If you drive down the A470, over the Gabalfa fly-over and into Cardiff city centre, you’ll be familiar with one of the peculiarities of the roads in Cardiff. I’m not talking about the continuous experimentation with partially-closing St Mary’s Street; I’m referring to where four lanes of traffic goes down to just three as you reach Blackweir. On the right there’s the long, thin car park with the beauty of Bute Park beyond, and overhead the direction of traffic is controlled by these new digital signs. That car park has been built over the top of the old Glamorganshire Canal.
The new signs were installed either in 2007 or 2008 (I didn’t make a note of exactly when), and they replaced older mechanical signs that sat on top of the same gantry. (I have a similar shot of the old signs that I’ll dig out and post later). You’d have thought that they could have given the gantry a lick of fresh paint at the same time, wouldn’t you? 🙂
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The most common advice given to new photographers is this: always have your camera with you. You never know when you’ll come across something worth taking a picture of. That was certainly the case in March 2007, when Kristi and I enjoyed this beautiful scene on the way to work.
This is Cardiff City Hall, opened in 1904. The tag-line for Cardiff is that it is Europe’s Youngest Capital City, but I wonder how many people realise just how modern its magnificent civic centre is?
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Like most drivers, I hate speed cameras. Too many of them, especially over in England, seem to be sited in places where they are most likely to generate revenue. This camera in Cathays, Cardiff, is one of the more sensibly located cameras. It’s placed outside a private nursery / school, on a road that has a major cycleway down the opposite side.
The car park on the opposite side has been built where the Glamorganshire Canal once ran, and the lane disappearing off into the distance is approximately the route that the canal used to follow up towards Gabalfa.
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Enjoy The View From The Garth as part of my Merthyr Road series on Flickr.
If there’s one part of the landscape that dominates views of both Taff Vale and Cardiff, it has to be the Garth. But what can you see from up on the Garth? That’s what I went up there to find out.
Thoughts On The Day
The day was a tale of two directions. To the south, towards the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff, conditions were very difficult for landscape photography, with the sun reflecting off the Bristol Channel beyond the South Wales coastline. The photos shot facing that way all suffered from limited contrast and colour; I ended up converting those to black and white to make the most of them.
To the east, towards Caerphilly and Taffs Well, the light was much better (well, in between the rain drops 🙂 ). I was able to get nice, crisp shots of most of my subjects, and I was able to leave those photos in colour.
To get up the Garth, I recommend hiking up the road from Gwaelod-y-Garth. A couple of sections of the road are steep, and like me you might find using a walking stick helps with these bits, but for the main it’s not too hard on the legs or the knees! You can reach Gwaelod-y-Garth easily from Taffs Well railway station car park by using the footbridge to cross the River Taff. Don’t be tempted to try a short cut through the new housing estate on the site of the former Pentyrch Iron Works; I couldn’t find a way through from there to the old village behind it, and had to double back 🙁
And, as to what you can see once you get up there …
Favourite Photo From The Shoot
This photo of the General Electric plant at Nantgarw is my favourite photo from this shoot. Being up on the Garth provided the perfect elevation to show how GE’s factory dominates the entire hill side and the communities that it surrounds.
I also like the photo of the War Memorial (simply because it’s a great demonstration how just how much reach the Sigma 80-400 mm lens has) and my shot of the Millennium Stadium in the heart of Cardiff (because it shows just how central the stadium is).
Whilst I was up on the Garth, I also took 14 shots of Taff Vale to stitch together into a single panoramic image of Taff Vale. At Jon Pearse’s recommendation, I bought a copy of Calico to do the stitching, and I’m very happy with the result. The beautiful thing about Calico is that it does all the work for you, and (unlike some competing tools) it doesn’t complain when you want to stitch 14 images together 🙂
Now, getting the final panoramic shot uploaded to Flickr … that was far harder than generating the shot in the first place!
Found On Flickr
This old postcard provides a great view of the Walnut Tree Viaduct with the Garth beyond it. With a lot more care and thought into how the heritage of the South Wales valleys could be protected and developed, this could have been the view that greeted visitors leaving the M4 bound for the Brecon Beacons.
I think it’s a shame that it isn’t so.
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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.
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UPDATE: the something is the remains of the Cardiff Railway route from Tongwynlais to Rhydefelin Halt.
View all the photos from this set as part of my Merthyr Road collection on Flickr.
