In 1858, the Rhymney Railway opened a branch route which ran from the Taff Vale Railway (modern Valley Lines route) at Walnut Tree Junction (modern Taffs Well station) up and over the Glamorganshire Canal to Penrhos Cutting, where it was joined by the Barry Railway and the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway. It survived the construction of the A470 trunk road, and was in use up until 1984, long after the railroad had constructed the Caerphilly Tunnel in 1871 to provide a much more direct route between the eastern valleys and Cardiff.

Today, it forms a section of the Taff Trail, a national cycle path (route 8) that runs from Cardiff Bay in the south all the way north to Brecon in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.

The Photos

Plenty of Lamp Posts at Taffs Well

The Rhymney Railway route starts at Taffs Well railway station, with the magnificant Garth behind it. The Garth, with its three distinctive barrows, dominates the skyline looking north from Cardiff.

Half a Mile to Tongwynlais

At the start of this section of the Taff Trail, if instead you want to head south towards Cardiff (a route which threads its way through Tongwynlais and then largely follows the River Taff), you can pick up refreshments in the village of Taffs Well if you need them. Just cross the railway by the nearby bridge.

If you’re heading north along the Rhymney Railway and then either up Penrhos Cutting to Caerphilly or along the Pontypridd, Newport and Caerphilly railway route up through Nantgarw, your nearest refreshments are some miles away. Stocking up first in Taffs Well might be a good idea.

Daisies Beside The Path

These lush daisies stand large and proud beside the fence at the start of the route.

Gate Guarding Cycle Route Eight

To try and keep the Taff Trail just for walkers and cyclists, the route is guarded by gates such as this one. They do break up leisure cycling a bit, as it’s much safer to dismount to navigate, but they seem a reasonable compromise to stop dirt bikers abusing the trail.

All Quiet On The A470

The route crosses the major A470 trunk road over a distinctive railway bridge. I don’t know for certain, but I’m willing to bet that this bridge is modern and was constructed when the A470 was built in 1969/1970.

Note how the A470 was empty when I took this shot. I commute up and down this road every weekday, and traffic levels have been (relatively) low for several months. Several years ago, it wasn’t unusual on a morning for this stretch to be completely stuffed with queueing traffic.

Rhymney Railway Bridge Over The A470

This is what the view is like along the bridge … wide and flat, with just the offensive graffiti for company.

Central Divider

Almost immediately beyond the bridge over the A470, the former Rhymney Railway section of the Taff Trail crosses a much older bridge, which originally went over the Cardiff Railway. The trackbed over the bridge has been tarmaced over, but this central divider with its metal studs (rivets) remains a major feature.

Bridge Over The Cardiff Railway

There’s hardly anything left of the Cardiff Railway in the immediate vicinity, as much of it was obliterated by the construction of the A470. There’s the Cardiff Railway stretch between Coryton and Longwood Drive that I’ve covered before, and also a stretch through Taffs Well that I haven’t yet written up … but in between, I think this bridge that carried the Rhymney Railway over the Cardiff Railway is about the only bit of the Cardiff Railway that still exists.

Gate Across The Trail

Aways beyond the bridge over the Cardiff Railway, a padlocked gate stands across the route. There’s one of the usual cycle gates beside it (so that cyclists and walkers can use the route as normal).

Alleyway and Gate

This section of the Taff Trail is crossed in places by alleyways that disappear into housing estates in one direction, and up the hill (presumably to the other Taff Trail along the old Barry Railway – yes, there are two Taff Trails running in parallel here!). Metal gates bar them to prevent non-walkers and non-cyclists from abusing the route.

It would be interesting to dig out some old maps to see whether any of these were here (as public footpaths) back when the railway was in existence.

Tree in Abstract

The Rhymney Railway section of the Taff Trail is very green this time of year – almost monotonously so. Occasional breaks of light like this provide interesting contrasts.

Tree in Abstract

The contrast of shade and well-lit trees beyond can make for eye-catching scenes such as this … but I imagine that if you’re cycling rather than walking, you’d probably miss them as you whizz by.

Sign in the Undergrowth

Does anyone know what this sign might be? I spotted it half-buried in the undergrowth along the route. Is it a left-over from when the railway was here, or something unrelated?

