Landscapes and Post-Industrial South Wales

Stuart enjoys taking great photos and uncovering the stories behind them.

His main photography project is Merthyr Road - a look at the history and the legacy of the industrialisation of the South Wales Valleys.

Towards Pontypridd
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 πŸ™‚ ), 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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™

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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Whilst exploring the banks of the River Taff at Hawthorn, near Upper Boat, I spotted this soggy piece of cardboard clinging onto a rock in the river for dear life.

I love the colour of this shot, and the energy injected into the water by the little weir just out of frame on the right. After all the black and white shots I’ve been posting these last few weeks, it’s almost a relief to come up with a stunning colour shot for a change!

Whilst I was there, I took the individual frames that I’ll need to make a panoramic shot of the River Taff. At some point, I’ll get the shots stitched together and uploaded to Flickr as part of a new ‘Panoramic Shots’ series for my Merthyr Road project.

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Bridge Over The Cardiff Railway

View the photos from A Walk Along The Cardiff Railway as part of my Merthyr Road collection on Flickr.

In 1885, the Marquis of Bute finally succeeded in assuming ownership of the Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals. It was his intention to close both canals and re-use the land for a railway to compete with the Taff Vale Railway. However, he was unable to do so, and instead was forced to build his Cardiff Railway as a new route north to Treforest. The route ran from Heath Junction, through Coryton, across the Glamorganshire Canal at Middle Lock, and north from there through Taffs Well, Nantgarw, the modern-day Treforest Industrial Estate, and behind the Treforest Tin Plate Works at Rhydyfelin.

However, even the powerful Marquis had finally met his match. The Taff Vale Railway purchased strategically-placed land just south of Treforest, and so were able to prevent the Cardiff Railway from being connected to Treforest Junction. The Marquis was forced to consider merger talks, but when these broke down in 1909, it sealed Cardiff Railway’s fate. With no connection at Treforest, Cardiff Railway was a railway that went nowhere. Passenger services up to Rhydyfelin Halt began in 1911, but in 1931 they were cut back to go no further than Coryton.

The colliery opened at Nantgarw in the 1938 finally gave the railway the freight it was built to carry. However, with the war over, the Taff Vale Railway was able to divert even this traffic by laying a branch line to the colliery in 1952, and in 1953 the line north of Coryton finally closed for good.

The Photos

Longwood Drive

The walk along the route of the Cardiff Railway starts here, at Longwood Drive. Right beside the entrance to Asda at Coryton Roundabout, there’s this track heading off into the trees. The track takes you into the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve, and over a 3-span bridge that was built over the Cardiff Railway.

In this photo, Longwood Drive disappears off into the distance on the right. Just out of frame on the right is another track that takes you down to the remains of the bridge that carried Cardiff Railway over the Glamorganshire Canal at Middle Lock.

(Thanks to the Friends of Forest Farm, there’s an old photo of the Cardiff Railway bridge over Middle Lock online, if you’re interested in seeing what this area looked like before both the Glamorganshire Canal and Cardiff Railway closed).

Bridge Over The Cardiff Railway

The track from beside Asda brings you to this bridge. The Cardiff Railway trackbed is below the bridge.

Grass Growing On The Bridge

This is a macro shot of what I think is grass growing in the gaps between the masonry on the bridge over the old Cardiff Railway.

Bridge Over The Cardiff Railway

This is the western end of the bridge over the Cardiff Railway. To date, I’ve been unable to discover who built this bridge, when, or why.

From here, there are steps down to the old trackbed.

Steps Down To Cardiff Railway

From the western end of the bridge, these steps lead down to the trackbed below the bridge.

Bridge Over The Cardiff Railway

The bridge over the Cardiff Railway consists of these three spans. The bridge appears to be built from brick rather than stone.

This photo is taken looking north along the old trackbed.

In The Shadow Of The Bridge

This is a shot of the Cardiff Railway trackbed as it goes underneath the bridge near Longwood Drive.

This photo is looking south towards Coryton. Behind me, Cardiff Railway would have crossed the Glamorganshire Canal at Middle Lock over a now-lost bridge.

Along The Trackbed

The Cardiff Railway trackbed between Coryton and Longwood Drive runs through this cutting. At the northern end of the cutting stands the bridge featured in earlier photos in this set.

The Cutting of Cardiff Railway

On a sunny day like today, the light reflects off of the many leaves and plants that line the route once taken by the Cardiff Railway. They present a formidable challenge to anyone wishing to capture the scene with a digital camera.

Watch Your Feet!

Along the old trackbed of the Cardiff Railway, there are a few raised manhole covers such as this one. Be careful not to trip over them as you walk!

A Lovely Day For A Stroll

Unlike the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Research to the west, the path along the trackbed of the old Cardiff Railway is much less crowded πŸ™‚

Tree Cutting

These initials, carved into a tree trunk, caught my eye whilst out walking along the old trackbed of the Cardiff Railway.

