This Way For Cycle Route Eight

The Taff Trail is a popular cycle and walking route that winds its way up from the barrage at Cardiff Bay, through the Garth Gap into the valleys, and north through Merthyr Tydfil and beyond to Brecon. It is the southern leg of the national cycle route 8, and whether you walk it or cycle it, much of its track up to Merthyr runs over older routes previously established by the Glamorganshire Canal, the Barry Railway, the Rhymney Railway, the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway, and the Penydarren Tramroad amongst others.

References

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

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The Pontypridd Sculpture

After the Brown Lennox site was cleared in 2009, this bright red sculpture appeared opposite, just outside the southern end of the Ynysangharad Park. It incorporates the Titanic (the chains for the Titanic were made at Brown Lennox), the old bridge that gives Pontypridd its name (which still stands today), and the flywheel from a mine lift (none of the mines have survived through to today).

It’s nice to see the much-maligned RCT making an effort in Pontypridd for a change, but like so much of what they do it just misses the mark. Why? Because if you’re coming north from Cardiff on the A470, this sculpture is mostly hidden from view by the turnoff into Pontypridd itself. Contrast that to other roadside art installations around the UK, such as the Angel of the North, which are sited specifically to be seen by approaching drivers.

I’m sure this thing must have an official name 🙂 If anyone knows what it is, please leave a comment below.

It sits close to the now-lost route of the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway, and opposite the site where the Brown Lennox factory used to stand. In the background runs the line of the old Taff Vale Railway (TVR), today the main passenger line up and down the valleys. The road curving up and to the right crosses the River Taff.

Copyright (c) 2010 Stuart Herbert. blog | twitter: (photography) (all).

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Keeping Watch Over The A470

If you can get out of bed early enough, this time of year offers fantastic light when the weather isn’t against you. And yet, look at the photography going on this time of year, and you’ll see that so few people ever look up to see – and photograph – what’s above them.

Mind you, you have to look up a long way to see this bad boy. This is one of the ridiculously tall lights that rises up from the Treforrest / Glyntaff turnoff to look down onto the elevated section of the A470. To have any chance at all of capturing this shot, I had to wander into the car park of the new University of Glamorgan campus (many thanks to the security team for their permission), and even from that elevated position I had a fair job getting the whole lamp into the shot.

Can you imagine having the job of changing the bulbs in this thing when they blow? 🙂

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Disused TVR Bridge

Pontypridd stands on the banks of the River Taff and the River Rhondda as the gateway to the valleys beyond – and the mineral and coal riches that were exploited between the late 1700’s and the 1980’s. From its first bridge in 1750, built to allow travel to market without crossing a deadly river ford, via what is possibly the world’s oldest surviving railway bridge, to the modern road bridges of today, it has always been necessary to bridge the rivers at Pontypridd in order to get from A to B.

Thoughts On The Day

I was taking a week off between jobs to get my annoyance with my former boss’s behaviour out of my system, and it was a real relief to get out and about with the camera. The weather was lovely, and what could be better than a walk through Pontypridd taking shots of the different bridges that have sprung up in this market town?

I’m always surprised at how Pontypridd has failed to capitalise on Cardiff’s growth. Why hasn’t it become a booming commuter town for everyone who can’t afford the house prices down in Cardiff itself? Sitting at the very northern end of the Taff Vale, the old TVR railway splits north of Ponty to take travellers up the Rhondda Valley to Treherbert, up the Cynon Valley to Aberdare, and up the Taff Valley to Merthyr Tydfil. That gives Ponty three times the amount of trains passing through each day.

Today, Pontypridd feels more important to the folks who travel down from those valleys than anyone else, marking as it does the half-way point in the journey from the tops of the valleys down to Cardiff. I guess the history of its bridges shows that Pontypridd has always been a place people travel through rather than a destination in its own right.

The Photos

Disused TVR Bridge

I believe that this bridge is probably all that remains of the Llancaiach TVR branch that ran from just north of Pontypridd up to the Albion Collery.

White Bridge, Pontypridd

The Old Bridge, Pontypridd

The bridge that Pontypridd takes its name from. Built in 1750 by William Edwards, at the time it was the longest single-span bridge in the world. Today, it is used as a footbridge.

Telephone Box Beside The Old Bridge, Pontypridd

There aren’t many red telephone boxes left these days. This one stands at the western end of the Old Bridge, Pontypridd. You can see from this shot just how steep the Old Bridge actually is!

Towards The Bridge To The Park

From the top of the old bridge, you can look down the River Taff, past the sadly run-down Taff Vale Precinct on the right to the foot bridge that links Ynysangharad Park with the main shopping area of Taff Street.

