Newport to Barry island (35 miles)

Barry Island was the first cycling blog I wrote about in 2013, we have ridden there many times since. Today was great, virtually the same route, but it felt different prompting me to write about it again. It’s amazing, even repeating the same ride one often sees something you’ve failed to notice before.

Roald Dahl Plaza We reached Cardiff, and cut through Splot because of Network Rail’s work on all the railway bridges during electrification of the Welsh main route (something that should have been done donkeys years ago) prevented us crossing the lines where we normally would. We passed the old crane at east Bute docks and stopped for ten minutes, not for any specific reason other than to chat to a man fishing, that in itself was nice, how many people just take 10 minutes out of their lives to stop for a chitchat? We moved on through the Roald Dahl Plaza (a bowl shaped space popular for hosting open-air concerts) in Cardiff, the Roald Dahl connection set me pondering. Then we passed a beautiful red brick building, ‘The Pierhead’ building has a long history and certainly stands out, sitting between the huge Millennium Centre and the water’s edge. We rode around to the Norwegian church (now an arts centre and cafe) for a coffee; I noticed inside there were Roald Dahl pictures everywhere. I asked the staff- what was the connection between the church and Roald Dahl? I was told ‘Roald Dahl was Norwegian and so is the church’. Not strictly accurate, and no more comparable than Blackpool illuminations and the Northern lights. Roald Dahl is in fact Welsh (with Norwegian parents), the staff obviously aren’t too bright, still the coffee was nice.

St. Augustine´s Church We continued over the Cardiff bay barrage, one of the largest civil engineering projects in Europe during its construction in the 1990s. On the Penarth side of the barrage I noticed a small derelict building jutting out of the cliff. It used to belong to Northcliff mansion on the cliffs above, it was their billiard room set into the rock face, you have to admire the unconventional ideas of the Victorians. We climbed a steep hill and then descended into Penarth town only to be nearly knocked off by an idiot who decided to do a three point turn right in front of us by St. Augustine´s Church (he could have easily gone around the block). Then we jumped onto the old railway path that used to be a branch of the Vale of Glamorgan Line, veering off into Cosmeston Lakes for another coffee. The rest of the journey was unchanged until we got to Barry; when we decided to ride on to Porthkerry Park. The park has 220 acres of woods and meadowland in a sheltered valley leading to a pebble beach with spectacular cliffs. The park also has an impressive viaduct, Porthkerry viaduct has sixteen arches, rising to a height of 110 feet. Originally designed as a route to bring coal to Barry Docks, now the railway carries coal in the other direction, to Aberthaw Power Station.

workman’s club outing We rode back to Barry and sat on a bench where we changed into normal clothes, the weather was overcast, windy and borderline chilly (just as I remembered it as a kid in the good old British summertime). Today the beach was sparsely occupied with plump people sucking ice cream through the gaps in their missing teeth, but forty years ago it was always packed. In the sixties/ seventies, Barry Island was an annual pilgrimage from every workman’s club in South Wales. It wasn’t uncommon to have six or seven full coaches from each club; it took hours to get there (now it’s half an hour max) along all the old ‘A’ roads before the motorway was extended past Cardiff. Dad’s used to have a couple of pints before the coach left in Newport and on arrival in Barry they’d immediately head for the workmen’s club to top up, only wobbling out twenty minutes before the coach was due to leave to take them home.

We began to recollect about the trips here, in fact I think I’m still traumatised by my then eighty year old Nanna (now long gone, bless). She used to sit legs akimbo on a deck chair puffing away on a woodbine, I would happily play in the sand in front of her that was until a gust of wind elevated her dress and petty coat revealing her nether regions, and I swear more seagulls converged above us every time this happened. We talked about the Barry beach donkeys, where we’d take rides up and down the beach, and the tanoy’s constantly blurting out announcements about lost kids. If you had money to spare, you got a day pass ticket for Butlins. The complex had two great Olympic size swimming pools, one inside and one outside with a slide to join them inbetween. Butlins even had its own small funfair. A Swiss style cable car opened in 1967 and provided a useful transport link up the hill. The site also boasted it had 'the biggest bar in Europe'; the Beachcomber Bar - unfortunately destroyed by fire only a couple of years after opening.

Enough reminiscing, we walked back to Finnegans bar and had a nice meal and a couple of ciders, on the second pint the red arrows put on a display just for us. While waiting for the train back home we noticed two new attractions to see the next time we’re here; Barry Tourist Railway (which shares the platform with Network rail), and Barry war museum. When we first did this trip on the bikes a few years ago, it was a hard 27 miles even walking up some hills. Today was around 35 miles and we both agreed it was easy, how quickly things change!

  • Gallery

    gallery page Why not have a look at the gallery relating to this ride. Click the image or the title.

  • Roald Dahl

    Roald Dahl Born in Wales to Norwegian parents, Dahl served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, in which he became a flying ace and intelligence officer. Dahl's works for children include the books; James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Witches, Fantastic Mr Fox, The BFG, and more.

  • The Pierhead

    The Pierhead The Pierhead Building is a Grade I listed building and stands as one of the city of Cardiff's most familiar landmarks and was built in 1897 as the headquarters for the Bute Dock Company. The Pierhead became the administrative office for the Port of Cardiff in 1947.

  • Porthkerry viaduct

    Porthkerry viaduct Porthkerry viaduct looks a fantastic engineering feat, but construction turned into a series of calamities. It started when the contractors experienced problems with two of the piers, one of which had to be dismantled in order to deepen its foundations, while the other had to be underpinned. It took four years to repair in 1896 after its first opening.

  • Barry Scenic Railway

    Barry Scenic Railway With a track of just over a mile long and an initial climb and drop of seventy two feet it was the biggest wood built roller coaster ever erected in the UK. It was demolished in 1973, but some of the wood was used for the next log flume, this was demolished early 2015. In 2016 a new log flume was built, it was still being tested while we did this ride.

  • Barry beach in the 1960's

    Barry beach Barry island beach has never been renowned for its high quality water, up until the late seventies most sewage treatment works discharged in to the sea, and in 2013 Barry still failed to get Blue flag status. Barry island wasn’t Saint Tropez, the water was shitty brown and cold, but it was our Riviera.

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