Past, Present and Future In Cardiff

I liked my original black and white shot so much that I went back a few days later and took this early morning shot with the Nikon. I took five separate exposures, and combined them into a single HDR image using Photomatix.

Cardiff’s Past: In the foreground is the Bute Dock Feeder, which took water from the River Taff and brought it down to the Bute West Dock. The Bute Dock Feeder was built sometime between 1830 and 1836.

Cardiff’s Present: Dominating the skyline is the futuristic-looking apartment block recently featured in the BBC’s Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood.

Cardiff’s Future: See those cranes just poking out above the bushes on the left? They’re hard at work creating the St David’s 2 Shopping Centre.

Want to know more? Read the blog entry that accompanied my original black and white shoot as part of my Merthyr Road series on South Wales history.

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Escaping The Canal

View “Cardiff’s Little Venice” as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.

The success of the Glamorganshire Canal was always going to bring with it rival means of shipping the goods of the industrial South Wales Valleys out to a world eager for the iron, coal, patent fuel, and stone that were the currency of the Welsh industrialists. The canal was never going to have the capacity required to meet ever-growing demand, and so within 120 years of the canal opening, the marsh land south of Cardiff disappeared under no less than four separate docks, all competing with the Canal for trade. The invention of railway led to five separate railway companies all doing their best to keep up with the rate at which coal was being mined, and their iron tendrils snuck out past the congested Cardiff Docks to Barry, Newport and Swansea too.

Inevitably, it all came to an end.

Although the Glamorganshire Canal finally closed in 1951, it has taken more than fifty years to regenerate the parts of Cardiff touched by the former iron and coal trades. (The situation up in the valleys is bleaker, where full regeneration and recovery from the loss of coal mining may not happen in our lifetimes). It’s the Cardiff Docks that have taken longest to recover, and the recovery has come at what some consider a steep price (the Cardiff Barrage scheme, central to the redevelopment of the waterfront area, led to the loss of mud flats important to wildlife).

As part of the regeneration, the first dock to compete with the Glamorganshire Canal’s Sea Lock Pond has been almost completely erased from the landscape. Originally known as the Bute Ship Canal, all that is left of the Bute West Dock today is the Roald Dahl Basin down on the shore (a popular venue for events such as food fairs), and the Bute Dock Feeder that used to take water from the River Taff beside Cardiff Weir to help regulate the water level in the dock. With no dock left to flow into, the Bute Feeder has instead been diverted down to the old Junction Canal which once linked Bute West Dock and Bute East Dock.

What appears to be an entirely new waterway now flows south off of Junction Canal. Around it has sprung up the housing development known as Atlantic Wharf, transforming what was once a busy industrial dockland into a sort of Cardiff’s own Little Venice.

Thoughts On The Day

Daft as it sounds, I actually stumbled upon the Atlantic Wharf redevelopment by accident. I found myself with lunch hour to kill, and I decided to follow the Bute Dock Feeder as best I could to see where it goes today. I’m very glad that I did.

The path that leads south beside the Bute Dock Feeder from Herbert Street gives no inkling of the new waterway hidden beyond. Indeed, the Feeder quickly disappears into the overgrowth. My initial reaction was one of ‘Oh, well.’ Appearing and disappearing stretches of water are the hallmark of the remains of the Glamorganshire Canal and its associated waterways.

However, rounding the corner reveals the Junction Canal, which could never have looked as pleasant as it does today. Built to link Bute’s original Dock (the Bute West Dock) to his bigger deeper Bute East Dock, the only old photo I’ve seen of Junction Canal shows it to have been a miserable industrial landscape crossed by the remains of a ruined railway viaduct. Bute West Dock may be gone, but Junction Canal has not only survived – it has flourished.

There are two stone footbridges across Junction Canal. They are in sharp contrast to the other bridges over the new waterway that runs south through Atlantic Wharf, which are unmistakably modern in design and construction. At the time I thought that they might be original bridges across the Canal, but now I believe that they stand at the spots where the two railway viaducts – one for the TVR to the west, and the Bute Viaduct to the east – would have crossed the Junction Canal as they brought coal down from the Taff and Rhymney valleys to the Bute West Dock and Bute East Dock respectively.

The new waterway that runs south off of Junction Canal is what makes this such a pleasant place to take a lunch time walk. I don’t know what was here originally, but I’ve found no mention of Junction Canal ever being anything other than a straight forward stretch of canal flowing west to east and back again. There are houses here now on both sides, where the trains would have emptied their loads of coal to be transferred onto ships in both docks.

I found the place so charming that, if I ever move into Cardiff, this will be one of the areas that I’d look to buy a house in.

