The Not-So-Distant Hum

As I stood in the queue at the Post Office waiting to return a parcel last week, I noticed a book called Walking Cardiff. Peter Finch contributes the routes and words, and John Briggs provides the images. However, the book is more than just a guidebook, as the blurb on the back cover points out. In addition to the 20 walks throughout the city, Finch, a psychogeographer and poet, charts the daily life that takes place on the city’s walkways.

These two things, walking and everyday life are exactly what my research will focus on. Whilst still in the extremely early stages of the research, I have attempted to familiarise myself with some walking literature. To start this exploration my supervisor pointed me in the direction of a few titles, one of which was Robert Macfarlane’s ‘The Old Ways’.

Maybe selfishly so, ‘The Old Ways’ left me wanting something more, as well as something closer to home. Whilst enjoyable to read I wished that Macfarlane had chosen to include some walks, even just a walk, in Wales so I could re-trace Macfarlane’s steps as he re-traced the poet Edward Thomas’. Nonetheless, Macfarlane’s accounts of Southern England, Scotland, France, Israel and Spain encouraged me to get my walking boots on and head out on to the paths local to me. So, I logged onto OS Maps and planned a walk in the surroundings woods of Rudry. 

The walk was shrouded in fog, making it atmospheric with the autumnal colours and leaves adding to the scene. However, I wanted to explore footpaths direct from my front door. 

Coed Coesau-whips

So, I logged back onto OS Maps and planned another route. This route starts near Albany Road and goes past Roath Park Lake and finishes at the War Memorial in Lisvane. I planned this route whilst having my lunch, just before my trip to the Post Office. And to my surprise, walk #8 in Walking Cardiff is mostly the same route as I planned over lunch. The main difference is that in Walking Cardiff, the route starts in Lisvane and is a “slowly rolling downhill walk”. Whereas my route starts in Roath, just south of Heath, making my walk a slowly rolling uphill walk.

One morning the following week, I left home just after 7:30AM with the temperature slightly above freezing and with ice still on the windshields of cars. The air was crisp, and the sky was clear with subtle hints of pink indicating the sun would be arriving shortly. Walking through the Roath Pleasure Gardens, I noticed that almost all of the leaves had now fallen and the leaves that were on the floor had started to decompose into trodden sludge. 

Walking at this time of morning and with such proximity to Cardiff High School, results in a high likelihood of encountering teenagers on their way to school. Indeed, the lane which provides entrance to Nant Fawr Wood was littered with students making their way to school. In the distance, I heard one student shout excitedly “Look, the grass is crunchy!”. Once into the wood, I came across a group of boys loitering, laughing and heckling each other. I assumed I was about to be heckled too but instead they greeted me politely, much to my surprise.

Towards the end of Nant Fawr Wood and just before the reservoirs, I noticed that the idling of urban traffic congestion fell silent. In this spot the birds no longer needed to battle urban life to be heard and their tweeting became the new soundtrack to my walk. However, the break from urban noise was brief, as the hum of the motorway became audible.

At this point, the sun quite literally burst up above the row of houses to my right. This quickly changed the environment, turning the frosty white grass back to green. As the frost evaporated and rose it created the illusion of a low-lying fog. This fog was pierced and gradually dispersed by the beams of light that shone through the trees standing at the edge of the fields. 

Sunrise at the reservoirs

I continued past the reservoirs and into the open fields that lie beneath Lisvane. Depending on the field’s angle and cover from trees, this either made the field frosty and crunchy under foot or brown, damp and sloppy. Eventually I reached Lisvane and briefly rested.

Back in the wood of Nant Fawr, I tried to work out exactly the point where you would be out of earshot of both the humming motorway and the idling engines of the city. Sadly, there was no sweet spot on the return leg. The realisation that anthropogenic noise, or noise pollution permeates every part of Nant Fawr Wood got me thinking about the impact and intersection of human life with the lives of the wildlife we live side-by-side with. 

Research has indicated that roads and the traffic that flows (or doesn’t) along them are a main source of noise pollution affecting wildlife. The impacts this type of pollution can have on wildlife include damage to the auditory system and associated chronic stress this causes, the masking of sounds important to survival and reproduction, startling, interference with mating, and population decline (Blickley & Particelli, 2010).

Nant Fawr is a long, thin, green strip that squeezes its way out through the suburbs of Cardiff and is constricted on all sides by roads and traffic. The wood may well trick the mind into thinking that you have left the city when you wander into a pocket free from the sound of the city, but this is quickly undone by the not-so-distant hum of traffic which stayed with me until I arrived home.

Links & Refs

Blickley, Jessica L. and Patricelli, Gail L.(2010) ‘Impacts of Anthropogenic Noise on Wildlife: Research Priorities for the Development of Standards and Mitigation’, Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy, 13: 4, 274 — 292 

Finch, P & John, B. (2019) Walking Cardiff. Seren Books. 

Macfarlane, R. (2013) The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. Penguin Books. 

Nant Fawr Friends Blog (lots of great info and resources here):

Roath 2 Lisvane:


Published by Robert Mathlin

PhD student at Cardiff Uni researching walking.

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