TVR Branch Line Up The Rhondda

This bridge carries the Rhondda branch line up to Treherbert. The line was opened in 1841, not long after the main TVR route was opened. At the time of writing, I don’t know whether this is a Brunel bridge like its sister bridge is to the east.

The Steps To The Signal Box

The Pontypridd Signal Box stands between the TVR branch line up to Rhondda and the main TVR line up to Abercynon and beyond. These steps appear to be the main route up to the signal box. The signal box itself appears to be disused today.

The Lost Rail Bridge, Pontypridd

Today, it’s a road bridge carrying traffic from the A470 up to the north end of Broadway and past Pontypridd station. But before this was built, there was once a railway bridge somewhere in the same area, carrying trains from the TVR over the Taff and onto the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport railway.

Like the bridge, the PCN railway is long gone, but its trackbed survives as part of the Taff Trail cycle network between Pontypridd and Nantgarw.

The Abercynon Iron Works Bridge, Pontypridd

This is without doubt my personal favourite bridge in Pontypridd. Built in 1850, this bridge allowed the small iron works on the western bank of the Taff (which today has been lost under a housing estate and a popular local park) with the Glamorganshire Canal. I believe this bridge used to carry a light railway or very short tram road.

Today, it’s a wooden-floored footbridge, and I often cross it after visiting the Yummy Kitchen on the way home from work.

The Iron Works Bridge Again :)

I like the Abercynon Iron Works bridge so much, here’s a second shot of the bridge from down below.

I’ve been over the Abercynon Iron Works bridge hundreds of times, but it was only when I went to photograph it that I discovered that it goes over more than just the River Taff.

I’ve never seen or read about any sort of tram road running along the western shore of the River Taff, so today I am at a lost to say what went under the bridge here. Maybe this is simply a modern addition to enable access to the river bank from the park?

Towards The Machine Bridge

You can just about make out the arches of the old Machine Bridge at Glyntaff. According to GaAC, this bridge was built to carry the Doctor’s Tramroad across the Taff to the Doctor’s Canal, where goods from the Rhondda were transferred onto canal barges and shipped downstream and into the Glamorganshire Canal proper.

GaAC speculates that this might be the oldest surviving railway bridge in the world, predating all of the bridges that carried the Penydarren Tramroad down from Merthyr to Navigation. This view has also been expressed in a local news article about a threat in 2003 to demolish the bridge.

Fancy that, and yet there’s no sort of plaque or anything information-like on the bridge itself that I’ve ever seen.

The Metal Lattice At The Machine Bridge

Unfortunately, I took no notice at all of the old Machine Bridge at Glyntaff when it was still in use by cars, so I have idea what this lattice framework is for, or where it originally fitted into the bridge’s construction.

The New Road Bridge Beside The Machine Bridge

For many years, the Machine Bridge was the main road link between the A470 and Treforrest. The fabric of the bridge couldn’t withstand the traffic, and the bridge was for a time threatened with demolition. Thankfully, common sense seems to have prevailed, with a new road bridge having been built immediately south of the Machine Bridge.

Today, the Machine Bridge is a footbridge, closed to traffic, but popular as a car park with council workmen or their contractors.

The Bridge Opposite Castle Street

Isn’t this a beautiful bridge to look at? I’m afraid that, atm, I don’t know anything about it, but I certainly would love to.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

The Bridge Opposite Castle Street

It wasn’t easy to pick just one photo from this group, but this is the one that I like the most. I just think it does a great job of showing off a very beautiful bridge 🙂

Post Production

This set of photos marks the start of the next evolution in my photographic style. I’ve been using HDR for several months now, but this time I was determined to put together a workflow that brings the HDR images closer in initial appearance to regular, single-frame photos. Before HDR, my favourite style had been the slightly desaturated look of the Taff Vale Eastern Ridge Walk set. What I wanted was that look, but with the added detail that HDR brings. Too many HDR photos just lack a certain subtlety – as do too many single exposure shots, it has to be said!

Since taking these photos a year ago now, I’ve refined the HDR workflow over and over before finally coming back to these photos and re-processing them for publication at last. I promise that I’ll do a full article on the workflow in the near future, but the main points are to avoid over-saturating the original HDR image, and then using Aperture 2’s new Saturation and Definition tools to bring out the best of the HDR detail whilst toning down its exuberance at the same time.