On 21st February, 1804, Cornishman Richard Trevithick successfully brought 10 tons of iron, and 70 men, down from the Penydaren Iron Works in Merthyr Tydfil to the Glamorganshire Canal’s wharves at Navigation by pulling the wagons along an existing tramroad using a steam-powered engine.
It was the first time, anywhere in the world, that a steam engine had been used to pull anything along a railed track.
The Penydaren Mining Railway, also known as the Penydaren Tramroad, or the Penydaren Tramway, or the Merthyr Tramroad, was the setting for this historical event. (Penydaren is also often spelt as Penydarren, and the tramroad is often called the Penydarren Tramroad. Which spelling is right I leave to others to decide). The tramroad had been built because the Dowlais Company’s railroad ran past the Penydaren Ironworks on a high level course, making it impossible to build a junction for the Penydaren Ironworks to use. In response, Samuel Homfray commissioned the tramroad to follow the eastern bank of the River Taff down to Navigation (modern day Abercynon). The tramroad was completed in 1802, and was in use until 1875, except for a period of uncertain length starting in 1815 (and maybe continuing to 1825) because of the collapse of a bridge at Edwardsville just north of Quakers Yard.
Although it was the route used for the first-ever steam-powered railway journey, those early iron rails couldn’t take the weight of the engine. Just as it had been before Trevithick, after he’d left South Wales (he was notorious for losing interest in his inventions; it was his great character flaw) the tramroad reverted back to using horses to draw the wagons down to Navigation.
To accomodate the horses, the tramroad didn’t use sleepers as we’re now used to from our modern railways. The rails sat on two lines of stones, allowing the horses to walk between the rails without difficulty. It also made things easier for the man who led the horse throughout the journey! There are several good examples of the tramroad stones still in existence along the route.
Today, the rails are gone, but the tramroad used in that historical journey still exists, and can be followed from Abercynon up to Merthyr Tydfil. The entire length up to Pontygwaith is part of the Taff Trail route of the National Cycle Way.
Thoughts On The Day
With blue skies overhead, this route makes for a very relaxing walk through some of the most beautiful parts of the Taff Valley. Although neither the A470 nor the Valley Line service up to Merthyr Tydfil are ever far from the tramroad, the calming lull of the River Taff bubbling along in the opposite direction more than makes up for the dull background noise of road and rail.
My original plan was to follow the tramroad all the way up from Navigation to Merthyr Tydfil and then catch the train back to Abercynon, but I didn’t make it all the way. I spent far too long along the way stopping for photos, which meant that a journey that takes the train just 9 minutes took me nearly six hours! (By contrast, it took me only two hours to make the return trip, including a photo stop at the Giant’s Bite). The other problem is that the tramroad unfortunately hasn’t completely survived. The section from Navigation ends at Merthyr Vale. It is possible to pick up the trail again from Troedyrhiw, but it seemed sensible to leave that for a follow-up visit, when maybe I wouldn’t get lost!
The route’s in various conditions. From Navigation to Quakers Yard, it has become a single-track road serving a few houses that lie along the route. From Quakers Yard to Pontygwaith Bridge it’s a stony track, similar to many now used by the Taff Trail. I was struck by the difference from Pontygwaith Bridge to the southern end of Merthyr Vale, where the track is packed hardcore showing off the original stones that the rails sat on to perfection. And then you get to Merthyr Vale, where the tramroad is in various states of having been tarmaced over, or completely buried under some form of building work that I don’t recognise. At some point in the middle of all this, the tramroad actually crosses the railway line. I completely failed to spot this, and ended up walking along the old Merthyr Vale Colliery branch line instead until it came to an end. (I only realised my mistake during the post-production research for this article).
There are magnificient views to be had, especially through the Pontygwaith Nature Reserve. This hidden valley used to be crossed by three great viaducts. Two of them (the Joint Line’s viaduct to Cefn Glas, and the GWR’s viaduct to the Cynon Valley) no longer stand (they were demolished in 1969 – GaAC Volume 1 has a photo of both viaducts still in place taken in the 1950’s), but Brunel’s Goitre Coid Viaduct still stands, and is still in use by the Valley Lines service between Pontypridd and Merthyr Tydfil. Although all three viaducts were built to cross the tramroad, the best view is to be had from the top of Giant’s Bite on the other side of the valley.
