During lock down many city residents enjoyed exploring the streets closer to home, when taking the opportunity to get out and about in the hour of exercise. Ian’s walk this month takes in some of the sights of central Swansea, where he climbs Constitution Hill.
A few years ago, I came across a book Mail Obsession by Mark Mason ‘A Journey Round Britain By Postcode’ which was advertised as ‘a charming mix of fact, anecdote and overheard conversation, Mail Obsession plays homage to Britain’s wonderful past and its curious present’
Well that’s as maybe, but when visiting Swansea, he was derogatory and quite offensive. Swansea, he claimed, is a place people, ’with any spark of life’ escape from, referring to Catherine Zeta Jones as an example (dude, this might be news to you, but there’s no Hollywood in Swansea).
He went on to write that its description of being an ‘ugly lovely town’ was at least half right and finally twisting the knife by adding that ‘Swansea‘s cityscape provides as little inspiration as its people’ Oof, a low blow indeed. Hell, has he been to Swindon?
However, it seems hardly surprising he came to this view given that his impression was framed by his brief view of the city, basically on a journey from High St Station to Tesco’s in the city centre, not a route to appreciate what the city has to offer. It’s like arriving in London, walking out of Paddington Station and forming the opinion, that all the restaurants in the city are Aberdeen Steak Houses. But still, hurtful nevertheless. And so, it was with his stinging criticism of the city that I planned this route, should Mr Mason come calling again so we can show him what he missed.
You can start this walk anywhere along the route to suit but I started in Singleton Park at the Sketty Road entrance. Your route through the park can be varied to suit, maybe by going through the botanical gardens (no dogs) or around the old dogs’ home but exit on Mumbles Road at the bottom of Brynmill Lane. Cross the road and onto the prom, and immediately the full expanse of the bay hits your senses. I can’t help but think this magnificent sweep of sandy gloriousness (check dictionary) is an under-used resource and taken for granted by us all. Just take a step back and take a look. It’s extraordinary. Is there anywhere else in the UK like it? You only have to speak to people who witness it for the first time to realise that it’s quite a unique feature, right on the doorstep of the city. Mason, are you paying attention?
Along the prom then, which straddles the ‘long and splendid curving shore’ past the Cenotaph until you come to the Secret Cafe Beach Bar & Kitchen opposite the famous St Helen’s sports ground, crossing the road towards the Patti Pavilion and into Victoria Park. This perfectly manicured green space is again an often overlooked feature – but take some time to appreciate it. The pavilion itself was once part of the grand estate of Craig y Nos Castle in the Swansea Valley owned by the famous Italian opera singer Adelina Patti, who donated it to the town in 1918. Top diva!
Through the park towards the Guildhall and cross the road opposite the entrance to the Brangwyn Hall, down Victoria Avenue, a street which looks like it has emerged straight out of a Lowry painting. Left along St Helen’s Road and then first right down Rodney Street, entering the Sandfields. Straight to the end of this long road, then left up Argyle St and first right onto Richardson Road and the entrance to the legendary Vetch Field is now in front of you.
The transformation of the old home of the Swans is quite staggering but curiously fascinating nevertheless. It’s now a community garden, with an open green space, a children’s playground, an area of wildflowers and well-established allotments. As I stood there I found it almost impossible to picture in my mind’s eye where everything used to be, let alone imagine the electric atmosphere that used to be generated by a full house under the floodlights. Points of reference were the houses straight ahead and to the right, which used to back onto the old open bank, and the west stand respectively. So, trying to imagine where some iconic moments took place was understandably quite difficult.
I figured that the spot where Tommy Smith launched Ossie Ardiles into orbit, when he unwillingly became the first Argentinean into space, is now a nice crop of beetroot and where Alan Curtis bamboozled Trevor Cherry so many times in the Swans’ first game in the old First Division that he turned his shorts inside out and back to front, was now occupied by some lovely looking runner beans The location where Lee ‘Magic Daps’ Trundle, rolled the ball over his shoulders in the centre circle I’d say is where an aluminium park bench is located and the place where James Thomas cheekily chipped the Hull goalie to keep us in the Football League is, well, your guess is as good as mine.
Leave the park at the entrance in the far-left corner, just where the entrance to the North Bank used to be and up William Street passing the old Leonard Charles warehouse on your right. Left along Oxford St and right at the New Wyndham pub and left onto St Helen’s Road. Cross the road to George Street and continue up to Walter Road, turning left to the crossing and up to Humphrey Street which leads onto another iconic Swansea landmark, Constitution Hill. This cobbled street, one the steepest residential streets in the UK was famously featured in the legendary film TwinTown and has been used for cycle races and other various challenges, where competitors have pitted themselves against its 20% gradient.
