Roald Dahl is one of the world’s best loved authors. He’s also one of Cardiff’s most famous sons.
Dahl was born in Cardiff on September 13, 1916 to parents Harald and Sofie. His family ended up here, like so many others, in pursuit of business generated by coal.
“And so to Cardiff we go,” he wrote in Boy: Tales of a Childhood.
His father and his business partner, set up an office, a single room off Bute Street. The business grew, meaning his father was able to buy a “fine house in the village of Llandaff ”.
The official museum to the much-loved children’s author is in the Buckinghamshire village where Roald Dahl lived and wrote for 36 years.
But here in Cardiff, where he was born and spent his childhood, there are plenty of places you can take a step in his footsteps.
Follow our interactive map:
From Cardiff Bay, where the Norwegian Church and Roald Dahl Plas are part of his legacy, to Radyr and Llandaff where he lived, went to school, and maybe formulated a very early look at the chocolate factory he later immortalised in his book.
He left Wales in 1925 when he was sent to his first boarding school – St Peter’s, in the English town of Weston-super-Mare.
Even when there he described looking back across the water to Cardiff “and see the coast of Wales looking all pale and milky on the horizon”.
If you walk around Cardiff there are plenty of places you can step in his footsteps and see the places that inspired the books we all love so much.
Here we’ve devised a weekend tour where you can see what it was that inspired the author in Cardiff.
Day one will include Llandaff and Radyr – the places he lived and went to school while living in Cardiff. You can even stay the night in what remains one of his childhood homes which is now available on Airbnb.
Elmtree House School
This is now a private house on Palace Road (so please respect the privacy) but when Dahl lived in Cardiff, it was a pre-preparatory school.
He attended with his sisters Alfhild, Else and Asta. In Boy, he says it’s “astonishing how little one remembers” of his early years.
But he remember it was here he tried to learn to tie his shoelaces, the journeys to and from school and even the “excitement” of a new tricycle.
“I can remember oh so vividly how the two of us [his eldest sister] used to go racing at enormous tricycle speeds down the middle of the road”.
He left the school aged seven.
The lodge is now the Howell’s School nursery. In February 1920 that Dahl’s older sister Astri died from an infection following a burst appendix, aged seven, followed weeks later by his father, Harald.
In Boy, Dahl recounts: “[Astri’s] sudden death left him literally speechless for days afterwards. He was so overwhelmed with grief that when he himself went down with pneumonia a month or so afterwards, he did not much care whether he lived or died.”
At the time of her husband’s death, Sofie was pregnant and already had five children.
It was then she moved the family back to Llandaff to a smaller home called Cumberland Lodge. He describes the house as a “medium-sized suburban villa”.
Aged seven, Dahl’s mother decided he had to “go to a proper boy’s school”. He went to Llandaff Cathedral School right in the shadows of the cathedral.
The cathedral is a short walk from Cumberland Lodge.
This is where Dahl went to school between 1923 and 1925. It was an all boys preparatory school. When he was a pupil he was housed in a stone building overlooking The Green. That site is now a group of houses known as The Cathedral Green.
Mrs Pratchett’s Sweet Shop
Nearby, a blue plaque was unveiled in 2009 at the site of a favourite sweet shop of the young Roald Dahl, later immortalised in the author’s memoirs.
The old shop, is now a Chinese takeaway, is in the Cardiff suburb of Llandaff.
In his autobiography Boy, he uses fascinating detail to describe the sweets that were on offer and what his pocket money could buy.
“We lingered outside its rather small window gazing in at the big glass jars,” he writes.
“The sweet shop in Llandaff in the year 1923 was the very centre of our lives,” he tells his readers. “Without it, there would have been little to live for.”
He describes, in its own chapter, The Great Mouse Plot, all about a dead mouse they found in the classroom. IT was Dahl who suggested “slipping” it into one of the sweet jars. The resulting story lasts chapters, covering both the caning, his feelings on Mrs Pratchett, and how quickly a hero can fall – things any Dahl reader will recognise from his later books.
