One sunny Sunday morning in February 2023 I cycled to Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan. This was an extended cycle which I’d been toying with for a while, but now the conditions were just about perfect. The weather was fine and looked reasonably settled. I had enough time to play with. There was an early question mark about the strength in my legs, or was it the bike? Nerves are exaggerated when you’re going into new territory, unsure of the gradients that lie in wait. The roads were full of cyclists on more advanced looking bikes who looked sleeker and fitter than me. Heroically, I pushed through the self-doubt.
Cowbridge appealed for a few reasons. It was an achievable 10ish miles from home and reachable through the network of scenic Vale of Glamorgan roads on my doorstep, and the main A48 road. It was a proper destination, a town of modest size I had heard favourable things about. “Fashionable, stylish, the place to be seen”: those are the kind of words often used to promote the town, its bars and restaurants. The wealth of the area was observable from the nearby small villages I’d cycled through on my there, many boasting imposing, seemingly custom-built houses with wide Vale vistas of hills and meadows.
Possibly most important to my pedal was the fact I had never actually been to Cowbridge town centre before. Certainly not for a proper nose around. So there was an extra level of intrigue and curiosity about the venture. A faint, novel sense of exploration and travel. Or the closest I was likely to get on a sunday morning in the middle of February.
Freewheeling into the belly of Cowbridge town centre, it’s easy to feel the history of the place. Many towns and cities across south Wales feel relatively new and lacking in historic texture. There is a modern, casually vanilla, could-be-anywhere blockiness to many urban centres. That’s to say nothing of the many out-of-town retail parks we currently visit more often, places where everyone is attracted to bring vehicles and buy stuff. Here though, as gravity swoops you down, then up again, Cowbridge buildings, houses, shopfronts and pub facades, whether truly authentic or not, have a proud ring of heritage and Vale of Glamorgan identity. There is no doubting where you are. An out-of-town retail park this is not.
Ubiquitous brand-name coffee shops naturally live here too. But they exist alongside independent retailers, restaurants and family run stores that appear to date back several generations. There are pleasing gardens just off the high street, bordered by the old town wall. A yellow church tower appeared to catch the late morning sunlight in an almost continental way. If I just squinted a bit, maybe I could pretend I was abroad and young and relatively carefree..?
There are quirky special interest shops and antique stores. There was that gently slumbering, peaceable sunday pace about people. For me, there was a simple levity that comes from visiting somewhere different when the sun is shining. It all felt pleasantly charming and like somewhere I might one day return with the family for, what my mum might call, a fuddle around.
Wheeling the bike with one hand made trying to capture street photography with the other a little challenging, but I couldn’t resist a few 50mm efforts.
I aimlessly noodled around the place for half an hour before packing the camera away, straddling the cycle and climbing slowly up Primrose Hill out of the town. Cowbridge is cute, and I’ll probably return before long.
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