Tarquin's cycling pages

29 July 2006 - Taff Trail to Merthyr

WhereTaff Trail to Merthyr
(Brecon Beacons and South Wales)
Date29 July 2006
Duration5 hours 30 minutes
Distance44 miles (~71 km)
WeatherOvercast with some rain
Trail conditionsTarmac and dirt track - wet by the end
Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones 26 GT LTS 2000 (TWJ)

Trip report

Description by Mark 'Tarquin' Wilton-Jones

Before this trip, I had done the Taff Trail from Cardiff centre to Quakers Yard, from Merthyr Tydfil to Pontsticill, and from Torpantau to Talybont. This ride was intended to link up the route between Quakers Yard and Merthyr Tydfil. It would be preparation for our planned ride, doing the Taff Trail end to end, from Cardiff to Brecon, and back. It totals 110 miles (55 miles each way), which should take two days, with a stop-over overnight in Brecon.

The trail itself climbs very slowly from Cardiff to Merthyr; so slowly in fact, that it feels level, with the odd uphill or downhill. This is more of a curse than a blessing. It means that with the exception of just over a mile between Taff's Well and Nantgarw, you cannot freewheel in either direction, so in both directions, you have to pedal. If you do not want to have to work in one direction, take the Brecon Bike Bus.

See pictureSee pictureFor several weeks, the weather forecast had promised rain, and each day had turned out to be blazing sunshine. This day was supposed to have rain all day. Not trusting the forecast, I planned to go anyway, and sure enough, the forecast changed in the morning, to show perhaps some rain showers in the evening. I should be back before then. Throughout the ride, black clouds were threatening to rain, and sure enough, it rained before I got back.

See pictureSee pictureThe route follows the Taff Trail, but I shall not repeat the first part of the journey - that is already covered by the earlier trip; Taff Trail from Cardiff to Treharris.

See pictureSee pictureLast time I was here, the river was so high, it was lapping the edge of the path, today it was a shadow of its former self.

See pictureSee pictureOnce past Quakers Yard (the barbed wire fence is now protected, by the way), the character of the trail changes completely. It enters a shady woodland, with the Taff running below - this is the start of the Pont-y-gwaith nature reserve. One important point is that from Abercynon onwards, there are no dangerous road sections, and no bike hurdles. The hurdles beyond Merthyr can be passed without having to detach your bike trailer, if you use one. If you are looking for somewhere to go with a bike trailer, this is an easy place to go. The only place you will have a real problem is the steps leading to the canal tow path, just after the Pont-y-gwaith nature reserve. You will need to carry your trailer up here.

See pictureSee pictureAlmost hidden from view, a large viaduct passes overhead. Perhaps you can get a better view in winter, when there are not so many leaves in the way. It then breaks out into the open, with a view to the left of the crags on Craig-yr-Efail (one of my personal favourites in this valley).

See pictureSee pictureThe trail continues through the nature reserve, along the remnants of a 200 year old railway - used by Richard Trevithick's steam locomotive, the World's first. At its end, the trail swings hard left, and drops down a hill to a hump-backed bridge, with an extremely high camber. It then climbs up some steps through a tunnel, up to the continuation of the trail. Although it is easily possible to cycle up the steps or the ramp on the side, they have a notice saying to dismount. Why? Can I not decide for myself if I can cycle up something? Will I pose some risk to the 0 other people using the steps at the same time as me? You can shove your dismount where the sun don't shine.

See pictureSee pictureThe trail continues along an old canal tow-path, with the canal long since filled in. The path itself is fairly boring, but occasionally the scenery looks nice, and unlike when you are driving, you actually get the chance to stop and look at it.

See pictureSee pictureFinally the path swings right through another tunnel (no steps this time), and enters the top of Aberfan. A little way down the slope on the other side, a path that doubles back to the left is the continuation of the Taff Trail. The sign saying which way to go may or may not be there (it wasn't for me), as it seems to be desired by some of the locals as a souvenir. This is my first visit to Aberfan, so please excuse me while I recount a little of its infamous past.

The story of Aberfan is one of the most tragic in living history. When coal is mined, a large amount of waste rock is removed, along with the coal. The local coal mine had been using the hillsides as a place to dump the waste coal, in large mounds known as tips. This was fairly standard practice, and is still done by the few remaining coal mines. Tips are usually made so quickly that there is no time to plant trees on them, which would normally help bind the soil and hold it together.