Bridge At The Southern End Of The Cardiff Railway

After a relaxing walk that takes about twenty minutes, the Cardiff Railway trackbed passes under a smaller bridge. The route over the bridge goes to Melingriffith in the west, but is very overgrown and no fun at all to walk.

This photo is taken looking north along the trackbed of the Cardiff Railway.

The Route Out

South of the bridge, between here and Coryton Station, the trackbed has become completely overgrown. The best route out is along this path to the A4054. Unfortunately this path can be very muddy indeed. Sensible footwear is highly recommended!

Welcome To The Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve

The old trackbed of the Cardiff Railway sits within the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve. At each entrance to the reserve, there are identical signs showing visitors a map of the nature reserve.

Coryton Station

Today, the surviving track of the Cardiff Railway ends here at Coryton Station.

Looking Along The Cardiff Railway

To finish the walk, I went down to the first bridge over the surviving track, and took this photo of whatever it is that’s growing on the bridge.

View the photos from A Walk Along The Cardiff Railway as part of my Merthyr Road collection on Flickr.

Thoughts On The Day

I have something to confess. As a regular commuter between the valleys and Cardiff, I often wondered why the Coryton line didn’t connect up to the main route at Radyr Station. I often expressed the opinion that this would be A Good Thing(tm).

Now, thankfully, I know better.

The basis of this ignorance was the mistaken belief that the Coryton line must once have been connected to the main route at Radyr Station. I’d never heard of Cardiff Railway, and I had no idea at all that the Coryton line was the remainder of a railway that had made its own independent route up to Trefforest. I’d never heard of the Glamorganshire Canal, or the Local Nature Reserve at Forest Farm, and didn’t know that the Coryton line would have to take a destructive route through the Local Nature Reserve in order to reach Radyr.

Time has moved on and consigned the Cardiff Railway route to the history books. North of the M4, very little of the route survives at all. It was the last railway to be built in direct competition with the Taff Vale Railway. It had to jump through the most hoops in order to snake its way north, the most favourable land having already been taken up by the Glamorganshire Canal and the Taff Vale Railway.

In retrospect, the futility of the Cardiff Railway is best summed up by the viaduct over the Taff built immediately behind the Treforest Tin Works. Built in 1907, only a single token train ever crossed Rhydyfelin Viaduct, because north of the Tin Works the Taff Vale Railway did everything they could to prevent the Cardiff Railway ever connecting to it (a temporary connection was put in place in 1909, which allowed the single train to cross Rhydyfelin Viaduct, but this connection at Treforest Junction was removed in the same year after a merger between Taff Vale Railway and Cardiff Railway collapsed). Unused for 31 years, Rhydyfelin Viaduct was taken down in 1940 to be recycled for the war effort.

What’s left today is a pleasant walk, taking about half an hour, between Coryton Station and Longwood Drive. We parked on Longwood Drive itself, and made our way down the steps beside a surviving bridge to the cutting where the Cardiff Railway once ran. From there, we made our way south to Coryton, before returning via the same route.

Post Production

Combining photos taken on two separate visits to form a single set of photos can be tricky, given the variance in the British weather. The main problem is always the same – skies and contrast. My main tool for dealing with any tricky situation is conversion to black and white. It feels like a bit of a cop-out, but sometimes I think the results look better than the original colour images.

To try and improve the quality of the black and whites this time, I’ve boosted the brightness and contrast on all of these shots, and then adjusted highlights and shadows to try and even out the differences between the shots. Overall, I’m very happy with the results, and I’ll probably try the same technique again the next time I publish a black and white set.

See Also

As always with these articles, I’m indebted to the information that has already been published about Cardiff Railway. Here’s a list of the sources that I used to compile this article:

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If you’re reading this in the RSS feed, my original blog post also includes a Google map showing where this photo was taken. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to get the map to appear yet in the RSS feed, so for now you’ll have to click through to my blog if you want to see the map. Sorry.

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Celsa UK, Cardiff

Enjoy The View From The Garth as part of my Merthyr Road series on Flickr.

If there’s one part of the landscape that dominates views of both Taff Vale and Cardiff, it has to be the Garth. But what can you see from up on the Garth? That’s what I went up there to find out.

Thoughts On The Day

The day was a tale of two directions. To the south, towards the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff, conditions were very difficult for landscape photography, with the sun reflecting off the Bristol Channel beyond the South Wales coastline. The photos shot facing that way all suffered from limited contrast and colour; I ended up converting those to black and white to make the most of them.

To the east, towards Caerphilly and Taffs Well, the light was much better (well, in between the rain drops πŸ™‚ ). I was able to get nice, crisp shots of most of my subjects, and I was able to leave those photos in colour.

