, and both migrating and resident nesting birds.
There is a headland here called Lavernock point from where, on a clear day, it is possible to see the English coastline across the Bristol Channel. The Monkstone Lighthouse is also visible out to sea. The original lighthouse was built in 1839, though this was replaced in 1993 with a new iron structure. The lighthouse is actually solar powered, which is amazing as it is somewhat hard to believe it would receive enough regular sunlight to keep it going all year round.
There is also a small gun battery on the Point called Lavernock Fort that was built in the late 1860’s to house canons to protect the Cardiff and Bristol shipyards.
Near Lavernock is Sully Island, however, it is only an island at high tide, because at low tide it is possible to walk across to it without wetting your feet, and is thus known as a tidal island. Sully is near the hamlet of Swanbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan.
The island has a shady past, having been the base in the 13th century for the Norman pirate with the very Spanish name, Alfredo de Marisco, known locally as The Night Hawk and also well known for its involvement in smuggling.
The name of the island and nearby village of the same name probably comes from the Norman family of Sir Reginald de Sully. It is possible to cross from the mainland to the island three hours either side of low tide, but with extreme caution as the tide here rises very fast and people have been swept away and drowned while trying to cross the rocky causeway.
The island which is mainly covered with grass was sold in 2011 to a sailor who promised to keep the island open to the public. Just to the West, on the mainland is Bendrick’s rock which is famous for being the only place in Britain where Dinosaur footprints from the Triassic period, between 250 and 200 million years ago, have been discovered. Some of the footprints were removed and placed on display in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff; however, it is still possible to see those that remain.
And it is here, with the image of dinosaurs walking freely along the Welsh shoreline, that we end our tour along the coast from Cardiff for today, but rest assured that more posts to inspire you to visit my beautiful country are just waiting to be written and published.
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