Taking a stroll around Penylan, even on a slate-grey Cardiff day, it is easy to see why it remains one of the city’s most desirable places to live. Mixing with Roath to the south and merging into Cyncoed and Llanedeyrn at the top of the hill, Penylan manages to retain a sense of identity. And while its leafy avenues can be wonderfully quiet, giving it a sense of being set apart from the hustle and bustle, its location means that the city is just at the end of the street.
Penylan hill affords fantastic views over the city centre, the Bay, and the Channel. From apartments beside Cyncoed Gardens atop Penylan hill, where once stood the Cardiff Observatory, looking east you can even see the Severn bridges.
At the foot of the hill, Penylan enjoys a narrow continuation of parkland beyond Roath Park’s ‘rec’, which follows the course of Roath Brook between Sandringham and Westville roads, known as Mill Gardens. Along with pretty, triangular Waterloo Gardens, this treasured tract of greenery was created from land donated by Lord Tredegar at the end of the 19th century.
At Waterloo Gardens there is a pleasing sense of space, with the row of shops (comprising convenience store, Post Office, Waterloo Teahouse and Sands hair salon) set at a seemingly haphazard angle and well back from the main road. There may be more cars than yesteryear – as well as an unfortunate tribe of bollards littering the scene – but the village-like scene remains a Cardiff gem. It’s hard to believe that a few yards award lies Newport Road with its multiple lanes of traffic and retail warehouses.
Your cup of tea?
Waterloo Tea, which Visit Cardiff declares was “the biggest thing to hit Cardiff in 2009”, has taken popping out for a cuppa – and Penylan’s prestige – to a new level. Winner of a Best Coffee Shop in the UK award, Penylan resident Kas Ali’s teashop and gallery space has quickly become a Cardiff institution.
Cardiff-born Kas chose Penylan when he and his partner Aisha decided to settle down in the city eight years ago.
“Penylan had everything we were looking for – a strong community, good housing, and amenities within walking distance,” he says. “We are both from inner cities originally so the closeness to Roath and Cathays was also a factor – it adds a dynamism. We didn’t want to live out in the ‘sticks’.”
Historically of course, Penylan was the sticks. The initial homes built amid the woodland and farmland between Roath and Cyncoed village were grand houses of wealthy Victorians, few of which survive today. Bronwydd, for example, was a large villa built for Penylan native Alfred Thomas, 1st baron of Pontypridd, which was demolished to make way for Eastern Avenue.
Penylan boasts some of Cardiff’s best examples of Victorian residential architecture, which came about as Cardiff rapidly expanded. And this and the pleasant curving, tree-lined streets makes it one of Cardiff’s more popular and affluent areas.
But Pontcanna, this ain’t. Local residents include author and poet Peter Finch and Gavin and Stacey star Ruth Jones. Lovely Beca Lyne-Perkis of GBBO fame is also from round yer, and actor and playwright Boyd Clack is always in Coffee Number One on Wellfield Road too, it’s true, but it’s not like the ‘who’s who’ list is very long.
“Penylan seems to attract fewer media types,” says working mum Kate, who moved to Penylan with her husband in spring 2011. “It seems a little greener, certainly less trendy than Pontcanna, and also more bohemian.”
Kate, who grew up close to Roath Park, initially looked for properties in either area. “Both Penylan and Pontcanna have the parks and community, which were missing from our rented flat in the city centre. And yet neither are suburbia – even in our late thirties we didn’t feel ready for that.”
Eventually Penylan won out. “When we found our house in Penylan, I fell in love with the view of the park from the bedroom window – it instantly felt like home.”
These sentiments are echoed by Waterloo Teahouse’s Kes Ali. “Penylan is understated, historic, convenient, and neighbourly,” he says. “Basically, it’s home.”
DID YOU KNOW?
The Roath Branch railway once ran through Penylan, running parallel to Roath Rec where the newer homes of Boleyn Walk now now are, crossing Pen-Y-Lan Road (at the zebra crossing), and along Melrose Ave. After crossing Waterloo Road it curved southward so that the end of every terraced street running east off Waterloo Road from Amesbury Road down met it before it crossed Newport Road.
Between 1906 and 1979, the public city telescope stood atop Penylan Hill in Cyncoed Gardens (‘Observatory’ can still be found on some maps), having been donated by medical doctor and amateur astronomer Franklen George Evans. The hill stands 200 feet above sea level, at a latitude 51* 30’ N, longitude 3* 10’ W, and local time of 12 minutes and 24 seconds behind that of Greenwich. Read more about the city telescope here.
This article was originally written for and published in CPS Homes’ magazine, Cwtch. Words and images copyright © I Loves The ‘Diff. All rights reserved.