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Gorsedd Stone

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Which Cardiff park gets the most foot traffic? Not Roath Lake, crammed with perambulating citizens any sunny afternoon. Nor Bute Park, the vast swath of grass and trees that runs from the Castle to the Cathedral. But a much smaller place. North of the New Theatre, across the Taff feeder (dug to flood the sludge out of the Marquis's Bute West Dock) and before you get to the National Museum's Portland stone edifice, lie Gorsedd Gardens. Three entrances, two paths and some of the best maintained flower beds in the city. These are seen daily by the thousands of workers who track from Queen Street, the station and the car parks, to the National Assembly Government (formerly the bunker-like Welsh Office), the City Hall, the Temple of Peace, the University, the Law Courts and the many other official centres of Wales. Here are statues of Lloyd George, high on his plinth, dripping green as his copper degenerates and John Cory - Coal owner and Philanthropist - silently facing the bushes and the bustle of traffic rolling, along Boulevard de Nantes, in from the west.

Gorsedd Gardens, established when the new City Hall was opened in 1905 and Cardiff declared a city, has as its focus the sandstone blocks of a druidic circle. The central alter stones, in use as a site for drunken prancing right up until the eighties, are now gone but the ring of red, raggedy sentinels, marked with drill holes from their erection and, flaky as the rocks of the Heritage Coast, still stand. They are no antiquarian artefact, however. The stones are nineteenth century quarryings from the cliffs of Penarth. They were used for real in 1899 when the Eisteddfod visited Cardiff and held its performances in a massive wooden shed erected where City Hall now stands. That was the Eisteddfod where the committee threw tradition to the wind and opened a bar on the maes; no poem was found to be good enough to win the chair; and on the last day the pavilion collapsed. The omens had all been bad. The stones were moved when the City Hall foundations went in and it was agreed that they should become the centrepiece for a new public garden. But when restored the circle was re-erected in the wrong order. Flankers circled and lead stones lay down. But who cares now? There's no celebratory plaque and their origins have been forgotten.

Gorsedd in late summer
The stone circle in late summer

In the sixties Tom Jones, Wales's macho rock and roll dynamo from Ponty, played the Cardiff Capitol and underestimating his attraction to the massed screamers ended being chased up Park Place and into the Gorsedd's greenness where he hid himself behind a weeping cherry. Today the place gets taken over as a hippie market everytime the city runs a Big Weekend and puts bands on stage across the civic centre. Recently I bought a tee shirt with a marijuana leaf on its front, a Marrakesh lamp holder at six times the price it would have been in the Moroccan souk and had a map of Wales done in henna on my right bicep. Girls screamed and hurled themselves ecstatically between the trees. There were eight skinheads and their cans of Castlemaine in the process of passing out at the foot of the Park Keeper's hut. St John's Ambulance were stationed behind Lloyd George but they didn't move. I could hear the Asian Dub Foundation doing it through the trees. In Cardiff it often happens right here. Last year my friend, who really should know better, tried to buy a 10 deal from a sparkly youth who was at least half her age. It costs twenty these days, darlin, he told her. Instead we bought ourselves flat bitter beer and drank it from plastic pint glasses. After a time the world slows down, doesn't it.

Peter Finch

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