Sadly, I’ve been too short of time to thoroughly research each of the bridges in this set. There’s also one bridge missing – Brunel’s bridge that carries the Taff Vale Railway north from Pontypridd station over the River Rhondda towards Abercynon. I only noticed that whilst doing the write-up. Doh!

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Dawn on Caerphilly Mountain

View all the photos taken at Dawn on Caerphilly Mountain as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.

It was the first night of clear skies after an unusually warm week – perfect conditions for a sunrise shoot. With the Taff Gap and Taff Vale filled with fog, the best place to enjoy the dawn was up on nearby Caerphilly Mountain.

Thoughts On The Day

Looking at the pictures I took, I’m pretty pleased with the results, but all I could think about that morning was just how sick I felt. I’ve been unwell all week, and my mind was definitely not on the job as we headed up to the summit of Caerphilly Mountain having forgotten the tripod in the boot of the car – or the tripod quick-release head left back in the house!

But wow – what a view from the top of Caerphilly Mountain.

In days of old, standing on top of the mountain, I imagine the view would have included the steam rising from the trains making their way from Walnut Tree Junction up Nantgarw along the Rhymney Railway. The trains would also have been coming up from Nantgarw along the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway, crossing Caerphilly on their way via Machen to the docks at Newport.

Industry still dominates at Nantgarw, but steam has given way to the jet turbines of the General Electric factory. The fog was creeping up from Nantgarw, cloaking the General Electric factory in the most spectacular way. The next time you wake up in Pontypridd, Trefforest or any of the Taff Vale villages, take a look outside to see if it’s foggy. If it is, head on up to the top of Caerphilly Mountain – you’ll be in for quite the treat.
Photos From The Shoot

Click on any of the individual photos to see a larger version.

Dawn on Caerphilly Mountain Caerphilly At Dawn The Castle At Dawn General Electric Through The Bracken General Electric In The Mist The Cottages In Colour The Cottages In Black and White The Dawn Sky Craig Yr Allt and The Garth

Panoramic: Facing West From Caerphilly Mountain

Panoramic: Caerphilly At Dawn

Post Production

After the successful trip to Scotland this summer, it’s become clear that my audience has a strong preference for photos that are rich in colour. HDR is a great technique to use at dawn and dusk to squeeze the maximum amount of colour out of a DSLR without ending up with photos that are over-saturated. Just remember to take a tripod! You can take handheld HDR shots if your technique is good enough and your camera body can shoot fast enough, but you’ll always get much better results if the camera is in exactly the same position for each frame for your HDR masterpiece.

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LifeTrail(tm) Station #3

View the photos of The Lost LifeTrail(tm) Stations as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.

It isn’t just the wealth of South Wales that has declined since the closure of the Glamorganshire Canal, the iron works, the coal mines, and most of our railways. There has also been a dramatic turn for the worst in the health of South Wales. The nation as a whole is facing an ever-increasing burden of folks who are overweight and who just aren’t doing enough physical activity to maintain their health as they get older. When coupled with the rising average age of the working population, the UK as a whole is facing extra demand on its state-funded health care services coinciding with less people footing the bill.

The Welsh Assembly Government is trying to plan ahead with the twenty year Climbing Higher national strategy for sport and active recreation. Under this initiative, a number of Welsh councils have been buying the LifeTrail(tm) outdoor activity solution from US company Playworld Systems and installing them in local parks. Comprising of ten separate Wellness Stations, the LifeTrail system is aimed at getting the aging population to perform simple but effective exercises that will contribute towards their overall health.

And there just happens to be a few of these hidden away along an old railway line in Pontypridd …

Thoughts On The Day

This might seem like an odd topic for my Merthyr Road project, which to date has focused on the more historical locations between Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil, but please indulge me. The LifeTrail(tm) stations have been placed along the route of the former Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway, which opened in 1884 and was taken out of use in 1967. The Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway connected the coal mines at Merthyr with the docks at Newport, running along the Taff Vale Railway to Pontypridd before crossing the River Taff just south of Ynysangharad Park, down the eastern side of the valley to Penhros Junction, and then east through Caerphilly, Machen and Basseleg and so down to the Newport Docks. To the best of my knowledge, some of the P.C. & N. Railway has been converted to form the Taff Trail route between Nantgarw and Glyntaff, whilst some of it has been lost under the A470 along with the Glamorganshire Canal. A third section, between the Treforest Ironworks Bridge over the Taff at Glyntaff and Ynysangharad Park, has recently been turned into a pleasant riverside walk, and it is here that the LifeTrail(tm) stations have appeared.