Llandaff is the perfect place for a lunch stop, with cafes like Jaspers or a number of local pubs.
Next up, head to…
St John’s Church
A 20 minute or so walk away takes you to Danescourt. It is here, in St John’s Church that a pink granite cross marks the grave of Dahl’s half sister Astri and his father, Harald.
The church is off Rachel Close.
It was when home from boarding school one Christmas, driving nearby that he went for a drive with an elder sister in the family’s first car in which Dahl’s nose was severed.
In his book “Boy” Dahl recounts the story saying that the car was a circa-1925 black De Dion Bouton tourer, with a rear screen, which the “ancient sister” claimed would do 60mph, which the younger children pleaded with her to do.
But she crashed…leading to another visit to the doctor’s surgery on Cathedral Road in Cardiff
Ty Mynydd House and Lodge
This was where the family lived after Dahl’s younger sister Else was born.
Here, the white house now known as Ty Gwyn is where Dahl was born on September 13, 1916. The house was then known as “Villa Marie”. Dahl’s Norwegian father Harald had the house built to his exact specifications before moving into the property in Llandaff, Cardiff, with wife Sofie.
On September 13, 1916, she gave birth to the writer who would go on to pen classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr Fox, in a first-floor bedroom of the house.
In Boy he described it as “a mighty house with turrets on its roof and with majestic lawns and terraces all around it.”
He describes animals and “many acres of farm” as well as the staff and “all manner of servants”.
“Harald Dahl had made it,” he writes.
Should you want to break your trail up overnight, you can now hire rooms here through Airbnb.
The owners say that this original lodge was the Gatehouse to Ty Mynydd, the summer home of Roald Dahl’s family. They have spent the last 18 months renovating the property to restore its original charm and character.
Start off at Cardiff Bay .
Your first stop should be…
The Norwegian Church
They open at 10.30am with a selection of meals.
The Norwegian Church is where Dahl and his siblings were christened.
It was originally located between Bute West and Bute East Docks, roughly where the Red Dragon Centre now stands.
It is the oldest surviving church in Britain founded by the Norwegian Seamens’ mission. It’s a good place to tuck into breakfast.
Dahl was one of the most famous members of the church’s congregation.
When the church fell into disrepair in the 1970s, Dahl was at the forefront of a campaign to raise money to save it.
There were strong links between Cardiff and Norway. Norwegian timber was imported to the docks which is how Dahl’s father Harald ended up in Cardiff.
In 1987 the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust was established to raise funds to rescue the church – Roald Dahl became its first appointed president.
Dahl died in 1990 before the reconstruction of the church was completed.
As you make your way round these Dahl sites, the white clad church is a perfect stop for breakfast, lunch or cakes.
If you look outside during 2016, you’ll see the official Roald Dahl 100 logo in the form of a flag, which will fly from the Norwegian Church Arts Centre in 2016.
Roald Dahl Plass
While in the Bay you can’t help walk through Roald Dahl Plass. It was in 2002 that this plaza was renamed from the Oval Basin in honour of the author.
The plaza in the Bay is home to huge events in its own right, but on quieter days it is the entrance to two iconic city buildings, the Senedd and Wales Millennium Centre.
From August 12 this year until January 14 next year, you can enjoy The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl – and interactive exhibition at the Wales Millennium Centre.
Head into the city centre, while his father’s first office has now been demolished, you can see some of the former splendour of the coal industry by looking at the nearby buildings on Bute Street.
Head then into the city and to The Hayes, going first to Cardiff Story.
Here you can find out more about Dahl and the Norwegian Church. The museum has information about Cardiff’s Norwegian community and the Norwegian Church that Dahl’s family was linked to in the galleries.
The final stop is the National Museum. From July 16 to November 20 you can get up close with the work of Quentin Blake , best known for his illustrations in the books of Roald Dahl.
The exhibition shows the origins of some of Blake’s most iconic and popular creations including The Twits and Danny the Champion of the World.
It includes first roughs and storyboards, many never shown before.