Favourite Photograph From The Shoot

The Bute Dock Feeder Hides AwayI love this shot of the Bute Dock Feeder running south above Herbert Street so much that I went back there later on with the Nikon D200 to take another, more detailed version of the same shot. I’m planning on uploading that shot soon as a HDR shot. I think that this is the best angle to take a shot of that apartment building (built on the site of a former school); it really brings out the angular nature of its design.

I also love the contrast between the Bute Dock Feeder (a relic of the 19th century), the old industrial units from the 20th century on the right, and the apartment block from the 21st century.

Post Production

I had to go back for a second visit to take some additional shots. Unfortunately, after only three years my Canon Digital IXUS has started to become unreliable. It’s starting to look like it’s time to replace it with a newer model. (Anyone remember the days when we didn’t throw things away, but had them repaired instead?)

After the last two epic photo shoots, I was hoping to get this one published quickly – and then I started trying to find out more about the two stone bridges over Junction Canal 🙂

I’ve also switched back to publishing the photos – complete with their write-ups – and the blog entry simultaneously. With my last article, once it and the photos were published, I found myself frustrated by the need to go back and continue working on it. I wanted to look forward to the next piece instead.

Found On Flickr

The term ‘Junction Canal’ is one that has arguably been overused over the centuries, but even so Flickr couldn’t find a single photo that had been tagged with Junction Canal in Cardiff 🙁 The map of geotagged photos is also pretty sparse, but I did find a couple of good photos on there.

  • P2170082, a colour photo of the new waterway through Atlantic Wharf, by Aaron A. Aardvark.
  • Fishing in the canal, a old shot showing two boys fishing in the Junction Canal, uploaded by Ben Salter. The bridge in the background of the photo is the Bute Street road bridge.
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Towards Pontypridd

View the Unofficial Taff Vale Eastern Ridge Walk as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.

High above Taff Vale, Eglwysilan Road runs south from Pontypridd to Nantgarw. On a sunny day, the route makes for an excellent – if exposed – walk down Taff Vale to the Taff Gap. Along the way are the summits of Cefn Eglwysilan and Mynydd Meio with their radio transmitter towers, and the ancient settlement of Eglwysilan itself, a former seat of power in the valleys. There are also excellent views west into the Taff Vale (provided you get up there early enough before the sun shifts to the west!) and also east into the Rhymney Valley and down to Caerphilly.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no official Taff Vale Ridgeway Walk at all, so (with my tongue firmly in my cheek) I’m dedicating this article to the unofficial Taff Vale Eastern Ridge Walk 🙂

Thoughts On The Day

It’s May Bank Holiday weekend overe here in the UK, and what better way to enjoy the sunny weather than a hike up Cefn Eglwysilan and a gentle stroll down the eastern side of Taff Vale to Nantgarw? It took me about an hour to hike up from Pontypridd, and then another four hours or so to wander down to Nantgarw, taking plenty of photos along the way.

According to Sheet 171 from the cassini.com Old Maps series, Eglwysilan Road has been there at least since the late 1700’s, and it seems likely that the route has existed in one form or another for centuries before then. Eglwysilan Road used to run up from Nantgarw to Cilfynydd, but at some point in the last seven years the route north from Pontypridd has been deliberately blocked with boulders. Even before the boulders were added, the route was only passable in something like a Land Rover.

The walk started at Ynysangharad Common, Pontypridd, where the road heads up towards Pontypridd Golf Club. Once I’d cleared the houses, the first real view I had was of the Hanson Aggregates quarry at Craig-Yr-Hesg, and a look back down towards the communities of Trawlln and Graigwen. I ignored the turn-off to the right for the Golf Club, and continued up the steepening track. Although it’s a single track road, it’s quite heavily used by cars, vans, walkers and the occaisonal jogger or two.

At last (for my suffering right knee at any rate!) I broke clear of the trees and reached the cattle grid that officially marks the northern end of Eglwysilan Road. Even if you go no further, the hike up to this level affords lovely views towards Abercynon, the blocked off greenway route, and back down towards Pontypridd. If the steep walk is too hard on you, why not drive up to the cattle grid and enjoy both the views and a much gentler walk up at this level?

From here, Eglwysilan Road runs south along the ridge line, and that was my eventual planned route. But first I hiked up the last slopes towards the summit, taking in another view of Abercynon, and also a fantasic view of the head of Taff Vale with the Rhondda Valley behind it. My objective was the three radio masts up on the summit of Twyn Hywel. At 382 metres at sea level, it stands at the same height as its twin 800 metres or so to the south, Cefn Eglwysilan. On 8th January 1974, at 2:39pm, the Receive (Rx) tower collapsed at this site.

There’s a trig point on Cefn Eglwysilan, and from here I enjoyed another great view of Pontypridd, and also a first look at the University of Glamorgan. I was also able to snag a nice shot of one of the surviving sheds from the old Treforest Tin and Iron Works. (I’ve published some of my shots from inside the old tin works in an earlier article; there will be more articles about the tin works later in this series). I found the walking up here fairly easy going, with no real problems for an able-bodied person. There hasn’t been much rain at all so far this year, which has led to the ground being unusually dry. I suspect that in previous years the ground would have been quite boggy in many places!