Rusting Post

I’ve no idea what this metal post’s original function was. It stands by the route, and is happily rusting away. If you can shed some light onto this, please leave a comment below.

Rusting Post Up Close

I’m a bit of a sucker for textures, especially when they contrast with a soft background like this one does.

Posts Beside The Rhymney Railway

Here are some old posts (I’m guessing they were railway fence posts from back in the day) standing beside the Taff Trail as it runs along the route of the former Rhymney Railway. As you can see, this particular stretch is long, straight, and very green, with not a lot to see.

The Two Taff Trails Merge

Not far from the start of Penrhos Cutting, the other Taff Trail route (which runs along the old Barry Railway line that used to go over Walnut Tree Viaduct) joins the Rhymney Railway route. I’m planning on covering the other Taff Trail route at a later date.

Bathed In Sunlight

When you get to Penrhos Cutting, the trail goes under this bridge. I’ll talk about the bridge more in the next photo.

What you’re seeing isn’t rain. It was a very dry, very sunny day, and when I angled my Nikon D300s up towards the sun, these strange streaks of purple light appeared on the image. I think it looks better as black and white, but if anyone really wants me to, I’ll upload the colour original for you to see for yourself.

Bridge At Penrhos Cutting

A little saner than my last shot, here’s the bridge at Penrhos Cutting that the Taff Trail goes under before its climb up Nantgarw Hill. It doesn’t take a lot to imagine local boys standing up on the bridge, waiting to be engulfed as a steam train huffs and puffs its way up the valley from Walnut Tree Junction. Maybe the driver blew the train’s whistle for them as his train passed by.

It’s a romanticism that our modern railways, with their sealed carriages and grumbling motors, simply can’t compete with. Who knows … when oil finally starts to run out, maybe we’ll all be forced back to a second age of steam?

Two Miles To Caerffili

At the foot of Penrhos Cutting, the intrepid explorer has a choice. He can continue along the Taff Trail (cycle route 8) to Nantgarw and on to Pontypridd, or he can continue to follow the old Rhymney Railway line up Nantgarw Hill and into Penrhos Cutting.

Entrance To Penrhos Cutting

If you leave the Taff Trail and decide to continue to follow the Rhymney Railway route up Nantgarw Hill instead, this takes you into Penrhos Cutting and on to Caerphilly. At the far end of the cutting (approx 2 miles) stands Penrhos Junction, which I’ll cover at a later date.

Copyright (c) Stuart Herbert. blog | twitter: (photography) (all) | facebook: (Merthyr Road project) (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.


Celsa UK, Cardiff

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 …

Celsa UK, CardiffCelsa UK, CardiffCardiff Barrage and PenarthAberthaw Cement WorksThe Millennium Stadium and The Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Radyr SidingsGarth Quarry, CardiffHill In The DistanceTaff ValeWar Memorial, Ynysangharad Common, Pontypridd

Trig Point, The GarthRailway Bridge over the TVRRailway Bridge over the TVR With TrainGeneral Electric, NantgarwCraig Yr Allt, Nantgarw

Railway Viaduct, Taffs WellPentyrch Iron Works and Garth Works, circa 2007Walnut Tree Station, circa 2007Walnut Tree Viaduct, circa 2007

Panoramic Shot

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

General Electric, NantgarwThis 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).

Post Production

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.

1 comment »

I took advantage of the recent May bank holiday weekend to head on up to the top of the Garth, and shoot some photos of what I could see. Whilst I was up there, I took these 14 panned shots of Taff Vale.

Panoramic Shot #1

Panoramic Shot #2

Panoramic Shot #3

Panoramic Shot #4

Panoramic Shot #5

Panoramic Shot #6

Panoramic Shot #7

Panoramic Shot #8

Panoramic Shot #9

Panoramic Shot #10

Panoramic Shot #11

Panoramic Shot #12

Panoramic Shot #13

Panoramic Shot #14

There’ll be a full article on The View from the Garth in the next few days, but I wanted to share these 14 photos separately. How many things in these photos do you recognise? Please head on over to Flickr, and feel free to add as many notes as possible for as many things as possible.

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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