To get up the Garth, I recommend hiking up the road from Gwaelod-y-Garth. A couple of sections of the road are steep, and like me you might find using a walking stick helps with these bits, but for the main it’s not too hard on the legs or the knees! You can reach Gwaelod-y-Garth easily from Taffs Well railway station car park by using the footbridge to cross the River Taff. Don’t be tempted to try a short cut through the new housing estate on the site of the former Pentyrch Iron Works; I couldn’t find a way through from there to the old village behind it, and had to double back πŸ™

And, as to what you can see once you get up there …

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

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

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

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

Panoramic Shot

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

General Electric, NantgarwThis photo of the General Electric plant at Nantgarw is my favourite photo from this shoot. Being up on the Garth provided the perfect elevation to show how GE’s factory dominates the entire hill side and the communities that it surrounds.

I also like the photo of the War Memorial (simply because it’s a great demonstration how just how much reach the Sigma 80-400 mm lens has) and my shot of the Millennium Stadium in the heart of Cardiff (because it shows just how central the stadium is).

Post Production

Whilst I was up on the Garth, I also took 14 shots of Taff Vale to stitch together into a single panoramic image of Taff Vale. At Jon Pearse’s recommendation, I bought a copy of Calico to do the stitching, and I’m very happy with the result. The beautiful thing about Calico is that it does all the work for you, and (unlike some competing tools) it doesn’t complain when you want to stitch 14 images together πŸ™‚

Now, getting the final panoramic shot uploaded to Flickr … that was far harder than generating the shot in the first place!

Found On Flickr

This old postcard provides a great view of the Walnut Tree Viaduct with the Garth beyond it. With a lot more care and thought into how the heritage of the South Wales valleys could be protected and developed, this could have been the view that greeted visitors leaving the M4 bound for the Brecon Beacons.

I think it’s a shame that it isn’t so.

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

Panoramic Shot #1

Panoramic Shot #2

Panoramic Shot #3

Panoramic Shot #4

Panoramic Shot #5

Panoramic Shot #6

Panoramic Shot #7

Panoramic Shot #8

Panoramic Shot #9

Panoramic Shot #10

Panoramic Shot #11

Panoramic Shot #12

Panoramic Shot #13

Panoramic Shot #14

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

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If you’re reading this in the RSS feed, my original blog post also includes a Google map showing where this photo was taken. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to get the map to appear yet in the RSS feed, so for now you’ll have to click through to my blog if you want to see the map. Sorry.

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Past, Present and Future In Cardiff

I liked my original black and white shot so much that I went back a few days later and took this early morning shot with the Nikon. I took five separate exposures, and combined them into a single HDR image using Photomatix.

Cardiff’s Past: In the foreground is the Bute Dock Feeder, which took water from the River Taff and brought it down to the Bute West Dock. The Bute Dock Feeder was built sometime between 1830 and 1836.

Cardiff’s Present: Dominating the skyline is the futuristic-looking apartment block recently featured in the BBC’s Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood.

Cardiff’s Future: See those cranes just poking out above the bushes on the left? They’re hard at work creating the St David’s 2 Shopping Centre.

Want to know more? Read the blog entry that accompanied my original black and white shoot as part of my Merthyr Road series on South Wales history.

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Escaping The Canal

View “Cardiff’s Little Venice” as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.

The success of the Glamorganshire Canal was always going to bring with it rival means of shipping the goods of the industrial South Wales Valleys out to a world eager for the iron, coal, patent fuel, and stone that were the currency of the Welsh industrialists. The canal was never going to have the capacity required to meet ever-growing demand, and so within 120 years of the canal opening, the marsh land south of Cardiff disappeared under no less than four separate docks, all competing with the Canal for trade. The invention of railway led to five separate railway companies all doing their best to keep up with the rate at which coal was being mined, and their iron tendrils snuck out past the congested Cardiff Docks to Barry, Newport and Swansea too.

Inevitably, it all came to an end.

Although the Glamorganshire Canal finally closed in 1951, it has taken more than fifty years to regenerate the parts of Cardiff touched by the former iron and coal trades. (The situation up in the valleys is bleaker, where full regeneration and recovery from the loss of coal mining may not happen in our lifetimes). It’s the Cardiff Docks that have taken longest to recover, and the recovery has come at what some consider a steep price (the Cardiff Barrage scheme, central to the redevelopment of the waterfront area, led to the loss of mud flats important to wildlife).

As part of the regeneration, the first dock to compete with the Glamorganshire Canal’s Sea Lock Pond has been almost completely erased from the landscape. Originally known as the Bute Ship Canal, all that is left of the Bute West Dock today is the Roald Dahl Basin down on the shore (a popular venue for events such as food fairs), and the Bute Dock Feeder that used to take water from the River Taff beside Cardiff Weir to help regulate the water level in the dock. With no dock left to flow into, the Bute Feeder has instead been diverted down to the old Junction Canal which once linked Bute West Dock and Bute East Dock.