From the trig point on Cefn Eglwysilan, I made my way back down to Eglwysilan Road, which afforded a great view down the valley towards the Taff Gap. Unfortunately, I was shooting into the sun to get the shot, but hopefully it provides some idea of just how narrow and cramped Taff Vale really is. There were many sheep grazing up on the hill, and although most of them ran off as I made my way south along the road, I managed to capture this curious lamb and also this grazing sheep with the Treforest Tin and Iron Works in the background. I also bagged this fantastic shot of the University of Glamorgan’s main campus buildings. Sheep were everywhere, mostly out in the blazing sun, although some had the sense to hide away in the shade.

Eglwysilan Road crosses a few streams along the way, and in one of those I spotted something odd. I couldn’t make out what it was on the day, but looking at the photograph now, it was either a child’s stuffed toy (which is what Kristi believes it probably is), or a poor unfortunate animal (which is my guess).

Just north of the ancient village of Eglwysilan, I came across my inspiration for the title of this article. A small sign, nailed onto a wooden fence post, declared that the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway Walk went that way, back over the hill and down into the Rhymney Valley. Grumble grumble. The Rhymney Valley has an official ridgeway walk that runs along the Taff Vale side of the Mynydd Eglwysilans, but the Taff Vale does not? I’m sorry to say that I’m not surprised. It’s something of a re-occuring theme throughout the Taff Vale and Taff Valley 🙁

Blink and you’d miss it, but Eglwysilan was a seat of major power in South Wales for centuries. The ancient parish ran from Taffs Well, Castle Coch and Thornhill in the south, Pontypridd in the west, Cilfynydd in the north, and Caerphilly in the east – totaling some 12,000 acres. William Edwards, builder of the famous bridge that gave Newbridge (now Pontypridd) its name, and one of the contributors to the maintenance of the church building at Eglwysilan, is buried in the graveyard of the Church of St Ilan alongside his wife. The graveyard is also home to two ancient yew trees. Both trees were reported in 2006 to be leaning dangerously, and may need propping in order to preserve them for future generations.

The church building has been dated back to at least 1200 AD, and it may stand on (or near) the site of a monk’s cell. Associated with the church is a story about a 17th century priest who encouraged the newly-deceased to be buried with their valuables – which, along with his two daughters, he duly robbed. During the English Civil War, it is said that Parliamentarian troops used the church as a stable for their horses.

Eglwysilan Road heads south out of the tiny village, running along the western slope of Mynydd Meio. From the road I had clear views of Upper Boat and the car park at Tesco. Looking up the hill to the east, there were distinctive trees like this one, and this one, as well as a cargo container standing in a field minding its own business. It must have been one hell of a flood for it to get beached all the way up here 😉

Immediately after the cargo container, I took the steep path up to the top of Mynydd Meio. There’s a trig point up here, affording a great view north back to the masts on Twyn Hywel. There are also radio masts on top of Mynydd Meio maintained by Surf Telecoms, but they lie inside fenced-off farm land, and I was forced to make my way back down to Eglwysilan Road by following the fence. The masts could be seen from the road as I continued on the way south. The BBC website contains a video of the folk story The Banshee of Mynydd Meio, by Huw Davies. Mynydd Meio is also a popular place for handgliding, and is included in Caerphilly’s plans as part of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. (See also Caerphilly’s Countryside and Nature conservation plan).

After heading past yet more sheep, the hill to the east opened up to give a first view of Caerphilly, and a lovely view of the modern-day settlement at Nantgarw. Here, the hill started to descend down to Nantgarw, heading past the site of a former colliery (whose name I don’t yet know), which I’m guessing is what this curious red post is connected to. There were picturesque blossoms to admire, and then the end of the road – Nantgarw, and a bridge over the Taff Trail.

From Nantgarw, it was an easy walk down the Taff Trail to Taffs Well Railway Station at the old Walnut Tree Junction, where anyone else who’d like to try this walk can hop on a train back up to the starting point at Pontypridd.

All in all, I had a very relaxing walk in great weather (I have the sunburn to prove it!), and I’d strongly recommend that this is one walk that you should get out and do for yourself at some point (maybe the upcoming Bank Holiday at the end of May? 😉 ). I wouldn’t recommend this walk in windy or wet conditions. The top of the Mynydd Eglwysilans are exposed, and in poor visibility I’m sure they’re quite dangerous.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

I took something like 175 photos on the day, which I whittled down to the 55 that have been published on Flickr. Here are my favourite photos from those 55.

