Railings On The Taff

Download the full-size picture to use as your desktop wallpaper.

My desktop wallpaper today is this quirky shot of the railings that were stopping me from falling into the River Taff on a far-too-early-morning shoot back in March. Nice and blue – no green to be seen 🙂

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Morning Across The Taff

Of all the bridges over the River Taff in the Pontypridd district, this one remains my favourite to photograph. I don’t actually know anything about this bridge, other than it once carried road traffic but today it’s a footbridge.

If you enjoyed this shot, you might also enjoy Bridging The Rivers At Pontypridd.

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The Houses Of Trefforest

The morning is, without doubt, the best time of day to try and snap the houses of Trefforest. Snuggling on the western bank of the River Taff, the former market town of Trefforest is today dominated by the University of Glamorgan. Most of the housing is now let to students, making the place a bit of a ghost town out of term time.

Taken from the same spot as Watching Over The A470.

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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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The Leafy Road To Llantrisant

With the car in the garage for its M.OT., the quickest way on foot for me get to and from the garage is down Merthyr Road, through Treforest, and then up the A473 to Power Station Hill. It’s a fair walk, but it’s worth it for those times of the year when the leaves are green and this stretch of the A473 is empty.

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Graffiti Inside The Treforest Tin Works

View this selection of photos in my Merthyr Road set on Flickr.

The old tin works at Treforest were once the largest in the whole of Britain. Today they have long since closed, and the buildings have fallen into disrepair. Much of the site has been levelled, but what remains provides the faintest of hints of the South Wales Valleys at the height of their industrial glory.

Aim Of The Shoot

From the A470, I’ve often caught a glimpse through the trees to the west of the remains of old factories nestling in the shadow of an old railway embankment. Armed with a couple of bottles of Lucozade and a few bars of my favourite chocolate, I walked down through Pontypridd and Treforest, determined to finally find out just what this place is.

Thoughts On The Day

Walking across the cleared ground, and through the ruins that remain, it’s very difficult to imagine that this was once part of the most important industrial complex in Britain – and therefore the world, thanks to the British Empire. The chains for the Titanic were made just to the north. Coal for the Royal Navy came from further north, passing by using the canal and later the crazy rail network that once criss-crossed the valley. Iron came down from Merthyr. Just to the south lay the second-largest tin works in Britain – it’s claim as the biggest stolen by the works here in Treforest.

Now it’s just a handful of ruined sheds surrounded by a security fence that the locals pay no attention to, all buttressed up against the remains of a railway embankment that (it appears) used to end in a viaduct across the valley. There are no signs to mark its passing, save one – a modern sign proclaiming that the local allotments are called the Tin Works Allotments. Indeed, it’s left to the two bricked-up tunnels to the east of the ruins – and an open tunnel that lies immediately to the west that begs a return visit – to provide the only hint that this was once such an important site.

It isn’t just the old tunnels that are striking. The local kids have covered some of the walls (both inside the works, and on some of the buildings outside the grounds) with some great graffiti. I know that graffiti is generally considered an nuisance and a menace by today’s society, and I’m sure that there are plenty of folks who wish for less politically-correct days when they could just pack these troublesome miscreants off to one of the colonies … but at the same time, I think the ones I found in the old tin works are really good. Given a choice, I’d rather kids were drawing things than mugging old ladies 🙂
I’m going to save the photos of the site itself for another posting on another day. I took over a hundred and fifty pictures of the site, and I need time to sort through them and process the ones worth publishing.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Graffiti Inside The Treforest Tin Works - A Photo by Stuart HerbertIt feels like I’m cheating. By breaking up this shoot into several postings, I get to have more than just one favourite photo – even though it was all the same shoot 🙂 There were several pieces of great graffiti that I captured during the shoot, but my favourite photo has to be this one. I think it does the best job of getting that balance right between subject and context.

What’s your favourite photo from the shoot? Let me know in the comments below.

Three Tips From The Shoot

  • You can’t beat local knowledge. Families walking their dogs tend to know all the best routes, and where it’s safe to walk (both from a danger point of view, and from a avoiding-trouble-from-landowners point of view).
  • Speaking of danger … you can’t walk around these places with your eye glued to the viewfinder. Apart from the very real risk of tripping over something and cutting yourself on sharp things on the ground, you’re in danger of falling down uncovered shafts at any time.
  • Most photo composition comes down to showing a subject in a context. In this selection of shots, the subject was meant to be the graffiti, and the context was meant to be the ruins that the graffiti has been painted onto. I didn’t maintain the discipline required, and quite a few of my shots [example] ended up the wrong way around.

Post Production

Part-way through processing the images from this shoot, my workflow with Aperture began to take shape. Rather than post the full details here, I’ll put together some example images of the workflow in action and publish them as a separate blog entry in the near future. (I’d like to start posting technique-focused entries mid-week to balance the weekend shoots – this’ll make a good first or second article).

Found On Flickr

I haven’t managed to find any other photos on Flickr of the Treforest Tin Works at all. That’s a real shame, especially when you realise that the University of Glamorgan can be found literally just down the road.

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