To be honest, I had no idea that the LifeTrail(tm) stations were there – I was actually heading out of Pontypridd for a walk down to Taffs Well to gather more photos for a second article about Cardiff Railway. The first station can be found at the south-western corner of Ynysangharad War Memorial Park, and I found a total of five more stations along the route of the old railway line to Treforest. It’s difficult to describe what they are; the best thing to do is to look at the photos of the individual stations. Without trying to do them down, they’re basically simple but effective exercise equipment purpose-built for placing outdoors in parks. Online articles I’ve read since I took the photos suggest that they are aimed at the older adult population (by which I mean the over 40’s!), and that’s also backed up by the promotional material available on the manufacturer’s website.

I walked along the set of exercise stations with an adult couple who were probably in their mid-forties (my apologies to you if I’ve gotten that wrong 🙂 ), looking at each of the exercises on offer and talking about the concept. We all expressed surprise at where the stations have been placed, and wondered whether they would have been more accessible and easier to find if they’d been placed in a trail around Ynysangharad War Memorial Park instead. I’m sorry to say that, at Station #2, we couldn’t work out whether the contractors hadn’t finished installing this station yet, or whether someone had already stolen the pedals from the exercise bike built into this station! We also all noticed that these stations are labelled for Tredegar Park and are branded for Newport City Council, an unfortunate oversight on someone’s part that gave me the title of this article 🙂

My overall feelings on these installations are mixed. On the one hand, anything that gets the under-active to do more healthy exercise is a GoodThing(tm). The UK in general, and Wales in particular, is heading towards a health crisis caused in part by folks doing less physical activity, and that’s not going to be fun for anyone – not the folks who will be (or are) suffering, and not for my generation who will also be footing the tax bill for it. On the other, it’s a shame to see Welsh tax money being used to buy an off-the-shelf solution from the US. This could have been a good opportunity for Welsh business and the various Welsh teaching centres, including the Welsh Institute of Chiropractic at the University of Glamorgan (who I’m personally indebted to for excellent treatment following a car accident some years ago).

I’m wondering where the other four LifeTrail(tm) stations will be built. There are six stations at the moment in Pontypridd (one of which is purely informational), leaving four additional stations if RCT are going to take the standard complement of ten stations. Station #6 is at the end of the track; it wasn’t obvious to me where any additional stations could be built. I’ll have to go back out to the site once work has been completed to see where RCT has placed the other four units.

On the day I didn’t know any better, but after researching the LifeTrail(tm) stations, I’m disappointed to find that RCT’s stations don’t appear at first glance to include the panels for disabled people. Just to explain – each station has three sides to it, or three panels. Each panel hosts a single exercise for folks to do. According to Playworld System’s website, normally two of the panels would have exercises for the able-bodied, whilst the third panel would either be used for information / sponsor purposes, or for exercises for folks in wheelchairs. RCT appear to have opted for a different configuration, using all three panels for exercises for able-bodied folks. In this post-DDA world, that might prove to be a bold move on RCT’s part.

(As a footnote, it will be interesting to go down to Tredegar Park one weekend to see how their LifeTrail(tm) stations compare to those installed in Pontypridd).

Post Production

The main job since taking the photos has been to try and find out more about the LifeTrail stations. Talking to a few locals who regularly use the path between Treforest and Ynysangharad Park, they’re as much a surprise to them as they were to me on the day!

Unfortunately, this has been easier said than done. There’s plenty of information online from other councils in Wales about the Climbing Higher initiative, and how they are spending tax payers’ money – but there’s precious little information available online from Rhondda Cynon Taff Council itself. Unfortunately, the online search on the RCT website appears to have been having a bad day, as even searches for basic terms like ‘Ynysangharad’ produce no results, and searches for ‘Climbing Higher’ list PDFs that don’t mention the WAG initiative at all 🙁

At the time of writing, I’m assuming that RCT is still in the process of installing the LifeTrail(tm) stations. That’s based mainly on the state of the six stations that I came across during this shoot, and that there’s been no launch of the stations to match the work that Newport City Council did when their stations were setup in Tredegar Park.

I’ve found it a little weird writing an article about a modern-day attraction. This is the very first one, and it certainly won’t be the last! Regular readers of my blog might be forgiven for thinking that the route between Cardiff and Merthyr consists of nothing other than a post-industrial wilderness littered with abandoned canals, railways and industrial workings. As well as celebrating what used to be here, I believe that my Merthyr Road project should also be playing a positive role in documenting what has taken the place of the industrial landscape of the 1800’s and 1900’s. There’s so little about this part of the world online, so anything that I or anyone else can do to chip away at that problem can only be a good thing!

Sources / See Also

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