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Cardiff’s unearthed canal gives hope to Wales’ lost and hidden water courses

26 Nov 2023 4 minute read
Council leader Huw Thomas (centre) pictured on Churchill Way (Credit: Cardiff Council)

Stephen Price

A canal hidden beneath Cardiff streets for over 70 years has been unearthed and restored as part of plans to create a canal quarter dubbed the ‘Venice of Wales’.

The exercise, which has taken two years of complex engineering works, forms part of a series of plans that aim to act as a catalyst for new jobs and homes.

The scheme is expected to have economic and health benefits, and will even help to drain away rainwater and reduce flood risk. Who’dda thunk it – nature is good for us.

Lost knowledge

Whether we are conscious of it or not, water is healing, we are drawn to its sound, its touch, to lose our thoughts amid life’s chaos and doomscrolling.

When we holiday, it’s the coast that calls us back again and again.

When we walk with our dogs and children, the focal point or destination is often the canal or riverside. Our less jaded companions are all too aware of  the simple joy of a splash, a thrown stick or stone.

How many other rivers and canals are hidden across Wales, sacrificed for roads, housing developments and car parks? It’s knowledge that sometimes only our oldest community members hold.

And how many of our water sources are drained into pipes for ironically termed green energy, lining the pockets of companies that are all-too-often based the other side of Offa’s Dyke.

With scant public access to information on the many waterways that lie hidden beneath developments or diverted into soulless concrete pipes and channels, I can only speak of places I am intimate with, simply by being told ‘there was a river here’ by relatives.  

Brynmawr, Blaenau Gwent is just one example of a town in dire need of the return of its hidden waterways. The largest, the River Clydach, skirts it boundary, and rather than offering  respite at the town’s fringes, disappears beneath the sprawling over-engineered chaos of the A465. Imagine how much nicer a pint would taste at the town’s landlocked Bridgend Inn pub.

Further waterways of different sizes are scattered beneath the town, with one breaking free slightly at the edge of the town’s park, ‘the Welfare’, inaccessible and covered by steel sheets.

Thankfully, Brynmawr has a large pond close to its border with Beaufort that is popular with dog walkers and anglers alike, but that’s pretty much all folks unless you head towards exit.

Tourists and locals flock to the nearby Bridge Inn, Llanfoist and Bridge End Inn, Crickhowell for good reason. Subconscious reason. Poor Brynmawr.

Our towns and cities are missing out on waterways, both natural and engineered, but Cardiff’s uncovered canal offers hope that, one day, it won’t be us returning to our waters, but our waters returning to us.

For environmental reasons too, we should all take heart from the uncovered canal in Cardiff. Our collapsing ecosystems depend on water sources for their very life source. Is it any wonder that the insects and birdlife we grew up with are becoming a rarer and rarer sight.

Life force

We’ve lost our relationship with the land and our environment, and just like trees, rivers act as a barometer for the changing seasons, the state of things. Their flow, their colour, the life they support. Without our water sources, we are lesser.

Is it fair, then, that so many in our post-industrial areas are denied the physical and mental benefits of our very life force.

I’m at that age where there’s an entire jukebox of lyrics in my head waiting for the right word to be uttered, much to the annoyance of Gen Z, and a song called Virginia by Tori Amos always comes to mind when I think of our lost relationship with the rhythms of the earth that guided us only a few generations back:

’Do you remember when, when the land held your hand? She will let you back in’.

Why don’t we let her.

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KC Gordon
KC Gordon
7 months ago

…and the river that flows underground the length of Bangor

7 months ago

Same in Llanelli. £15m to be spent in the town centre to create a bar/restaurant zone apparently. It would be good to open up the Lliedi and make it a focus of the town centre environment.

Last edited 7 months ago by Annibendod
Ap Kenneth
7 months ago

It is not a canal it is “The Feeder”.

Dominic Harrries
Dominic Harrries
7 months ago
Reply to  Ap Kenneth

The dock feeder is undoubted canalised.

7 months ago

Looks more like an open sewer, and like our rivers will probably become one.

John Owen
John Owen
7 months ago

Nonsense, it`s not and never was a canal.

Dai Rob
Dai Rob
7 months ago

I bet the Bars, Restaurants & Cafes in St Mary’s St & Mill Lane are NOT happy at all!!
Only so many drinkers &eaters to feed them all! :/

7 months ago

What a waste of money. Shops are empty that end of of the centre. So lets put a smelly canal feeder back in and make people walk further from the bus stops. I am all for regeneration and preservation. But this reminds me of the work done in Pontypridd on a tiny piece of canal, offers little. How long until the first trolley or fool falls in and filled with rubbish.

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