What appears to be an entirely new waterway now flows south off of Junction Canal. Around it has sprung up the housing development known as Atlantic Wharf, transforming what was once a busy industrial dockland into a sort of Cardiff’s own Little Venice.

Thoughts On The Day

Daft as it sounds, I actually stumbled upon the Atlantic Wharf redevelopment by accident. I found myself with lunch hour to kill, and I decided to follow the Bute Dock Feeder as best I could to see where it goes today. I’m very glad that I did.

The path that leads south beside the Bute Dock Feeder from Herbert Street gives no inkling of the new waterway hidden beyond. Indeed, the Feeder quickly disappears into the overgrowth. My initial reaction was one of ‘Oh, well.’ Appearing and disappearing stretches of water are the hallmark of the remains of the Glamorganshire Canal and its associated waterways.

However, rounding the corner reveals the Junction Canal, which could never have looked as pleasant as it does today. Built to link Bute’s original Dock (the Bute West Dock) to his bigger deeper Bute East Dock, the only old photo I’ve seen of Junction Canal shows it to have been a miserable industrial landscape crossed by the remains of a ruined railway viaduct. Bute West Dock may be gone, but Junction Canal has not only survived – it has flourished.

There are two stone footbridges across Junction Canal. They are in sharp contrast to the other bridges over the new waterway that runs south through Atlantic Wharf, which are unmistakably modern in design and construction. At the time I thought that they might be original bridges across the Canal, but now I believe that they stand at the spots where the two railway viaducts – one for the TVR to the west, and the Bute Viaduct to the east – would have crossed the Junction Canal as they brought coal down from the Taff and Rhymney valleys to the Bute West Dock and Bute East Dock respectively.

The new waterway that runs south off of Junction Canal is what makes this such a pleasant place to take a lunch time walk. I don’t know what was here originally, but I’ve found no mention of Junction Canal ever being anything other than a straight forward stretch of canal flowing west to east and back again. There are houses here now on both sides, where the trains would have emptied their loads of coal to be transferred onto ships in both docks.

I found the place so charming that, if I ever move into Cardiff, this will be one of the areas that I’d look to buy a house in.

Favourite Photograph From The Shoot

The Bute Dock Feeder Hides AwayI love this shot of the Bute Dock Feeder running south above Herbert Street so much that I went back there later on with the Nikon D200 to take another, more detailed version of the same shot. I’m planning on uploading that shot soon as a HDR shot. I think that this is the best angle to take a shot of that apartment building (built on the site of a former school); it really brings out the angular nature of its design.

I also love the contrast between the Bute Dock Feeder (a relic of the 19th century), the old industrial units from the 20th century on the right, and the apartment block from the 21st century.

Post Production

I had to go back for a second visit to take some additional shots. Unfortunately, after only three years my Canon Digital IXUS has started to become unreliable. It’s starting to look like it’s time to replace it with a newer model. (Anyone remember the days when we didn’t throw things away, but had them repaired instead?)

After the last two epic photo shoots, I was hoping to get this one published quickly – and then I started trying to find out more about the two stone bridges over Junction Canal πŸ™‚

I’ve also switched back to publishing the photos – complete with their write-ups – and the blog entry simultaneously. With my last article, once it and the photos were published, I found myself frustrated by the need to go back and continue working on it. I wanted to look forward to the next piece instead.

Found On Flickr

The term ‘Junction Canal’ is one that has arguably been overused over the centuries, but even so Flickr couldn’t find a single photo that had been tagged with Junction Canal in Cardiff πŸ™ The map of geotagged photos is also pretty sparse, but I did find a couple of good photos on there.

  • P2170082, a colour photo of the new waterway through Atlantic Wharf, by Aaron A. Aardvark.
  • Fishing in the canal, a old shot showing two boys fishing in the Junction Canal, uploaded by Ben Salter. The bridge in the background of the photo is the Bute Street road bridge.
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Towards Pontypridd

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™

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 πŸ˜‰

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? πŸ˜‰ ). 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.

The StyleThis 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 πŸ™‚

Burned Fence PostWith 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.

The GreenwayOne 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.

Mynydd MeioDespite 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?

Taff Vale Is BornThe 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.

Post Production

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?

Sources

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.

Hanson Aggregates:

Is This Your Car?

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City Hall Reflection

Earlier in the year, I headed down to Cardiff to take some early morning shots of the Bute Dock Feeder. I spotted this reflection of Cardiff’s City Hall on the rear window of my car after parking up, and couldn’t resist taking a shot of it with my beloved Canon Digital IXUS.

It doesn’t look so great at 100% (hey, it’s a reflection on a less-than-spotless window πŸ˜‰ ), but I still find it a lovely little shot that I wanted to share.

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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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