Tarquin's cycling pages

14 March 2004 - Taff Trail from Cardiff to Treharris

WhereTaff Trail from Cardiff to Treharris
(Brecon Beacons and South Wales)
Date14 March 2004
Duration3 hours 40 minutes
Distance30 miles (~48 km)
WeatherRaining heavily but clearing to sunshine by the end
Trail conditionsDamp, but too much tarmac
Chris Poole 31 Orange Sub5
GT LTS 2000 (TWJ)
Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones 23 GT LTS 2000 (TWJ)
Orange Sub5

Trip report

Description by Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones

The Cardiff-to-Treharris section of the Taff Trail was a bit of a disappointment. It is not so much a cycle trail as a place where someone (who clearly doesn't use it!) has decided that bikes should go, probably in a desperate attempt to stop bikes using the A470. Although there are a few sections of dismantled railway track, there is far too much on-road cycling required.

A lot of the track sections have been tarmac-ed, making them much less fun. It seems to have been done to make the track more usable by families, but as some sections use roads where cars go past at 70 MPH, you are not exactly going to take your children cycling there are you?!

The sign-posting is almost non-existent, but once you realise those tiny blue stickers that you just cycled past were meant for you, you will only go wrong a few times - or you will slam your brakes on and skid across the road in front of oncoming cars ...

Still, if you want a laugh (at the planning committee, not us :P ), read on.

Chris had cycled 5 miles to reach my house, and was already nicely stewing in rainwater (DON'T walk across that floor or my mother-in-law will kill both of us!). The nut that Chris had hoped would fix my suspension turned out to be the wrong size, so the bolt was held in place with cable ties. This turns out to be the ideal solution, and in our opinion should be used even if the nut is in place, as it stops it working loose and falling off.

We cycled up a short hill to the local supermarket, which also has the nearest access point to the Taff Trail. The sloping road down to the Taff Trail is the fastest section of the trip, but I still only managed 35 MPH.

See pictureThe trail starts with a quick track section beside the river before joining the roads of Tongwynlais, a village made famous because of Castell Coch (used in the TV series 'The Worst Witch' - in case you were wondering).

See pictureSee pictureOn the Craig-Yr-Allt trip, we had cycled the old Taff Trail route here, and circled the castle, finally descending to the dismantled railway track. This time, we chose to take the new route, which stayed on the roads a while longer. The route passes the Garth Mountain, which was made famous by the 'up a hill - down a mountain' story (to us, it also holds another claim to fame; the steep south edge also houses the only cave system in a British capital city). The sign posts ran out part way along, so we were forced to use the OS 1:50'000 scale printed map I had made just in case. The way on turned out to be exactly where the map said it was (lucky we had the map, because we would never have thought to look there otherwise), and we re-joined the old route at the start of the railway track section, at Taff's Well. [For the last short section, I tried Chris' Orange Sub5, but decided that while I do like the extra travel on the suspension, I do not like the tiny pedals.]

[ED. On a later trip, we found that the sign that says 'end (of cycle lane)' actually means 'cross the road and head the wrong way', which leads to a third route bypassing all the awkward sections, including the next two paragraphs.]

As is common on the Taff Trail, there was a hurdle designed to allow cyclists through, but prevent motorcycle or car access. Unlike those in Cardiff City Centre, the hurdles in this section are impossible to pass without dismounting and ether standing the bike on end, or lifting it fully over the hurdle. This is a bizarre way to design them, and they seem to have been made for either miniature childrens' bikes, or Penny-Farthings, which of course are still in common use today ... by the designers of the hurdles I would guess ...

See pictureSee pictureDespite the monotony, this section of trail is probably the most enjoyable of the whole trip, as it passes through wooded sections, and has a good few muddy puddles to get you settled in nicely. This then passed the way up to Craig-Yr-Allt and ended at a slope down to a lower railway line. At the lower end of the slope, it is marked with a laughable sign saying that no vehicles are permitted there. What? So bikes aren't vehicles now?

See pictureThe lower track was tarmac-ed again, but there is also a dirt track route beside the tarmac, which is much more fun. Then at another junction, the sparse signposts hinted that the way on would be to the left - the OS map was of no use at all here, and we crossed a main road and continued into a housing estate. The route wound round a couple of corners before finally picking up yet another dismantled railway line. This one had the honour of being coated with tacky red chippings, which did not help to keep up the pace. It also had some bizarre sculpted steel chairs which looked stupidly out of place, and faced into a forest. Hmmm?

See pictureSee pictureFor a while, the way on was out in the open, with some reasonable views back down the valley to Cardiff. If it was not for the stupid bicycle obstacles, this could almost have been good. Part way along, this was broken by a housing estate. This then picked up the continuation of the railway line, concreted this time, with the more unusual obstacles of broken glass (right by the playground - nice!), litter, and dog droppings. At least most of the dogs and dog owners got out of the way with a smile (well, I think that the dogs were smiling - that's what it means when they show their teeth right?).

See pictureSee pictureThe 'planners' then completely lost the plot, and the route became a back alleyway, complete with nails and brambles, before joining some more road ending at the extremely dangerous roundabout at Pontypridd, where the car drivers desperately try to push in front of cyclists (I know we smell - I'm sorry, OK?).

See pictureThe odd stickers and signs gave the way on, which led along the narrow one-way roads of Pontypridd. The space between the cars was just enough for one car, and the drivers of the many cars that use the route have no intention of following cyclists and try their best to overtake. On the way back here, I completely missed one of the Taff Trail signs and only went the correct way because Chris had seen the sticker. Let me emphasize this here, THIS IS NOT A CYCLE TRAIL! It is a town. It is a badly laid out road system, that also has to contend with bikes, because the developers could not see any other place that bikes can go. I guess they failed to see the banks of the river then ...

See pictureSee pictureFinally, the trail headed down to the edge of the river, the first time since the very start of the trip, and ran along a specially made path, covered in concrete. The river was running very high, and in places, debris (including a matress!) was piled up against the trees. We were hoping that maybe there would be some flooded sections of track like there had been by Crug Mawr, but (sadly) the track was well designed, and ran above the flood levels.

See pictureOur enjoyment of a real bike trail was short lived, as the route again joined the roads, this time the most dangerous so far. The cars overtake at as much as 70 MPH, and for some sections, there is no pavement, so even child cyclists should use the road here. I think NOT!

See pictureSee pictureAt a junction, we entered Abercynnon, and for a brief moment, we saw some reasonable scenery - fairly typical of the South Wales valleys. We headed downslope and on a corner, only just noticed the blue trail sticker in time (can you see it? It's on the post to the left, just under the tree foliage). The trail continued on a backroad between small storage yards.

See pictureWe traveled beside the river for a while (look, there it is, between the trees!) and at a weir, we saw a crash helmet being thrown about by the churning river. We stayed there for a couple of minutes, waiting for the crash helmet to finally be turned upside down, so we could make sure there was no-one in it (uuuuuuuurgh). The trail continued and became a dirt track again (yay!). It passed a 'lovely' fence made only from several strands of barbed wire. Just what you need beside a cycle trail. At the next town (Quakers Yard - part of Treharris), we turned around, conscious of the time.

The journey back was faster, but less comfortable than the outward journey, with the wind blowing in our faces. Both of us were completely soaked by then, and although the rain was actually fun, the wind was not. So to summarise in an enhanced version of Chris' words, crap route, crap ride but great exercise and good company.

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