Everyone knows about Captain Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic. They know how he sailed in the Terra Nova with a band of fellow explorers in 1912, intent to be the first to reach the South Pole, only to find that Roald Amundsen had got there first by eating his dogs (typically disgraceful foreign trick), and that Scott and his companions perished in a blizzard on their return journey. They know that he was a magnificent hero of the Empire who honourably gave his life in the exercise of gallant British pluck in the most inhospitable place on Earth, a national icon: the epitome of glorious failure – or alternatively, that he was a typical ill-prepared, glory-seeking bungler, responsible for the deaths of himself and his companions.
What very few people do know is that Scott set sail on his fateful expedition from the boating pond in Cardiff’s Roath Park. I know this because I have seen the lighthouse memorial erected there, to Scott and his companions, “Britons all, and very gallant gentlemen.” I was with my great aunt who explained its significance, because she was a great aunt who delighted in stories of ghoulish horror. This is why Scott is always confused in my mind with the grisly fate of three children who plunged to their deaths from a crumbling cliff in Taff’s Well, and an Edwardian picture book with an illustration of an escaped bear creeping up on a small toddler whose mother is looking on in horror. Took me some years to get it straight that Scott did not fall off a cliff and was not eaten by a bear.
I had to rely on my great aunt’s explanation, because when I first saw the Roath Park memorial, I was far too young to read the inscription. As I grew older, naturally I began to wonder. All very well setting sail from that spot, but how did Scott get his ship out of the boating pond? There came a time when I thought to read the inscription and learned that he had actually sailed from Cardiff Docks.
Such a disappointment.