Tarquin's cycling pages

02 October 2013 - Newport to Cardiff via Ystrad Mynach

WhereNewport to Cardiff via Ystrad Mynach
(Brecon Beacons and South Wales)
Date02 October 2013
Duration3 hours 25 minutes
Distance31.1 miles (~50 km)
WeatherCloudy for the first third, persistent rain for the remainder, headwind for the last third
Trail conditionsSoaking tarmac
Chris Poole 41 GT LTS 2000 (CP3)
Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones 33 GT LTS 2000 (TWJ)

Trip report

Description by Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones

This has to be the most ridiculous way to get from Newport to Cardiff. Almost the entire route used dedicated cycleways, so we managed to make very good time, with Google Maps predicting 4 hours and 11 minutes. Our ride started after dark, so we could test out some new lights. The weather forecast did not let us down, and we predictably got absolutely soaked.

This is a linear ride, requiring two cars and two riders (or one helpful driver who is not riding); one to get to the start, and one to get from the end to the start, to retrieve the other car. It would be possible to take another route to cycle back to the start, such as going via Caerphilly's Rhymney River Trail, which would add another 10 miles to the distance. If followed correctly, the linear ride should be 30.5 miles, to the first roundabout in Whitchurch; our route is slightly longer due to a routefinding mistake when leaving the canal towpath.

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The ride starts at the visitor centre for the Fourteen Locks in High Cross, near Junction 27 of the M4 by Newport, at about 80 metres altitude. The centre is closed at night, so we parked on a nearby road. The ride would end in Cardiff's Whitchurch district, where we had left a second car.

From Fourteen Locks, head up the canal towpath away from the locks, where the towpath should be running on the left side of the canal (if not, you're heading the wrong way). The roads occasionally cut through it and prevent the canal from being used for boats; cross each road in turn to regain the towpath. Pass through Ty-Sign, where the canal disappears for 100 metres or more, and again regain the towpath.

After 3.8 miles (1.3 miles after Ty-Sign), the canal appears to end completely, and the path continues and joins a main road at a junction. Take the small road on the other side of the main road. (If you accidentally take the main road downhill, which swings a hard bend to the left, take the next road to the right, and immediately use a path climbing on the right to get back where you should have been.) 100 metres along the small road, take a path on the left to regain the canal towpath, and continue along it. At the next bridge over the canal, take a lane running ahead-left, parallel to the towpath. (There is also another path down to it later on, which we missed, having to backtrack to it when we then took a later path.) The lane becomes a cycleway, reaching a railway level crossing. At this point, the rain began, becoming progressively heavier for the remainder of the journey.

Cross the railway and follow the road down to a junction with a main road, in the village of Crosskeys. Turn right, then take the second left, to reach a junction with another main road. Cross it and immediately turn right onto a cycleway heading into a park, the lowest point of the main climb, at about 55 metres altitude. Follow the cycleway through the park to pass through a car park and gain another main road. Turn left. After passing under a bridge, turn hard left onto a cycleway. Follow it over the river, and for some distance until it climbs up to a cycleway running along an old railway line.

Turn right onto the railway line and follow it, always trying to remain on the main railway whenever there is a choice. After 4 miles, it finally drops a little to a road junction. Continue ahead, past a pub, on a smaller road. The road ends and splits into two cycleways, with the one on the right being a bridge heading into Pontllanfraith at Blackwood. Take the cycleway to the left instead, dropping down to run next to a major road. Follow it up over the highest point of the ride at 160 metres altitude, to the next roundabout, and continue ahead on the cycleway, which leaves and then rejoins the road.

See pictureThe cycleway then crosses the road, and heads into woods, suddenly arriving at the Wheel o Drams (tram trucks) sculpture in Maesycwmmer, and the very impressive Hengoed Viaduct crossing into Ystrad Mynach. At the far end of the viaduct, it crosses a railwayline, then turns hard right then left to continue as a cycleway, running to the left of the road. Eventually it crosses a road and performs a tight hairpin. Stay with the path, and follow it to a looping bend, passing under the road, and climbing a series of zig-zags to reach another cycle path. Turn left, and follow the edge of the Penallta Country Park, where the route almost manages to scrape back up to 160 metres again. With the persistent rain, the paths were covered in frogs, and even though they all looked just like the fallen leaves, we both managed to avoid any fatalities.

Stick with the main path through the park, always trying to continue roughly ahead, branching ahead-left when it forks on the far side of the Penallta hill (actually reclaimed coal tips). The cycleway then runs along the right edge of an active railway line. After just over a mile, at the edge of a housing estate in Trelewis, it crosses the railway line on a bridge, and then continues on the other side of the railway line. Stay with it until it crosses a bridge over a road, and then enters another country park. Cross over a path junction and swing left past various benches and sculptures. Turn left to cross a tiered waterway via an impressive suspension bridge, and continue along this new cycleway. The route has now reached its northernmost point, and begins to head back south.

