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Edging the City

Peter Finch
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
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Peter Finch is perhaps the foremost chronicler of Cardiff, past and present. His response to the 2020 lockdown restrictions confining people to their local authority area was to begin walking the boundary of his. This was in a mirror of his long walk along the south Wales coast recorded in Edging the Estuary.

The Cardiff border rarely appears on maps. The city no longer has walls (like York or Chester), or a modern transport périphérique like London’s M25. Instead its dotted line boundary travels across fields, along motorways, up rivers, through forests, over rail tracks and along miles of intertidal mudflats following the edge of the Severn. The border itself  is made up of waymarked trails, city streets, highway liminal zones, woodlands. Mud-soaked tracks up hillsides, bridges, diversions, disentanglements and discoveries all play a part in this informative text created for walkers and armchair travellers alike.

Edging the City explores (often literally) why and where borders exist, their purposes, their love of water courses. It discusses other cities with walkable borders including York, Chester, London, Paris, Bruges and Seoul. It considers legal and geopolitical reasons for borders (the battles over placement of ‘Welcome’ signs, for instance), how they change and what happens when politics crosses boundaries. Cardiff’s medieval and other boundaries are tracked. The border is walked, run and sailed. Finch talks to ultra runners who have traversed the 50 plus mile route in a single day.  He provides textual diversions on border history, north Cardiff trees, words for mounds, the mountains of Cardiff, the city’s coalmines, its triads, historical figures, battles, hill forts, poets, politicians, housing developments and other divertissements. There’s a city’s edge playlist which filled the author’s head as he strode available on SpotifyEdging the City is a view of Cardiff like no other, full of insights and discoveries.

Listen to the Edging the City playlist on Spotify. 

Follow Peter’s route here Plot a Route plotaroute.com/route/1864006.

Find a slide show of the entire walk on Flickr www.flickr.com/photos/peterfinch.

Finch's companion volume Edging the Estuary, in which he walks the banks of the Severn estuary, is available here.


Review by Ben, Silent Words Speak Loudest Blog

Tuesday, January 24, 2023


When lockdown came, Peter Finch was never going to keep himself cooped up, bingeing boxsets or bemoaning boredom. Instead, he got out and about when he could, finding a way to make profitable use of the circumstances.

The local poet, writer and psychogeographer has already published several books on Cardiff, so it'd be tempting to think that what he doesn't know about the city isn't worth knowing. And yet he found that there was still more to be discovered about the Welsh capital - this time through walking around its fringes, fuelled by nothing more than the contents of a Thermos flask and his characteristic curiosity.

These perambulations birthed another tome - Edging The City, published in 2022 - and last night Finch arrived at Insole Court at the invitation of Cardiff Civic Society to talk about his indefatigable attempts to trace an administrative boundary that often runs up the middle of rivers and into fenced-off private land, and regularly seems to vanish into thin air altogether.

Doggedly pursuing that semi-imaginary line took him through fields, industrial edgelands and amenity-free new-build estates christened with improbable names like Buttercup Fields. What he found prompted reflections on the liminal zones between urban and rural and on the city's creeping expansion past and present (including the ongoing turf war between Cardiff and its neighbouring authorities that appears to be waged principally by welcome sign).

Finch's talk was somewhat circuitous at times, appropriately enough, but as an engaging and genial public speaker he easily carried his audience along with him - whether dissecting Cardiff Council's attempts to deal with gulls, recalling drives up to the summit of Caerphilly Mountain in his dad's blue Ford Cortina or describing how pitching up in some places with muddy shoes and a map around his neck to a welcome of uncomprehending stares made him feel like he'd unwittingly wandered into the wrong saloon in the Wild West.

If you want a fresh look and insightful comment on the familiar as well as being metaphorically transported to places where your own feet are yet to tread, Finch is your man.

Review by Bobby Seal, Psychogeographic Review

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Circumnavigating the city and then writing home had been on my mind ever since I’d encountered Iain Sinclair’s walk around the M25, London Orbital, which came out in 2002. But it was the Covid crisis that pushed it and the directive that for exercise citizens had to remain remain within the confines of their local authority. Stay Local. No border crossing. But what could that mean? Just how big was my local authority? How far out did it go and where did it end?

Peter Finch has been a ubiquitous figure on the Welsh literary scene for over forty years. As a writer he is best known for the Real Cardiff series of books but has also written about music, produces walking guides and is a published poet.

During the 2020 Covid lockdown Welsh government rules meant that none of us could travel outside the boundaries of our own local authority without good reason. Being a seasoned jobbing writer, Finch seized on this situation as the perfect opportunity for a new project, rather than worrying about it being a limitation on the walking trips that had become so much part of his writing process.