The whole hidden valley takes its name from Pont-Y-Gwaith – the Works Bridge – which crosses the River Taff in the shadow of the A470. If you’re following the Taff Trail, the trail leaves the tramroad to cross Pontygwaith and duck under the A470 before heading north to Aberfan on the western side of the A470. If you’re heading south along the tramroad instead of north, you can cross Pont-Y-Gwaith, make your way under the A470, and then head up the hill to Giant’s Bite, or follow the dried up Glamorganshire Canal bed south around the foot of the hill.
Myself, I went up to Giant’s Bite, so that I could take some photos of the three viaducts from across the valley. I was pleasantly surprised with how close in I managed to get with just a 135mm DX lens (equivalent to a 200mm lens on a full-frame 35mm camera). When the sunny weather returns later in the year, I’ll have to head back up there with my Sigma 80-400mm lens to see what detail it can capture 🙂
Favourite Photo From The Shoot
This shot of the A472 road bridge is my favourite shot from this shoot. When composing photos, I’m always looking for lines that will draw the eye along, and this photo is a fantastic example of how converging lines catch my attention. Unlike the natural landscape shots that make up the rest of the shoot, this photo feels clean and uncluttered. I don’t know … it just makes me want to go out and take more photos!
A close second is this shot taken just before reaching the bridge at Edwardsville that carries the tramroad across the River Taff, just south of the Goitre Coed Viaduct. My recent shoot down at Sea Lock, whilst very satisfying to that part of me that is really enjoying the history side of things, had left me feeling that the photography was getting lost amidst it all. I’ve been playing around with this basic shot design – a plain subject in focus in the foreground, with the more interesting subject further back out of the depth of field – since I first thought of it during my trip up to Snowdonia in 2003, and it’s always my fallback strategy when I’m not enjoying my photography as I’d like to.
Also a close second is this shot looking south at Goitre Coed Viaduct. I always find the Viaduct a complete bugger to photograph – the best place to actually see the damn thing seems to be across the valley sat atop Giant’s Bite. The Viaduct’s simply too big, and the valley too small, to get a great picture from the tramroad itself looking north. Going under the Viaduct, and looking south back to Quakers Yard, I managed to snag this shot which I feel gives a good idea of just how the viaduct appears out of nowhere to completely dominate the scene. But don’t take my word for it – get out and about and go see it for yourself.
After the eye-popping colours from my Sea Lock photoshoot, I didn’t want to do another set of photos looking like that. But equally I didn’t want to do a black and white shoot if I could avoid it. It was a great day, blue skies and hot sun, and I’d been careful to avoid burnt-out skies as much as possible (which is why many of the photos in this set are looking south even though my journey was heading north!)
It was during the post work on the railway car shot that I decided to try desaturating the colours in the photo instead of saturating them. It seems obvious now that the problem was the unbalance I was creating through boosting the colours, but equally the same colour boosting really improved the photos I took on the Sculpture Trail walk on Good Friday. Go figure! I managed to drag Kristi away from the gardening to help, and together we produced a set of Aperture colour presets to desaturate the colours in different ways depending on the scene.
I’m sure that the most important factor with these photos was that they were all taken on a bright sunny day, but after readjusting all the colours from the shoot using the new desaturated presets, this is the first colour shoot in the Merthyr Road collection that I’m happy with. I’m planning to re-publish each of these articles as a free-to-download PDF ebook; I’ll need to reprocess all the colour photos that I’ve already published before I do.
The write-up for this shoot has taken me a lot longer than any of the previous articles in the Merthyr Road series. This shoot consists of more photos than previous ones, and the Merthyr Tramroad touches so much of the history of the valley that it travels through that there’s simply so much more to see and learn about. I’ve added a new section to the article, listing all of the resources used to compile both this article and the write-ups for the individual photos on Flickr. I highly recommend that you visit all of referenced websites; they contain far more information than I can include here, and there are also many old photos from a time when the Merthyr Tramroad was still in use.
Although the history is such a major part of this project, looking through the photo set one last time before making it public, I’m happy that the photography hasn’t been lost this time out.
Found on Flickr
I can understand a shortage of photos on Flickr about the Glamorganshire Canal, but I was surprised by the lack of photos covering the Trevithick Tramroad and the Pontygwaith Nature Reserve. Practically every other walker I passed on the day was carrying a camera. Maybe there’s something wrong with the way I search Flickr for photos?
Mmm. I did manage to find these two photos which I liked.
They both make me want to go back at the height of summer, when everything will be much greener than now.
