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.


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

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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.


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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Robert Price Timber and Roofing, Taffs Well

The start of something a bit different, this week. When I’m out photographing the (normally historic) subjects and routes for my Merthyr Road project, I’m always coming across sights that appeal to me as a photographer, but which don’t really fit in all that well with the photos I choose for the final article published here on my blog. Rather than lose these photos, I’ve decided to give each shot its very own article.

First up is this shot of Robert Price Timber and Roofing in Taffs Well. Their timber yard is bounded on the east by the A470 trunk road, and on the south by the former Rhymney Valley Railway line from Walnut Tree Junction (the line now forms part of the Taff Trail cycle route).

Something (maybe a tramroad or railway) used to run north to south through the ground where their yard now stands. There’s a surviving bridge that the former Rhymney Valley Railway line crosses on the south side of the timber yard, and hunting through the trees to the north of the timber yard, there’s the remains of something that looks like it could have been a bridge support.
UPDATE: the something is the remains of the Cardiff Railway route from Tongwynlais to Rhydefelin Halt.


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