From 1794 through to at least 1951, this was the East Canal Wharf of the Glamorganshire Canal.
In the foreground runs the GWR railway (the main Swansea to London line still in major use today), built by 1850 by the South Wales Railway Company, which would have had to have bridged the canal at this point.
The red brick building in the top-right is the remains of the York Hotel, which adjoins Custom House, once the administrative home of the Glamorganshire Canal when operations were moved from Navigation House in Navigation (modern-day Abercynon).
Behind where I’m stood today is Callahan Square, but in the past this would have been the wharfs that stretched all the way down to the River Taff over a mile away: Sea Lock Pond, the first of Cardiff’s great docks.
You can clearly see in this photo how the road under the GWR bridge has to drop for cars and buses to fit underneath. My guess is that the clearance was a lot less when this was still canal!
Copyright (c) 2010 Stuart Herbert. blog | twitter: (photography) (all).
If you’re reading this in the RSS feed, my original blog post also includes a Google map showing where this photo was taken. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to get the map to appear yet in the RSS feed, so for now you’ll have to click through to my blog if you want to see the map. Sorry.
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Download the full-size picture (3245 x 2597) to use as your desktop wallpaper.
My idea of escapism is often as simple as walking down places that most people never see because they’re in too much of a hurry to get out of their cars and wander about. The Taff Trail north of Navigation (modern-day Abercynon; the original administrative centre of the Glamorganshire Canal) is one such place.
Running along the Penydarren Tramroad, the route of the world’s first steam engine railway journey in 1804, this section of the cycle trail leads up under modern road bridges like this one before breaking out into the Pontygwaith Nature Reserve. Beautiful all year round, this is a wonderful place to talk a quiet and contemplative walk.
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View all the photos from this shoot as part of my Merthyr Road series on Flickr.
Needing to get out of the house after a stressful week for us both, my wife and I jumped in the car and headed up the road to the Pontygwaith Nature Reserve. I’ve been here before, but this was the first time that my wife has enjoyed a walk in this beautiful place beside the River Taff.
Thoughts On The Day
The last time I came up the old tramroad, the path from the south to the overbridge at Pontygwaith was somewhat overgrown. Since then, the path has been completely cleared, and fresh gravel laid. It looks much better now, although I can’t help but wonder how many cyclists head north under the overbridge without realising that the Taff Trail actually cuts left at this point to go over Pontygwaith itself.
We were very lucky with the weather, especially towards the end of the walk when the skies really cleared. Every year, we normally get a couple of weeks of excellent light in October, and I fear Sunday was the tail end of this year’s band. But I have to say that I can’t think of a more beautiful spot along the Methyr Road to enjoy such rich and golden colours. I’m always amazed at how few people I see enjoying this local treasure, but at the same time I’m secretly pleased to have the place to myself 🙂
Here are the photos from Sunday’s walk. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version of the photo that interests you.
I toyed with the idea of desaturating the colours from this shoot (to match the style I used in the Unofficial Taff Vale Eastern Ridge Walk), but to be honest I’m so pleased with the colours captured by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX33 that I decided to limit my adjustments to edge sharpening. I’m not completely convinced by the FX33’s colours in dull light (such as the colours captured in this shot), but in brighter light, the camera did very well.
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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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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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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
I 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.
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.
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- 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.
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.