If you’d like to learn more about Richard Trevithick, the Merthyr Tramroad, or the areas that the Tramroad runs through, the sources used for this article and the photo write-ups on Flickr include:
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- The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canal – Volume 1, by Rowson and Wright.
- Richard Trevithick: Cornwall’s Pioneer of Steam, by the South Western Electricity Historical Society
- ENGINEERS: Richard Trevithick the Cornish genius, by Cotton Times
- Trevithick 2004, a joint public/private/voluntary sector partnership to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Penydarren Locomotive – the first steam locomotive in the world to haul a load on rails.
- Cynon Culture, a website dedicated to the history and culture of the Cynon Valley.
- Victoria Bridge, Quakers Yard – Restoration Works Contract Payment, a report to Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council.
- Our Woods in Focus, a website by the Woodland Trust.
- Taff Vale Railway entry on Wikipedia.
- Map of the Taff Vale Railway, on the GWR modellers website.
- Isambard Kingdom Brunel 200th Anniversary Exhibitions, from the Heritage In Action (Herian) website.
- Discover South Wales, a map of heritage sites from the Heritage In Action (Herian) website.
- The Taff Vale Railway – Volume 1 by John Hutton, ISBN 1-85794-249-3.
- Newsletter 110 June 2006 [PDF], from the Institution of Civil Engineers.
- Merthyr Tydfil Tramroads and their Locomotives, by Gordon Rattenbury and M. J. T. Lewis, ISBN 090146152-0.
- Pontygwaith entry on Wikipedia.
- Bringing the people of Merthyr closer to nature, the Forestry Commission press release from 29 August 2003 announcing the plan to create the Pontygwaith Nature Reserve.
- Pontygwaith on Alan George’s website.
- Cefn Glas Tunnel, on the excellent Cardiff Rail website.
- Quakers Yard and Merthyr Joint Railway, on the excellent RAILSCOT website.
- The Taff Vale Railway by D.S.M. Barrie, published on the Trackbed website.
- The Edwardsville Viaducts on Alan George’s website.
- Building Control Regulations for Merthyr County Borough Council, which includes a list of listed buildings in the borough.
- Trevithick and the Penydarren Tramroad on Deryck Lewis’ WalesRails website.
- ST0799 on the Geograph.org.uk website.
My quest to explore the route once taken by the old Glamorganshire Canal recently led me to a surviving stretch of canal hidden in the shadow of the A4054 as it passes from Glyntaff to Coedpenmaen in Pontypridd.
Here canal boats used to load chains made at the Brown, Lenox & Co. Ltd. factory in Newbridge. It was Samuel Brown (the Brown in Brown, Lenox & Co. Ltd) who patented iron chains for securing ships to their anchors (replacing ropes), and with his cousin Samuel Lenox he established a highly successful company to manufacture these chains. Brown and Lenox built their first factory in Millwall, on the River Thames, but increased demand led to them constructing a second factory (the Newbridge Chain Works) on the west bank of the Glamorganshire Canal in 1816.
Found on the Rhondda Cynon Taff district council’s website, this photo provides a great view of how the canal basin at Brown Lenox looked in years gone by. The bridge that still survives today can be seen just below the canal lock. The second bridge into the Brown Lenox loading dock no longer survives.
Thoughts On The Day
I’ve used the bridge at the northern end of the Brown Lenox basin many times as a cut through from Ynysangharad Road to the Brown Lenox Retail Park, but I never remembered seeing the canal basin itself there before. How could I have missed it?
In truth, there’s hardly anything left of the canal at this stretch – especially when you look at old photos like the one above. The canal has been completely filled in to the north of the bridge, and after less than fifty yards to the south the basin begins to narrow where the path has been moved to make way for the factory’s car park. Although today’s footpath is cement or tarmac its entire length, the path is surprisingly muddy in several places.
As you head south, the basin quickly disappears. The footpath ends up roughly where the east bank of the canal once stood, as the path squeezes past the shadow of the abandoned Brown Lenox factory. I walked the path south to its end and then back north; by the time I came past Brown Lenox for the second time, the path was obstructed with wooden palettes apparently being lifted from the Brown Lenox site!
Past Brown Lenox, the footpath crosses an ugly little bridge, and joins up with the old towpath once more. This stretch of the canal is quite a bit longer than the Brown Lenox basin, running past some cottages on the west bank before disappearing once more under modern concrete and cement. To the best of my knowledge, the canal doesn’t re-appear again until the pottery at Nantgarw, and can’t be walked along once more until Tongwynlais (see my earlier posting on that surviving section).