Peter Finch, like many of us who are psychogeography curious, read and was intrigued by Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital back in 2002. Sinclair wrote about a circular walk he completed around the outer edge of London following a route as close as possible to that of the M25 motorway. The walk revealed new aspects of the city and took Sinclair through unfamiliar liminal zones, each very different in character to the London that he thought he knew.

Finch, a life-long resident of Cardiff, felt that a similar journey around the border of his own city might result in new insights about it. Not just discoveries about the edges of Cardiff and the places where it butts up against neighbouring boroughs, but more general insights into the nature of borderlands.

His first task was to plot his route on a map, which he reports was no easy challenge. Inspired by Finch’s book, I tried today to draw up a walking route around the outer edge of my own local authority area and can confirm the difficulties with this process that he writes about. Other than the sections of Cardiff’s boundary where it follows a road, a river or the sea, transposing a line on an OS map to the reality on the ground is no mean feat; especially if, as Finch decided from the outset, you rule out knowingly trespassing on private property.

In very simple terms, Cardiff is bounded by the Vale of Glamorgan to the west and south-west, the M4 motorway and a range of hills to the north, wetlands and the boundary with Newport to the east and the Bristol Channel coastline to the south-east. Finch began his journey in the south-west corner of Cardiff and, in a series of walks, followed the city’s boundary in a clockwise fashion.

It was hard, writes Finch, to accurately follow the border as intended and he often found himself straying away from it. Either further into Cardiff or over the boundary into other council areas. He was surprised to find how rural much of the outer edge of the city was and, this being during lockdown, he encountered very few other walkers out and about.

Finch is a natural storyteller and he provides us with an engaging account of his journey. Cardiff is his territory and he knows it well. He fills in his descriptions of the places he passes through with episodes from the city’s history, tales of its characters as well as his own anecdotes. Like many cities, Cardiff has expanded rapidly over the years, particularly after the industrial revolution and the city’s role as the world’s busiest coal-exporting port.

Cardiff has steadily absorbed villages and whole swathes of rural land, pushing its urban boundaries outward. As he walks, Finch observes scores of new housing developments, retail parks and industrial zones near the edge of the city: evidence of Cardiff’s ongoing expansion.

As a block of land Cardiff comes in at roughly 8 miles by 12. Following its borders on a map with a map wheel, including the long section of tidal mudflats to the south-east, Finch calculates that the border extends for just over 41 miles. His walk, with diversions around buildings and gardens, the occasional climb to a hilltop viewing point and for his meanderings when the route was not clear, totalled almost 73 miles.

With Edging the City, Finch has created a work that is not just a walking guide, but is an historic record of a particular time and place. He puts flesh on the narrative bones of his journey with the monochrome pictures and coloured maps he uses to illustrate his book. There are also links to useful online resources he has created.

This is a fascinating and informative book. It is also, perhaps, a source of inspiration for those of us who feel tempted to try something similar in our own area.

Review in Nation.Cymru

Sunday, October 16, 2022

“What Edging the City does so effectively, though, is defamiliarize and enrich these landscapes, with allusion, digression and depth, all painted in seemingly effortless poetic prose. Finch lifts the apparently mundane to a place of real literary significance, giving some of these lesser-known quarters the attention they deserve.” – Tim Cooke

Read the full review here.

Review by Chris Andrews, Buzz Magazine

Thursday, September 1, 2022

EDGING THE CITY offers captivating insights into Cardiff’s underexplored border.

When the UK found itself under strict lockdown constraints in 2020, author Peter Finch, inspired by Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital, took the opportunity to exploit the border restrictions in place to the maximum and walk the boundary of Cardiff in its 54 square-mile entirety. The result is Edging The City, a captivating insight into places and stories around Cardiff’s edge.

Finch’s writing is as jovial as it is fascinating. He begins his journey down Cardiff Bay Yacht Club, taking in Ely, St Fagans, Castell Coch and lots of other places in between, before heading down towards St Mellons, back through Tremorfa and finishing up back at Cardiff Bay. He has an interesting anecdote, historical fact or comment for every part of the city; the Cardiff border scarcely appears on maps, so tracing its whys and whereabouts proves to be very insightful.

Walkers can even trace Finch’s steps, if they are so inclined, as the areas are all broken up into smaller walks, with beautifully detailed maps to help. (Additionally, he’s included the musical playlists that inspired him along the way, giving the whole thing a very interactive feel.) In a similar way to some of Bill Bryson’s work, Peter Finch’s love for his home city is evident in every sentence; Edging The City is engaging in every sense of the word.

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