The cycleway passes some houses, and passes through the middle of a road junction before it begins a very steep descent down 6 extreme hairpin bends, to cross the river, and reach a road. Turn right and follow the road to a junction by a pub in Quakers Yard. Turn right (maybe use the cycle lane to the right, though there's not much point) to reach a road junction. Cross over the road onto a quieter lane. Take the second left, to join the Taff Trail. A very definite milestone.

From this point, it should all be plain sailing, downhill for the most part. The headwind, however, decided to disagree, and it felt like a long uphill for the entire return leg of the journey. Energy sapping, and not quite so much fun as it should have been. Add the now heavy rain, and we both rapidly became soggy piles of clothing. Waterproofs completely failed to help. At least the rain helped to wash some of the salt from my face, and definitely made for quite an exhilarating experience.

Follow the lane all the way to the main road at Abercynon. Turn left, then take the first right to pass along the front of some terraced houses. Just before the end of the terrace, take a cycle lane that begins at the end of the last road on the right. Again, we encountered several frogs, and the odd toad. Stay with it for a couple of miles, crossing the access lane for some sewage works, to arrive at the Albion Industrial Estate. The path swings right to pass some playing fields, then zig-zags to a path junction. Take the path on the opposite side, to continue along the Taff Trail. After just over a mile, it climbs up to some houses, and swings left to climb steeply up to the terraced streets of Pontypridd.

Turn right and follow the Taff Trail signs (some are hard to see) to get through Pontypridd. Turn right at the first junction, then fork left into the one-way system. Take the next right, doubling back to reach a staggered junction. Go ahead, to swing left and follow the river's edge. After half a mile, keep your eyes open for a sticker pointing you into a tiny lane on the right - the second right along the river-side section. The tiny lane spits you out next to a crossing over the main Pontypridd road.

Cross the crossing, and turn left on the pavement to reach the A470 roundabout. Cross the A470 access road, and pass under the A470. Turn right then cross the next access road. Immediately cross another road, turn left on the pavement on the far side, and immediately turn right into the next road. Continue through a road blockage, all the way to a junction with a main road. Continue ahead-right on the main road. At the junction with traffic lights, turn left and follow the road to a mini roundabout. Turn right at the roundabout, then immediately take a cycle path on the left side of the road.

Follow the cycle path for a mile, cross a road, and continue on the other side for 2.5 miles, to reach a road. Follow it down to the right, using a short cycleway to cut the corner at the barrier. Follow the road out to a junction (in theory, you should use the pavement, but the cars are always parked on it). Turn left and follow the estate road to a major road. Use the crossing to cross the major road, and turn left on the pavement on the far side, heading uphill for a short distance. Take a cycle lane on the right, zig-zagging down to reach the main cycleway running along an old railway line, where the way on is to continue ahead. This is the longest downhill on the route, so we tried our best to make good time, speeding into the headwind and pelting rain. Eventually, it reaches the roads at Taff's Well station, and the lowest point on the ride at about 35 metres altitude.

From here, the way takes a series of poorly thought out pavements and unintuitive junctions. Cross the road and turn left on the pavement. Follow the pavement up to the traffic lights, and cross the road back again (!) to wait at the traffic lights at the junction with the main road, where you will be turning left. Instead of using the road, hop onto the pavement to the left at the traffic lights' pedestrian crossing (since there is no dedicated ramp for bikes, which are supposed to have somehow made it onto the pavement at this point). Follow the pavement along the edge of the main road and into the next road immediately on the left. Cross the road as soon as possible, and turn right on the pavement on the far side, to head back out of the road again. Swing left to use the pavement on the edge of the main road that you were on a moment ago. Follow this downhill and back uphill to reach a roundabout. Follow the pavement on the left, crossing a road and quarry access lane, and stick with the cycleway path to join the road heading into Tongwynlais.

At Tongwynlais, the Taff Trail can be followed into Cardiff by taking the fouth road on the right. We continued through Tongwynlais and out the other side. After passing the fifth road on the right, we took a cycleway on the right side, crossing over a road to enter the middle of the M4 Junction 32. We passed a path on the right, went under the M4 bridges, then forked right to dip under the A470, pass under the Junction 32 roundabout, and reach a T junction. A right turn here took us to the edge of the Whitchurch road. After joining this road, heading away from Junction 32, we continued along the road all the way into Whitchurch, and the end of the ride.

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