All the surviving sections of the canal that I’ve found so far all survive for three reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, they haven’t disappeared under the A470 trunk road; secondly, they haven’t disappeared under post-war housing estates or shopping (which is what happened to the canal from Melingriffith southwards), and thirdly, they’re south of Pontypridd.
This section hasn’t disappeared under the A470 because the A470 goes around the other side of the Brown Lenox factory. I took some photos on this shoot which show just how close the A470 is, and that the line of the canal south disappears under the A470 at Glyntaff. When Lord Bute finally bought the canal, he originally wanted to close it and use the route for a railway line. He ended up being forced to make a go of the canal against his wishes. Today, much of the route of the canal has been taken by the A470 … just has road has replaced rail as the main form of transport in the UK.
I wonder what will replace the A470 in a hundred year’s time?
Pontypridd sits in a bowl, surrounded by hills and mountains on all sides. The A470 squeezes through a narrow gap between the River Taff and the Brown Lenox site as it heads down to Treforrest. Between the three of them, they left no room for anyone to build over the canal with housing or shopping. However, standing on the surviving canal bridge, you can immediately see that this wasn’t the case to the north, where the canal, the locks and Canal Bridge have all disappeared under the Brown Lenox Retail Park and the A470 to its immediate north. The future of the Brown Lenox site isn’t clear. At least one out-of-town supermarket chain wanted to buy the site to use for a new store, but that appears to have fallen through. Whatever happens to the site, there’ll always be the threat that some modern development will seek to erase this section of the canal. If that happens, that’ll leave the section at Tongwynlais as the most northern surviving section of the Canal.
The canal north of Pontypridd fell into disuse in 1915, and north of Abercynon it fell into disuse in 1898 I understand. When you walk the Taff Trail up to Merthyr Tydfil, what strikes me is that, although the canal has been filled in, it isn’t as if the land has been reclaimed for any other use until you get into Merthyr itself. It makes me wonder whether the canal was filled in by human effort, or whether it just silted up and was eventually reclaimed by Mother Nature. (I suspect the truth is a little of both).
Favourite Photo From The Shoot
I’m spoilt for choice from this shoot. I really like this quirky shot of the footpath behind the abandoned Brown Lenox factory. It’s an unusual shot, and one that seems to have a bit of energy to it. I also love this shot of the row of cottages at the southern end of this surviving stretch of canal, and this shot of the canal basin hidden behind Brown Lenox, and this shot looking north towards Brown Lenox from beside the surviving towpath.
But my favourite is this shot of the bridge and Ynysangharad Road beyond, taken from just inside the Brown Lenox site. Whilst taking the shot, I got chatting to a lovely old couple who could remember times when the canal was still in use. I really hope they’re successful in their work to have the War Memorial up on Coedpenmaen Common floodlit on an evening. That’ll make for a spectacular sight indeed.
Three Lessons From The Shoot
- The Sigma 15-30mm lens is proving a joy to work with – provided it isn’t pointed anywhere near the sun. There’s a good reason nearly all these photos are pointing north! This lens flares very badly indeed when it catches even a glimpse of the old current bun 🙁
- Take your time and say ‘Hi’ to the folks you meet. It really made my day chatting with the old couple who could remember back when the canal was still in use – and could recall when Canal Bridge just to the north still existed, before being lost under the A470.
- Coverage (again)! When I got to the southern end of the path, I stopped. Grrr. I wish I’d gone further and taken some shots of the path beside the motorbike shop. Although I don’t live far from here, I’ll have to wait until the weekend for enough daylight to get the extra shots in the bag.
Shock, horror – colour photos from me for a change! All of these photos look gorgeous in black and white (I always convert photos to monochrome in Aperture to adjust contrast and levels) but I really like the colours captured in the photos, such as this one of the cottages between the canal and the A470. I’ve started shooting using the AdobeRGB colour space, and mode colour mode II on the D200. It’s a much more neutral combination than sRGB + colour mode III (my choice throughout my time with the D100, and carried over to the D200 for the first year), and it’s often recommended online as being the best choice for post processing. With a little bit of green and blue boosting for landscapes, or red boosting for industrial ruins, I can see how the result is easier on the eye.
Found On Flickr
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any photos on Flickr of this section of the canal – including my own! I’m really starting to doubt the trustworthiness of the map view on Flickr …
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