The StyleThis shot of the style, taken south of the village of Eglwysilan, is the photo I’m happiest about colour-wise. Although I like the composition and the way that the detail in the wood has been picked up by my Nikon D200, it’s the colour of this photo that I’m really drawn to. Of the 55 photos I uploaded, this is one of only 3 where I didn’t edit the colour at all. I tried it with the desaturated style that I’m currently favouring, but it looks so good unedited that I just didn’t want to change it at all.

Btw, I’ve no idea where the footpath over the style goes … I decided to leave that for another adventure 🙂

Burned Fence PostWith the almost total lack of rain we’ve had recently, hill fires have been a big problem this year. On the way up from Pontypridd, my eye was drawn to this fence post which has survived just such a fire. I love the way that the fire damage has brought out the pattern in the wood grain, and I think it contrasts nicely with the green shoots beyond.

The GreenwayOne of the things I really enjoyed about this walk was the sense of openness once I’d made it up above Pontypridd. With its narrow terraced housing all crammed around the A470 (and, before it, the Glamorganshire Canal), Pontypridd can feel as constrained as it feels spacious up on the hills. This photo (along with the photo that opens this article) does a great job of capturing that feeling.

Mynydd MeioDespite the vingetting from the 18-135mm camera lens, I’m drawn to how empty this simple shot is. All there is is the vast sky above Mynydd Meio and the radio masts at Twyn Hywel in the distance to the north. What could be more relaxing than that?

Taff Vale Is BornThe 18-135mm lens makes up for is contribution to the previous shot in this shot of Pontypridd. There’s an enormous amount of detail in this photo, and that’s largely thanks to the amazing sharpness that this lens can produce. Nikon forums on the web are already calling the 18-135mm lens a classic, and when you view this photo at original size, you’ll see why.

Post Production

It’s working out that, for every hour I spend out there taking photographs for the Merthyr Road project, I spend another hour writing the blog article, and another hour creating the write-ups for the photographs published on Flickr. Not too bad when it’s a short set of photos, but for all-day trips like Trevithick’s Tramroad and now Eglwysilan Road, it can take all week to get an article published.

So, this week, I’m trying something different. Instead of hiding my photos on Flickr until the write-ups are done, I’ve published them straight away. I’ll work on the write-ups during the week, and when they’re complete I’ll let you know with a blog posting. I’ll also update this blog posting as I go along with the list of sources used for this article and the photos.

Speaking of sources, that’s another area where I’m trying something different. I’m currently evaluating DEVONthink Pro from Devon Technologies, along with its sister product DEVONagent. I like the idea of having an offline archive of the web pages used as sources for these articles, especially one that’s searchable and easily classified. On top of that, the Pro Office version includes OCR technology, which might allow me to make a searchable archive out of my rapidly growing collection of books about the South Wales Valleys.

Found On Flickr

Unfortunately, when I searched for Eglwysilan on Flickr, nearly all the photos that turned up were mine from this shoot! (All the photos for Twyn Hywel and Mynydd Meio were mine, too).

I’m wondering if I need to do workshops in the local area to explain what Flickr is and how to upload photos to it?

Sources

There’s a surprising amount of information available about Eglwysilan, considering the modern-day settlement is little more than a church, a pub, and a couple of houses. From it, a lot can be learned about the communities of Taff Vale below.

A full list of sources will be provided as I make progress on adding write-ups to the photographs.

Hanson Aggregates:

Is This Your Car?

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City Hall Reflection

Earlier in the year, I headed down to Cardiff to take some early morning shots of the Bute Dock Feeder. I spotted this reflection of Cardiff’s City Hall on the rear window of my car after parking up, and couldn’t resist taking a shot of it with my beloved Canon Digital IXUS.

It doesn’t look so great at 100% (hey, it’s a reflection on a less-than-spotless window 😉 ), but I still find it a lovely little shot that I wanted to share.

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Robert Price Timber and Roofing, Taffs Well

The start of something a bit different, this week. When I’m out photographing the (normally historic) subjects and routes for my Merthyr Road project, I’m always coming across sights that appeal to me as a photographer, but which don’t really fit in all that well with the photos I choose for the final article published here on my blog. Rather than lose these photos, I’ve decided to give each shot its very own article.

First up is this shot of Robert Price Timber and Roofing in Taffs Well. Their timber yard is bounded on the east by the A470 trunk road, and on the south by the former Rhymney Valley Railway line from Walnut Tree Junction (the line now forms part of the Taff Trail cycle route).

Something (maybe a tramroad or railway) used to run north to south through the ground where their yard now stands. There’s a surviving bridge that the former Rhymney Valley Railway line crosses on the south side of the timber yard, and hunting through the trees to the north of the timber yard, there’s the remains of something that looks like it could have been a bridge support.
UPDATE: the something is the remains of the Cardiff Railway route from Tongwynlais to Rhydefelin Halt.

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