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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It might not look like much today, and the bare trees and cold tarmac of the A470 might make this picture seem extremely unremarkable, but sixty years ago you’d have been looking at the canal bridge at Trallwn as it crossed the Glamorganshire Canal.
Sadly, although I’m sure I’ve seen a photo online of the bridge taken from about this spot, I’ve been unable to find it so far. If you know of one, please let me know in the comments below!
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I was walking home this afternoon from an as-yet unpublished shoot [a follow-up on the further decline of Pontypridd – Ed] when the low winter sun drew my eye to this rusting, vandalised junction box sat underneath the A470 by Ynysangharad Park.
I just love the way the curve of the road and the path draw the eye towards the rusting box itself. That’s exactly what happened when I was walking, and I’m pleased that it came out so well in this photograph.
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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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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 🙂
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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Although the glorious Easter weekend weather is largely behind us now, for a brief moment this evening we had just a tiny reminder of how beautiful the sunsets can be around here …
It’s also the first shot taken with my new Nikon 70-300mm lens. I’m certainly looking forward to getting it out into the field for a full Merthyr Road photo shoot 🙂
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View all the photos from this shoot as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.
South Wales is blessed with some of the most peaceful places around, partly thanks to the River Taff that flows down from Merthyr Tydfil to the old docks at Cardiff Bay. Perhaps the most tranquil of all of this route is the Taff Trail stretch running north out of Pontypridd. Just moments away from the busy market town, the river wanders through a wide (and largely unspoilt) flood plain. It’s the perfect place to get away from it all and to take time out to wind down a bit.
Thoughts On The Day
In between running the cats to the vets for their annual booster jabs, and the gas board turning up for the annual service of the boiler, I had a couple of hours spare to wander along the Taff Trail north of Pontypridd. With the light holding the promise of some excellent colours in the cold November air, it was an invitation that I couldn’t turn down 🙂
I’m going to come back when I’ve more time and do a more comprehensive photoshoot of this stretch of the Taff Trail, and to discover more about the history of this particular area. For this outing, my aim was to try and snag the best shot or two I could of the river and hills beyond. I’ve tried this before – most notably back in 2003 when I first got my Nikon D100 – but with four more years experience, a fantastic 10 megapixel camera, and the benefit of HDR, I was hoping to do quite a bit better this time around!
For a change, I remembered to bring the tripod, because I wanted to try improving the sharpness of my photos by using the mirror up feature of the D200 (big thanks to my friend and work colleague Gareth Newns for showing me how that works). I’ve been having more and more success with the HDR shots, but if you zoom in on them, they don’t look anywhere near as good as they should – because I’ve been combining 5 separate shots that were all taken handheld. By using the tripod to ensure the camera stays in the same spot for each frame, and then using the mirror up feature to further reduce camera vibration, the result should be five frames that are exactly the same view.
There’s been a lot of interest in the office in how I create HDR shots. I’m thinking of creating a ‘5 steps for HDR photos’-type post about it soon. Let me know if you’re interested in reading such an article by leaving a comment below.
Here are the photos from today’s shoot.
All of today’s final photos have been built by combining five separate frames into a single shot. Each of the five frames was taken with a different exposure, so that the range of shots together cover a wider range of light and shadow than the Nikon D200’s sensor can cope with in a single shot. It takes a few goes to find the right settings for each of photos, to preserve the right level of contrast whilst still bringing through the rich colour and detail that HDR photography is great for.
After generating each photo using Photomatix, the JPEG is imported back into Aperture, where I do the final adjustments of brightness, contrast, and sharpening. Although it’s sold as a professional photography tool, Aperture is perfect for novice and amateur photographers like myself. It provides adjustment tools rather than editing tools, so it feels more like photography and a lot less like the fantasy work that sometimes comes from Photoshop.
The final step before uploading the photos to Flickr is to decide which photos to upload. My wife is always reminding me to try and publish less quantity and more quality! That’s easier on shoots like this – where I’ve gone out to get the best photos I can – but I still find it difficult on the more photo-journalism-type shoots 🙂
Found On Flickr
It looks like there aren’t many folks posting photos of this stretch of the Taff Trail to Flickr, but one chap who has is Areopagus. His photo of the Taff Trail in Late March shows the stretch where I took most of today’s photos from, and his shot of the footbridge gives you a good idea of the northern-most spot that I went to today. Look out for more information about this stretch of the Taff Trail in a later article in my Merthyr Road series 🙂
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When I’m discussing my Merthyr Road project with friends and colleagues who share an interest in local history, I’m often heard to remark that I’d love to be able to take my Nikon D200 with me back in time to take shots of what these places looked like in their heyday. Alas, we don’t yet have a time machine (and current thinking is that, when we do have one, we’ll only be able to go back in time to the day the machine was first switched on), but we do have Photoshop.
Fellow Flickr user Capt’ Gorgeous has been busy with Photoshop, creating a tantalising shot of what the old bridge at Pontypridd might have looked like when it was first built, before the more modern (and flat) road bridge was built alongside it. I think it’s a fantastic piece of imagination, and a great piece of work.
Here’s hoping that someone does build a time machine, so that we can go back and capture shots like this for real one day 🙂
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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).
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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- Wales top of Britain’s sick list, a news report on the BBC News website.
- Unhealthy Wales gets cash boost for fitness, a news report on the News Wales website.
- LifeTrail walking off with Welsh contracts, a brief news report on LeisureOpportunities.com.
- Lifetrail initiative launched in Tredegar Park, a press release from Newport City Council.
- LifeTrail Wellness Stations for outdoor fitness activities, on the Playword Systems web site.
- Planning a site layout for LifeTrail’s outdoor fitness equipment, on the Playworld Systems web site.
- Playworld Systems Newsletter 02 on the Playworld Systems web site.
- Strategy to get Wales active ‘making progress’, a news article on the NHS Wales website.
- Increasing Physical Activity, a report on the progress of the Climbing Higher initiative on the Wales Audit Office website.
- Climbing Higher – the Welsh Assembly Government strategy for sport and active recreation.
- Climbing Higher – The Next Steps, a report on where 7.8 million will be spent by the Welsh Assembly Government.
- Treforest, University links and connections, a project on the Connect2 proposals website from Sustrans.
- Track Layout Diagrams of the Great Western Railway and B.R. (W.R.) – Section 46B, by R. A. Cooke, published by Lightmoor Press.
- Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway article on Wikipedia.
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.
This 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 🙂
With 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.
One 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.
Despite 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?
The 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.
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?
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.
Is This Your Car?
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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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