In October 1966, one of the local tips was seen to have a new spring under its edge, with the water making the tip unstable, causing it to sink. On a foggy day - the 21st, the local workers went to investigate the tip, in preparation for moving to a better location the next day. While they stood watching it, a large part of the tip slumped, and a river of black debris hurled itself down the hill towards the town. It flowed directly towards the town below, and was stopped after hitting the buildings on the edge of the town.

In the worst possible twist, where it landed was directly on top of the local Pant Glas Junior School. With the weather so bad, and without enough warning, the school and nearby houses were crushed, and those inside it smothered, suffocating (in some cases very slowly) to death, trying to hide under their desks. The townsfolk frantically dug in vain to excavate them before they died. Had it happened a day later, the school would have been closed for holidays.

116 children mostly aged 7-10 (about half of the children at the school), 5 teachers, and 23 adults from the 30 burried local cottages were killed, and a town was shattered as within just 5 minutes, almost an entire generation was literally wiped out. There are several pictures of the disaster itself, and the rescue attempts, on the Aberfan Disaster Web site, and some more on Ray Poole's Web site.

It is difficult to see how such a small town could recover from such a disaster. However, the Welsh valleys had always had many problems. During the industrial revolution, their people had their lives controlled by ruthless employers and landowners. Their children, even as young as six years old were forced to work alone in coalmines, just to earn enough money to survive. The nearby town of Senghenydd had suffered a coal mine disaster with the most loss of life in Britain, Then in the late 20th century, their jobs and livelihood were removed, destroying communities, and plunging those who tried to remain there into poverty. Aberfan was a terrible disaster, but it is a bump in the road for the Welsh people - albeit a very big and memorable bump.

See pictureOf course, I could not go through Aberfan without stopping to see the various memorials, and to pay my respects to the those who died. First is the cemetary up to the left after about a kilometre, with a section devoted to victims of the disaster. I read each and every heartbreaking message of a parent to their child. Each warm message, each belief that they would meet again one day, but in the same breath asking how there could be a devine being, that would allow such blameless children to suffer that way - for the time, these messages would have been on the borderline for atheism, something that would not have been common in this area at that time. The message that remains in my mind says "a flower, beginning to bud, but cut off before it was allowed to blossom". Such a waste of precious life. There is no shame in leaving Aberfan with tears in your eyes.

See pictureSee pictureA little way further, an empty patch of land on the left marks the old site of the tip, now removed. On the right are the memorial gardens, on the site of the school.

See pictureSee pictureBeyond Aberfan, the trail continues, in and out of little towns, with some nice open sections allowing you to see the valley around you. It follows the canal towpath again, and the way on is always obvious. Part way along here, the first rain shower hit me. Only a couple of minutes worth, and not too heavy.

See pictureSee pictureFinally, a large stone bridge marks the start of Merthyr Tydfil. The trail enters a carpark, where cyclists are supposed to take the road to the left (towards the carpark exit), but the path by the river is easier. Then there are the traffic lights. Press the button, and wait. And wait. After the lights have cycled twice, you might get your turn to cross.

See pictureOn the other side, the path reaches the lights shown in the picture. Cross the road, and the way on is ahead-right. You can also take a shortcut to the left, but supposedly you should dismount if you go that way. The "proper" way on passes some houses, then climbs to join a road. To the right is Cyfarthfa Castle, and to the left is the way on, which meets up with the shortcut at the traffic lights.

See pictureHaving now linked up with the route I had done in Merthyr, it was time to turn around. It rained all the way from Merthyr to Quakers Yard, sometimes heavy enough for the sides of the valley to disappear, and with my wheels always kicking up water into my face. The LTS 2000 has a front mudguard, but it only covers under the main crossbar (not the part where it is needed), and interferes with the cables, so I do not use it. Gah!

Home page
Trip list
11 October 2013
02 October 2013
25 September 2013
18 September 2013
22 June 2013
08 September 2012
02 June 2011
12 March 2011
23 January 2011
12 June 2010
08 November 2009
15 October 2009
10 October 2009
19 August 2009 No. 2
19 August 2009
16 August 2009
17 July 2009
25 October 2008
30 July 2008
29 July 2008
13 July 2008
22 March 2008
02 February 2008
10 November 2007
28 April 2007
16 December 2006
12 November 2006
05 November 2006
29 July 2006
23 July 2006
15 July 2006
01 July 2006
22 June 2006
10 June 2006
04 June 2006
01 June 2006
20 November 2005
19 November 2005
13 November 2005
05 September 2004
21 August 2004
16 August 2004
27 June 2004
20 June 2004
21 March 2004
14 March 2004
08 February 2004
17 January 2004
20 July 2003
Rider list
Bike list
Contact me
See my caving site

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict, CSS, JavaScript and DOM!