Walk #174: Pontsticill to Merthyr Tydfil
Map of the walk
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format. For a detailed table of timings for this walk, please see the table file.
It was wonderful this morning to open the curtains of my room in the B&B to find a snowy scenery in front of me, although I was thankful that it was today, when I had lowland and easy to navigate routes to follow rather than yesterday when I climbed up Pen y Fan. Indeed it looked as though I had had the perfect weather window yesterday to do the highest part of the walk, as yesterday had been warm and sunny and the day before that had been wet and windy.
After a large and very nice breakfast at the B&B (cooked on an AGA) I went back up to my room and started to pack ready to leave. As I was packing I noticed that it had started to snow again, so I made sure that I had my gloves and hat readily available in the pockets of my coat.
I had finished yesterday's walk at the Red Cow Inn, so I had to retrace my steps back there for the start of this walk. Whilst I was plodding my way through the snow I started looking through all the pockets of my coat for my mobile phone, which I could not find, so when I reached the Inn I dropped my pack off on a stone wall and started searching through my coat. Fortunately after a little searching I found it in one of the breast pockets, where it had been hidden by the straps of my rucksack.
Near the start of the old railway line section of the Taff Trail the path reached a widened section of the cutting, with the path on the right and a marshy area on the left. I investigated this area, to find a large bricked-up tunnel mouth on the left. I have not been able to discover anything about this tunnel, and I have absolutely no idea where it leads to.
The walk along the Taff Trail was a real treat, with snow hanging off branches giving everything a real black and white essence, and a freshness that made the whole country look revitalised. I met an elderly couple on the Trail who I chatted to for a short while, and they agreed with me that the countryside looked absolutely superb in the snow. The small dog that they had with them seemed to revel in rolling about in the snow, much to it's owners annoyance.
I got to Merthyr Tydfil railway station at about the time I expected, and Sam was due to pick me up at midday. Because I was not expecting her to get there yet, I nipped into W H Smiths in the shopping street adjacent to the station. I had just entered when, of course, Sam phoned and so I hurriedly got a copy of the Times, an Ordnance Survey map and the latest Time magazine to read on the journey back to Cambridge.
Merthyr Tydfil, like many of the small Welsh towns, was a small village nestling in the upper Taff Valley until the mid 18th century. The surrounding area had iron ore, coal, limestone, streams and timber, all of which were needed by the iron industry. For this reason the town swelled massively during the industrial revolution - from 7,700 people in 1801 to 22,000in 1831 and 46,000 in 1851, making it the largest town in Wales. When purer iron was required the town fell upon hard times and the population decreased, only to increase again when more coal mines opened. With the recent decline in that trade the town shows itself to be a typical post-industrial mining town, with the remnants of the mining industry to be seen everywhere - closed and lifted railway lines, spoil heaps rising to the sky, and big scars where once there had been hillsides. Having said that I found it to be quite a cheery little town in the time I spent there, a far cry from the sense of desolation felt in other such towns that I could mention.
The last three days have been my first walking trip in Wales for years, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. As part of my attempt to walk to all the County Tops in Britain there are five more county tops in South Wales to be walked to, and Merthyr Tydfil will be a good place to base myself for reaching some of these.
This walk starts at the Red Cow Inn in Pontsticill, about four miles north of the town of Merthyr Tydfil. Turn left out of the pub onto the road to head north for a short distance to a road junction. Turn right to head down a steep road to the bottom of the Taf Fechan valley.
When the road crosses the Cwm Taf Fechan by means of a bridge it soon meets a road coming in from the hillside to the left. This road brings the Taff Trail into the valley, and this will be followed all the way to Merthyr Tydfil.
Continue southwards along the road for about seven hundred metres, passing another road junction that climbs up from the valley below. The road then squeezes under an old railway bridge and immediately beyond this bridge is a sign shows that tHe Taff Trail leads off to the right, joining the old railway trackbed. Join the trackbed and turn left, to head south along the trail.
The railway follows the eastern / southern side of the valley of the Cwm Taf Fechan to a viaduct near Pont-sarn where it moves over to the northern side of the valley. A bridge then carries a road over the path and a short distance further on a bridge carrying the railway over a road has been removed and replaced by a wooden bridge at a lower level.
The trail then passes to the eastern side of the Trefechan housing estate before approaching the A465(T). Continue on along the track until it ends at the A470(T).
Turn left and follow the A470(T) as it descends down towards Merthyr Tydfil town centre. After about a mile a road junction is reached with the A4102 Swansea Road; here the Taff Trail departs from the road to head southwards, but I continued following the A4102 towards the centre of the town. When the road ends at a T-junction about a kilometre further on turn left for a short distance and then at another junction turn right to continue down the High Street into the town centre. When the road turns sharply to the left continue straight on and the station car park is a short distance down John Street to the left.
This makes a total distance of 6.0 miles, with 643 feet of ascent and 1194 feet of descent.
My girlfriend picked me up at Merthyr Tydfil Railway Station ready for the drive back to Cambridge, so I did not get the opportunity to investigate any bus services that may run between there and Pontsticill. I saw a bus timetable in the village, however, so it would make sense for their to be services between there and the larger town nearby.
Please note that I take no responsibility for anything that may happen when following these directions. If you intend to follow this route, then please use the relevant maps and check the route out before you go out. As always when walking, use common sense and you should be fine.
If you find any information on any of these routes that is inaccurate, or you wish to add anything, then please email me.
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And finally, enjoy your walking!