When I moved to South Wales fifteen years ago, my first experience of Cardiff was on a day excursion with my university. We were loaded onto a coach, dropped off in what felt like the middle of nowhere and told to meet our lecturers in the city centre a couple of hours later. Luckily for me, other people in my group had actually visited Cardiff before and knew where the city centre was. Who knows where I would have ended up if it hadn’t been for them.
I soon learnt that the building site in which we had been abandoned was to become Cardiff Bay, a huge development of shops, homes and businesses with a grand opera house as it’s centrepiece. As I listened to the Welsh students telling me about how one day the area would be the place to be seen in Cardiff, and how it was going to attract thousands of tourists, I looked around me and to be honest wasn’t convinced.
Fifteen years on, the Bay is exactly what all it’s supporters said it would be. We have our very own opera house in the Wales Millennium Centre, we are governed by the newly-formed Welsh Assembly that has made it’s home in the Bay and there’s even a Doctor Who Experience.
None of the development in the Bay would have been possible without building the Cardiff Bay Barrage. The Barrage, which stretches all the way over to Penarth, has caused a lot of controversy since the idea was first thought of. Opponents felt that creating a freshwater lake purely for aesthetic reasons was impractical, could cause damage to surrounding properties and would certainly prove to affect local wildlife in the long term. It didn’t just cause arguments here in Wales, either. Apparently even the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher got involved (she was against the barrage, and in a rare event was actually beaten down by another politician).
Whatever your opinion of the building of the barrage, it’s here now. With a typical Welsh can-do attitude, the people of Cardiff have made it their own and use the barrage positively. In 2008, after yet more problems, the barrage path opened to pedestrians and cyclists (and skateboarders, rollerbladers and kids renting go-karts – watch where you walk!). The dream of this scenic route was to provide an alternative commute between Cardiff and Penarth that would cut out sitting in two miles of rush-hour traffic. Unfortunately, due to the unpredictable winds and the delayed opening of the path, not many people seem to use it for that purpose.
Take a stroll along the barrage on a sunny weekend, however, and you will find it bustling with locals and tourists. Starting behind the Doctor Who Experience, the path includes childrens playgrounds, a skate park, cafe and visitor centre. My favourite part, though, is definitely the locks that let the boats in and out from the sea to the Bay. I could stand there for hours watching the whole process again and again.