At the top of the hill turn left along Terrace Road and just where the road turns sharp left look out for a lane on the right directing you to Rosehill Quarry. This old quarry, tucked in just below the ridge line of Townhill, provided some of the building materials that went into the construction of the town, but quarrying has long ceased. Now, it has been transformed into an urban green space, run by volunteers with the view of providing recreational activities and promoting biodiversity. Up the road and there’ll be three bollards in front of you. Past those and immediately left through the trees and follow the path which loops around the old pond and back to the bollards. Then left into the park itself looking out for some wooden steps to the left that lead you out of the quarry and up onto another iconic Swansea street, Pant y Celyn Road, Townhill. Before doing so however, it might be an idea to mooch around the park for a while, the view over the bay isn’t too shabby either.
This area of the city has been much maligned in the past as we all know, and it’s had its issues, but it retains a fantastic community spirit here. The road itself is in a prime location as it boasts one the best city views in the whole of the UK. Looking to the left, you have the city and the docks, with the familiar sight of Kilvey Hill. Scanning around left to right, there’s Port Talbot and beyond to Nash Point in the Vale of Glamorgan, the brooding coast of Somerset and North Devon in the distance providing an ever-present backdrop and ending with the familiar sight of The Mumbles to your right.
Townhill was a planned municipal estate, designed to re-house those in cramped and dirty inner city accommodation and was based on a Garden City concept of spacious housing surrounded by village green type area. How lucky would you have been living here and then being able to purchase it with the Right to Buy scheme in the 80s?
My mother lived on the ‘Hill’ during the war and I particularly remember two stories she used to tell. The first, she and her brother were in the Tower Cinema watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame when suddenly their dad rushed in in a mad panic, shouting, “Quick, quick, get out. We’re being bombed!!” It was the first night of the Blitz. They were so engrossed in the film that they had no idea of the carnage that was occurring outside. They hurriedly left the cinema to be met with a sight of dozens of incendiary devices covering Paradise Park, and a view over the town, which was well ablaze by this point, changing it forever.
The other, again during the Blitz, was when the family was sitting in the cramped Anderson shelter during an air raid. All of a sudden, an elderly aunt rose to her feet making her way towards the exit. “Where the hell are you going?” asked her husband. ”I’ve forgotten my false teeth mun“, she replied. “They’re dropping bombs not bloody sandwiches!!” came his incredulous reply. I’ve began to doubt the veracity of this story over the years, but why let the truth get in the way of a good gag, eh?
Carry on to the end of Pant y Celyn Road then left down Townhill Road and past the now abandoned Swansea College. At the bottom of Townhill Road swing left staying on the main road down to Broadway and then continue on to Glanmor Road. Carry on until you reach Penlan Crescent and turn left up and around the road past Oakleigh House School on the right. The entrance to the legendary Cwmdonkin Park is just past the school through a gate in the railings. This place needs no introduction, but I wonder how many Swansea residents have actually visited. Immortalized by Dylan Thomas of course, it’s a beautiful park with a unique vibe, probably and subconsciously because of the association with Swansea’s most famous literary son. ‘A world within the world of the sea-town’, this was the playground of his childhood, where his imagination ran riot, ‘as many secret places, caverns and forests, prairies and deserts, as a country somewhere at the end of the sea’. The games and adventures he and his pals enjoyed were probably no different from any other child’s experiences, but his beautiful and magical style of writing brought his memories vividly to life.
Leave the park at the left-hand corner of the open green space and onto The Grove passing the house where the novelist Kingsley Amis used to live, and into Uplands now a world away from the place Dylan grew up in. Carefully cross the road by the Uplands Tavern, past Uplands News on the left onto Gwydr Crescent and onto Glanbrydan Avenue, this leads you towards the final park on this walk, Brynmill.
The park was the site of Swansea’s first reservoir, supplied largely from the nearby Brynmill stream in an attempt to provide clean drinking water to the town. It didn’t last long however but was soon transformed into a lake which became the focal point of the park and remains so today. And who remembers the zoo? Incredible to think it was still around in the 80s, monkeys and all.
Leave the park via the entrance on Brynmill Lane and re-enter Singleton and back to the start.
I’m surprised that Mr Mason didn’t quote that other famous sound bite when describing Swansea – A Pretty Shitty City. And, let’s face it, the city centre isn’t the most attractive urban landscape in the UK thanks, in the main, to it being rearranged when my mother was watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame. However, if I’m brutally honest, when I walked around, it looked pretty scruffy in parts, with buildings looking tired and shabby, litter bins overflowing and weeds sprouting up all over the shop. But, we are justifiably proud of this place, and are comfortable in the knowledge that it occupies a unique and breath-taking location and I think this walk will reassure you of that.
Start: Anywhere on the route.(NB. If you don’t fancy Constitution Hill, do it in reverse)
Map: You probably don’t need one
Distance: 6 Miles
Time: 3 hours
Refreshments: Various along the route
Badfinger: Day After Day
Bonnie Tyler: Total Eclipse of the Heart
Spencer Davis Group; Keep on Running
Trampolene: Uncle Brian’s Abattoir
Harry Secombe: If I Ruled the World
Dylan Thomas: Reminiscences of Childhood
Karl Jenkins: Adiemus
Kate Bush: Running up That Hill
Buffalo Summer: Hit the Ground Running
Roxette: View from a Hill
Elvis Presley: Home is Where the Heart Is