Roath Park: The ultimate guide for Cardiff's gateway to nature

3 May 2022

Roath Park has served as an accessible and extensive natural getaway from Cardiff’s hustle and bustle for the last 127 years. During that time, the many additions and developments have made the park the long green heart of the city.

An introduction to Roath Park

So, what exactly is Roath Park? The park is broken into four main large areas, these being Roath Recreation Ground, Roath Pleasure Gardens, Roath Botanic Garden, and Roath Lake. Looking at a map of Cardiff you’d notice Roath Park from its long and thin shape. From top to bottom, Roath Park is around 1.8 miles long.

Located north of the city centre you’ll find the open and flat playing fields of Roath Recreation Ground nestled between the areas of Cathays and Pen-Y-Lan. North from here is the Roath Pleasure Gardens which is home to multiple tennis, bowls, and basketball courts. Continuing north will lead you to Roath Botanic Gardens. Here, vibrant planned gardens start near a tropical Conservatory and wind up to the bottom of Roath Lake. The lake stretches up to intersect the areas of Heath and Cyncoed. The lake is then topped with a large area of wild gardens and woodlands.

A major linking feature throughout the entire park is the river Nant Fawr which flows out of the lake and all the way through the park, right down to the bottom of Roath Recreation Ground.

Roath Recreation Ground

Let us begin our tour through the park at its southernmost part, the Recreation Ground. The area is a long and flat field that is, as you can imagine, used for many different activities. Weekend mornings usually see the fields used for children’s football games whereas groups of students often use the area to sit and read in the sun during the week. Dog walkers and running groups are also familiar sights.

Penylan Library and Community Centre is on the south-western tip of the park that contains a newly refurbished gym, a multi-use sports hall, a modern meeting room, a children’s soft play area, as well as a library.

There is also a playground adjacent to the Penylan Centre with plenty of slides, climbing frames, and swings for the kids to enjoy. Also, don’t miss the “trim trail” that you can find around the field’s border, which provides you with a large selection of equipment that’s great to help with stretching before a run.

Roath Pleasure Gardens

Unlike the recreation ground, this area of the park is abundant with forestry, while the Nant Fawr places a much more significant role. The numerous paths that wind around trees and bushes are connected together by a characterful bridge at the centre of the gardens. The Pleasure Gardens also boast a large variety of public facilities for a selection of different sports. There are four tennis courts, two bowling greens as well as a basketball court. At the north-western tip of this area sits Roath Community Hall, an attractive 18th-century venue for events such as weddings.

Between the Recreation Ground and the Pleasure Gardens is the Eastern Avenue A48. This area is home to Lake Spice, one of the largest Indian restaurants in Roath as well as Gathering Ground Café, a charming, dog-friendly pitstop.

Roath Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens have some of the finest gardens in all of Cardiff, with assortments of tulips, roses and other bright flora that create the perfect environment to slow down for a breather. The gardens are also home to areas of forestry and many small paths that wind around the area. There is another children’s play area at the top of the gardens, situated beneath the dam of the lake.

Upon entering the area, you’ll notice the striking conservatory on the banks of the river. The conservatory is a gateway to parts of the natural world that would not usually exist in South Wales. The warm and humid micro-climate allows for some truly exotic flowers and tropical plants to thrive. It is a great educational experience but is also something that anybody with an interest in nature would enjoy.

The conservatory houses upwards of 15 Terrapins that have been rescued from the lake as well as koi carps.

While these little turtles are not native to Cardiff, there has been a determined population of these shelly guys trying to make their home at Roath Park for a number of decades now. The phenomenon is believed to be linked to the popularity of the cartoon “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in the 1990’s. At the height of the show’s popularity, it was apparently the dream of many young Cardiff residents to have their very own Donatello or Leonardo as a pet. This resulted in eager parents buying their children tiny turtles the size of a 20p piece. But with the size of an adult terrapin being close to that of a dinner plate, it is believed that as these pets grew beyond their owner’s expectations, some were released into Roath Lake.

The terrapins are not able to reproduce in the climate of Cardiff but are able to survive happily enough in it. Park officials began removing the terrapins and housing them in the conservatory in order to ensure the balance of the ecosystem is maintained and that the terrapins can live as natural lives as possible in a climate more suited to them, but not all of them were caught! I have seen at least 5 terrapins at the northern tip of the lake in the 8 months I have been living in Cardiff. On a sunny day, they perch themselves on logs far from anyone’s ability to reach them which allows them to bask peacefully in the sun.

Roath Lake

100 years ago, Roath Lake was an area of marshland but due to the placement of a dam and the subsequent flooding, the area is now 12 hectares of open water. There are also multiple inaccessible wooded islands for the birds to safely nest on. The dam is at the southernmost end of the lake and is now known as “The Promenade”.

It is on The Promenade’s west side where you will find the Terra Nova Café, which has a raised seating area for you to enjoy a warm drink as you overlook the lake. There is also a separate ice cream hut nearby as well as a classic ice cream van that frequently parks up on the other side of The Promenade. Next to Terra Nova is the Roath Park Boat Stage where peddle-boats and kayaks can be rented for use in the summer.

A variety of different bird species make the lake their home and they have become very used to being in close proximity to people. It is not uncommon to have to navigate through columns of Mute Swans or Greylag Geese who are also using the path, but I have never seen any birds acting aggressively.

Some of the most visible birds on the lake are the Common Cooks who create impressive fort-like nests in the shallow water. The owners of these nests sit atop them proudly, protecting their eggs as they survey the area.

There are also plenty of your classic mallards, beady-eyed black and white tufted ducks, moorhens, as well as many types of gulls, including black-headed gulls, lesser black-backed gulls, and harring gulls. Cormorants are often seen perched upon the lighthouse’s base, eagerly waving their wings up in the air.

Grey herons and kingfishers are probably the most elusive of the creatures (besides perhaps the remaining wild Terrapins) that make the lake their home. Another uncommon sight would be spotting one of the large pikes moving from one hiding place to another in the shallow water.

The cherry on the most northern tip of the Roath Park cake is the Roath Park Wild Gardens. The path winds through thick forestry and crosses the Nant Fawr at multiple points. This area is perfect for dogs who like to explore shrubbery in search of the perfect stick. It is also in this area that you would most likely hear the hoot of an owl from a hidden away branch.

Roath Park is truly a special part of Cardiff. Hopefully, I’ve been able to get across the many facilities, experiences, flora, and fauna that you can expect when you visit Roath Park. I hope to see you there soon!